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Old 24th September 2013, 16:24   #1
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Default Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

"Hotrod Bobber" - whats that? Well; A bobber is a motorcycle with superfluous parts removed and usually with "bobbed" fenders. And a hotrod is generally a roadster (as in cars) or a naked bike that has been a bigger/better engine for greater performance.

So how does one make a "poor Man's" hotrod bobber?

Well; you start with the cheapest big bike available; American Muscle wont be a bad start!

If you want to spare yourself the joy (or trauma) of building one yourself, head to the Harley showroom and sign the cheque for a Sportster 48. It costs around 10 L on-road and is in my opinion; the most badass motorcycle Harley has ever made; and a motorcycle only Harley can have the B@((s to make. Modifying a Sportster 48 is sacrilege; it is a perfect bobber built in a factory! In my eyes, nothing describes a perfect bobber better than a 48 with the yellow gastank.

Now that I couldn't afford a 48 when i went bike shopping and I also wanted a Bobber; my 2011 H-D SuperLow 883 had to be bobbed. The Superlow has a lot of aces up its sleeve even though its the cheapest of the breed; its comes with lots of chrome, some really good alloy wheels, grippy tyres and wide front fork all of which adds up to a comfy and fun cruiser. A good bike to base your custom creation on.

A little bit of bobber history that you have probably heard umpteen times...US army folks returning after the war started riding military spec Harleys and would strip of all unnecessary parts off them to make then lighter and more powerful. This gave rise to a sleek and slim looking custom look that became an established way to mod Harleys and other bikes having fairly large aircooled engines. Triumphs, Nortons, BSAs; all of them also undergo bobber treatments in the hands of enthusiasts.

There are also choppers in the custom world, which are bikes whose frame geometry has been modified to achieve a longer and more raked out look. Popular mods in this school of thought include raked out forks (springers are best here) and a hardtail rear end. In fact, a Hardtail rear end defines the quintessential chopper look; no moving bits in the rear means the fenders can hug the tyre and the seat can be as low as possible.

A bobber has to look clean and minimalistic. It is for this reason that bobber lovers prefer carburated bikes that have very less wiring that is easy to make look clean. The Superlow is electronically fueled meaning lots of wires crisscrossing the frame; so you need to factor a lot of time to tuck and hide as much wiring as possible. All sportsters come with a plastic concealing that hides all wires very neatly, but in bobber world, those plastic bits are 'superfluous" and have to go!

The fenders on the superlow are also quite generous and need the "bob" treatment. The fuel tank on the superlow again accommodates a generous 17 Liters and deviates from a bobber look, so those have to be swapped for a more traditional peanut tank.

Now, peanut tanks are part of Harley's heritage and the look of it defines a quintessential bobber or chopper. Bobbers retain the basic frame geometry while choppers have their frames "chopped" for increased rake and trail to get that long 'n low chopper look. Peanut tanks were not used in Harley's sporster line up for decades before they were resurrected on the Sportster 48 a few years back.

My vision for a bobber based on the H-D super low is simple; Apehangers, fat tyres, bobbed fenders and peanut tank, some shiny bits and an old school paint job. And finally an engine upgrade to make it a true hotrod.

With this vision in mind, i went about adding and removing bits from my Superlow; always riding - never keeping her in a shed. I started with chroming a few bits; side stand, strut covers and belt guard. I also got a Scremin Eagle Heavy Breather air intake and Vance & Hines Slip-on exhausts.

Talking about exhausts; that is almost always the first to get the mod treatment. Harley offers Screamin Eagle slip-ons from the showroom; but one can opt for the thousands of options available to make the bike more loud. There are essentially two types of exhaust mods available for sportsters - full systems or slip-ons. Slip-ons get 'slipped-on' onto the stock header pipes while full-systems ditch the complete stock system.

Some of the Avatars my bike wore on her journey to being a bobber are below.

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-1img_3768001.jpg

Custom paint, airfilter inserts, a Sportster 48 seat, lots of chromed bits..

