Battle of the Kings: The Sportster Edition

Harley-Davidson Battle of the Kings 2017
It’s become commonplace for manufacturers to regularly commission custom work from top builders. But Harley-Davidson Europe have taken a different approach. For three years they’ve run the annual ‘Battle of the Kings’ contest—calling on their own dealers to put their best foot forward.

The concept is simple: a bike is chosen, and the ‘Custom King’ in each dealership reworks it as they see fit. The public votes, and a new King is crowned.

This year, Harley gave dealers their pick of three Sportsters: the Iron 883, the Forty-Eight, and the new Roadster. Here are our favorite entries from the 2017 crop—ranging from the ultra-classy to the outright outrageous.

Battle of the Kings 2017: Sportster Roadster by Harley-Davidson La Rochelle
Harley-Davidson La Rochelle, Lagord, France Full disclosure: we have a soft spot for dustbin fairings, especially when they’re this well executed. The La Rochelle entry is one of the most single-minded bikes in the contest; the point driven home further by the bold ‘Screamin’ Eagle’ graphics on the fairing.

A slammed Roadster forms the basis, with a Forty-Eight tank doing duty up front. The tail section was made from an 883 Sportster tank—and if we’re reading the specs right, holds the fuel pump and an additional 12 liters of fuel. The throwback Harley racing colors are sublime, as are the little touches—like the way the twin exhausts exit on the right of the fairing (hit the link below for a look at the other side). Here’s hoping we see this one on the European classic sprint circuit soon!

Battle of the Kings 2017: Sportster Roadster by Harley-Davidson Banská Bystrica
Harley-Davidson Banská Bystrica, Slovakia We’d normally write off electric-style airbrushing as garish, but in this case we’ll take it. Because—holy cow—these guys just built a Harley-Davidson snow bike. The Slovakian crew at Banská Bystrica started with a Roadster, then ditched the wheels, swing arm and shocks, and got busy.

Getting a ski on the front meant fabricating a set of adapters, but rigging up the rear was a far tougher job. The Harley’s drivetrain sits on the right, while the snow track’s is on the left—so the team had to connect the two. The stock brakes and ABS are gone too; the snow system’s own brake is now hooked up to the stock front brake lever. We’re not sure if a torquey V-twin built for snow is genius or idiotic—but either way we love it. [Watch the video]

Battle of the Kings 2017: Sportster Roadster by Harley-Davidson Praha
Harley-Davidson Praha, Czech Republic If you know your Harley-Davidson history, you’ll pick up hints of the 1920s Eight-Valve Racer in this Roadster from Czechoslovakia. To nail the look, the Praha dealer fabricated everything from the fenders, through to the side covers and gas tank (which holds the oil tank too).

But they’ve left the modern Roadster chassis intact—along with its upside-down forks, and dual front discs with ABS. The wire wheels are Harley catalog items, and the crew even installed a Super Tuner, to adjust the fuel mapping for the new pipes and intake. That makes this entry a true modern classic, in our eyes.

Battle of the Kings 2017: Sportster Roadster by Harley-Davidson Capital
Harley-Davidson Capital, Madrid, Spain There’s a lot to appreciate on this perky Roadster from Spain—from the crisp paint job right down to the neat fly screen and bash plate. But it’s the re-interpretation of the tail end that’s really intriguing. Compare this to a stock Roadster, and you’ll notice that the main section of the stock seat pad is still present—but the rear’s been replaced by a sharp cowl that hints at the original shape.

Then there’s the massive muffler—giving the bike a distinct 80s muscle bike vibe. The guys describe it as “a young bike, for people having fun being young.” We’ll happily drink that Kool-Aid.

Battle of the Kings 2017: Sportster Roadster by Harley-Davidson Bologna
Harley-Davidson Bologna, Italy The Roadster’s taller stance and bigger wheels make it ripe for a little scrambler styling—and where better to build that than in Bologna, home of the Ducati Scrambler? From the fuel tank, through to the bench seat and rear fender, everything just sits together flawlessly. Look closely, and you’ll also notice a pair of custom shock mount linkages, jacking the rear up further. And the upswept and tucked headers—complete with Akrapovič cans—are a welcomed break from the quintessential high scrambler pipes.

With those Continental TKC80s fitted, it’s just the thing for cruising down your favorite fire roads on a quiet Sunday morning. Harley-Davidson Bologna placed second in the 2015 contest, and we reckon they’ve got another shot at the podium here.

Battle of the Kings 2017: Sportster Forty-Eight by Harley-Davidson Poznań
Harley-Davidson Poznań, Poland The Forty-Eight is easily one of the best-looking Sportsters in Harley-Davidson’s quiver—and a hoot to ride too. So why mess with it? Harley-Davidson Poznań opted to leave the Forty-Eight mostly stock—and built a sidecar hack to accompany it instead.

It works startlingly well, thanks in part to the team’s relentless attention to detail; note the Forty-Eight wheel that the sidecar uses, and the throwback HD emblem on the side of the body. It’s such a fantastic pairing, that if you told us this was a new factory model from Milwaukee—we’d believe you.

Battle of the Kings 2017: Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster by Warrs.
Warr’s Harley-Davidson, London, England With Charlie Stockwell at the helm, Warr’s custom division has had quite a run. Their 2015 Battle of the Kings entry took top honors in the UK, and their 2016 entry won the overall competition. Now they’re aiming for a hat trick with this Roadster—which they’ve billed as “flat track, but fully fettled for road use.”

The murdered-out paint job belies the amount of work that’s gone into the bike. Take a look at the cutouts on the tank, filled in by grilled ‘knee pads.’ Then there’s the exhaust system: custom-made headers terminating in Vance & Hines pre-production XG750R mufflers, and capped off with a burly heat shield. The original heat shields have been repurposed as fork leg protectors, the rims are from a 2007 V-Rod, and there’s a sprinkling of hand-made and Harley-Davidson catalogue parts to finish it off.

That’s our selection—what’s yours?