New life for a ’90s Softail
The ’90s were a great decade; music finally became good again, the American economy was booming, and garage floors were much cleaner and safer thanks to Harley-Davidson’s Evo engine not dripping a drop of oil. Speaking of Harleys, when it came to customizing, the theme of the decade was long, stretched Fat Bob gas tanks, full-wrap fenders, and flames, flames, and more flames.
And that’s exactly what Brian Hudson of Bowling Green, Kentucky, found in a 1994 Softail when he was searching for a new project bike back in February 2016. It was almost as if the bike had been locked away in a time capsule. It was the epitome of a ’90s era customized Softail, not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just not Brian’s style. Having grown up around Harleys and working on hot rods and in independent Harley shops for more than 20 years, Brian’s tastes lean towards the stripped-down bobbers. So even though he scored a great deal on the Softail, he knew it wouldn’t be stuck in the ’90s for long.
Brian spent about three months riding the bike in its craigslist form as he plotted his path to giving the bike a facelift. “I always build or change everything I own,” Brain states. “I wanted something that was mean and lean and had old-school style.” Drawing inspiration from one of his favorite custom bike builders, Indian Larry, Brain decided to keep it simple and build a bobber comprised of only the bare necessities.
The Softail had already been heavily modified in the rear with a BTA 180mm wide-tire kit, which meant the frame horns had been cut off in order to fit the wider rear fender. Not happy with any of the sheetmetal, Brain stripped off all the skin and tossed it in the corner. With the bare bones of a rolling chassis sitting in front of him, Brian decided to clean the frame of any unnecessary tabs and unsightly welds.
While he was in the process of cleaning, Brain installed a set of 4″ risers he got at a swap meet and then mounted some apehangers sourced from a 2015 Sporty. Instead of running switches and control housings on the bars, Brian eliminated most of the wiring he didn’t want, or need, and rerouted the rest. The headlight high/low was changed over to a simple toggle switch on the coil cover, while an ignition switch from the local Tractor Supply was mounted where the horn would normally be found. By doing this, Brain left the bars extremely clean with only a set of rubber grips and the stock H-D levers and cables. The engine was torn down and loaded with an 85″ big bore kit from Revolution Performance. Brian also installed ported and polished heads and an Andrews EV27 cam to help push the engine’s output to about 95 hp. For the carb, pipes, and air cleaner, Brain ran with a jetted Mikuni, Vance & Hines Straight Shot pipes that were partially covered in header wrap, and a Kuryakyn Pro-R intake kit.
For the sheetmetal, Brian procured a King Sporty tank and spent a considerable amount of time studying the lines so that he could get it mounted perfectly straight. In the end, he drilled into the top of the backbone and used a set of rubber mounts to help isolate the tank mounts from vibration and bumps.
To cover the rear tire, Brian scored a fender from his buddy’s shop and then mounted it over the 180mm Bridgestone Exedra tire. Not satisfied with the look, he put his years of learned skills to work. “The speed holes were something I adapted from working in hot rod shops and around the racing world. It was challenging and something I had never seen on a Harley or bobber,” Brian says. Up front, Brian decided to leave off the front fender, which would not only keep with the stripped-down bobber theme, but would show off the 21″ twisted-spoke wheel.
Rather than dousing the sheetmetal in paint, Brian opted for the raw metal look. He did, however, spend a few hours dressing it up with an 80-grit sanding pad to give the skin a brushed look. It worked out well, and the sweeping patterns in the metal always draw attention wherever the bike goes.
As is the case with pretty much every Harley, Brian says this bike is still a work in progress (aka a WIP), and he has plenty of plans for the near future. However, for now, he’s pretty happy with the new life he’s given his ’90s Softail. He’s going to enjoy the smooth ride and take advantage of the increased horsepower of the hopped up engine on his 800-1,000-mile rides. AIG
By Eric Ellis • Photos by Brian Hudson