Lowbrow Spotlight: Virginia Cagney's 1996 Harley-Davidson Sportster

Owner: Virginia Cagney
Year/Make/Model: 1996 Harley-Davidson XL1200c
Fabrication: Virginia Cagney
Build Time: 6 months

Year/Type/Size: 1996 XL1200c
Carburetor: CV
Exhaust: Custom built
Air Cleaner: S&S Mini Teardrop

Year/Type: 47 Industries
Rake/Stretch: 2” stretch, 2” drop

"Haywood Jablome"

Front Size: 21” - Rear Size:  16”

"Ride Motorcycles, Eat Ice Cream" - Americana Speed Shop

Front End
Type / Brand: 35mm, 6 over, Evo brake mount welded on.

Paint by:  Virginia Cagney
Plating/Polishing: N/A
Powdercoating: N/A

Front Fender: N/A
Rear Fender:  Cycle Standard 5 inch wide Steel Flat Trailer Fender
Gas Tank: Cycle Standard Axed Chopper Motorcycle Gas Tank 2.2 gallon
Handlebars: Custom made
Grips: Pangea Speed
Mirrors: Unknown
Hand Controls: Panhead-style clutch lever
Foot Controls: Stock
Headlight: Stock light, flipped and remounted
Taillight: No School Choppers blacked out ford Dunlop Model A
Turn Signals: None
License Mount: Custom made
Seat: Custom, Greg of Retrofit

Special Details or Accessories
Sissybar by Retrofit Cycleworks
Ride motorcycles, eat ice-cream points cover by Americana Speed Shop
Seat has a stash tube made from a ’66 Shovelhead exhaust pipe
Oil bag is build-your-own from Bung King

Growing up, my mom had a photo of the steel unicorn she welded when she was 16 years old at summer camp. I never knew any other females who knew how to weld except for her, and it stuck with me. When I was 18 when I took my first welding class. I learned how to MIG weld and spent hours practicing in the shop. Around this time, I started dating Jay (now my husband), and he was riding 70’s Honda motorcycles. I didn’t know anything about motorcycles, but I knew I loved anything vintage, and working with metal.

Photo by Jay Cagney

After that first summer riding on the back, I got bored of being the passenger and bought myself my own seventies Honda. Soon after, Jay shifted from Hondas to Harleys, and bought a ’78 Ironhead with blue and magenta tins. Without knowing a thing about building choppers, he decided to hard tail this bike. I watched him in the garage night after night, and saw the mild beast he built. All I remember thinking was, "I wonder if I could do that".

Photo by Jay Cagney

With experience behind a welding mask and a desire to learn how to TIG weld, I started to think about how I would design a motorcycle if I had that much freedom. I was talked into buying a skull-covered ’96 evo sportster, and all I wanted to do was to change everything about it. We had made a lot of friends who rode motorcycles, and the mentality was a do-it-yourself-or-leave kind of thing. Next thing I knew, I was comparing hardtail styles and prices, and negotiating with Jay about which parts we could afford to buy, versus build ourselves. I spent most of my time that winter in the garage. We had 5 space heaters going, and a foot of snow outside, but I was determined to finish before the weather got warm.

Photo by Jay Cagney

Those first few weeks in the garage, I leaned a lot on Jay for guidance and support. He’d give me his opinion, and let me work in silence until my next question. I was afraid of doing something wrong that might cost me my life when I got this bike out on the road.

Photo by Jay Cagney

The pivoting point for my independence came in 2 forms. The first was when I realized how careful, and delicate you must be in order to stack clean steel dimes when TIG welding. I’m a designer by trade, and have spent years making sure that shapes are aligned, centered, and evening spaced. TIG welding was my sport. Nonetheless, it’s also strong, clean and reliable as a source of fabrication. I was a decent enough welder to give me the confidence to start working independently.

Photo by Jay Cagney

That led to the second highlight of this build (aside from getting to finally ride it). Jay was away in Mexico on the El Diablo Run, and I was alone in the garage trying to finish up my bike before June. I test rode it to make sure everything fit where it was supposed to, and the very last step was to finish the tank and paint. This tank came with two petcocks, and I needed to weld up one of them. I had heard tales of welding gas tanks with gasoline residue in them, and having it blow up in your face. Literally. I had also heard that sealing the tank would be difficult. At this point I’d been working on the bike since January, and was confident in my fabrication skills, but I honestly just didn’t know what I’d do if I had a gas explosion in our little garage. Over the next few hours, I carefully patched up the ~4” hole I had cut out in my tank…without any fires or explosions (biggest sigh of relief). The last check would be to pressure-test it. I took the tank over to Retrofit where my buddies had a motorcycle shop, and to my surprise - I sealed it on the first try. The excitement my friends had made me realize that this was not the expectation for a new builder, and I immediately absorbed their enthusiasm. It was the second pivoting point in my confidence when building this bike.

Photo by Jay Cagney

The first months that I had the bike, my relationship with it existed inside our garage. I built confidence as a welder, and problem solver. But that was 3.5 years ago, and since then we’ve ridden across snow and ice, through monsoons, and across deserts together. Somedays I want to rebuild it all over again, and take it on as another design project. Other days, I want it as a relic of my twenties and to take it out for a long ride to see what’ll happen next. I think the bond between you and your motorcycle is really important, and ours was secured through loads of frustration, excitement, bloodied knuckles, and the many miles we’ve shared.

Photo by Jay Cagney

Photos by: Virginia & Jay Cagney • Video by: Jay Cagney • Words by: Virginia Cagney

7 thoughts on “Lowbrow Spotlight: Virginia Cagney's 1996 Harley-Davidson Sportster”

  • A wonderful video of an interesting woman. I'm one of the editors of the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies; this video would be wonderful to show at our annual conference.

  • Great story and photos, but the kicker is the video. it shows Virginia's passion for building and riding and being a woman and she's wicked funny and cute as hell! Luck guy Jay is!

  • nice build .... which front tire?

  • Nice Story on one cool girl. I think I saw that bike at Fuel?? Love the passion and zest for life here.. Keep it coming!

  • shane mcelhenney November 8, 2018 at 7:57 am

    I love the story sweet old school chopper look..I'm glad to see more women building and riding bikes these days ...Enjoy the ride Virginia..

  • Roger Alan Baker November 8, 2018 at 8:33 am

    Cool story. Great incentive but what's up with all the bikes people build now days that they don't put a chain guard on 'em? I gotta have a chain guard or get a black stripe up my back! ;0

  • Nice build, Virginia! I'm wondering if you or Lowbrow can tell me where you got those mufflers? I'm looking to build a similar set of pipes for my shovel chop. I want some small unobtrusive mufflers but not full on cocktail shakers. Such a beast is proving hard to find!

    Thanks, Phil

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