I decided to build a Sportster two years ago after I stumbled across a cherry, 5,000-mile ’98 XL1200 Sport just outside of Las Vegas. The Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sport debuted in 1996 with adjustable suspension, dual front brakes, and an increased 10:1 compression ratio with camshafts to match; 1998 models were upgraded with dual-plug cylinder heads, which is the only I reason I wanted that model year. I flew to Vegas with three grand in my pocket, foolishly thinking I would ride 240 miles back to Long Beach, California, but fueling problems stalled me an hour outside of Sin City. I rented a truck and hauled the bike to Suicide Machine Co. in Long Beach, California, where builder Shaun Guardado cracked open the 1,200cc Evo and found carbon-choked heads and valves, which he immediately sent out for scrubbing and machining.
“We have a mutual respect and an appreciation for what Sportster is,” Shaun says, “and when you approached me about building a Sportster, you understood the Sportster is a bitching bike, and you wanted something fast that handled well, and that’s what the Sportster is good for. I thought it was going to be a challenge to get the bike to fit you, because you’re gangly and lanky, but that’s what’s good about the Sportster: it can be configured in a way to fit someone short like me or a beanpole like you.”
With my bike stripped down to its mint frame, Shaun and I agonized over stance, riding position, and overall design. Wild notions were trashed, then salvaged only to be trashed again, again and again until we mocked up the sinewy, short-wheelbase bike we saw in our minds. We laughed horribly when I first sat on it because neither of us had seen a Harley with so much ground clearance, and because it fit me perfectly, like a tailored suit once two sizes too small, and because it was plug-ugly. Since it had no chance of being classically handsome, we leaned into the bike’s eccentricities and came up with a slim, chopper-like brute with cascading body lines and minimalistic bodywork. Shaun drew inspiration from Japanese short chops and brought our fevered dreams to life with a custom fiberglass front fairing, a Friscoe-mounted fuel tank, a leather “king without queen” Saddleman seat, a severely chopped Bobtail rear fender finished with an artful sissy bar that houses the LED taillight, and a black ceramic-coated, center-exit exhaust mounted above the rear tire.
When the refurbished dual-plug heads came back looking straight from the factory, Shaun installed them on an all-new, all-black, 1,250cc “Hooligan” V-twin from S&S; the big-bore kit came with larger jugs, flat-top pistons, big-lobed camshafts, and an iconic mini teardrop air cleaner, behind which we slipped a Mikuni flat-slide carburetor. While we waited for a beefy Metmachex swingarm to make its way across the Atlantic, we swapped on performance suspension from Progressive and nixed belt drive in favor of a Superlite chain conversion. We sourced brake rotors and pads from EBC, and used Speed Merchant radial brake adapters to run twin Tokico dual-piston front brake calipers from a Honda CBR600RR, and mounted Pirelli Night Dragon tires on lightweight RSD Morris wheels, with all of the electronics running through a Motogadget mo.unit blue.
“This is something I’ve envisioned building for myself, and now that it’s been built for you, I know I can never build one for myself,” Shaun says. “This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into, and this project is the combination of cool little things I wanted on a bike for myself, but now it’s for you, so it’s bittersweet. It will allow me to think of something else, which is good and a little sad.”