Custom Motorcycle: Tom’s 2001 Custom Harley Sportster

We’ve said it before, and now we’ll say it again: We’re all about inspiring you! — to get into your garage and customize the hell out of your motorcycle.

Inspiration. That’s pretty much why Tom Kelly, of Bentley, Essex, England, started customizing and built this custom Harley Sportster. “My influence was just all the other guys who’ve done this before,” he says. “I guess they have the same feeling as me by doing it. They admire the guys who did it before them.”

2001 Custom Harley-Davidson Sportster
The sun’s hitting this custom Harley Sportster just right

It’s even harder to fight this “it” when your old man has been afflicted with the same insatiable thirst to build. For someone who recalls his past as living in his dad’s workshop, you shouldn’t be surprised that it was more or less Tom’s destiny to follow the way of the wrench. “My dad has been building bikes for years,” Tom adds. With that comment alone, it should come as no surprise (again) that while this is Tom’s “first proper build,” customizing is not new to him.

Tom has been almost literally taping bikes together since he was a youngin’, his first build being a “part-Honda, part-Kawasaki” custom, which he made from bits of “what you have when you’re about 6 or 7 years old.” And guess who Tom turned to for parts? Yup. His pops. But not in the conventional way. “I customized the hell out of it in the way of Gaffa [duct] tape seats and bars, which I pinched from my dad’s custom bike.”

2001 Custom Harley-Davidson Sportster
Tom’s riding the road of inspiration on his custom Harley

But this bike ain’t no Honda or Kawasaki. And there’s nothing close to tape on this sweet thang. It’s a 2001 Harley Sportster 1200C Custom, which Tom bought last year in March. Oh, and did I mention that Tom bought the XL from his dad? I didn’t? Well, he did, and it was completely stock, too (which sure surprised us, seeing as Tom’s dad likes to build). It’s as though the universe was trying to get Tom in the garage.

Since Tom had yet to try his hands at a proper bike build, Tom’s ambitions for his XL were modest … at first. “I had the intention of light customization,” he says. “Tidy up some wiring, shorter rear shocks, single seat. But one thing led to another.” A whole lot of things. In fact, Tom said at one point, “I promise you, everything has been done on this bike twice. I admit that I often change my mind if something doesn’t look 100 percent perfect.” Definitely not light customization now.

2001 Custom painted Harley-Davidson Sportster gas tank
Custom paint and graphics adorn this custom Sportsters gas tank.

While still in “light customization” mode, Tom stuck to his original list by swapping out the stock shocks for Burly Slammers (the fact that there are no Slammers now should tell you something about Tom’s incessant need for perfection, plus, duh, this XL is now a rigid) and fitted a side-mounted plate. But by the time he installed a springer front end, Tom finally admitted what he probably knew all along — he was going to make this a proper job.

And proper in Tom’s book means fabwork. Lots of fabwork. The next thing Tom did was make the rear wheel completely from scratch. And guess who helped him? “The rear wheel was all me and my old man,” he comments. From then on, the mods kept piling on, which included making all of the adjustments, fabricating and mounting “lots of little brackets here and there,” mounting the fenders and tanks, customizing the oil tank, and fabricating the rear brake with a hanger setup. “The back brake was a huge headache,” Tom says. “I also learned that horseshoe oil tanks don’t fit brilliantly on Sportys.” And since Tom is a leatherworker by trade, he naturally had everything to do with how the seat looks now. But even though Tom has done a great deal of the work himself, he made sure to give a shout out to his buddy Knocker, who was there for basically the whole build. “Everything that needed more than two hands, he helped with,” Tom says.

When it comes to the paint, he commissioned Simon, Phill, and Steve from The Paintbox. “They’re probably the nicest guys and conduct their business in the coolest manner,” Tom says. “With some of my ideas and their talent, they did it all for me. It’s without a doubt, the jewel in the crown.”

After the bike was all back together (done so more than once), Tom had the guys from So-Low Choppers hardtail it. “They know their stuff,” Tom says. And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. What’s up with Yakety Yak? Made possible by his good mate and sign writer “Matt the Brush,” as well as another buddy who lent Tom some whitewall tire paint, the name Yakety Yak comes from a certain point in a movie (a film you should’ve all seen by now, according to Tom, and I wholeheartedly agree) when The Coasters’ song by the same name is played. For those of you who are perpetually trapped in your garages, you’ll understand why Tom chose it. He explains: “In the film Stand By Me, the older brothers “Ace and Eyeball Chambers” play mailbox baseball while hanging from the back of their convertible, listening to the song Yakety Yak on the radio. Just that jovial feeling they get from doing what they do is summed up for me by the sound of that song. Riding bikes is jovial to me,” he says with a laugh.

2001 Custom Harley-Davidson Sportster exhaust
A good look at the ridged tail section and custom motorcycle exhaust.

But despite how much he enjoys riding, the bike is, as of this writing, off the road. “I’m making an entirely new oil tank from scratch,” Tom says. “When I do things that I’m not completely happy with, they play on my mind. I knew I could make a better job of the oil tank so I’m doing it already.” The moral of the story is if you love riding as much as Tom does, then you’ll probably love wrenching just as much. Only one way to find out … cue inspiring music! RC

Custom Motorcycle: 1977 Brat-style Harley Ironhead Bobber

If you aren’t much of a fan of import bikes, then you definitely have a few things in common with Stefano Poli of Dallas.

