Scramblers, flat trackers, café racers, stretched sport bikes, and custom Harleys — you’d think that by now we’d have seen it all. However, custom builders are still surprising us at every turn and the best custom Harleys are no exception.
When you think of scramblers, you might think of chunky tires and long-travel suspension. Flat trackers need a racing number plate and an upright riding position. Café racers bring to mind clip-on bars and hump on the seat. A stretched sportbike naturally requires a laughably long swingarm and a garish paint job. Harley-Davidsons occasionally get converted into these stereotypical bikes, but not as often as your standard Japanese bike.
Instead, most custom Harleys are converted into a hardtail bobber, old-school chopper, or those wonderful over-the-top custom Harley baggers that we’ve seen time and time again. 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 and into a whole new dimension.
10 Best Custom Harleys
We’re going to take a look at some of the builders who are redefining what a custom Harley-Davidson can be. Hopefully, there are a few that take you by surprise and redefine the stereotype of what a Harley must look like. There’s more to the best custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles scene than the Captain America bike from Easy Rider — so forget what you think you know about the best custom Harleys.
“Thunderstruck” Harley-Davidson XR1200 by Officine D.C
Named “Thunderstruck” and built by Leonardo de Canio of Officine D.C, this cool motorcycle bucks the trend of modified Harleys. This interesting-looking XR1200 will likely be met with divided opinions — and that’s fine. We like a bit of controversy.
Inspiration struck de Canio while he was listening to the iconic AC/DC tune “Thunderstruck.” Mid-song, his eyes fell on a miniature model of Kevin Schwantz’s classic Suzuki RGV-500. After numerous drawings and countless abandoned concepts, de Canio managed to marry the aggressive chords of the AC/DC song with an iconic GP racer — a marriage he then built on top of a Harley-Davidson.
The build is certainly eyecatching, from the carbon-fiber bodywork to the performance-enhancing Ohlins suspension. But our favorite part is the front fairing which takes its inspiration directly from the aerodynamic winglets and fairing arrangements of MotoGP. And to make things perfect, de Canio treated that stunning bit of carbon fiber with the racing number of the late Nicky Hayden.
’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 ever seen. Starting life as a 2000 model, this Fat Boy takes its inspiration from the old-school salt racers and drag strip competitors of yesteryear. This bike doesn’t jump on any café racer or scrambler trends, and the result is impressive.
This modern classic would look right at home on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and Mosimann has managed this by fabricating some beautiful metal pieces. The wraparound front fairing is the first thing to catch the eye, followed by the bike’s unusual tank that seamlessly joins an elongated, racy tail section.
Though this crazy custom Harley wears some interesting clothes, the engine was left alone, save for an upgraded and hand-built exhaust system decked out with a set of GS Mashin air filters. 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 build together. Not to mention that incredible paint job.
“El Cochino” by Altes Eisen
Depending on your opinion of what a custom bike should be, you’re going to love or hate the custom Harleys on this list. Some are out-and-out show bikes, while others have been pared down for performance and practicality. Then there’s this: “El Cochino” by Germany’s Altes Eisen — a crazy custom Harleys that’s just too odd to pigeonhole.
It’s certainly not a café racer, and though it bears some resemblance to a scrambler, it could be more of a drag machine. We think it would look most 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. These German 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 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.
“Pata Negra” by Speed Merchants
Michigan-based Speed Merchants are one of the biggest names on the contemporary custom moto scene, so when award-winning chef Sean Yontz gave them a call 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 with rear-sets, a racing-style plate on the front, and that be recognizable as a Speed Merchants builds while still looking 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, Speed Merchants added in some top-of-the-line accessories, such as Magura handlebars, Motion Pro grips, Accossato controls, Storz Performance rear sets, and a cool front plate — 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, upgraded with Andrews N4 parts, treated with Chopper Daves air filters, and converted to a chain drive. Finally, the black paint job finished off this cool custom Harley.
“Gentleman Jim” by Deus Ex Machina
Deus Ex Machina builds some incredible custom motorcycles, but this custom Harley Sportster is a notch above the rest. It’s refined and cool, but completely understated.
Don’t be fooled by its tame looks though as 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 elegant punch, 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 you can’t deny this bike’s refined sense of cool.
“Sporganic” ’88 Sportster by Adam Nestor
How do you build a custom motorcycle inspired by a plant? Like this. The “Sporganic” motorcycle started life as a 1988 Harley Sportster and has grown into something more at home in a greenhouse than 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. Nestor 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 focuses on organic lines, natural curves, and rounded shapes. The subtle details 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 climb motorcycle.
Then there’s the intricate brass and wood trimmings, and that beautifully organic antique green paintwork. All-in-all it’s an outstanding custom machine.
“Ivory Comet” by JSK Customs
Taiwanese-born designer Samuel Kao of JSK Customs has crafted some stunning motorcycles, but there’s something about this custom Harley Sportster that really strikes a chord.
It might have something to do with not-so-subtle “Speed Racer” inspired aesthetic, or it might come 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 café racer that be at home in any of the big manufacturer’s contemporary vintage-themed lines?
This custom Harley 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 hand fabricated in sheet metal.
This laborious process is rarely done these days, and that’s why we dig it. We’re not alone in our admiration either as this beauty has won plenty of awards, including the “Best Café Racer” award at the 2014 Born Free Motorcycle Show.
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 to the limit, by turning into a legitimately frightening streetfighter — complete with a turbocharger.
Unlike a lot of custom machines that rely on 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, and the bespoke girder-fork was handcrafted along with the swingarm, 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 turbocharger, mated to a completely bespoke oil cooling system with an intercooler and air surge tank, not to mention the exquisite exhaust system. This bike is an engineering masterpiece — and it’s one of our favorite custom Harleys ever.
“Alpaca” Turbo Ironhead Sportster by DP Customs
This build might seem more traditional thanks to its hot-rod-inspired aesthetic, but this 1979 Ironhead Sportster is packing heat — yep, it’s turbocharged. When the team at DP Customs decided to build a bike for themselves, or rather, their shop, they settled on something personal: one of their own bikes, a ’79 Ironhead Sportster.
One of the Del Prado brothers’ regular rides too, it’s not just a cool model. The idea was to build a low and long hot rod with a bobber-style hardtail. 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, if not the most practical bike in the shed. But why have practical when you can have fun?
“Hooligan Tactics” by Rough Crafts
If you’re into custom Harleys and 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 garnered international acclaim with his builds. That being said, when it comes to Rough Crafts Harley-Davidsons, we happen to like this one best.
Built on top of a Forty-Eight, the “Hooligan Tactics” has an interesting story behind it. After building a 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. While musing on this, a Forty-Eight was rolled in with an open-brief.
Rough Crafts ditched the stock swingarm in favor of an XR100 unit and swapped the front forks for GSX-R600 units. When paired with Progressive Suspension piggyback rear shocks, the bike’s silhouette morphed into an aggressive, fierce shape. The stock wheels were swapped out for aluminum rims from Arlen Ness, 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 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 the digital camo-style paintwork.
Don’t Miss This Eye Candy: Best Custom Harleys
Whether you’re working on your own custom Harley build or just dreaming of cool rides, these custom Harley motorcycles dare to push the boundaries and buck the trends. And we thank the daring builders who ditched the polished chrome and leather tassels for a whole new world of Harley customization.