Harley-Davidson Sportster XL883 Cafe Project
So, I recently finished my Honda 919 build, and have been in the market for another project. I’d like to get into building bikes for a living, so I’ve been cutting my teeth on Honda’s for the last few years – just trying to get the hang of non-bolt on customization and all that that entails – and it’s time for my first serious custom.
I have to admit (and just about everyone knows), I have never been a fan of Harley Davidson. I always felt that they charged too much, offered too little, and their engineering was contemporarily behind industry standards set in the ‘70s; no one will ever accuse Harley of making a motorcyclist’s machine. With this said, I wanted to build a proper café racer – a standout café racer that’s reasonably a runner – and I wanted it to be American. That pretty much leaves one option. So I set aside the bias, did some research, and traded the Honda 919 for a Sportster 883.
I’ve had the bike for a few weeks now, have put 1,500 miles on her, and I have to say (and I feel like an idiot doing it) that I love this bike more every time I get on it. The way it delivers power (albeit limited power) is different than anything else I’ve ridden. When you hit the throttle, the bike just feels like an animal. It’s raw, it’s dirty, it’s unrefined, it’s heavy, it vibrates, it’s underpowered, the geometry is all wrong, it handles like a three-legged horse, but it is hands down the most fun bike I’ve driven, and I’m really growing into it.
Enough rambling, here’s the plan (or some of it)…
The XL 883 as bought…
A rough sketch of the plan. I’m going to keep the stock tank as the Harley “Peanut” tank is pretty iconic, and it gives the Sportster a really thin profile. I picked up another stock tank off of eBay, and will be using it as a base for a seat cap.
Bill Becker shot this for me. We were thinking about rearset and handlebar position. I ordered some Biltwell Clubmans, but am probably going to fabricate some rearsets.
This is a Vance & Hines Competition Series exhaust. I’m thinking this with black header wrap. I’m not 100% on it yet. I would really be into a nice “pea-shooter” 2:1 style, but I can’t find one. Supertrapp makes something similar, but I’m kind of not into the adjustable exhaust thing.
This is a Roland Sands Street Tracker/Café Sportster. I’m just putting it up here as a reference. I think it’s definitely a badass ride, but it’s not a classic café, and that’s what I’m into.
Another Sportster café example. I’m into this one a little more. I like that its a little rougher around the edges. Also, if I could find that exhaust, it’d be perfect. I’ve scoured the web and can’t find anything on it. This image was taken off of an eBay listing for this bike a few years ago. It’s been passed around all the XL Café forums, but the guy whose bike it is/was hasn’t posted anything about it. I fucking LOVE that exhaust though…
I’m dying to get this thing started, and a lot of parts are already on the way. I want to be a little slower and more deliberate on this build though, I just want to get it right the first time. More to follow…
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Published - Aug 21, 2011
2021 update – click here. Below is deprecated info… I bought a cb500t engine to put into my 1973 cb450. There’s not really many reasons I’m doing this other than it’s fucking cool… Hybrid! The engine bolts right in. Should have a bit more torque. 1975 500t engine. 24,000 miles on it. Get dirty. Step […]