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2003 Harley Sportster – Maindrive Cycles

Posted on January 27, 2012 by Scott in Bobber. 34 comments

Harley-Davidson motorcycles. You either love them or hate them. They may have a reputation for poor build quality but let’s leave that debate at the door for a moment. Why? Because when it comes down to it, when they are done right these bikes can make you want to trade in your Japanese metal for some good ol’ American iron and to hell with the consequences. Like this clean Sportster, built by Cory from Maindrive Cycles in Texas, USA. Corey specializes in Harley’s but the last bike he built for the same client Andy Hines was a Kawasaki KZ400. So when Andy approached him to turn his Sportster into something a bit more bespoke, Corey was much more at home this time around. Even though he had never worked on a Sportster before. Over to Cory for the whole build story.

“I had built a sweet little KZ400 Street Tracker for Andy last year, which he really enjoys riding as much as possible, but he was finally ready for his first American bike. He found a very low mileage 2003 Sportster on Craigslist for a steal, and began putting his own touches on it, like lowered suspension, custom handlebars, vintage tires, and blacked out wheels and front end.  It was a really big improvement over the stock version, but it still lacked the true custom look that he was going for… so to my garage it came! That was fine by me, as American bikes are my specialty. The only thing was, I had never worked on a Sportster before, so I figured this would be as good a time as any to dive in head-first and learn!”

“I immediately got to work tidying up the factory wiring harness. Since all the factory handlebar switch housings and blinkers were gone, there were alot of wires that could be eliminated. To clean up the area above the front cylinder, I relocated the ignition coil to the top motor mount, and moved the keyswitch to the bottom of the battery tray. I like using those marine-style keyswitches that eliminate the starter relay and allow you to start the bike like your car, just by twisting the key to engage the starter motor.”

“Now it was time for the REAL fabrication to begin. If this bike was going to have a true custom look, it would need a handmade gas tank. My goal was to build a tank that had classic proportions, and would look like something the factory should’ve built in the first place. I don’t build any bucks or patterns for my tanks, but just kinda ‘wing it’ as I go. Well, I guess the juices were flowing in just the right way at the time, because this tank ended up being the nicest tank that I’ve ever done. I wanted to keep it for myself! I finished it off by welding one of my Pro-Vent gas caps up high and locating the petcock bung at the very rear to get the most usable capacity possible.”

“With the tank done, it was time to build a tailsection. I’m not a fan of mass-produced, bolt-on tail sections that usually end up looking like an afterthought. Just like I did on Andy’s KZ400, I wanted to make the tail section an integral part of the bike. This does present a slight challenge for the painter to blend into the existing frame, but I knew the result would look better than any bolt-on ever would. After chopping off the factory fender struts, I welded a loop of 1″ tubing to the frame to serve as the foundation. Next, it was just a matter of banging out the panels from steel until I felt I had a shape that flowed nicely with the rest of the bike. For the seat, I wanted to do something a little different than the norm, so I made a 2-piece setup inspired by the minimalist seats used on MotoGP bikes.”

“I custom-made a license plate bracket to bolt onto the left passenger peg mount, but wanted to keep the brake light in plain view, so I mounted it to the left upper shock stud.  For the exhaust, I wanted to keep it simple, so I kept the stock header pipes and just welded on a pair BUB mufflers.  Only problem was the stock crossover tube between the headers had to go!  I chopped it out, and then fabricated some ‘vintage elbow patches’ to cover the holes.  You do remember those way-cool patches on your dad’s corduroy jacket, right? With mock-up complete, I sent the seat pans off to the best, Christian Marsh of Xian Leather, for the classic tuck-n-roll.  Meclec Metal Finishing gave the pipes a cool vintage look by brushing the nickel before chrome-plating…a technique that I will definitely be using again in the future.”

Andy and Corey are both extremely happy with the final result. The bike has a distinctive racing look, while still maintaining a comfy riding position. “I hope this bike shows that it doesn’t always take a scratch-built custom to have a cool bike” says Corey. “Stock bikes do have potential, but sometimes it just takes a little imagination to get there.” Thank God for imagination.

  • Sylvain barel

    great bike !!!!!!!
    what are BUB MUFLERS ? where can I find them ? I want the same for my sportst !!!!!!!!!

