Scramblers, flat trackers, café racers, stretched sport bikes, and custom Harleys: you’d think that by now we’d have seen it all, but there are plenty of custom builders out there surprising us at every turn. When you think of scramblers, you think of chunky tires and long travel suspension. Flat trackers need a racing number plate and an upright riding position. Think of café racers and you’ll immediately think of clip on bars and hump on the seat. A stretched sport bike naturally requires a laughably long swing arm and a garish paint job. Harley-Davidsons occasionally get turned into things like those, but not as often as your standard Japanese bike.
Instead, most custom Harleys turn into the same kind of hardtail bobber, old-school chopper, or those wonderful over-the-top custom Harley baggers that we’ve seen time and time again – but fortunately, there are plenty of daring builders who like to push their Harley custom motorcycles away from the realms of flake paint jobs, polished chrome, and leather tassels into a whole new dimension.
We’re going to take a look at some of the builders who are redefining what a custom Harley Davidson can be. You’ve probably seen a few of these before, but hopefully there’s a couple in here that take you by surprise and help you redefine the stereotype of what a Harley must look like. There’s more to the custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles scene than the Captain America bike from Easy Rider – so forget what you think you already know.
10 Custom Harleys That Break The Stereotype!
“Thunderstruck” Harley-Davidson XR1200 by Officine D.C
This one recently appeared on our radar and it’s actually the main inspiration for writing this list and compiling a list of our favorite custom Bar and Shield machines. Named “Thunderstruck” and built by Leonardo de Canio of Officine D.C, this cool motorcycle bucks the trend that usually surrounds modified Harleys. This interesting looking XR1200 is probably going to divide opinions – and that’s fine. We like a bit of controversy.
Leonardo got his idea while listening to the iconic AC/DC tune Thunderstruck and mid-song, his eyes fell on a miniature model of Kevin Schwantz’s classic Suzuki RGV-500. After numerous drawings and countless abandoned concepts, Leonardo managed to marry the aggressive chords of an AC/DC song with an iconic GP racer, and build that marriage on top of a Harley-Davidson.
There are plenty of things to say about this build, from the carbon fiber bodywork that give it a lightweight, sports oriented stance, or the performance enhancing Ohlins suspension and other accessories, but our favorite part about this model is the front fairing – which takes its inspiration directly from the new aerodynamic winglets and fairing arrangements being used in the MotoGP these days. And to make things perfect, Leonardo treated that stunning bit of carbon fiber with the racing number of the late Nicky Hayden. It’s one of the stranger looking custom Harleys we’ve seen, but it shows a lot of heart.
The ’00 Harley Fat Boy by GS Mashin
Tom Mosimann, Swiss sign writer by day and custom builder trading under GS Mashin by night, has built one of the coolest custom Fat Boys that we’ve seen. Starting life as a 2000 model, this cool lookin’ Fat Boy takes its inspiration from the old school salt racers and drag strip racers of yesteryear, rather than jump on any café racer or scrambler trend. And the result is very impressive.
This modern classic now wears a different set of clothes that would make it look more at home on the Bonneville Salt Flats than just cursing around town, and Tom has managed this by fabricating some beautiful metal pieces. The front fairing is the first thing to catch the eye, an all-enveloping front fairing that takes aerodynamics to the next level, followed by the bike’s unusual tank that seamlessly joins an elongated, racy tail section.
While this crazy custom wears some interesting new clothes, the engine has been left alone, save for an upgraded and hand built exhaust system made by the man himself and a set of GS Mashin air filters too. A few key ingredients like the Auto Meter speeder, a set of LSL bars with Beringer controls and RSD grips, and a set of foot controls from Performance Machine bring the whole together, but not half as much as that incredible paint job. It’s a custom Harley, but one of the more outlandish lookin’ ones we’ve seen in recent years.
“El Cochino” by Altes Eisen
Depending on your own opinion of what a custom motorcycle should be, you’re going to either hate or love some of the custom Harleys on this list. Some are out and out show bikes, while others have been pared down for performance and practicality. And there’s this: “El Cochino” by Germany’s Altes Eisen. This is one of those crazy custom Harleys that’s just too odd to pigeon-hole. It’s certainly not a café racer, some of it resembles a scrambler, it could be a little bit of a drag machine, but we think it would look more at home sitting in the London fog of a strange Steampunk alternative Victorian history.
