Jon Davies caught the bug decades ago, developing an appetite for Harley Sportsters in the early ’80s when he bought a 1976 Ironhead.
After milling about on the ’76 for a while, Jon has since ran the gamut of Sportys, riding and owning models from plain, old stockers to full-blown Ness customs. While searching for the next entry into his personal Sportster history, he knew he wanted to do something different when he acquired this ’98 XLH 883. “I wanted to build something different, with the accents on details and modern tech with an old-school design,” he writes. “I wanted to do all the design, fabrication, and wrenching by myself.”
Bike builds are no exception to the Five Ws: who, what, where, when, and why. Often, these are the questions asked of our featured builders. Jon more than eagerly answered each. He already addressed the who—himself. We also know the what, a 1998 Evo 883 powerplant. But why? “The motivation came from having chronic back problems, which limit my riding and fishing time,” he writes. “A project build allowed me to do as much or as little as I was able, with no time constraints.” As such, the build took Jon about 18 months to complete. But patience is a virtus, and Jon’s canonization candidacy is officially submitted for the Garage Build HOF thanks to this clean build, a project seemingly simple but truly meticulous. Oh, did we leave out where he conducted this build? C’mon, guys.
Jon started the build in earnest, first picking up the Sportster for £2,500 (about $3,200)—England has a great appreciation for the American V-twin, too—and subsequently beginning the designing, the fabricating, and the wrenching. Let’s start with that Evo. He tore it down and rebuilt it using James gaskets and seals along with Gardner Westcott Chrome fasteners. He also vapor-blasted the heads and cylinders (aka barrels. There’s that England thing again!). Conducting all this work proves Jon’s prowess in the garage, and given this kind of skill, expect the rest of the build to reflect that talent.
With the work on the heart complete, Jon turned his attention to the respiratory system. The carb, which he rebuilt and rejetted, is some of his finest work. Jon says, “I made the CV carb support bracket and intake backplate from scratch to allow the use of a S&S Super B air cleaner, complemented by a stainless remote enricher bracket mounted to the rear rocker box cover.” Well he certainly has his own fabricating down!
From there, the exhaust needed an update. Off with the stockers! He fabbed two 2″ drag pipes for a wholly custom, ridiculously loud 2-into-2 system. These were then ceramic coated in Volcanic Black and fitted with torque cones and machined end caps, quaking into a full-on eruption every time Jon twists the throttle.
So the engine and breathing system were sorted, and that meant Jon needed to get the chassis prepared for the newly captured beast. He set to work on chopping and bobbing, shaving any unwanted brackets and removing the rear struts and sculpting the rear fender. That fender is rubber-mounted to the upper-shock bolts, which are Progressive Suspension’s 11-1/2″ 412 series shocks. He obviously told the front fender to kick rocks and shaved and grooved the fork lowers. The front suspension handles bumps with aplomb, thanks to 2″-lowered Progressive springs.
The latest iteration in Jon’s Sportster lineage rolls on a stock 19″ front wheel that’s been powdercoated and laced with stainless steel spokes. The rear, however, is off a Sportster 48, a 16″ rim that’s also laced with stainless spokes. Rubber meets the road thanks to Firestone ANS tires.
Jon clearly didn’t overlook a thing with this build, nor did he scrimp on spending up for both performance and design. That said, he takes great pride in the amount of fabricating he did himself, including the one-piece handlebar that both provides an aggressive riding posture and runs internal wiring to keep the front end as tidy as possible. “The clean bars are complemented by micro-switches that I positioned in the clutch and brake perches along with the concealed
wiring,” he says.
He also notes that attention to detail is of the utmost importance. “Everything from the perfectly aligned pipes to the angle of the raised coil, set to match the angle of the front cylinder.”
Assisting in that symmetry is the NOS gas tank from The Harley Shop, plus a plethora of accessories. The pegs, riser, and mirrors are from Biltwell, the grips, heat shields, master cylinder tops, and fuel and oil caps are from Lowbrow Customs, and the seat is from notable custom shop LC Fabrications. Look closely at the petcock, which Jon acquired from Prism Supply. He went to work around the petcock, fabricating a one-off mount for the ignition switch. It’s the small things in life. Take, for example, this side-mounted speedo, for which he also fabricated a mounting plate.
This is as impressive a build as we’ve found on the Garage Build website (GarageBuild.com), and there’s a reason that it was the very first to be featured here on RidesandCulture.com. Jon has accomplished a seriously dazzling feat with all the custom work he put into the once-stock Sportster. He affectionately calls the build “McQueen,” thanks in no small part to the reaction it gets from other riders and non-riders alike. “A close friend once said, ‘That looks like something Steve McQueen would ride.’ Hence the name!”
McQueen does indeed look like a bike that the King of Cool would take for a rip around town or even on a dirt track. And for that, Jon deserves hearty congratulations from the staff of Garage Build and its readers. He came, he fabricated, he wrenched, he finished, and he won. RC