The core of the traditional custom scene has always been Harley-Davidson: their bikes have been bobbed, chopped and tracked for decades. But it’s not all flame jobs and ape bars; we’re now seeing more Milwaukee metal in the alt-moto and café racer scenes.
Harley’s European arm made a big splash last year with the first Battle Of The Kings: A dealer build-off competition that culminated with judging at the Wheels & Waves festival in Biarritz. BOTK is now back for a second run, this time with the Iron 833 Sportster as the base bike, rather than the Street 750.
The standard is even higher for 2016, with dozens of entries from all over Europe. The usual trad customs are well represented, but several racier builds have caught our eye. Here’s our pick of the bikes, from England, Ireland, France, Italy and Belgium.
Shaw Speed & Custom, Lewes, England Despite being closer to the south coast than central London, Shaw is one of Britain’s most famous Harley dealers. Fronted by the irrepressible Steve Willis, the custom operation is a production line for beautifully detailed bikes. Many are outrageously OTT, but this Iron 883 is low-key and fresh. Shaw have fitted their own seat, rear subframe and handlebars, and raided the H-D catalog for the headlight, grips and axle covers. A hike in power comes from a Screamin’ Eagle Race Tuner and air filter, with gases exiting via a very tidy Roland Sands Design Slant exhaust system. [Vote]
Roadstar92, Paris, France From Saint-Cloud in Paris comes this very modern café-style Sportster with one of the most sinuous exhaust systems we’ve ever seen, courtesy of Zard. It’s the work of 33-year-old master technician Eduoard Lesniak, who cites the speed machines of the Bonneville salt flats as his inspiration. Eduoard has crafted the bodywork himself, and also the rearsets—which give the rider a very sporting position. Other goodies include VR wheels, Kellerman bar-end blinkers and a Harley Daymaker LED headlight hidden behind a neat green shield. [Vote]
Dublin Harley-Davidson, Ireland Kenny Roetsch, Head Tech for Dublin H-D, has built a radical Sportster while using mostly H-D catalog parts—including the solo saddle and seat mount, and the Forty-Eight tank. The brutally simple exhaust system was made in-house, and the ‘solid’ wheels are actually two-piece covers from the French company EMD. It’s the rear fender that blows us away though: it’s made from a tire. “Everyone will think it is easy to cut a tire and mount it to the frame rails… it isn’t!” Roetsch reports. [Vote]
Warr’s Harley-Davidson, London, England Charlie Stockwell has been running the custom side of Warr’s since the turn of the century, and his builds are all class. The Warr’s Iron 883 is inspired by the XLCR, the Willie G. café racer of the 70s, hence the super-smooth front fairing—finished in H-D Black Texture paint. The equally racy seat unit is from RSD, modified slightly, but the tank is bone stock 883: “I didn’t want the bike to not to look like an Iron,” says Charlie. A lot of the work on this machine has gone into the engine detailing, and it’s worth checking out the exhaust closely—it’s a prototype Vance & Hines ‘Upsweep’ 2-into-1. [Vote]
Harley-Davidson Viterbo, Italy Hailing from the medieval city of Viterbo in central Italy, this is more proof that the Iron 883 works surprisingly well in café racer clothing. Workshop techs Michele and Vincenzo have made substantial changes, installing a new tank and seat, and an LED headlight set into a pert bikini fairing. The cockpit has been upgraded with new bars, levers and grips, and tiny blinkers hiding underneath. There’ll be plenty of induction noise from the exposed air filter—and no doubt from those intriguing stepped mufflers too. [Vote]
Harley-Davidson Namur, Belgium The most radical reworking in this selection comes from Belgium. There are shades of Revival Cycles’ ‘Hardley’ build in this one, especially the one-off tank and exposed triangle under the seat. Workshop manager Fabrizio aimed for clean lines and a vintage silhouette, and he’s succeeded admirably. It meant a considerable amount of work on the frame and electrical system, but the result is a Sportster with a genuinely racy stance. The visual mass is now centered on that iconic engine—and it sure looks good. [Vote]
Head over to the competition website to check out the other bikes and cast your vote. What’s your pick?
If you happen to be in Paris this coming weekend, you can see all the French finalists at the Bike Shed Show, held on Saturday and Sunday at Les Docks, Cite De La Mode Et Du Design.