  • SportsterMike

    Very nice looking bike.. love the bum stop
    Am running the current 883R and would love to lose all the wiring and connectors etc for a clean look

  • GuitarSlinger

    H-D the company ? I despise . A sweet Harley like this thats been sorted and customized ?

    I love it ! Nice find ! Nuff said   😉 

  • Menormeh

    One of the things said here about Harley which is misleading is the statement about acquiring, and I quote, ” some good ol’ American iron “. In 2008 – 2009 and independent study announced that Goldwing and VTX, when they were still built in Marysville Ohio, actually had more American content than Harley did. The Honda’s were 52% while Harley was only 44%. (Victory came out at 79% american making it the true American Motorcycle, but unfortunately that is no longer true as they have moved their engine assembly plant to Mexico.) The reason I bring this up is that I have grown weary of the myth about Harley’s “good ol’ American iron ” and its propagation. It’s simply not true. And before One of Harley’s faithful demands that I be burned at the state for my heresy, please bear in mind that I have owned five Harley’s in the past and would own another on two conditions. First, I would have to have the cash to throw away. Second, never take it more than 50 miles from home because that’s as far as I want to go in a pickup to bring it back.

    As for this particular bike, it’s a good representation of what can be done with a Sportster with some imagination and hard work. The oil bag might be a bit of a problem on city rides with that abbreviated seat as they tend to get pretty hot. I know with the stock seat that on more than one occasion my leg was slow roasted on my 75 Sport. I also like the brushed nickel finish on the pipes but after checking it appears that BUB no longer makes those particular mufflers that blend so well with the rest of the bike. Overall, a nice job. 

    • GuitarSlinger


      I’ve had H-D’s in the family since 1926 . You’re spot on ! Damn the faithful , the facts is the facts. 

      And I’ll toss in that this Custom is proof you really can make a Silk Purse out of a Sows Ear 

      • Menormeh

        GuitarSlinger than you for your support. How do you feel about the fact that H-D is only going to be shipping Hog’s from India to Europe now. No more American Iron at all. Think they will change their marketing strategy? 

        One thing that has really pissed me with H-D is the fact that they have gone to the American Government several times hat in hand to ask for a favour or cash to tide them over, all the while exporting American jobs overseas to cheap labour markets. How do you feel about that? Honda has been more responsible to the American worker. When they moved the bikes out of Marysville they converted the plant over to hybrid cars and not only retained their workers, but hired more.

        • GuitarSlinger


          The better question is how do you feel about H-D importing the India ” assembled ” entry level single cylinder back here to the US ? I can tell you being in KC,MO the H-D workers aint too happy about it , As neither am I . 

          • Menormeh

            I think that a single will flop as did the Aermacchi did. No one wanted the Sprint and few bought it. I also think that H-D will start bringing in Indian built big vees alienating their customers and workers even further. 

            GuitarSlinger, H-D is no longer run by Harley people. Those heady days of the early to mid 80’s are gone. Once again H-D is in the hands of “Corporate America” and there seems to be little the real Harley people can do at present. But having said that, there is one group of die hard Harley customers that has started to fight back. Some of the Hells Angel chapters have started to allow the members to buy alternates. Sonny Barger rides a Victory Vision and has stated more than once that there are other machines out there that are better than what Milwaukee is offering. 

            One thing I would like to address at this time is the statement made regarding the “poor build quality” of present day Hogs. I own a 2008 Honda Goldwing. The basic machine is about as good as it gets. But if you want to talk about “poor build quality” then I will tell you about all the fasteners that were never installed in the factory, the poor fit on several of the body parts, and wiring issues due to bad design. An acquaintance of mine had a two month old 2008 burn to the ground when his wiring shorted out…. In 2006 Honda had issues with frames cracking and a subsequent recall. There have also been issues with shifting forks bending causing transmission failure. These are all QC issues.

            Quality Control and Quality Assurance are managerial controlled functions. If management does not invoke good QC/QA then it simply isn’t going to happen. Are the workers at solely fault?  MOST DEFINITELY NOT!  Dr. William Demming, the God Father of modern day Quality Control, said’ “A quality control department too often in America is a police department, and 
            becomes later a fire department. Quality has to be everybody’s job.”  He also stated that, and I quote, “the workers are only responsible for about 15% of the problems, the system for the other 85%. The system is the responsibility of Management.” (View Demmings 14 rules ) The bottom line here is exactly that. Harley’s taskmasters only see the bottom line. They care not for their product or their workers or their clients or in the end for their reputation as a company. Their only concerns are share price, dividends, and Corporate control.

