If you think this little golden beast is absolutely stunning, you should have seen it before. Way before. “Yeah,” notes Pat Patterson, the guru behind Dayton, Ohio’s Led Sled Customs. “Most people bring us new or almost new bikes. In terms of how they usually look when they’re brought to us, yours was kind of an exception.”
And with those words, Pat exposes himself as a generous master of understatement. This Sportster was a wreck when it first darkened Led Sled’s door, the battered victim of a fairly spectacular end-over-end, game-crushing incident that involved, among other things, a frozen front brake and me barrel-rolling 50 yards down the road. I’m not exactly proud of that little stunt. I am, however, proud (extremely proud) of this bike. At least as it stands today. It’s mine, and I’m one lucky dude. Now, with that out of the way we can get down to business.
After my header, I was left with a totaled 1996 XL 1200, a sorry state of affairs by any measure. Always quick with a solution (not to mention a snarky comment), AIM Editor Chris Maida suggested we turn my balled-up bike into a magazine project. I believe Chris’ words were something to the effect of “We haven’t done a Sportster in awhile and so, being the $#@?&% idiot that you are, you just helped us out.” He’s such a kind man.
Anyway, we didn’t have to wrack our brains for long to agree on who would be ideal to tackle such a potentially heinous project. Pat and his Led Sled crew were the obvious choice, as they specialize in Sportsters, and their builds tend to involve chucking everything stock, except for the motor, about the only part of my bike that had managed to avoid the carnage. Okay, maybe my gas cap survived. Regardless, one call to Pat and the party was on.
For those unaware, Led Sled has fast become renowned for its thoroughly unique treatment of Sportys. However, not too long ago, Pat was making his cake as an overland trucker, a job he held for 10 years, starting at age 21 with his own rig. He eventually ended up with six semis and a team he posted on various Midwestern routes. All the while, though, he was toying first with his 1993 XL and later with other people’s rides. When he wasn’t hauling freight, he was in his garage trying to make Sportsters look cool with little more than a bench, grinder, and MIG welder. Pat also discovered he could lay down some killer paint. That led to him going to vocational school and learning how to work a lathe. Then, of course, he needed more room in a real shop.
Although he didn’t realize it, the seeds for Led Sled were quickly being sown. “$#!% just happened, until I was so busy working on bikes one day that it dawned on me: I couldn’t drive trucks anymore because if I’m not here at the shop all the time, this place ain’t gonna grow.” That was around 2003, when Led Sled officially opened its doors. Pat was 31 and destined to become “The Man” in XL land.
“We’ve been really blessed,” admits Pat, considering the state of the custom world today. “I never started this company thinking we’d have a niche or that I was going to roll the Sportster market. I’ll do a big bike for somebody, no problem. But Sportsters are what I want to build. That’s where my heart is. Hell, I still have a million parts in my head that would make a Sportster look cool.”
At this point does anyone doubt Pat’s enthusiasm for Sportsters? Let’s hope not.
And so, with my wadded Sporty in hand, Pat and the boys went to work putting Led Sled’s hardtail kit to the test. The kit comes with a rear fender, battery tray, and oil tank already mounted. First of all, they ripped my bike apart and threw everything away, save for the motor and the front half of the frame — all the easier to register and insure it, given the stamped VIN numbers. “We cut the frame right behind the top motor mount on the backbone and then 3″ underneath the rear motor mount,” explains Pat. “Those welds and cuts are right at motor mounts. So even though you’ve just welded it, the rigidity of the mill, which adds a lot of the structure to the frame, basically holds the entire bike together anyway. You could probably run these kits without even welding because of where we strategically place the slugs to slide into the tubes. From there, we just started throwing our parts on it.” Like their new floorboards and that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it covert license tag. “We call it our fleeing and eluding bracket because … ” Just take a guess, please.
Things came together pretty quickly, and Pat claims the build was just plain fun and simple. “After all, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for a dude in his garage to install our parts,” Pat says. “Your bike mainly consists of our hardtail kit. We wanted to show how good your bike can look with just that. When it came time to give it flash, Paughco gave us that bitchin’ front end. Then I narrowed the tank to bring that skinny feel into play.”
And does anyone notice those bars? “With those, we went for an edgy, out-there, hardcore feel. Nothing traditional. You can change the whole attitude of a bike with just handlebars.” Mission most definitely accomplished. “It’s funny. The bike is really so simple, but you still just have to stare at it.” And stare at it people do, often in a trance. After a prolonged meditation, one transfixed friend (an Irishman) mumbled, “It’s amazing, like, Steve McQueen meets Liberace.” Priceless.
On that note, perhaps it’s time to address the way this golden knockout rides. Being a suicide-foot-clutch, jockey-shift, no-front-brake conundrum, it takes some getting used to. For most people, it’s probably not the most ideal machine to tackle the mean streets of, say, New York City. Then again, most people wouldn’t even think of riding this bike — even if they could figure it out, that is. In that respect, it’s got a form of natural theft protection. The truth is, once you get in the groove, it’s an incredibly fun, fast, and nimble animal to bang around on. Just try to avoid the many yahoos who almost crash into you trying to catch a glimpse of a machine they may have never seen the likes of before. It’s not easy being gold. And a Led Sled.
As much as I’d like to beat my chest and say that I’ve logged many miles on this beauty, the honor belongs to Chris Maida who cranked it all the way up the East Coast from Daytona to New York, except for a 200-mile trip to Charlotte to fix a blown head gasket, in three days! I had to fly home. Does that make me soft? Maybe. But my time will come. For the moment, though, Chris, bastard that he is, reigns as the true warrior. You don’t know how it pains me to write that.
Now I’m going to stare at my gorgeous golden girl. AIM