Just round the corner from the Wrenchmonkees’ workshop in Copenhagen, Denmark, is one of Europe’s top independent Harley builders. James Roper-Caldbeck builds sweet, clean vintage bikes under the Customs From Jamesville banner, and this Sportster-based machine is his latest creation.
There’s a story behind this one. Earlier this year, James got a rather sheepish email from a guy wanting a custom built around a Harley-Davidson Evo engine. “He didn’t think for a second I would say yes,” says James. “He thought I only worked on vintage Harleys. But he also mentioned that he’d like the bike built in the style of the Japanese custom bobbers. I fell in love with the idea and called him up immediately.”
At the other end of the line was Tony, a tattoo artist who’d spent six years in Japan honing his skills in the art of Japanese tattooing. He fell in love with the country and its culture, and with the Tokyo custom bike scene. The long, low bobbers with intricate handmade detailing caught his eye—so very different from the scene in his native Sweden, which is more influenced by the conventional ‘chopper.’
Tony returned to Scandinavia in 2008. “Around the same time my wife ordered me a book for Christmas,” says James. “It was from Japan and showed the work of a man called Shinya Kimura. When I opened the book for the first time and saw the bikes built by Zero Engineering, I was lost for words. They were the most beautiful custom bikes I had ever seen, so clean and simple, graceful but mean.”
Meanwhile, Tony saw one of James’ bikes online. And realized that James’ shop was just over the bridge in Denmark—a short trip from his house in Sweden. So he wrote the email.
“A big part of me was scared to take on this project,” says James. “I’ve never seen a Japanese gooseneck bobber built by a westerner that was half decent.” He came to the conclusion that it was down to the frames. Eventually he found a company called Fenland Choppers in the UK, and they lightly customized one of their frames to James’ specification. “It came out perfect, and because of this foundation the ideas for the rest of the bike just came flooding out.”
And the result? It’s a 1988 Evo Sportster bored out to 1200 cc. Up front is a stock springer fork hooked up to an 18” aluminum Morad rim and a springer big-twin front brake. “There was no donor bike for this project,” says James. “Tony came to me with the top and front engine mounts; the rest was sourced from all over the world.” The tank is a modified SCO moped item, and the rear brake and chopped-down oil tank are from an Ironhead Sportster. The rest is custom fabricated, including the bars, battery box, seat, rear fender strut, exhaust, foot controls, pegs and a multitude of brackets.
“Did I succeed?” James asks. “I have no idea, because when you stare at a motorcycle for 300 hours it becomes just another object lying around the workshop. You don’t get that same feeling as when you click on a link, and see a bike for the first time, and think ‘That’s awesome’.”
I don’t know about you, but I reckon James Roper-Caldbeck succeeded big time.