Dutch Master: Pancake’s simple, sublime Sportster XLS

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
Harley-Davidson’s new Softail range has set the interwebs alight, which has us thinking: isn’t it about time the Sportster got refreshed too? Our ideal Sporty has a sixth gear, a monoshock rear and a much lower curb weight.

But then we spot a delightful little four-speed Ironhead like this 1981 XLS Roadster, and don’t feel so bad. Sure, modern bikes are great and all—but until we have the cash to drop on a shiny new machine, a classic bob-chop like this do very nicely, thank you.

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
This Sportster belongs to former BMXer Boy Janssen of Pancake Customs of Rheden in The Netherlands. Boy’s been running Pancake as a full-time gig for the last two and half years, and has already wowed us with a couple of his builds. He’s now stepping up a gear, with his cousin Bas coming on board to help with the non-mechanical side, like apparel and social media.

“The custom motorcycle world is a tough business,” says Boy, “but so far so good. We have lots of plans for the future.”

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
As for the donor XLS, Boy found it locally a couple of years ago in non-running condition. “The price was right so I took it home; turned out it had the wrong spark plugs in. I changed them and the bike fired right up.”

“I’m really into the Japanese chopper scene and the crazy original stuff they build there. Bas is a former pro skater, and he’s really into Californian Frisco-style bikes. I think you can see a bit of both styles here.”

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
Everything on the Ironhead’s been replaced or refreshed. That includes an engine rebuild and a new CV carb with adjustable needles. Boy also split the rocker covers “for that 70s show bike look”. All the wiring was redone too, with a new electronic ignition and Lithium-ion battery.

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
The air filter is a part Boy had lying around—he suspects it came off a VW Beetle—and it’s now fitted to the carb via a custom-made adaptor. The upswept pipes are leftovers from a hardtail Ironhead belonging to Bas: Boy hand-made a set of brackets to make them fit his swing-arm version. They’re coated white with the intention of having them discolor over time.

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
Boy’s Sportster is a pretty simple-looking machine, but it took many hours and headaches to get it that way. Everything is intentional—from the laid-back stance to the radically reworked tail.

“It’s one off the least popular Ironheads for a chopper or bobber because of the horrible rear-end, shock placement and rear disc brake,” he explains. “So I re-did the rear-end the way I think Harley should’ve done it.”

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
Boy shortened the frame, then grafted on the swingarm from an earlier Ironhead to accommodate a drum brake conversion. Those chromed-out rear shocks are from a Shovelhead, and are mounted a little further forward now.

Up front, he shaved the forks and added shrouds from Lowbrow Customs. A pair of 19” wheels wrapped in Excelsior tires helped nail the final stance. The front brake’s gone down to one disc, but it’s been refurbished and upgraded with a Kustom-Tech master cylinder.

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
Everything on Boy’s XLS is perfectly judged, from the aftermarket ‘alien’ fuel tank with its vintage Harley badges to the Bison Motorsports oil tank. The seat and tail are spot on too, thanks to some crafty upholstery by Silver Machine.

Less obvious details are the Panhead lights, white rubber NOS foot pegs, and black sparkle grips. The tracker bars are a neat touch too—Boy welded them directly to the risers for a clean look, before coating them black.

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs
As for switches, we can’t spot any—nor do we see a speedo or turn signals. This Ironhead is as clean as they come, wrapped mostly in black with just a few clever highlights.

It’s a master class in old-school bike building. And will do just fine until the new Sportsters arrive—whenever that may be.

Pancake Customs | Facebook | Instagram | Images by Jeremie di Stefano

Custom Harley Ironhead Sportster by Pancake Customs