Fabbing Out The Differences

By Steven Blackburn • Photos By Elliot Qu

This was definitely not going to be Kyle Miller’s first bike build. He’d already customized his fair share of motorcycles on the floor of his 20’ x 25’ two-car garage—and quite recently, too, so his technique was far from rusty by the time he started this 883 Sportster.

To give you an idea, he’d customized two XS650s and three VLXs in the last four years before this one. That’s more than one bike a year! But regardless of how quickly (and how many) Kyle may have wrenched up until that point, this Sporty would later throw him for a loop because he’d never modified a Harley before.

What’s worse, Kyle had already been thrown for several loops even before laying a hand on his Sporty. For one thing, Kyle had planned on flipping, not chopping, this bike based on the pictures he’d seen online. “It was supposed to be a ‘garage-kept, super-clean’ bike from 2003 with 10,000 miles,” Kyle begins.

“And it turned out to be a rusted, laid-over 2001 model with 14,000 miles.” He was going to buy it anyway. So might as well chop it, right?

While his first Harley, Kyle would go at it like most of his builds. He’d wheel the bike into his garage—usually crammed with tons of other bikes—turn on the radio, and “just go to town” on it.

Ironically, the first way Kyle realized how building this Harley would be different from his previous customs occurred before he actually started building. He learned it would be more expensive when looking at what to buy. When we asked why this Sporty was more expensive, he says, “Because it’s a Harley. Every little part, even down to the jets, were at least double, if not triple, what the parts are for Japanese bikes.” But this was okay. “I wanted to do it right and was willing to pay for it,” he adds.

At least the build would involve hardtailing, and Kyle had done plenty of that already. With the XS650s, he just used hardtail kits, which he planned on doing with his Sporty. But even that was a chore. “I used the same type of kit, too, but everything is a lot smaller and easier to deal with on my XS650s,” he explains.
Kyle noticed other divagations soon afterwards when he stripped the bike down. “With the Harley, everything is tighter,” he reveals. “It was always a pain removing the motor, making sure everything fit correctly, and that nothing was rubbing against another part and so on.”

The Sporty build ended up being more involved, too, but that was by choice, namely because Kyle wanted to hide or chop as much as possible. In one instance, Kyle sought help from his buddy Eric who took a stock wiring harness that was about 6′ long “with hundreds of wires” and got it down to “about 10 wires for a super-clean look.”

While true, Kyle essentially fabbed and strategically mounted parts just as much as, if not more than, he chopped. Luckily, as a heavy equipment operator and laborer, Kyle has access to plenty of material to work with. “I am the guy who is usually looking through the scrap bins at work, looking for any pieces of metal I can use for anything,” he says. “So I have a pretty good stock pile at home.” It all started when Kyle had to fabricate some brackets and struts to mount the rear fender. For the struts, he bent one metal piece until it traveled the whole way around the fender and came out on each side. That strut, with the bottoms now cut to length, is welded to bungs, which Kyle made from round stock metal and bolted to the frame through holes he later drilled.

Kyle soon mounted the oil tank and battery box so they wouldn’t be crammed together but also not too far apart. After he had perfectly situated them in accordance to each other’s locations, the oil tank was soon in danger of getting perpetually slapped by the chain drive, which Kyle had converted since the stock belt drive wouldn’t clear the rear tire. Sure, the chain may have “made the bike pop that much more,” but now he had to weld nuts onto the bottom of the oil tank, notch out the round end of the tank to make it flat then recess the block of hard nylon over the nuts before mounting the block on the tank so it would remain slap-free.

He also fabbed a T-shaped bracket, to which he mounted and welded his aftermarket seat.

Once in place, Kyle decided to mount his tank on the frame rail, upon which he drilled two holes, then welded in two recessed nuts for a flush finish before bolting the tank in place. “The project was starting to look like a bike,” Kyle remembers. “I was finally at my favorite part—the exhaust.”

As you can see, Kyle strives to make his pipes as unique as possible. “I wanted it to come out of the motor on the right side and exit out the left,” he recalls. But articulating this is much easier than actually putting it into action. “I needed everything to fit in between both parts of the frame, but also clear the battery box, oil tank, and rear fender,” Kyle continues. “Once I figured that out, I needed to find a way to have support brackets that were easy to get to but would provide enough support so that the vibration and bumps from riding rigid wouldn’t move the exhaust or rub on any other parts of the bike.” (There’s that friction problem again.)

He accomplished all this with a box of random pipe pieces bent at different angles along with some exhaust flanges.

Kyle also fabbed mounts (which took numerous attempts at cutting and rewelding) for a headlight because its bracket was “pretty chintzy” and didn’t let him tuck the light back into the forks or position it as low as possible. Now it does. And remember when Kyle said this Harley was more expensive than his other builds? Another reason is because of the paint. “It cost me about six times more than what I usually pay but it was so worth it,” he says.

Also, do you recall when we said Kyle built a lot of bikes in a short amount of time before this Sporty? Well, he completed this one in about 68 hours before it went to the paint shop. That’s right. 68 hours. Just imagine how quickly he’ll build his next Harley since he now has the experience! GB

For more great Home Builds and DIY Tech pick up Issue 119 of Garage Build Magazine.

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