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2003 Harley Sportster – Mandrill Garage

Posted on December 13, 2014 by Scott in Café Racer. 26 comments

China is a funny country in a not so funny way. While most countries generally think motorcycles are a viable way to cut traffic congestion and reduce pollution in cities, the Chinese are going the other way. They have started to ban motorcycles in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai (plus another 200 cities across the country). These strict laws by the government are having a huge impact on bike manufacturers like Harley-Davidson who thought the new found wealth of the Chinese would make it an easy market to increase their sales. How wrong they were. There are however a number of small custom shops who are defying logic and opening custom garages because it’s what they love doing. One of these is a freshly opened shop called Mandrill in Beijing. Mandrill is the love child of Lin and a few of his like minded friends, who are determined to keep the motorcycle culture alive and have a place that bike enthusiasts can hang out. Their first build is this compact Harley Sportster café racer which has been built over the last couple of years and given the name ‘Red-Eye Bitch’ because of the many late nights it took to build her in their spare time – they all still have day jobs to pay the bills.


The story starts a couple of years ago when Lin found a 2003 Sportster frame and engine that was for sale by a friend. Being quite rare in China he decided to snap it up and then went about trying to find other parts to complete the build. Another Chinese law that doesn’t make it easy buying parts for an ‘older bike’ is that if a motorcycle has been on the road for longer than 11 years then it has to be scrapped.  Of course, you can buy collectable bikes, but you just can’t ride them on the streets.


Lin started by ditching the stock tank and purchasing a curved whale tank from Benjie at BCR. Mandrill then went about fabricating that stunning custom exhaust which flows seamlessly from the front to the back.


Mandrill made some modifications to the frame and made the proportions even more sporty. Lin also replaced the bulky stock battery with a much more subtle lithium battery. They also upgraded the bike with some custom rear sets and hand made oil tank. To finish the build off, Lin’s friend Tang painted the bike in green with racing stripe and number.


The guys at Mandrill are so happy with the way this Harley turned out. We love their commitment building these bikes when they know they are fighting an uphill battle with a government hell bent on eradicating motorcycles. We are told that to buy a motorcycle licence (A-Licence) that lets you ride in the CBD now costs $15,000. That’s a lot more than most people spend on their bike. Would you ride a motorcycle if your licence cost more than your machine?



  • Alistair Hardy

    Wow, it’s a shame the government is so anti-biker there.

    Must be a pain for people out in the country side. much cheaper and easier to ride a bike if priced fairly.

    Proper nice bike there though.

    • Steve Rose

      My understanding is that the ban in Beijing is on motorbikes with petrol engines. There are loads of electric bikes and scooters there. It is not an anti-biker rule as trying to improve the air quality.
      Petrol bikes are very common outside of the capital city.

      • Alistair Hardy

        If that’s the case then thats more understandable.

      • Michael Wilson

        Bikes produce far less pollution than cars, so why go after the little guy?

        • Alex

          I’ve you’ve ever spent any time at a major intersection in a major city in China you’d see just how many bikes can squeeze into a square foot of tarmac. In China’s very specific case, cages are typically the minority…in the city anyway.

  • SportsterMike

    Oh no! – another arty farty style set of photos….
    Can the see the bike please.. what I can see it looks well made if not to my taste
    You can’t make a Sportster a cafe racer without somewhere along the line altering the centre of gravity can you?? which is why I’d like to SEE the bike

    • Novak Tomovic

      no! 🙂

    • Michael Kork.

      I kinda agree on this one. Great shots (if you want to tease for a new build) but we could use some light. It looks great though

    • TJ Martin

      Ehhhhh …. for certain these photos are leaning a little to far on the side of Art Fart aesthetics … But come on ! They’re not that bad ! I mean … most of the details are very visible and .. we have seen a hell of a lot worse here of late

    • Moto_maniac

      Do you know how to read? It specifically said that they modified the frame to be more “sporty”. The photos are great.

