1984 Sportster Project

00:49  02/25/2020

How it all started:

I quit riding for a few years.  Not for any reason, just because it happened that way.  Being an office worker, life tends to be rather sedentarty, and I was starting to feel sluggish, so I started to think about ways to add some activity back into my life. I went and bought a new motorcycle.  That was in '98, I bought a '99 Kawasaki KLR650.  Great bike, really, if not perfect.  34 horsepower doesn't exactly blow my dress up, if you know what I mean.  It would run the ton, but it took a while to get there.  Then, I bought another Kaw, a Vulcan Nomad 1500, with all the trimmings.  People kept asking 'Is that a Road King?'.  Well, it was, in some respects.  But 'feet forward' doesn't do it for me, either.

Then, I bought the Tiger.  One small step for me, one extreme step for ME.  I went from ho-hum to pop-wow almost too fast to comprehend.

34 horses for the KLR, 58 or so for the Nomad, 103 for the Tiger.  Slow speed to light speed in three years.  The KLR got 15 mph per 1000 rpm in top gear, with a 7500 red line.  Call it a theoretical 112 mph top end.  The tiger gets 15 mph per 1000 rpm in top gear, with a 9500 rpm red line (do the math.... 140+).    The 'sweet spot' is between 5,000 and 8,000 rpm.  that's 75 to 120 mph, in top gear.  It 'comes on the cam' at about 4600, and in first gear, it will occasionally lift the front end off the ground, just for spite.Very disquieting, the first time that happens.  Tends to cause one to review his priorities....

There may, just possibly, be 'too much of a good thing'.

So, I'm  looking for some middle of the road.  I don't want 'feet forward', but expect to install a set of highway pegs, just to allow some movement on the long trips.  I don't want a 'crotch rocket', too much belt line for me bend over like that all day.  The naked upright bikes have all grown up to liter class, and will blow your socks off any time you want.  Besides that, the 337 pound KLR convinced me that you want 400 or more pounds in order to deal with side winds on the highway.  My experience with Triumph (the corporation, not the bike) tells me that I don't want to buy another one of them, even though the new twins might fill the requirement quite nicely.  Yamaha doesn't bring their twin (the TDM) into the US, so that's out (regretably).  The closest I ever got to it (the middle of the road) was my '52 K-Model, so I started looking around for a Sportster. 

It's primative. 

It's air-cooled. 

It's only got 4 or 5 speeds. 

It might be just what I'm looking for.

Well, I started researching in earnest.  This is going to cost me, big time.

1. In the 60's there was the XLH, with a long, flat seat (Truly, part of the inspiration for my home-made seat on the Tiger), a 4 gallon gas tank, and buck-horn bars.  A gentelman's all-purpose scooter.  Plenty of range, room for a 'pillion trophy', enough umph to challenge any Corvette of the day.

2.  There was (however briefly), an XLC model, with a high 2-into-1 side pipe, peanut tank, flat-track bars, and plenty of attitude.

3.  There was the 'cafe racer', which didn't sell worth a damn, but which is now a collectors item.

4.  And finally, 'On Any Sunday', there were the full-faired Orange and Black road racers.

So, I'll have one of each.

Problem is, Harley owners think their machine is worth more than it was when it was new!  Being the stubborn old man that I am, I kept looking.  I ended up with an early '84.  61 cubic inches (O.K., 1000 cc's for you metric types).  4 speed.  Generator, not the alternator of the late '84's and 85's, that would occasionally explode and wipe out the clutch basket.  The roter, you see, was relatively cheap.  The clutch basket costs about 400 bucks!

So, I got the best of the Iron head Sportsters.  27 years of development, so most of the bugs were worked out (or at least repairable), but not the new-fangled stuff like the alternator that wasn't so well engineered.

All right, I bought a rolling disaster.  It hadn't been registered in 5 years (non-oped, so it wasn't going to cost me).  It was a bay area (San Francisco) bike, and the years of salty air had not been kind to it.  The guy hooked up a car battery to it (the old one had long since expired), pushed the button, and it turned over just fine.  No surprise, it didn't start.  I was glad for that, later.

I handed the previous owner twenty crisp 100 dollar bills, he signed the title over, and we shoved it up into my pickup.

Somewhere in the next few days, I realized that there were no turn signals, and no horn.  That was all that was missing, except for what the corrosion had eaten away.  I took no pictures of the original bike, but I have a few of the various bits and pieces that have been removed.

Like the exhaust system:

The pipes were once chrome, believe it or not.  Exhaust system available to a good home, the dog stays with me.

I brought it home and tore it apart.  Completely.

The front piston was broken up, between the top and the second ring. 


The machine shop tells me that that's the result of detonation.  Probably cheap gas, or bad timing, or poor carubration jetting (or some combination...).  That's why I'm gald the engine didn't start, no point mixing more bits of broken metal into the crankcase.  I sent the frame and swingarm out to be sand blasted and powder coated.  They came back like this:

The swingarm is hanging the middle of the picture.  In the background are the 60's type banana seat, with the new front fender sitting on top.  (Not my greatest photograph of all time.)

The frame, strapped down to the ATV jack that will be it's home for the re-construction project.

The old wheels were rusty to the max.

I replaced them with a set of  '99 DynaGlide wheels that I purchased for a right price, tires and all.

My neighbor has a few Harleys, and some extra parts, so he contributed a pair of Buckhorn bars.

The rolling chassis now looks like this:

After some deliberation, I opted for a functional object, possibly without all the niceties that would follow.  The aluninum is dis-colored.  The front forks have some pitting on the upper portion.  A lot of the bolts and nuts are less than what I would like (the shock mounts, the axels, ....  However, I have replaced a lot of the rusty bits with stainless steel stuff, or at least new plated things for the grade 8 bolts (the sprocket and brake rotor bolts, for instance).

The objective is to have a functional base that I can upgrade while I ride it.  The frame is clean, and the motor will be right.  Some of the stuff will happen over a longer period of time.

Part 2 - Reconstruction Part 3 - Variations on a Theme


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Revision: 01.0     Email Doug     08/09/2007