The name El Cochino is interesting, but the Altes Eisen moniker will tell you more about the soul of this build instead. Translating as Old Iron, these Germany fabricators prefer everything old school, building motorcycles with old techniques and shying away from anything too modern. ABS is a no-no, engine-mapping is forbidden cartography, and unless the fuel-injection comes from the kind of syringe found in a comic book insane asylum, it’s completely out of the question. El Cochino here might look like a film prop, but it’s a fully functional motorcycle, built the old way, with absolutely no modern gimmickry to besmirch its good name.
The Pata Negra by Speed Merchants
Michigan-based Speed Merchants are one of the biggest names on the contemporary custom scene, so when their long-term friend, award-winning chef Sean Yontz, gave them a call and asked for them to give his 2005 Harley-Davidson Sportster the full Speed Merchants treatment, he expected fantastic results. And Speed Merchants delivered. Given a brief that essentially asked for something black, had rear-sets, featured a racing style plate on the front, would look like family to most of Speed Merchants previous builds, but still look different, the team set to work.
Ditching the stock tank in favor of an XR unit, and fabricating a whole new rear sub-frame section and tailpiece to match the new slimmer tank, the build began to take the shape of a street going flat tracker. Riffing off of that idea, the team at Speed Merchants added in some top of the line accessories, such as the Magura handlebars, Motion Pro grips, Accossato controls, Storz Performance rear sets, and cool front plate – which was treated with a Lazer Star light for good measure.
With the bike looking like a motorcycle, all that was left was for a bit of TLC on the engine, which was bored out to 1200cc, and upgraded with Andrews N4 parts, treated with Chopper Daves air filters, and converted to a chain drive. Finally, it was given the black paint job as requested, and now you’re looking at one of the coolest custom Harleys ever.
The Gentleman Jim by Deus Ex Machina
There’s no denying that Deus Ex Machina build some incredible custom motorcycles, but this Harley Sportster custom is a notch above the rest. When Deus build bikes, they stick to a pretty clear set of aesthetic rules and they very rarely go outside of their comfort zone, and that can be seen as a blessing or a curse. This effort is well within the Deus comfort zone, but that’s exactly why we like it. It’s refined and cool, but completely understated. It looks like quite a tame and gentle motorcycle, but underneath that calm exterior is a powerful 45 degree v-twin engine straight from a 2008 Harley-Davidson 1200 EFI Sportster. Dubbed the “Gentleman Jim” after the legendary boxer James J. Corbett, this custom beast packs a powerful but in an elegant package, much like its namesake. Other cool features include the rear end of a Kawasaki W650, Sato Racing rear sets, swan neck style bars from Tingate, rear dampers from ICON, lighting from Lucas, and a 2 to 1 exhaust from Roland Sands Design. It might not have a commanding aesthetic, but there’s no way you can deny this bike’s refined sense of cool.
The Sporganic ’88 Sportster by Adam Nestor
How do you build a custom motorcycle that was inspired by a plant? Like this. This is the “Sporganic” – a motorcycle that started life as a 1988 Harley Sportster, which has now grown into something more at home in a greenhouse than in a garage, thanks to the expert fabrication skills of Adam Nestor from Adam’s Custom Shop in Sweden. Before you get your knickers in a twist, we’re all well-aware that this is hardly the most practical of motorcycles, but Adam is well aware of that fact, and has no problem letting people know that his Sporganic organic Sportster is a show bike, and a very beautiful one at that.
This custom Harley evolved from an original idea focusing on organic lines, natural curves, and rounded shapes, and Adam ran with it. As you can see it’s a fabricator’s wet dream, but it’s the subtler details that really separate this motorcycle from the crowd. The placement of the shock absorber between the elegant split tank is one of those genius features, along with the addition of a springer fork that was salvaged from a 1940s era hill climbing motorcycle, and small details including brass and wooden trimmings, and that beautifully organic antique green paintwork. It’s an outstanding custom machine.
The Ivory Comet by JSK Customs
Taiwanese-born designer Samuel Kao of JSK Customs has made some stunning motorcycles in his time, but there’s something about this custom Harley Sportster that really struck a chord with us. It might have something to do with not-so-subtle Speed Racer inspired aesthetic, or it might be down to the fact that it boasts some impressive sheet metal work, or maybe it’s because it’s a faithful attempt at turning a Harley-Davidson into a retro-modern looking café racer that would look at home in most of the big manufacturer’s contemporary vintage themed lines? It’s actually a combination of all three, but the Speed Racer part was probably the biggest contributor.
