James Roper-Caldbeck is one of our favorite Harley builders. Mostly because his creations are a million miles away from the metalflake baggers that populate the mainstream magazines.
James is famous for his clean, stripped-back bobbers, but that might change soon. “Last year, I got a rather sheepish email asking if I would ever build a café racer,” he tells us.
“It’s sometimes a little monotonous building just bobbers and choppers, so I quickly said yes. I’ve always loved the late 70s XLCR 1000 too, and that became my inspiration—even in the way the bike has been photographed.”
James decided not to go the obvious route with a Sportster, but with a shovelhead: an FX Super-Glide. “I found a stock-ish FX, but it had an 80ci S&S motor and a five-speed transmission—very nice.”
“To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing,” James admits. “But I knew I wanted it black, with a fairing, and to look f—ing mean!”
James is being far too modest about his abilities: He’s turned out one of the best-looking shovelheads we’ve ever seen.
His bikes are always beautifully balanced, with just the right stance and not a part out of place—and he’s done it again, despite working with an unfamiliar style.
He started by fabricating a new seat pan and cowl from scratch, which houses a Triumph taillight. The inspiration here was the high tails of superbikes: “I was think they look very tough, and wish I could have got it even higher.”
The tank is actually the original FX tank with a few modifications. “Everyone asks, ‘What is that tank?’ and are shocked when I tell them. I just thought it really worked on a cafe racer-style bike.”
Even more surprising is the origin of the fairing. No, it’s not an expensive item from one of the major aftermarket suppliers: It’s a cheap eBay find, and made in China.
“I took a risk and bought it, but was very surprised when it arrived. It was good quality, and fitted the original headlight and bike perfectly.”
The front and rear shocks are from Progressive Suspension, and James has altered the stance by raising the back and lowering the front a little.
The exhaust system is inspired by Italian sportbikes. “I love Ducati exhausts that wind though the bike and then shoot out the tail.” That’s not strictly possible on a Harley V-Twin, but James has managed to fabricate a system with a similar aesthetic.
“I know it looks like you would burn your ass on it, but you do not—and it sounds awesome.”
The S&S ‘V80’ engine has a Super Stock ignition system, and pumps out around 40% more horsepower than the average Shovel motor. So James has left it alone. “It’s got power—so it needs good brakes. The originals, to put it bluntly, are terrible.” The shovel now sports dual discs at the front, with Performance Machine calipers both front and back.
The controls are basically original with some modifications, but the pegs are custom fabricated.
The trickiest element to get right? The paint. “I wanted it to have a kind of 80s look,” James says. “So I looked at a lot of superbikes from the 80s and 90s, and came up with this.”
It’s subtle yet sporty, and just ‘right.’
James says that he’s “Not sure how the cafe racer guys will like this.”
Well, this one right here loves it.