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Rat Rod Sportster


This is one of our own rides. A ratty, flat black, old school looking Harley-Davidson Sportster. It’s got a ground-hugging stance with old school rat rod touches. And it’s an absolute blast to ride. Here’s how it got this way...

We started with a bone-stock (except for scalloped paint job) 1986 883 Sportster with a 4 speed trans and stock suspension. The previous owner had bored it out to a 1200 and added the forward controls. It looked and rode like your basic run-of-the-mill Sporty with its tall 13” shocks, narrow flat handlebar and crouched riding position, while sitting on top of the thick, pillowed seat.

Pre de-chrome

Stock (basically) Sporty

Stock bars

Stock suspension and rear fender

Stock pillow seat... comfy

We started the build by pulling off all the tins and removing the handlebars, controls, mirrors, levers, grips, and headlight. We were going for a ratty, rough, badass look, so we scotchbrited every last piece of chrome on the bike and also the aluminum on the motor. We pulled the exhaust and gave it the scotchbrite treatment also.

We then wrapped the pipes with black cloth header wrap. The best method, in our experience, for wrapping the pipes is to take the roll of wrap and soak it overnight in water. This loosens it up and allows you to stretch it tighter around the pipe. Once the wrap dries, it adheres to itself better and you don’t have to worry about it unraveling. We started at the end that bolts to the motor and carefully stretched and wrapped each turn around the pipe. You can change the look of wrapped pipes by either using diagonal turns around the pipes or a more straight up and down wrap. We chose the diagonal look. You can also vary it by changing the width of each overlapping wrap. We chose to use the full width of the 2” wrap, overlapping each layer about an inch. We finished by installing black metal tie wraps at the ends which are great for cinching down the end of your wrap and look great. Stainless steel ones look great also. We liked the look of leaving a portion of the scotchbrited chrome pipes visible. For something different, we took the original chrome heatshields and scotchbrited them, then drilled holes in them to give them a unique look, and bolted them on over the wrapped pipes.

Drilled heat sheilds

Be prepared, when you start up your bike for the first time, it will smoke like crazy. You will think your bike is on fire, but it’s just the pipe wrap burning in, and it burns off after a short time. Pipe wrap is available in various colors and widths. It looks very cool and comes with the added benefit of keeping some heat off your leg.

No shiny stuff here. The scotchbrited chrome and aluminum
give it a really cool look.

Turning our attention to the tins, we sanded them all down to bare metal, repaired any imperfections, and prepped them for paint. For the rear fender, we cut off the bottom, just above where the stock taillight mounts. This gave us the chopped look we were going for, but also left it long enough to allow the curved rear fender struts to flow with the fender. Also, since we were going to reuse the stock two-up seat, we wanted the fender to flow with that as well. We filled the holes from the original license plate mount by welding some sheet steel underneath and then filling the hole with weld on the top side.

We primed and re-sanded all the tins and got ready to spray. We wanted to go for a flat black paint job to give it the rattle-can primer look, but the problem with most rattle-can paints or flat black automotive paint is that it has no clear coat and can be seriously damaged by fuel. Also an issue is the fact that it is basically impossible to clean a rattle-can paint job without creating shiny or streaked spots. So, we decided to use an automotive grade product from Kirker called Hot Rod Black. This is a premium grade urethane automotive paint that takes the usual two-stage paint process of a basecoat/clearcoat paint job and combines it into a single stage product with the clear coat already mixed in. That allows it to go on flat and stay flat, even when you clean it.

It’s a pretty simple process of setting up the spray gun for a nice even “wet” finish and spraying on a couple of coats, allowing only about 30 minutes set up time in between coats. It sets up and dries to the touch overnight. When dry, it’s impervious to fuel spills and looks great. It’s got a very small amount of gloss to it, but is mostly flat and it really adds to the overall look of the bike. We also sanded and painted the front forks and front wheel to match the rest of the tins. We decided to run without a front fender because it looks great without it and was less for us to put back on.

Once we had the tins painted, we started working on the handlebars and controls.

We used a set of 4 inch chrome, mild pullback risers and bolted on a set of 12 inch apehangers. That got us just the right height, width, and pullback that we were looking for. We had to install longer brake and clutch cables, so we went with a set of steel braided lines.

After running the wiring for the controls through the handlebars and remounting the stock controls, we decided to relocate the indicator lights from the crappy-looking stock speedometer nacelle ring and to shave the speedometer completely. Who needs a speedometer anyway? We rewired and installed the indicator lights into the headlight visor for a cleaner look.

Headlight visor with relocated indicator lights

We then topped off the controls with stock black Harley tapered mirrors and some trick black, ribbed grips with brass bullet shells in the ends. It’s the little details like these that can really add to the look of a bike.

Bullet grips

When installing handlebars with internal wiring, be sure to remember to stagger the wire splices. Whether you are using connectors or soldering them together, if you don’t stagger the splices, you will end up with a large ball of splices that may not fit through the holes in the handlebar. Another tip is to use some wire lube or baby powder on the wires. This will help them slide through the bars easier. Installing bars with internal wiring takes some time and patience, but the end result is a much cleaner look for the front end of your bike.

After the bars went on, we pulled and polished the solid disc rear wheel and installed a new Metzeler 150mm tire and a chrome floating rear rotor. While we were at it, we replaced all the brake pads. Cutting off the bottom of the rear fender left us with nowhere to put the taillight and license plate, so we installed a combination side mount license plate bracket with integrated Ford Model A taillight onto the rear axle nut. This taillight is designed to be mounted on a side mount license plate bracket, so it has a clear lens below the red brake light to light up the license plate. This helps to keep local law enforcement happy.

We remounted the rear wheel, and bolted on the rear fender. We reinstalled the freshly painted fender strut covers and the scotchbrited sissy bar. Unfortunately you need a horn on the bike, so we took our boring stock horn off, grabbed a new one, painted it black, and then installed an H-D Willie G Skull cover (originally destined to be a gas cap cover on a late model Sportster) on top of it. A little bit of old school and a little bit of new school on the bike we thought.

Horn cover

To get the ground hugging stance we were looking for, we installed a set of Progressive Suspension 10.5” lowered chrome shocks (scotchbrited, of course). These give you a low down stance, but still offer a smooth ride, and are also adjustable for preload. The only issue with such a low stance was that the stock kickstand was now too long and held the bike too upright when parked. Since there is no such thing as a lowered kickstand for our year bike (they only used this type of kickstand for a couple years), we had to do it ourselves by heating it up with a torch and putting a bend in it. This worked perfectly and lets the bike lean over like it should, when it’s not out being ridden hard.

Now that the Sporty was looking low and mean, it came time to stripe the tank. We wanted to go with the old school tape pinstripe flame look, so we took some copper colored automotive pinstripe tape and went to work on the outline of our flames.

Old school flames

Once we had them looking the way we wanted them, we installed a flush mount gas cap on the peanut tank and mounted everything back on the bike. We finished up the build by recovering the two-up pillow seat with a new hand-sewn cover with tank-matching copper flames.

Flamed seat cover

All in all, it was a really fun build and we ended up with something uniquely ratty and cool at the same time. With the apes and the lowered rear suspension, you get a real laid back and stretched out riding position. The apes are the perfect shoulder height to keep your fists in the wind and the handling is really good with such a light, nimble bike. The flat black paint and lack of shiny chrome keeps cleaning to a minimum. Less cleaning means more time riding. And we enjoy riding this one.

Ready to roll

We hope you like our latest bike build. As always, we welcome your feedback, so if you have any questions or comments about this build, send them to us at sales@deadcreekcycles.com.

Stay tuned for our next build!