Off Road Sportsters: Turning Harley-Davidsons Into Adventure Bikes
Making do with what you have is often more fun, more affordable, and faster, than going overboard trying to build the perfect machine. Here we profile some garage-built off road Sportster adventure bikes.
There are many other motorcycles that were more fit to the challenge, however, that doesn't mean they are more fun, or more capable.
Harley-Davidson Sportsters are a good platform in that they are plentiful, affordable, and as far as Harleys go, light and nimble. In addition, loads of custom Sportster parts exist that help ease the transformation.
1997 Harley-Davidson 1200 Sportster by Tim Statt of GigaCycle Garage
November of 2021 I was chatting with Josh AKA @shadetree_surgeon and he mentioned “Why don’t we fly to California and buy a couple of Goldwings and ride them back east?”
As tempting as this may sound, I don’t have any experience with Goldwings and what the hell would I do with it once the trip was done? I make my living building parts for Harleys so; I thought that something using a Harley-Davidson would be more fitting.
As I was thinking about what to do, I was approached to build a few front ends for some Sportsters that were being race prepped for the Mint 400.
Style for miles with this 1997 Harley-Davidson 1200 Sportster Tracker by Tim Statt.
Sportsters Exist As A Beater Bike, Rat Rod, Bobber, Girlfriend's Bike, and Hardtail Choppers... Why Not As An Adventure Bike?
Harley had released the Pan America earlier in the year and the bike was making big waves in the Adventure Bike world. The PanAm is a large departure from the traditional Harley-Davidson iron.
I figured that I could build a street legal dirt bike out of an Evolution Sportster for a fraction of the price of a new PanAm. Evolution Sportsters are the Swiss Army knives of the custom bike world.
Go to any event you will find many Sportsters doing duty as many things such as, a cheap beater bike, rat rod, bobber, girlfriend's bike, or even a hardtail Chopper! Why not an Adventure bike?
Beefy tires for the off road journey is a must.
The Back Country Discovery Routes
I have been reading articles and watching YouTube videos about Back Country Discovery Routes, which are mapped off-road routes for motorcycles with on-road sections tying them together.
They have mapped routes across the USA. I chose the MidAtlantic route (MABDR). This route starts on the Virgina/Tennessee boarder and heads north to the New York State line.
The “Dumb Idea” was formulated! Why not take a Sportster and ride it off road for 950 miles and see how many people that I could get to go with me?
"The Evolution Sportster is the Swiss Army Knives of the custom motorcycle world."
The bike I summoned was a 1997 1200 Sportster. My buddy Dr. Matt found it on Facebook Marketplace. I went and looked at the bike. The bones were there but it was lacking in the style department.
I have built and modified many bikes including Sportsters in the past, so I had a good idea of how I wanted this bike to come together. The criterion for the trip is to be self-sufficient on and off road.
It would need bags for gear and tools, off road traction, and to not turn into a pile of dung after riding roughly 1600 miles of all kinds of terrain.
A multi function and utility off and on road machine.
The Plan & The Parts For An Off Road Sportster
The plan was set. I collected parts for the next 4 months to transform the chopperized Sportster into an off-road weapon. Suspension and riding position were the first things to change.
I installed one of our LeRoy tracker front end kits with brakes added. For the rear I swapped the shorty 10-inch shocks for 14.5-inch long RWD Adjustable units.
Everything else was assembled from the Lowbrow Customs website including their new Sportster Skid-plate.
Tim and Dr. Matt's sportster trackers together.
What about the trip you ask? That happened, but that is a story for another time...
Let’s just say we are in the planning stages for round 2 for late spring 2023. Keep your eyes peeled for more information as it details become available.
- Words by Tim Statt
- Photos by Lisa Gresens
Tech Sheet: Tim Statt's 1997 Harley-Davidson 1200 Off Road Sportster
Not your average Sportster.
