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1972 Harley-Davidson XLH Sportster by Elkabikes

Posted on January 27, 2015 by Scott in Classic. 29 comments


Written by Marlon Slack.

Most custom bikes are meticulously thought out for months before a spanner is turned or an oxy torch is lit. Parts will be carefully considered and increasingly often many late nights will be spent in front of Photoshop tweaking the colours and lines of a build before any action is taken. Moscow-based Elkabikes bucked this trend by producing this 1972 Harley-Davidson XLH in under a month using parts they begged, borrowed, scrounged or purchased from Ikea. That’s right – Ikea. It’s not a bobber or a café racer – it’s a Harley-Davidson Flat Packer.


The story behind this tatterdemalion oddity is a testament to the small Russian workshop’s love of improvisation, raw metal and quite possibly, vodka. Elkabikes heard about an upcoming motorcycle show and much like anyone with a fast-approaching deadline – a student, journalist or motorcycle blogger (ahem) they placed the project to one side and went about working on their other more pressing projects – chiefly the stripped-back bicycles the team also build. Things with the Harley only really kicked into gear a month before the show started – when they began sourcing parts and putting the bike together with no budget, no clear plans and plenty of gusto.


Aleksey Gurbanov from Elkabikes said that the fuel tank was the first item to make its way onto the bike. The distinctive narrow tank was sourced from a local flea market and the raw, stripped-back finish dictated the direction of the rest of the build. From there the seat was fabricated and upholstered in a striking purple, giving the bike its basic lines. And then… well, that’s where things get interesting.


The resourcefulness Aleksey Gurbanov and his team employed on this old XLH is impressive. The exhaust was welded together from scraps donated by another motorcycle workshop and the handlebars were made from Kawasaki and Harley Davidson parts. The air filter cover? Two dog bowls held together by an old bicycle nut. The oil tank is a modified toilet brush holder. The rear light was purchased from Ikea and the white globe was swapped out for a red one. Really.


The engine itself required a bit of work, thankfully devoid of toiletries or camshafts fashioned from a skårsgardflöglet bedhead. On inspection the stock Bendix Zenith carbs were totally ruined and had to be thrown out, to be replaced by a new S&S Super E. At the same time all the gaskets were changed and the starter motor was removed. (Remarkably, Harley have had ‘electric legs’ on their Sportster series since the late 1960’s – and who said they weren’t innovators? That’s right, everyone. But once upon a time the Sportster was a comparatively light, spritely model with a few innovative features).


The last three days of the build resembled something out of an American reality TV show, with the team working well into the night to prepare the bike for its debut. After a cantankerous startup, with the old Ironhead belching oil all over the workshop floor, the bike finally started and was ridden to the show the morning it opened. And judging by the size of that fuel tank, I’m guessing it the show wasn’t too far away.


Elkabike have crafted together a truly unique take on the venerable Sportster that will certainly create heated discussion among Pipeburn readers. With it’s 70’s-esque purple seat and the raw metal… well, everything – I think it looks terrific. But if you baulk at the sight of an early 70’s XLH with a toilet brush holder oil tank and a student’s desk lamp for a stop light, take heed – the frame has been left standard and one day, if the owner chooses, it can be returned to its former glory. But in the meantime I’m glad the guys from Elkabike turned their hand to this old piece of American iron – dog bowls and all.

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  • Blueline

    For a bike that is such a mish mash of parts, it’s all come together pretty well. The lines flow nicely, it’s got a nice stance and that front guard is definitely unique.

    Nice write up as well.

  • Jed


  • Zundap

    True enthusiasts, takes a talented person to build a bike with such limited resources. ..Z

  • AWLongmeyer

    “Flat Packer”!?
    I think I just peed meself.
    And I thought I was innovative using a lawn mower throttle for advance/retard lever.
    What’s the fairing, a grain scoop?

  • Darrick Bartley

    I like it. Looks like they had some fun with it. I’ve always wanted to build something along these lines with the piles of spare parts I have laying around.

