The Modern Sportster Café Racer

Sportster Café Racer jobs are popping up all over the world. Using the same basic ergonomics they don’t have much resemblance with those that the Rockers of the British subculture were riding in the 50’s for road races between transport cafés. At that time, Rockers were buying factory-made motorcycles (not Harleys) and tuned them up to appear like mean racing bikes that they used as objects of intimidation and masculinity. The most appreciated bike by the Leather Boys was the Triton, a custom motorcycle built with a Norton Featherbed frame and a Triumph Bonneville engine. Although many brands and models have been and continue to be used as platforms to create Café Racers, today the Harley Sportster, because of its popularity (61 years of continuous production) is the most used model foundation to recreate a minimalist styling road racer reminiscent of the rebellious spirit of the English Ton-Up boys.

This classically designed Sportster Café Racer (named 26 after his lucky number) belongs to Hong Kong based Australian native James Middleton who is an experienced rider already owner of a couple of high end Ducatis and other racing motorcycles. He approached very reputable Sydney builder asking for a fun and very easy handling machine to ride around town when he touches down in Australia. A bike based on a 883 Iron Sportster with a strong Café Racer vibe to make him feel like a kid at Christmas, but without losing any of today’s Harley modernity and of course keeping the project street legal.

A complete tear down was necessary to remove all unnecessary tabs and welds from the factory frame. A task followed by the fabrication of a prominent seat cowling, probably one of the most typical specifications of an early Café Racer. Strangely the racing fairing was forgotten. RSD parts did the trick of converting the Sportster into an apparent Café Racer with the right stance and look. It includes low clip-on bars, grips, levers and rear footrest sets, whilst lowering the rear end with a set of high end progressive shocks to create a comfortable and low down riding position.

Other RSD components were used to relocate the headlight and simplify the speedo setup,  keeping the top yolk clean and simple. A RSD Slant carbon tipped exhaust as well as a RSD slant performance air breather add to the long list of parts that were incorporated to this modern Harley Café Racer project. The Firestone tires on factory rims were a specific requirement from the owner. Motogadget LED indicators are cleverly placed over the Progressive Suspension gas shock. Seat was upholstered with a special Deerskin leather specifically picked to match James’ Tan Tour Master riding gloves… A custom Sportster to be used as a reference to customize yours as belonging to a Ton Up Boy. You….

19 Responses to “The Modern Sportster Café Racer”


  1. 1 SIGFREED Feb 19th, 2018 at 9:10 am

    A modern Sportster with ancient tires…

  2. 2 Guzzigreg Feb 19th, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Fuel tank ruins the bikes lines.

  3. 3 Greybeard1 Feb 19th, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Wow.
    What a piece of crap.

  4. 4 Xenu Feb 19th, 2018 at 10:22 am

    That fork has almost no travel, and the fancy rear shocks look equally restricted.
    Must be a rough rider.

  5. 5 BobS Feb 19th, 2018 at 10:34 am

    The term ‘modern Sportster’ is an oxymoron. I like what this build is trying to accomplish, and I know the faithful will scream holy hell on this, but the Sportster has lived a life beyond its usefulness. It’s a wonderful part of motorcycle history, but that’s where it belongs. Let’s see an all new Sportster with a modern frame, suspension, and brakes. Instead of a 1200cc Evo drop a 1200cc Revolution engine in it. Now you can say “suck it Scout” and you would have a product younger riders would love to buy. Would make an awesom Cafe.

  6. 6 Seymour Feb 19th, 2018 at 11:22 am

    Works for me I like it. Looks like fun.

  7. 7 highrpm Feb 19th, 2018 at 11:53 am

    @bobs
    otoh, porsche with its iconic 911 and ford’s mustang and to a lesser extent, corvette demonstrates that a manufacturer can keep breathing new life into iconic brands. the 911 is still a flat opposed 6 though water cooled. yea, lower profits in the sportster brand than the 911 gt3’s. still icons approach sacred status. it’s long and hard task to build an icon. not guaranteed by any means. so respect the forefathers and worship at the holy altar and handle w/ care. i’m still love the sporster. (it’s been part of life’s landscape since my young next door neighbor bought a beautiful new one in the late 60’s and tragically t-boned it only months later. very sad, though what a way to go.)

  8. 8 fuji Feb 19th, 2018 at 11:56 am

    This bike is a modern Sportster .That’s why a bike like this is so popular with the M generation. A real canyon carver or Tail of the Dragon. First turn anyway!

  9. 9 BD Feb 19th, 2018 at 2:12 pm

    What a mess!!!!!!

  10. 10 hacksaw Feb 19th, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    lol.

  11. 11 Woody's Feb 19th, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    Bob S, I must respectfully disagree a hundred percent, everything you said would be fine to build as a new H-D model, but don’t put the Sportster name on it anymore than Polaris should put the Indian name on a certain line of offerings.

  12. 12 Biggles Feb 19th, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    Change the tank and it would look much better.

  13. 13 Biggles Feb 19th, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    Bob S I’m with you there.

  14. 14 Richard Lee Feb 20th, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    Nope
    Xlrch was closer
    Saw a baja 1000 bike once that nailed it.
    Don’t know who
    Don’t know when.

  15. 15 Zundap Feb 21st, 2018 at 9:33 am

    Sometimes things are better off left alone. I guess if the owner likes his bike that is all that matters. As far as the Sportster goes it morphed from a 450 LB. superbike in the 60″s to a 600 LB. sled in 2004. I guess that’s progress.

  16. 16 Davis Feb 22nd, 2018 at 8:07 pm

    Hand build a lower profile tank and then I quess you could call it finished.
    You know we would be critiquing this bike the same way if he had us over to look at it.

  17. 17 Kelly Feb 22nd, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    Actually this is where harleyshould be looking for new riders, themillenials like this.

  18. 18 Neal Feb 26th, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Bob S
    Harley used to build a thoroughly modern Sportster, great handling, superb brakes, enough power to get yourself in trouble. It was called a Buell. Shame they let Erik get away.

  19. 19 Kevdub Jul 16th, 2018 at 12:30 am

    Love the work. The line from the tank to the tail is done well. The rear fender is low (as it should be). Its a great build. I do agree tire choice is off. Firestone’s are great if you just want it to look the part.

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