            A lot of people believe that I am anti H-D and this, should they care to read between the lines, is not true. A company that has been around for 108 years cannot possibly be offering a consistently bad product, but instead a product with vision, quality, and reputation. I do not nor have I ever wanted to see Harley fail. What I do wish for is that Harley’s share holders decide once and for all what is really good for the company and then act towards that end. They should be prepared to pull their heads out of their collective posteriors and act to make H-D the brand that it once was and could be again, just as the shareholders of GM, Ford, Chrysler and others should be doing. You, as a customer, should be prepared to write Corporate Management and then if they don’t listen, embargo their product until they do. Empty showrooms send a fairly strong message. As a voter you should be writing your Congressman when these Corporate Bandits ask for favour or funds while sliding the work and the product out the back door to a third world nation because they are cheaper. There was a time when the statement “Made in America” stood for something. I don’t think the statement “Assembled in America from Parts Made in Only God Knows Where and Fueled by Corporate greed” has quite the same ring to it. 

            GuitarSlinger, you and others may at this time think that I am wrapping myself in Old Glory. Most emphatically WRONG! I am a Proud Canadian and Harley doesn’t build a damn thing here. What I really am is a lowly little Canuck, just another working stiff, who is tired of seeing my friends and neighbours to the south taking a beating by capital “C” capital “G”, Corporate Greed. Lee Iacocca, a truly great American, once said that he was amazed at the effort people would put out and the hardship that they would endure if everyone tightened their belts equally. I don’t think Corporate  America is wearing belts any more but has instead opted for suspenders to accommodate their ever increasing waist line……..

          • Beezlebub

            That is soooo nice of the Hells Angels to allow something like that. And to think there are people who believe they are a criminal organisation who force their will on others. It`s a shame that they get such a bad rap. 

          • GuitarSlinger

            Menormeh – Seriously don’t read anything not intended into my comments . I’m simply agreeing with you as well as adding in a bit more fuel to the fire that  you’ve started here . 

            My complaint with H-D ( and why there’s no longer one in any of my family’s garages ) is simple 

            1) Quality – It sucks . Has for years and they don’t care 
            2) Dealers – In spite of sales here in the US tumbling they’ve still got the same attitudes of the 90’s when sales were booming . ( ____) holes sums it up 
            3) The pretense of H-D’s being in any way still the All American M/C when in fact as you’ve stated Honda Goldwings have more NA and Us content than H-D’s 

            The sad thing in my mind is if you take a H-D ( any year any model ) and dump $3-5K into one …. not to customize it but rather remedy its shortcomings and fix its ills ….. they can be a damn fine ride . Which is why I made the Silk Purse / Sows Ear comment . Why H-D doesn’t just build them right to begin with is what gets up my nose and my checkbook not on their counter 

            As far as US automobiles ( new ) well forget about it . Between all the money we US tax payers have dumped into the companies and what we’ve gotten in return ( a bunch of junk , unpaid loans , lies Smoke & Mirrors ) well Flag waving I’m not as far as the US Auto-M/C manufactures are concerned . 

            FYI No company these days is run by ‘ Enthusiasts ‘ The ” Bean Counters ” having taken over the corporate world for the last twenty years or so . As far as my current rides ? A Benz and a Beemer with nary a German gene anywhere to be found in my family . 

            I vote with my checkbook and my checkbook demands quality , from the instruments I play to the cars and bikes ( pedal and M/C ) I ride/drive . The checkbook having long ago lost any measure of : as Chesterton ( GK ) called it ;

            ” Blind Patriotism “

  • “They may have a reputation for poor build quality but let’s leave that debate at the door for a moment.”

    Looks like you learned from the last Harley article you did. lol

  • Gonzo

    You said “when they are done right these bikes can make you want to trade in your Japanese metal for some good ol’ American iron” I say “yeah, like an Indian!” I will never give up my Honda CB750’s nor my BMW S1000RR for a Harley! To ride a Harley is to get your ManCard revoked and get in line with all the other Bitches!

    • Menormeh

      Don’t you that’s a little harsh Gonzo. To revoke a guys ManCard…….. I know some pretty decent fellows that ride Hogs. A little misguided maybe, but still nice guys.