Owner: Tim Statt
Year/Make/Model: 1997 Harley Davidson Sportster
Fabrication: Gigacycle Garage
Build Time: 4 Months
Stock 1200 Sportster engine.
Year/Type/Size: 1997 Evolution Sportster
Exhaust: Lowbrow Customs 2 into 1 Hooligan Exhaust by Kerker
Air Cleaner: Stock Housing w/KN filter
Year/Type: 1997 Stock Sportster
Gigacycle Grage LeRoy Tracker front end with dual disc brakes
Type / Brand: Gigacycle Garage Le Roy Tracker w/ Brakes installed
Stock 19" front wheel with Shinko 804 tire
Stock 18" wheel with Shinko 805 Tire
Front Size: 19” 9-spoke mag Shinko 804 Big Block Adventure Tire
Rear Size: 18” 9-spoke mag Shinko 805 Big Block Adventure Tire
Simple bar and shield logo on black
Paint by: unknown
Plating/Polishing: Gigacycle Garage
Powdercoating: Leland Powdercoating
Motorcycle footpegs - Gigacycle Grage Track Star.
Front Fender: Maier Racing
Rear Fender: Stock HD chopped
Gas Tank: Stock HD 3.3 gal
Handlebars: Biltwell High trackers
Grips: Biltwell Thruster Grips
Mirrors: HD stock
Hand Controls: HD stock
Foot Controls: Gigacycle Track Star / TrackerDie Sprocket Cover
Headlight: Custom dual Hella LED
Taillight: Maier Racing
Turn Signals: None
License Mount: repro Vintage Knuckle Beehive
Seat: Counterbalance Cycles with gripper cover
Custom & Special Details or Accessories: Biltwell EXFIL Bags
More Photos of Tim Statt's Off Road Sportster
This tracker is rocking our Lowbrow Customs 2 into 1 Hooligan Exhaust by Kerker.
Stock controls making it easy to not have to modify to much on this build.
Bug eye LEDs to really brighten up the road.
Got to keep some of the Harley Cheese on there.
Biltwell High Tracker handlebars matched with some Thruster grips for comfort.
Biltwell EXFIL-18 saddlebags have multiple uses and come in extremely handy on and off the road.
Lowbrow Customs Chain Conversion and Hooligan exhaust by Kerker.
1996 Harley-Davidson XL1200S Tracker - A Sportster Adventure Bike By Dr. Matt Coburn
Tim Statt asked me if I was interested in buying a Sportster to build an adventure bike and take it off road on a 5 to 7 day trip. I said sure, without knowing any other details. A motorcycle adventure with Tim is certain not to disappoint.
I found a 1996 Harley-Davidson XL1200S for $2500 that was in pretty decent shape and Tim helped me pick it up. It's always good to have a friend with a truck when you are buying a motorcycle.
I'm a chopper guy at heart, but over the last 10 plus years of knowing Tim, I have acknowledged and incorporated his concept of "stock but not" when I envision what a bike will look like when it's complete.
When I started this bike I wanted it to look like what a Factory ADV Sportster could have or should have looked like, with a little chopper attitude.
1996 Harley-Davidson XL1200s
Selling The Stock Parts To Fund The Sportster Enduro Build
I stripped the bike down to the frame and motor and sold the parts to offset the cost of the build. The adjustable 39mm dual disc S frontend went on my chopper, which was a welcomed improvement for that bike.
Then began with the Sportster's suspension, once you ride a bike with great suspension and brakes, you never want to ride anything inferior again. A Gigacycle LeRoy Tracker front end and Fox rear shocks were an easy choice.
HardDrive 19/18" spoke rims, Shinko tires and Gigacycle axle adjusters completed the package. 51/22 front and rear sprockets have performed excellent on and off road.
I had molle bags previously used on my Dyna, so I fabricated a rear rack to use them building off the factory struts and made a front adaptor plate to mount a set of dirt bike fenders.