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-255243_10150914126940863_1937779960_n.jpg

Relocated number plate, a wider handle bar..

The next big mod was the apehanger bars. I have a thing for ape-hangers; I felt they were one of the the most outrageous things on a motorcycle. And only Harleys can carry off an apehanger in style...on any other bike it looks brash and cheap - sort of not the real deal.

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-1img_7296002.jpg

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-1img_7302.jpg

I have been asked by many as to how i ride with such an uncomfortable pair of bars; I actually get them to ride it and see for themselves. Its quite comfy and relaxing; you can literally cruise all day on them. I had done a non-stop Hyderbad-Cochin run just after the apes were installed. It really is comfortable.

One bug bear with the Superlow is it's ground clearance; this takes a lot away from the Superlow being a proper street bike. You literally get sick of those griding jars on potholes and speedbreakers; i had both by rims bent at the lip within a week of riding. Harley's solution to this problem is to raise the suspension by a few inches- they have a kit for that. But i believe its got to do with the tyres. The tyres on a superlow are low profile which are great for cornering and laying down power, but are quite unsuitable for our pathetic road conditions.

I got hold of a 19 inch front rim from an Iron 883 which i got installed. This did give me some more ground clearance. But the actual solution to this problem is higher profile tyres. This truly eliminates the problem as i found out later.

Here's a pic with the 19 inch front wheel.

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-img_8545001.jpg

So the next set of mods was planned that would more or less turn the superlow into a bobber. A peanut tank is almost mandatory for a bobber; new ones cost a bomb. Approx. 40K. and a pair of bobbed fenders too cost like 30K. No way was it going to be a poor man's bobber with such costs. So i began hunting for discarded body parts. I found a peanut tank with some nasty dents and pair of stock superlow fenders for a song.

I decided to bob the fenders and paint them a dark colour - mostly black. The idea was to keep it simple so that i could play around with the finish on the tank. That way, the tank could be any color - loud orange, cool blue, mean green or industrial gray - any scheme would work.

A paint job i tried at the local painter is below. I scrapped it as it did not go with the flow of the bike; the idea was to keep it cheap so that i could trial a few options.

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-img_20130628_034314.jpg

This is the point where every builder has to make a tough decision - to bob the frame or not? Sportsters have a rear subframe to hold the rear fender and seats that defines how much you can chop the rear fender. The max possible chop keeping the frame stock is up to the edge of the subframe. If the subframe is bobbed, there opens up a world of possibilities for deciding how the rear of the bike looks. A full chop of the subframe means you can have a really cool looking rear fender that is chopped right behind the seat. Also chopping the subframe means the pillion is gone for good.

The pic below shows the subframe.

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I decided to leave the subframe as it is and do a mild chop on the rear fender. Many Reasons - i could still use my saddlebags for touring, my shirt would still stay relatively clean and the frame would stay virgin. I did not want to compromise any part of my actual riding experience by making the bike less functional.

The pic below shoes my stock fenders in red alongside the chopped fenders.

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Bobbed fenders don't make sense without fat rubber. The stock super low tyres are 150mm at the rear and 120 at the front and also have low profile. I had upgraded my rear tyre after 13000 kms to a 160mm Pirelli and had noticed that there was still room between the drive belt and the edge of the tyre. So i decided to go all out and got myself a 180 mm rear tyre. It fit just perfect with just about enough clearance to the belt.

Pic below shows a spanner barely wedging itself in the gap.

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In the front I always wanted a 48 look: fat and wide. The stock 48 tyre is a 130mm with 90 profile; i got hold of a 140 mm tyre with 70 profile that i fixed. I also decided to use the stock superlow rims rather than the iron 883 19 inch rim I was using at the front. The overall diameter of the 140 tyre on the superlow rim was a tad more than the studded pirelli tyres i was running on the 19 inch rim.

