Tuesday, June 13, 2017


What feels like a very long time ago, I scored a neat peanut tank off an early Evolution Sportster with the idea of renovating it for my previous Sportster.

When that bike was stolen, I wondered what I would do with all the stuff that was left over in my garage: two seats, a windshield, brake pads, oil filters, assorted spare parts, a complete luggage set and two full sets of bodywork, including this tank.

I thought it would all be sold, but thankfully my new Sportster arrived before I had the time to get it all organized.

So, I can finally get this done, and after much deliberation I have also decided on a color: a delicious and thirst-quenching candy lime green, mmmh........

Obviously, before getting to the pretty bit, you have to deal with the filthy guts. There are several tank treatment products out there, but generally they consist of a de-ruster, followed by an epoxy coating.

I have done this a few times before on metal and fiberglass tanks (no need for the de-ruster with fiberglass, the revolutionary new material of the future!) so I was more than ready to do this one too, however, due to a series of circumstances, someone else did it for me... and I'm glad they did!

I must acknowledge Nico for having done, by far, the best job of sealing a tank I have ever seen.

Just take a look at this photo to get a sense of how smooth and flawless it turned out. Wow. Lemme tell ya, I'm gonna enjoy looking at that every time I fill up.

As far as I'm concerned the only decals that should go on this tank are the iconic '5', the part number being 14343-92.

They are huge, complex pieces of art, with the 'Harley-Davidson' almost in the background, leaving 'Sportster' to play the lead role, in what is an absolutely gorgeous script.

The number 5 is there to showcase a seriously important upgrade to this model, i.e. the five-speed transmission. I know of no other instance where a gearbox was deemed to be such an important feature that the manufacturer decided to put it on the tank, right next to make and model.

In a sense it's like when watch manufacturers put "23 jewels" on the dial.

I was able to find these decals as NOS, but they were dizzyingly, shamefully expensive. I get the feeling they are hard to find, and I can't imagine they'd be easy to reproduce (copyright issues aside).

It's off to Toni now, for wizardry and alchemy. A pilgrimage to his hermitage is always an interesting experience.

This tank plays a big part in making '86-'03 Sportsters such narrow bikes: if you look at it from the top, the sides of the tank drop down almost perfectly vertically, keeping the bike slim. Overall, the tank is not even wider than the yokes... and remember that on this bike the front end is sometimes referred to as the Narrowglide!

Toni worked his magic so fast it made my head spin: only two days after I had left the tank with him, a raven, pitch black but with traditional hot-rod flames on his plumage landed on my balcony and delivered a small parchment scroll, then before I could even read it, it flew away, leaving a trail of night-blue metalflake dust as it flapped his wings, silhouetted against the scorching hot midday sun.

The message was inscribed in some sort of ancient runes, which I don't read, but somehow I understood them to mean "dude, your tank is ready... come by"; then the scroll caught fire and I held in my hand this dark red flame and watched it, utterly captivated as if under a spell, as it turned orange, then a strange yellow-green I had never seen before, until no sign of that message was left. Inexplicably, the fire didn't burn me at all.

When I got there he was busy shredding it on his Fender and I took a moment to appreciate the tunes and also to just look at how stunning this thing turned out:

I know, right?!
Some of you may remember having seen this color before, it is indeed the same green as used on Witold's OIF Firebird Scrambler and it was just too good to pass up.

Toni showed me what he mixed to get this shade just right, and explained the two-part process; first a metallic green base layer, followed by a pearlescent tone halfway between green and gold yellow.

It's the sort of color that your brain tells you can't exist, yet somehow there it is. I later realized that it is in fact the same strange yellow-green I had seen when the raven delivered the Wizard's summon.

That second coat gives this color that mesmerizing golden shimmer when the light hits it just right, but it's something you can only see out of the corner of your eye; the second you try looking at it, it's gone and all you see is that fantastic metallic green. Knowing how much of that second coat to spray is of course a matter of extreme skill and artistic sensibility that I doubt can be learned. Some people just have it.

Look how beautifully this turned out:

Just as a closing thought, I have to wonder, was the raven really just Toni in raven form?!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Nice (luggage) rack!

Marcellini strikes again, this time with a super-beefy aluminum plate that slots onto the GS's original luggage rack to provide a wider, flat support for a large waterproof bag (like this one for example):

I really like the way these dudes work, everything they've made for us is built to be functional as well as well proportioned. This plate is asymmetrical because of the high-level exhaust, which also dictates that the panniers themselves are different sizes; when it all comes together though it works and everything is centered. It makes sense when you see it.

The guy has a nice Paralever GS PD, it's tricked out but subtly so. You may notice the silencer, optional kickstarter, the same left-hand pillion footrest support we have on ours, and let's not overlook that this thing is dual-plugged, and it has twin discs at the front:

If you take a closer look at the twin disc set-up, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is an all-original BMW set of parts, and to some extent you'd be right... except as far as I know you can't get a left-hand fork slider with caliper lugs for this fork. So, how did he do it? I'll see if we can do the same on our GS, so if it works out I'll tell you...

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The levers of power.

The other day when I serviced the Sportster, I went over the front brake and you can imagine that I operated the lever quite a lot as I was bleeding the system and testing repeatedly to make sure it was working.

As I did that, I noticed something that had escaped me at first: the brake lever is not an original part. It may look like an OEM part but rest assured, it is not. The first tell is the chrome finish: completely sub-par and not correct for the 1200S anyway. If you look at the clutch lever you'll see that it is polished, not chromed. And this brake lever has a different angle to the top of the "blade" compared to a standard item (I presume this could be seen as being more ergonomic).

I'm trying to make this motorcycle look (and perform) the best that it can, so I'm not going to ignore a detail like this. I was able to find a new matching set of polished levers that while not original, are very close to OEM standards, here's a comparison (left is the new one, right is the annoying one I'm taking off):

I would like to thank a person who shall remain nameless for his or her own protection, for smuggling these parts over to me; much appreciated.

Fitting them was very straightforward (because everything on these motorcycles is very well made), and the ones I took off can be put into the "road kit" as emergency spares. Let's hope I'll never have to use them.

While I was at it, I inspected the clutch cable, cleaned it and applied a generous amount of grease to the end fitting: this is very important because although this cable is much stronger and much longer lasting than what I'm used to on my other bikes, if it does fail (whether the strands break or whether the cast aluminum fitting itself seizes and snaps) there is no real way to fix it by the roadside, and even if you carry a spare cable you still need a fair number of wrenches and tools to replace it.

As to why this was not the original brake lever, I think I know what happened here: one of the previous owners must have dropped the bike and the lever snapped off. This could also explain the repair that was done on the right-hand side footrest:

I have seen this happen on many other Sportsters, and it is known to be a bit of a weak point, so I didn't think much of it when I first saw the bike (the dealer didn't offer an explanation when I asked him about it), so it's possible this all happened at the same time.