  • Novak Tomovic

    Not my stily, but it looks OK – regarding the licenses – in my country they are cheap, but registration for a moped od 50cc is 150 USD, and goes more than 2000 USD if you are driving bike with liter engine or more… think about that…

    • nathas909

      Its not the registration that costs 80 – 100,000rmb ($18,000) its the license plate. You still have to get your bike registered every year.
      Car plate are auctioned off every month with only a limit released each year. Bike plates they do not make any more, so you can only get them by buying them from another bike owner. Bike plates can be transferred to cars, but cars cant be transferred to bikes.
      Its the way the government controls the numbers of vehicles on the road, by making them too expensive and only limited numbers.
      Even though they try to restrict the numbers, there are thousands upon thousands of electric and gas scooters on the road, and tons of 250cc Chinese made and some Japanese bikes.
      In the 6 years I have been living in Shanghai, plates of bikes have gone up from 30,000rmb to 100,000rmb, so yes I would buy a plate if I could afford it, its a good investment.

      • Novak Tomovic

        And are car plates as expensive? That is a lot – but in a way there is a reason behind it… maybe some promotion of electric vehicles would be good for the environment… my country has no such problems (thank the Gods) but I’ve been in cities that have minor problems (eg London) – for me it would be beyond imaginable to live there and I can not think of cities such are SH, BJ ect) – but I understand that people must do it and that they must live, travel to work ect… But you can call me spoiled – I ‘run’ away from the city some 8 miles into a country side in order to enjoy nature, quietness and peace… no more cars, trains, horns, shouting… only noise is produced by a dog, cat and sometimes a rooster gone wild ‘shouting’ in 3 am 🙂

        Back to the subject – did those charges increased number of illegal bikes/cars on the street?

  • bikerferlife

    Banned motorcycles? It’s time we took off and nuked it from orbit.

  • TJ Martin

    OK .. another far too retro custom bike for my tastes bike … yet its another build who’s quality and aesthetics supersede my personal taste . Which is to say its one hell of a build regardless .

    As to the China question ? A country that at the beginnings of its ascendency had all the resources , capabilities and ability to do it right …. that has chosen unfortunately to do it very very wrong .

    China’s moto should be ; ‘ Two Wheels Good [ including bicycles ] Four Wheels Bad ‘

  • Perfection.

  • Ray Richmond

    What speedo/tach is that? Anyone know?

    • disqus_vw8PJIhDu2

      Looks like a Speedhut

  • Jeffrey Wallis Bell-Zekas

    nice bike- wow- scrapping old bikes?- no wonder there is a pollution problem in China! cos the most ecological bike is an old bike that is refurbished, imho.

    • Davidabl2

      Probably like Japan..getting old vehicles off the road to get folks to buy new ones from the country’s eager manufacturers. Made to pass higher emissions standards than the older ones, no doubt.

  • Dex

    In answer to the statement “We are told that to buy a motorcycle licence (A-Licence) that lets you ride in the CBD now costs $15,000. That’s a lot more than most people spend on their bike. Would you ride a motorcycle if your licence cost more than your machine?”
    Why do you think so many Chinese want to immigrate to free living countries such as Australia , New Zealand etc. Add to that the fact that 100% of the water table is poisoned its no wonder. I applaud these guys for building anything with two wheels and an engine. Hopefully it shows a return to the creativity and imagination that for many years put China ahead of the rest of the world. Of course that was centuries ago.
    Personally I wouldn’t care if it was made in a kitchen, painted with a paint brush and photographed with a box browny, providing it showed commitment, imagination and creativity.
    The key point is freedom of expression on two wheels, if we don’t fight for the right to ride motorbikes and stick together on it, most governments would gladly see an end to what is our passion.
    I make bespoke landscape, architectural metal work and furniture and I can tell you from experience, it is very difficult to create something from raw materials and get it right every time.
    Well done guys, great build. Next time you’re in New Zealand look me up.

  • LK

    AGAIN with the STUPID tires??!!
    Otherwise nicely done.

  • Luke

    Love the pipes on this one. Not normally a sportster fan, but that tank/seat is real nice.

  • Michael Wilson

    Guess that is why they have such a huge biker underground where very few have tags, registrations or licenses.

  • Neville Smithy

    I doubt the bike has ever been ridden, or started. I’d love to see film of it being ridden by an average sized Chinaman. Fat tires and clipons in Chinese traffic conditions?

    Dung – Dung.