2008 Harley-Davidson XL883R Firestarter

Firestarter is my first custom project based on a brand new 2008 HD Sportster XL883R. I am the founder of what was initially intended to be a lifestyle movement & custom garage known as Rider Cult. At present it’s more so a visionary joint than a full-fledged chop shop. The way it all started was through an article featured in a Hot Bike issue on a $1,000 budget-built Sportster custom. I wanted to have a custom bike that was unpretentious; I don’t like pretentious. I’m a bare, down-to-the-essentials guy. I wanted it to be unique, yet simple. Most important, was that I wanted to maintain the true spirit of the Sportster 883R. This wasn’t preconceived; no. It was the result of a fond attachment to the R that grew through nearly more than a year of intermittently riding it. Every ride fed me back with the same great taste, only each time with a different allure: sweet, free, thrilling, but mostly, fun, fun, fun! Added to that was fellow bikers’ comments time and again on the beautiful classical essence of the bike – and we’re talking bone stock here, folks. I felt bad to what I was about to do to it. But I reminded myself that I had bought it for the sole purpose of customizing it to begin with.
At the same time I was already enjoying riding my other Sportster – my first one, a 2008 XL1200N Nightster I proudly dub Da Nightsta “Eye of the Fly” Punkster Dragster – which I was also slowly customizing in the direction of a lowdown street dragster. I’m infatuated with the hot rod and rat rod cultures, and wanted the R to be the opposite of everything the Nightster was. If the latter had drag bars and was slammed down low front and rear, I wanted the R to have a taller front end with high apes! If the Nightster was clean and refined, I wanted the R to be ratty, raw, and unfinished!
Visions of the custom project in my mind toggled back and forth between bobber, chopper, and cafe racer. This “virtual” designing and scheming in my mind took quite a while before it finally reached the vision of the finished bike. That vision kept flashing back in my mind, until it was anchored there; unchanged, unaltered. That’s when I knew that this is the design I was set on, and that I had to start implementing it.

So, evolving all the way from the initial customization itch (back in June 2008) of a bobber, then a café racer, then back to a bobber, then a crazy mix of both, I finally settled – after a year-long intensive scouring of the internet for different inspiration platforms – on a hot rod, or perhaps rat rod approach. Of course, leaning back on the fact that I intentionally wanted to maintain it recognizably a Sportster, I was reluctant to change the frame, although a rigid frame may very well have served the concept much more faithfully. I also intentionally wanted to preserve the 883R power plant stock; so no major changes there either. Apart from a more or less standard stage 1 upgrade with one-off modified stock HD mufflers and custom air cleaner, I just swapped the spark plugs and wires for higher performance ones.

The main challenge – as simple as the concept is – was parts and execution, both wrapped in a super duper tight budget. Since I’m all the way across oceans in Saudi Arabia, ordering parts involved a certain risk of not fitting properly, or not looking as good installed as they did over the web or as I pictured them in my head for instance. Also, shipping cost(s) bit a big chunk off my already diminishing budget. Another challenge was the execution of my ideas due to the lack of qualified bike garages – let alone custom shops – if at all any, except for the local HD dealer, as I’m neither a savvy bike mechanic nor a welder for that matter.
As mentioned, inspirations for this bike are rooted into the hot rod scene. This is well reflected in the Hurst pistol grip mated to a LaBriola lever and foot clutch to bam-slam those gears, whereas the one-off custom mufflers were hollowed from their baffles and made to be reminiscent of a Spitfire fighter plane’s exhaust. Firestarter breathes fresh cool air from high and above the engine heat through a custom Chopper Dave x66 iron cast air cleaner and Screamin Eagle Heavy Breather neck assembly for that mean “trucker” look. Does it get any hot rodder than that?
Rock’n’Roll played an important role in influencing, let’s say, the attitude of the bike. To me, nothing spelled in-your-face rebel recklessness more than The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” song. Front man Keith Flint’s punky attitude in that video was what I wanted my ride to be! Another Rock influence apparent on Firestarter is the headlight visor or fairing. I refused the fairing offered by Harley-Davidson specifically made for the Sportster and some Dyna models, whereas I was obstinately in want of the Nightrod fairing due to its slimmer, more streamlined profile and that subtle “bulge” for lack of better word in the middle of it. And, for the paint scheme of the fairing, I wanted what was Black Label Society guitarist and vocalist Zakk Wylde’s infamous guitar with the swirls, so that’s where I somewhat went with the theme for the visor.

All along this project, I must give credits to my brother (who’d actually gotten me the Hot Bike issue with the budget build), who served as a genuine advisor, providing constant support and motivation, especially encouraging a D.I.Y approach to the project, enticing more of the sought individualism so characteristic of this – as any true – custom project. He kept saying: “you can do this or that yourself. Even if it doesn’t turn out looking show bike class, at least you’ll be left with the satisfaction that you’ll have done it yourself; it’s yours. This beats any other feeling.” The best example to this is the tank. I’m your most anti-airbrush fan that you can find. I’ll only go for airbrushing as a means of highlights or certain effects. I also have a terrible steady hand; we’re talking 3.5 on a Richter scale here. So, instead of sending off the tank to a paint shop to do the work, I did it myself. I grinded the paint off in my bathroom, and I freehand-painted the theme of what best represents Firestarter – Lil’ Devil Boy with the wickedest mischievous grin waving what seem to be endless checkered flags – at my dining table!
Thanks Bro; it paid off and as you said it’ll be, it is indeed: a killer! I’d also like to thank my good buddy and mechanic “Fonzz” for all his dedication, commitment, input and guidance in this build right from the start. And last but not least, very special thanks go out to the Mizzus, the one who bears with it all, the ups and the downs, the covert and the overt, and all the cavorting and frolicking with mistresses 1 and 2 (I am referring to the bikes).
The end result turns heads, whether to extract gasps of awe or horror. As Paul, Showrooms Manager for Middle East & North Africa in H-D here in Jeddah Saudi Arabia once told me when he saw the bike: “I dunno, this bike’s got everything that’s supposed to make me hate it, yet I can’t help but like it!”
This is just a brief description of the project to give a feel of the character of the bike. Much more of course was involved on different levels, such as customizing a dropdown bracket to lower the ChopperShox mini shocks and seat pan about 1″; customizing a bracket to hold the Nightrod’s headlight fairing; chopping, modifying, reshaping and louvering the rear fender. The sissy bar is entirely custom made; the No School Choppers 40X taillight/side license mount required custom modification to fit properly without hitting the Biltwell 10″ rigid struts. It actually incorporates a custom made rubber mount to help eliminate vibrations. In an attempt (quite successfully) to veer off the usual relocation of the ignition from the right under-tank to the left air horn placement, the switch was repositioned so as to nestle right atop the frame neck, in between the head of the tank and the handlebar risers. The result – along with the custom lighter key – is one I’m truly chuffed about.

Firestarter’s been featured in the Jul-Aug 2012 issue 123 “Custom Sportster” spread (p.124-p.127) of the Australian custom bikes “Heavy Duty” Magazine, as well as in the U.S “Firing Order” Magazine’s supplement “Readerz Ridez” (p.26) of the same year.

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