B-side, Check out that Gigacycle LeRoy Tracker front end with dual disc.
The bike came with the brass gas cap and 1200S checkered paint. I added some more brass parts and the revolver oil cap that came off a bike Tim bought to add to the 90's chopper feel.
The taillight is a Sparto/limp dick off my first Triumph chopper, that has been on the shelf for 20 years. I cut 6" out of a cheap Sporty crashbar to make it narrow enough to not get hung up off road and still give some protection to the cases and levers if the bike goes down.
I ordered a TrackerDie sprocket cover from Lowbrow and a set of Biltwell Renegade grips that are on all of my bikes.
The seat is a Biltwell base with an extra inch of foam and a cover I had from an old bike. I fabricated a chopper exhaust from the parts pile with a 6" mini muffler and a turnout to keep the heat off the shocks.
For the motor I added a set of N4 cam Andrews cams and rebuilt the top end. The bike has plenty of power and is an absolute blast to ride on and off road. It has found a permanent home in my garage.
The trip was definitely an adventure! Met some incredible people and I am looking forward to the next crazy idea Tim has for these bikes!
Trackers man, it's the best of all worlds.
- Words by: Matt Coburn
- Photos by: Lisa Gresens
Tech Sheet: Dr. Matt Coburn's 1996 Harley-Davidson XL1200S Tracker Adventure Bike
On or off road this Sporty is going places.
Owner: Matt Coburn
Year/Make/Model: 1996 Harley-Davidson XL1200S
Fabrication: Myself and Gigacycle Garage
Build Time: 5 Months
Custom exhaust, drag tear drop and a cv carb. With the hopped up cams this engine is a beast.
Year/Type/Size: 1996 XL1200 with Andrews N4 Cams
Carburetor: CV Carb
Exhaust: Custom built 2 into 1 using existing parts.
Air Cleaner: Drag Tear Drop
Check out that custom shortened crash bar.
Year/Type: 1996 XL1200S
LeRoy Tracker Front end by Gigacycle Garage.
Type / Brand: Gigacycle Garage LeRoy Tracker With Dual Disc and home built lower covers.
Front 19" HardDrive Chrome Spoke Wheel and Shinko tire
Rear wheel 18" HardDrive Chome spoked wheel with Shinko Tire.
Front Size: 19" HardDrive Chrome Spoke Wheel with Shinko E-804 110/80B19
Rear Size: 18" HardDrive Chrome Spoke Wheel with Shinko E-805 150/80B18
That Stock Sportster S tank looking killer on this build.
Paint By: Stock Tank 1996 XL1200S
Front Dash with them Biltwell Renegade grips
Front Fender: Universal 80cc Dirtbike front fender
Rear Fender: Acerbis Universal Motorcross
Gas Tank: Stock
Handlebars: 2FastMoto Scrambler bars
Grips: Biltwell Renegade Grips
Hand Controls: Stock but modified
Foot Controls: TrackerDie Sprocket Cover and Ebay Pegs
Headlight: Ebay / modified 2FastMoto Viking Cafe Mini
Tail light: Old Chopper Sparto Modified with LED
Turn Signals: LED marker lights modified
License Mount: Sparto Modified
Seat: Biltwell Pan and modified
Custom rack for saddlebags.
Custom and Special Details or Accessories
Fabricated rear rack to use mole bags which holds tools underneath and gear on top. Modified Cheap Sportster Crash bar.
More Photos Of Dr. Matt Coburn's 1996 Harley-Davidson XL1200S Tracker
Extra LED on the front for some more light.
Skid plates help keep junk from dirtying up, scratching or penetrating your motor.
Scrambler bars with the speedo and tach.
Lowbrow Customs Dished Brass gas cap.
You may think hand guards are a bit overkill but clearly you have never road in the woods.
The Mole Bags coming in super helpful.
Hella mean lookin.
Let's go on an adventure.