Pic below explains:
Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-img2013070600134.jpg

I now believed i had the perfect tyre setup to eliminate any GC woes. The only drawback i observed on the test run was that the bike seems to have got sluggish, the wide 180mm sports tyre had too much grip! The seeds of an engine upgrade was already planted and germinating...

Engine upgrades! Did I catch u smiling??

This is the big advantage of starting small, the 883 motor of the sportster range is easily upgradeable. the major difference with her 1200 cousins is the bore diameter - 3 inch v/s 3.5 inch.

There are several options available for engine upgrades. Harley service centres can do a standard 1200 upgrade which involves changing the bore, pistons and head OR a stage 2 upgrade that uses the same heads but has a high compression 10:1 piston and a hot cam. Both options would include an ECU remap. I went for the latter.

There are several aftermarket options too: Hammer Performance offers a 1250 cc kit and so does NRHS. S&S cycles offers a 1200 cc kit too. All these kits are bolt-on - replace the cylinders, pop in the pistons and you are done. You will have to do some sort of fuel management, either a piggyback ECU like a Vance&Hines Fulepack or an ECU remap using Dyna Powervision, Screamin Eagle SuperTuner or such.

Higher cc kits are also available, most notably 1400 cc ones that need a bit of machining on the engine block. I have tried a 1700cc S&S motor on my friends sportster that was truly scary and had the most outrageous engine note.

A point to note here is; the gearing is different on a 1200; so if you want a lopy engine with a low-rpm crusing ability, you have to alter gearing. A smaller rear sprocket would do that. So what i had chosen would give me a true hotrod engine that can out accelerate most street bikes.

So the engine mods began...

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So i now had a hotrod motor and bobber body work; the all important task of getting it all to work together aesthetically was at hand.

Now; the lean and clean look that every bobber builder lusts after needs a lot of small parts to be relocated. Here are the essentials : number plate, ignition coils, ignition lock, speedo, brake light, indicators.

Here is where frugal engineering can make it a "poor man's" bike OR splurge on off-the-shelf relocation kits. They look killer but can burn your wallet bad. There are several specialised US based shops that produce these killer kits - RSD, Joker Machine, Arlen Ness etc etc. I decided to get all parts fabricated myself.

So the Speedo was relocated to the front left side of the gas tank, the ignition coils and lock were relocated to the middle of the vee between the cylinders, the number plate was relocated alongside the rear shocks and the front indicators were ditched in favor of a mean and sharp twist grip with indicators at the ends.

Most bobbers go for the blacked out no-chrome look; but i prefer the more old school chromed look. This also means that you have to keep the "poor man's" funda away for a while. Some chrome bits just cannot be made, they have to be bought. Bits like exhaust shields, chrome switch gear, derby covers, foot pegs etc.

Relocation should be followed by tucking. Tuck every pssible wire and cable in the headstock area under the fuel tank; a 2 inch lift on the fuel tank will help.

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-img2013070600136.jpg

So the first theme i did on my bike did not turn out as good looking as we expected...It was Yuck! It had a scallop paint job using Harley's racing colours - Orange, Black and White. The wheels were painted orange and black and lots of bits like sprockets were blacked out. Have a look for yourself and decide!

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-img_2662.jpg

Whether it is nasty or ugly or both; i decided to go for a different look. The wheels would be power coated in charcoal grey and then the lip would be polished. The sprocket would be chromed, the fuel tank would have an old school look - chrome with dark scallops and white pin striping; topped off with an old harley tank decal. Now here's how she looks. I think this look is here to stay for a sometime...till i scheme up more radical mods.

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-img_00000107001.jpg

Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!-img_00000097.jpg

A word on the overall riding experience. The engine is a dream, it roars and huff and puffs and spits flames; the air intake roar is throaty and has a very snarly rasp. Acceleration is brutal; she spins the rear tyre on upshifts. Tyres are fantastic, I have no GC issues whatsoever.

