The list of manufacturers putting out scramblers seems to grow daily. But the memo hasn’t reached Milwaukee: Harley-Davidson have yet to jump on the mud-flinging bandwagon.
If they do—not that it’s likely—the Sportster would be the obvious candidate. It’s the lightest of an otherwise porky bunch, has a punchy motor, and responds well to fettling. So it’s becoming increasingly popular with custom shops building dirt-worthy Harleys.
This brawny yet elegant 883 Sportster comes from Clint Hanaway at Thunder Road Customs, and makes for an excellent blueprint. Sunset Strip regulars will recognize the name: Thunder Road originally opened in West Hollywood in 1989, and was co-owned by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.
When shop owner Max Hushahn and Clint decided that a Harley-based dirt-tracker was in order, a 2001 883 XL was quickly put on the bench. And Clint was left to his own devices.
“I love the current dirt-tracker trend,” says Clint. “But most builds I’ve seen either look like they’re built for track use only, or are basically street bikes with some knobby tires on.”
“This bike was built to live in both worlds. The clearance is enough for you to drive up or down the biggest curbs you’ll find in the city. Or bound up a back country fire trail. But it still has a comfortable street ride.”
Once Clint had stripped the 883 down to just the engine and frame, he put on a set of Firestone ANS tires for reference and began fine-tuning the stance. The front forks were treated to blacked-out lowers, new fork gaitors and heavy duty progressive springs with the preload jacked up. The rear was then balanced out with 15-inch Burly Brand Stiletto shocks.
Clint trimmed the back of the frame, and installed a Lowbrow Customs Tsunami fender and a Biltwell Inc. Banana seat. A license plate mount was made for the right side of the bike, “in case you want to take some hard left loops around the track.”
Other Biltwell Inc. parts include a set of Moto handlebars and Mushman foot pegs. A small skid-plate from Bison Motorsports was fitted up front for good measure, and the air cleaner was replaced by a Bench Mark Slinky unit.
On the mechanical side, Clint ditched the belt for a chain drive, reshaping the sprocket cover and overhauling the brakes in the process. He then performed a general clean-up—removing any non-essential bits.
That included tossing the existing wiring harness, and replacing it with a simplified system with yellow cloth-wrapped leads. The coil now hides under the seat, and a flush-mounted button next to the battery box fires the Harley up.
Even the headlight’s been internally wired, with its own old school toggle switch—leaving the cockpit clutter free. “In my opinion, there should never be more then one wire going into a headlight,” says Clint.
For the exhaust, Clint wanted to build a high-slung system. But it had to be low profile, to avoid irritating the rider’s leg—or getting damaged if the bike falls down. With a box of pipe bends from Bison Motorsports and all of his patience, Clint welded up the ideal headers. He’s capped them off with Biltwell Inc. Stinger mini-mufflers.
All that was left to do was pick the right fuel tank—an aftermarket peanut unit that Clint modified to fit. “It took a minute to find a tank that had the right shape,” he says. “Something that looked like it could be stock, but without all the extra bulk.” Vintage AMF stickers were sourced, and handed over to the shop’s paint guy to seal in under a clear coat.
The rest of the bike is finished in raw, muted or black tones, with a tiny bit of chrome dispersed throughout. As a final touch, the points cover from a ’78 Shovelhead was added.
It all ties together beautifully—with a playful aesthetic that belies the well-considered mods lurking underneath.
Or, as Clint sums it up: “It’s a serious bike for people who don’t want to take bikes too seriously.
“I also owe a great deal of gratitude to Thunder Road Customs for funding this build and giving me the ability to create this bike at all. Their influence has allowed me to fine tune myself as a builder.”