They don’t interest him that much either. What he does like, however, are the incredible Harley choppers that keep getting churned out over in Japan. “They’re always coming out with things that are really innovative while staying true to the traditional Harley Ironhead bobber idea,” he says. “Plus, they have an amazing love for details.”

Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber shift side.
Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber shift side.

The Japanese make mouth-watering sushi, too, which Stefano actually likes as much as their choppers. Luckily, he’s experienced all of this firsthand, since he’s traveled to Japan a few times. He even attended the Mooneyes motorcycle show last December.

While Japanese choppers are undoubtedly cool, Stefano also appreciates their Brat-style Harley bobbers. In fact, that look inspired his vision for his 1977 Ironhead, which he bought in the summer of 2013. But Stefano first needed to get acquainted with his XLCH before any inspiring could take place, seeing as it had two very important roles to fulfill: it was going to be Stefano’s first true build and his introduction to the world of older Harleys. It was the perfect bike to do so because it fit his budget.

Harley-Davidson Brat-style Ironhead Bobber.
Harley-Davidson Brat-style Ironhead Bobber.

And the best way to connect with your bike is by riding the hell out of it—and trashing the engine. Which he did. On both counts. Since no more riding was to be had, then was as good a time as any to start customizing. Stefano wouldn’t have to do it alone, either. At the time, he shared a three-bay, 700-square-foot garage with three friends, and one of them provided a lot of support. “Mitchell helped me out a lot whenever I found myself hesitating before trying something new,” Stefano says.
There were plenty of reasons why Stefano approached the build with trepidation. He had some customizing experience, but it was all limited to installing sissybars, chopping fenders, and swapping handlebars. At least he had some grinders, cutting wheels, and a welder, in addition to, as Stefano made sure to mention, “a lot of determination.”

Stefano felt that the best way to approach it was to start from the rear section and slowly make his way to the front, a process he’s used on his later builds, a 1959 Panhead and 1960 Pan-Shovel. Keeping in mind that a distinct Brat feature is compactness, Stefano first had to fix a few problems that actually helped embellish that aesthetic.

It all began when he tried installing a narrow-ribbed fender over the back tire. Stefano soon realized, however, that no matter how narrow it may have been, it was still much too wide to fit; Stefano needed to make the bike more compact. So, he decided to shorten the struts that mount both the fender and shocks to the bike. He cut off the part that connects the bike to the fender and left the holes that are used for mounting the shocks.

Installing shorter shocks to the now-shaved struts compacted the Ironhead enough so that the narrow-ribbed fender could now almost fit. Stefano just needed to cut it down to size and fab some bungs so he could anchor the fender to the frame and seat. Now about half of the fender slides under the seat or, in Stefano’s words, the seat “now rolls over the fender.” He stresses, however, that this didn’t alter the distance of the rear wheel from the front sprocket.

Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber vintage rear brake.
Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber vintage rear brake.

That was pretty much it for the rear section, except he might try installing an XR-style loop hardtail later on. While in the bike’s midsection, Stefano went through a couple of oil bags and gas tanks. For the latter, he finally settled on a Frisco Wassell-styled piece. However, he wanted to install it closer to the seat. He cut off the stock mounting bracket and welded two threaded bungs on the frame backbone, which he then used to install the tank.

Turns out, the tank and its positioning (in addition to the overall stance of the bike) are what Stefano thinks are the brattiest things about his bike. As for the oil bag, Stefano couldn’t find the right one, so he fabricated one of his own out of mild steel, making it narrower and shorter than stock so it would fit inside the frame rails (and so he could accommodate a small lithium battery). The fabbing was, as he said, standard. “You just make a cardboard box template, cut the metal to match, and then weld it all together,” he explains.

Out front, Stefano stumbled upon a few more challenges, including retro-fitting the hamburger wheel on a 35mm front end, which he’d shaved. “It was not trivial,” Stefano confirms. “The spacing between the legs are just enough to slide the wheel in.” He needed, however, to customize the axle to match the different wheel and legs specs, which involved a “few brackets and other smaller pieces.” For this, he turned to a local machine shop.

Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber classic style and swagger.
Harley-Davidson Ironhead Bobber classic style and swagger.

What he did do himself was add a Japanese-made part to give his Japanese-inspired bike some bratty flair: an Ushio Electric piece with amber glass. He thinks it was originally used as a car fog light. For the paint, Stefano turned to Scott at Chemical Custom Candy. “I asked for the specific set of colors and the panel work on the tank and fender,” Stefano explains. “Scott did the hard work of making it happen, and he nailed it.” And remember the engine Stefano trashed? He got it repaired at Brown Cycles so he could finally try out his first true custom build.

“It’s a fun bike to rip around in town,” he says. Stefano tells us, however, that it’s not a good idea to try jumping curbs. Sounds like an interesting story. We have a feeling that he’ll have a lot more tales after he gets even more acquainted with his Ironhead. Maybe he’ll get to ride it in the Land of the Rising Sun! RC