This Harley custom is essentially a Ducati 916 with a beefy Harley-Davidson Sportster engine as its beating heart, wrapped in meticulously designed bodywork. The bodywork isn’t there by accident – it was painstakingly carved and tested the old fashioned way before being laboriously hand fabricated in sheet metal, something that’s rarely done these days, and that’s why we dig it. We’re not alone though, this beauty has won plenty of awards, including the Best Café Racer award at the 2014 Born Free Motorcycle Show as an example.
The XG750Turbo Street Fighter by Cherry’s Company
When Kaichiro Kurosu of Cherry’s Company was selected by Harley-Davidson’s top brass to build a bespoke Harley custom, he knew that playing it safe would be a mistake. Rather than follow the standard Harley custom trend, he decided to take his Harley-Davidson XG750 donor to the ultimate limit, by turning into a legitimately frightening streetfighter – complete with a turbo charger. Unlike a lot of custom machines that rely on cool aftermarket bolt-ons, pretty much everything on this build was handmade, save for the engine, Ducati Monster rear suspension, and unspecified automotive turbocharger.
The new race-inspired trellis frame was hand built, the bespoke girder-fork was also handcrafted, along with the swing arm, the carbon trusses, and a whole host of little CNC machined bits and bobs – and of course, there’s the main bodywork too, lovingly shaped by hand from sheet aluminum. And let’s not forget that there’s a turbo charger in there for good measure, mated to a completely bespoke oil cooling system with an intercooler and air surge tank, not to mention the exquisite exhaust system. In all, we’ve got an engineering masterpiece rather than your standard Harley custom – and it’s one of our favorite customs ever.
The “Alpaca” Turbo Ironhead Sportster by DP Customs
This one might seem a little more like a traditional HD custom thanks to its hot-rod inspired aesthetic, but this 1979 Ironhead Sportster is packing heat – yep, it’s turbocharged. The guys at DP Customs are always busy, so they’ve never had time to build a bike for themselves, or rather, a bike for their shop. Since they were looking at building a motorcycle that showed off their skills, they settled on something personal and dear to their hearts: one of their own bikes, a 79’ Ironhead Sporster.
It’s one of the Del Prado brothers’ regular rides too, so it’s not just a cool model. The idea was to build a low and long hot rod with a bobber style hard tail, but to make things more interesting, the guys threw a turbo into the mix. Bolting on a turbo is one thing, but it needs a good engine for full effect, so the brothers rebuilt the motor and treated it with forged pistons, new valves, new springs, an exquisite aluminum intake, and more. It’s a fast bike, but the Del Prado brothers are well aware that it’s not the most practical bike in the shed. But why have practical when you can have fun?
“Hooligan Tactics” by Rough Crafts
There are plenty of custom Harleys that roll out of the Rough Crafts shop that would be worthy of this list, but we’ve got our favorite. If you’re into Harley customs and you haven’t heard of Winston Yeh and his Rough Crafts brand then you’ve obviously been living under a rock. The Taiwan-based builder has been garnering international acclaim over the past few years, with every build being better than the last. That being said, when it comes to Rough Crafts Harley-Davidsons, we happen to like this one best. B
uilt on top of a Forty-Eight, this bike called “Hooligan Tactics” has an interesting story behind it. After building a special streetfighter inspired custom for Harley-Davidson Taiwan with a donor Dyna, Winston wanted to see if the refined streetfighter aesthetic could be applied to a Sportster, and while musing on this, a Forty-Eight was rolled in with an open-brief.
Ditching the stock swingarm in favor of an XR100 unit and swapping the front forks for GSX-R600 units, paired with Progressive Suspension piggyback rear shocks, the silhouette changed into a more aggressive and fierce shape. The stock wheels were swapped out for aluminum rims from Arlen Ness, and shod with Dunlop Sportmax rubber, and equipped with Lyndal brakes, but the real beauty here is in the small details: the countless bespoke Rough Crafts parts that usually get overlooked, such as the rocker covers, or the clutch cover, and the understated exhaust system. Of course, the tank and tailpiece are fantastic fabrications, but what we like the best about the “Hooligan Tactics” beast has to be that digital camo style paint work. It really sets it apart from the crowd.