I love my Bobber

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Last edited by josepeter : 25th September 2013 at 19:53. Reason: Assembly line edit
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Old 26th September 2013, 07:57   #2
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Thread moved to Motorbikes section from Assembly line. Thanks for sharing
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Old 26th September 2013, 08:19   #3
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

josepeter, the final avatar of your Bobber looks great! And I am glad that you didn't touch the frame.

Please flood this thread with more pictures. Both close up and long range. Have fun riding!
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Old 26th September 2013, 08:32   #4
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Mate, all these mods would surely have left you a 'poor man'.

The bike has turned out great and I love the monkey/ape bars and the current point job.

Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 26th September 2013, 15:59   #5
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Incredible amount of work and passion, @josepeter! Terrific job, and wishing you many miles of fun!
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Old 26th September 2013, 16:13   #6
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Hi Josepeter,

Those are cool mods on a cool bike. I especially liked the coloring options you have exercised to make it perfect.
Will keep looking out on Hyd roads to spot you

Happy riding!!
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Old 27th September 2013, 10:12   #7
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Brilliant thread Sir. The transformation is wonderful and looks great, nothing out of place or too loud. I'm sure she is a hoot to ride as well.

I was always under the impression that the ape hanger bars are super-uncomfortable but your post has clarified it. How easy is it to maneuver and turn in tight spots with these bars?

All the best and do keep us updated on a regular basis.

Thread rated 5 stars
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Old 27th September 2013, 11:52   #8
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

That was an awesome read! Thanks a lot josepeter. I have been following your other thread as well.

The first thing that struck me on its first avatar was that ugly high rise headlamp. Anyways glad to see that is being taken care of in the final avatar. And I must say I loved the paint scheme of the fuel tank. Please do post more details and pictures on the mods. Please post a picture from the front, wanted to see how mean that massive front tire looks..

Last edited by man_of_steel : 27th September 2013 at 11:55.
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Old 27th September 2013, 15:28   #9
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Awesome stuff Josepeter!!

Would love it if you could post a video of what the engine now sounds like.
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Old 27th September 2013, 15:43   #10
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Great mean look. Cant the air filter be turned to point ahead or you like it this way? what are the chances of damaging it and hence the engine. (You can even blow into it when you want more )
Would love to hear the engine though.

Last edited by srishiva : 27th September 2013 at 15:45.
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Old 27th September 2013, 18:19   #11
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Just brilliant! Congratulations Jose.

Good that you had an eye & heart to acknowledge something (read : 1st mod) waas not working. Most guys I know tend to "live with it" as (re) changing would mean more moolah out of pocket.

She looks gorgeous. I love the tank. If I were building this; here's what I would change:

- Less "busy" handlebars, something like a short t-bar to keep the front end minimalistic as is the rest of the bike
- Black spoked wheels with a chrome lip

Your bike's a living example of less is more. Ride hard; ride safe!

Edit - have to agree with Srishiva. The air filter comes in the way of me looking at that beauty of a gas tank. Move it to face fwd please (as was on the pre mod bike)

Last edited by Urban_Nomad : 27th September 2013 at 18:22.
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Old 27th September 2013, 19:12   #12
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

My jaws fell to the ground... Just brilliant. Let me recollect and post more comments after I digest all that you have done...
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Old 28th September 2013, 00:07   #13
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Wow dude quite an effort and i liked the way it ended. Respect man!

Could i ask a favor. Could you post before and after video of the exhaust note?
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Old 28th September 2013, 00:07   #14
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

Wow! That is one awesome looking bike!

Excellent work, Sir.
It's really turned out very well. And I have to admit, the first orange and black look was a shocker.. And then I read the text above the image closely, lol.

Would love to see some more close ups from all possible angles.

And if you'd feel comfortable, please inbox/share here the costs.

Cheers and ride safe,
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Old 28th September 2013, 09:09   #15
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Default Re: Building a Poor Man's Harley Performance Bobber!

jospeter, for the benefit of other Superlow owners like me, if you could share the costs of these upgrades. I know passion has no price but still...

Especially interested in the engine enhancements that you did.
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