  • Definitely vodka…

  • Petr Toluzakov

    I was on that show and saw this bike. Some pictures on my facebook account, if interesting)

  • roberthoekmanjr

    “Most custom bikes are meticulously thought out for months before a spanner is turned or an oxy torch is lit. Parts will be carefully considered and increasingly often many late nights will be spent in front of Photoshop tweaking the colours and lines of a build before any action is taken.”

    I’m curious: Who have you seen working this way? I’ve spoken to several well-known builders recently, and the consensus has been design-on-the-fly. There’s very little sketching, if any, and no Photoshopping. The process is mostly organic, frequently starting from a single piece (like the tank) and going from there. I’d love to hear another perspective.

    • Tracker

      What’s that guy called who makes those weird self-welded steam-punk bikes that seem to be all the rage everywhere? Hasan or something… Anyway: he sketches, full size, as a backdrop and then seems to ‘sculpt’ the bike along the literal lines of his sketch work. And there was a dutch architect recently featured here or over at the other guy (Bikeexif) where you saw that he’s done proper pre-emptive planning. And so on…

      • roberthoekmanjr

        Hmm. “Most” implies there are quite a few builders out there doing it that way. And “meticulously” implies a lot of advance planning. These notions don’t at all match what I’ve heard several builders say about their own processes. I’m just curious to hear from Marlon Slack, the article’s author. I’d love to know if the people I’ve spoken to are exceptions to some more common process.

    • Marlon

      Sure! Bigger places like Deus and Roland Sands go over everything in photoshop. Smaller builds too are happening this way – I’ve got a few mates that are doing it at the moment – and I’m doing it myself too!

      Makes it easier working out the basic proportions, or in my case, the steering geometry on a WR250R-cum-TR replica.

      • roberthoekmanjr

        Thanks, Marlon. I guess it’s the word “most” that piqued my curiosity. I’d bet “most” custom bikes are garage builds created by weekend hobbyists and designed on the fly. Your into feels a bit discouraging to that kind of person. It just surprised me to see it here. I thought maybe you knew something the rest of us didn’t.

        • Marlon

          Nope – you’re right. I shouldn’t have used ‘most’!

          ‘Many’ then. Regardless, the guys who built this bike didn’t even have a plan, they just trial fitted the parts on and kept what worked.

    • claystorage

      i’ve only ever seen the chopper family from OCC do full photoshop first. they have a guy that does nothing else

  • ben

    That thing is slightly less than aesthetically pleasing.

  • Gedigedi

    Exactly what I would want to ride, raw and resourceful. Well done!

  • foiled again

    Excellent use of “tatterdemalion”, guys.

    Way to go! You are definitely rising in my estimation.

    • Marlon

      Thanks mate. My arts degree isn’t going to waste!

      • foiled again

        Unlike mine!

  • matt orrr

    Innovation is freedom plus the mad max quality is there. Who will ride post apocalyptic time shy of amazon prime? Apparently these guys will.

  • Hammina

    What’s cool about this bike is that it takes balls to build something that is clearly handmade. And be done with it. Many builders need it to look factory fresh, or comparable to an OE quality level. Guess where that leaves many lower budget builds? Bolt on bin parts from the same online retailers. Congratulations on making something unique, on a budget, that shows craftsmanship and ingenuity.

    Discalimer- I am not comparing the talent of these builders with those that build high performance customs. I am comparing the attitudes.

  • TeamObsolete

    Interesting discussion, being a trial and error guy myself has left me with a fair amount of unused tanks, seats, wheels etc, Nice wallcoverings but not very cost-effective. Wouldn’t it be great if someone wrote an article about how this so called “photoshop tweaking” can be done? I for one would be very grateful.

  • TeamObsolete

    By the way, the way these pipes flow, ending under the engine, may not be new but has not been bettered in my book. keeping the backwheel as uncluttered as possible gives even a Harley with its bulky engine a nimbleness that you don’t see often enough.

  • revdub

    Hardcore and I love it.

  • chain lube on white walled tires, fantastic, and like the way the purple seat nearly matches the blue pipes, brilliant, love it


    That front tire on the back is not safe.

    • think it is another design over function project, can’t believe anyone would actually ride it, certainly not for pleasure

      • Davidabl2

        Certainly not very far for pleasure…

  • Davidabl2

    Looks like it came out of a certain Spanish workshop. Except that it’s better.