  • Stephen Bacon

    Harshness! Well then, now for some positive vibes: the bike looks great. The tank, seat and pipes are aces.

  • Larry Pearson

    I like the overall look of this bike a lot.  Gorgeous paint job, and this comes from a guy who paints bikes for a living.  Love the exhaust.  The only concern I would have is whether or not that beautiful tail section would hit the tire on a bump.   Nicely done.

  • ohiorides

    Like most people who peruse the site I must admit that I am not the largest Harley fan. I do however enjoy this build. Great work on the tank, integration of the seat into the frame, choice on the paint, and cleanliness of the wiring job. Keep up the good work.


  • Davidabl2

    Word:”Blacked-out motor”
    Take a look at this one

    • Cory Hebert

      Too funny…I built that bike, too.  :)Cory Hebert
      Maindrive Cycle

      • Davidabl2

        Yep. And side by side it sure looks like an acre of shiny metal on this one ,doesn’t it?
        I guess you don’t want to appear to be covering up that it’s a Sportster mill…
        There’s a lot of interesting possibilities for the side covers and inspection covers in gloss
        black or that glorious green… AC as well.  Photoshopping would prove the point I’m sure think.

  • Vulcanmotoracing

    It looks good, very clean lines, but I feel no emotion when viewing it. No soul, no character…

    • Davidabl2

      It’s only 10 years old. Maybe that’s not long enough to grow a “soul?”
      Or are there just too many of them out there? After all, the 883 is the
      USA equivalent of the UJM..


    Bike looks great, If it was for me, I’d have a slightly bigger tank and clip ons for more of a cafe look. I’d ride it farther than 50 miles as I’ve have with the Harley I have now. Cory, great work and I spoke to Scott about painting my tank. I still find it funny when internet warriors talk trash about Harley riders.. like take away the “man card” It’s easy to say to a computer, not so easy to someone in front of you.. and I’m not talking about the “wild hogs” rider either. Anyway.. like they say, keep the rubber side down.

    • Beezlebub

      Congrats on passing the 50 mile barrier. A true milestone in your life.  Celebrated !.

  • Xraytoken

    Love the bike! Big Sportster fan. I’ve owned seven of them, still have two. Great build!

  • Beezlebub

    I`m sure that with all that suspension travel & those tyres this bike is a great handler & very comfortable to ride. I`ve never seen this combination of “bobber meets cafe racer” styling before. I bet the owner will pile on the miles in absolute bliss. A true feat of engineering & stylistic genius !. Function & originality !. Who could ask for more.

  • GuitarSlinger

    @ Andrew – Apologies for the rants above as well as the semi off topic comments , but the discussion with Menormeh was too good to simply let drop . Hope you don’t mind too much . 

  • Cody Sorells

    I think this just goes as a personal preference I personally would like a newer sportster in the garage but i wouldn’t take one over a honda cb750. I grew up around harleys and i just couldn’t see myself on one but I loved sport bikes but didn’t want to become a grease spot on the road lol. So my first bike was a Yamaha rd200 and i fell in love with japaneese bikes from then on out. maybe one day ill turn over and buy a Harley but for now i love the sporty sound and feel of a finely tuned cafe racer. 

  • barney fife

    Beautiful bike. Really love the colour choices for the tank. Love the clean classic look. Nicest custom Sportster I’ve seen in a very long time.

  • Forgemetal2

    I love this motorcycle but it needs forward foot pedals. That is all.

    • Beezlebub

      Yes for sure !.” Cafe” rearsection with “Chopper” controls would look just splendid. The ergonomic improvement in the riding position would be a real bonus too.

  • Who said riding that is gay!? 
    I must say, you sir have a taste for hardcore rides!

  • JimmyR14

    I ride a ’98 Fatboy – much customised – and it’s a lot of fun to ride.  It doesn’t let me down.  In fact I have wondered what all the fuss is about.  Recently I bought an ’82 Suzuki GS1100 to do up as a project.  I get a lot of “Didn’t think a Harley guy would go for a Suzuki” and so on.  I’m not a Harley guy, I’m a bike guy.  A cool bike is a cool bike, regardless of who made it.

    Don’t let preconceptions rule your thinking.  Just enjoy bikes.  I usually don’t like Sportsters but I like the new(ish) 48 and I sure like this one.  Great job!

  • Mabel Margaret

    Wow! its amazing.

    harley starters