Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! Yeah, I agree; the economy sucks right now, so grab another beer—anythin’ free is worth grabbin’! Of course, there are ways to make a bad economy pay off, so keep your eyes open. The fact that your 2008 Road King will only bring about half of what you paid for it is bad, but if you’re the one buyin’ the Road King, it’s good. There are a lot of great deals out there if you know where to look an’ have a little extra cash an’ the time to work on a project.

Bullin' Through Life: Basket case budget
Bullin’ Through Life: Basket case budget

Twenty years ago, I used to buy “basket cases” for as little as a couple hundred bucks but, with the demand for Harleys, the price jumped to five grand or more for a box of rusty crap that was missin’ half the parts. Now they’re down to a sensible level again, an’ if you have a bit of mechanical aptitude an’ the ability to “horse trade” for parts an’ labor that you can’t do yourself, you can put together a real nice scoot on a shoestring budget. I’ll even give you an example:
Last spring I picked up a basket case Ironhead Sporty for $1,400. The owner had taken it apart 10 years before an’ had the stuff stored in 20 tin cake pans. (The pans came in really handy, too!) When I laid the parts out, the only thing missin’ was the neck shaft for the springer front end. The top end of the motor was apart, but I would have had to freshen that up anyway an’ check the rod bearings an’ such, so I picked up a gasket set, new pistons an’ rings an’ then started a “mock-up” by sticking everything together to see what it would look like.
The battery an’ oil tank hung off the sides like warts on a toad, so I decided to fabricate my own to clean up the lines of the bike. I also wanted to switch the brake an’ shifter to get them on the proper sides, so anyone ridin’ it wouldn’t get confused an’ hit the wrong pedal in an emergency. Other than that, it looked pretty good, so I tore it apart again an’ started the build for real.
The valves an’ guides looked good, so I hand-lapped the valves an’ seats an’ assembled the motor. I opened the trapdoor to inspect the transmission gears, an’ put a new output shaft bearing in before I reassembled it. With the engine and tranny together, I sent the springer out to be powder coated gloss black. Here’s another place where horse tradin’ came in handy, as I did some parts swappin’ with my amigo Ron Weber at Cap’s Bright Hot Coatings in Fresno for the powder coating. Ron’s a builder as well, an’ we’ve done a lot of parts tradin’ over the years. Whenever I see good parts cheap at swap meets, I grab ‘em an’ hang ‘em on the wall “just in case,” an’ they always find a home eventually!
Bullin' Through Life: Basket case budget
Bullin’ Through Life: Basket case budget

Next came the frame, so I designed a jackshaft setup to move the shifter to the left side an’ then built a chin spoiler to cover the pivot tube an’ linkage, as well as hidin’ the horn. I built some adapters so I could use standard billet forward controls an’ master cylinder, an’ cut the old brake shaft tube off the frame. I built a battery box to sit in front of the rear wheel between the lower frame rails, which was tricky because of the Sporty’s rear engine mount an’ the chain clearance issue. Since it came with a small cable-operated an’ “period-correct” front brake, I adapted a Harley factory caliper an’ mount for the rear to give the Sporty enough stoppin’ power to be safe.
I made the oil tank out of a piece of five-inch steel tubing for truck exhaust an’ a piece of flat sheet metal. It clamps to the seat post tube like the old Jammer units used to. The paint was an easy choice, since I had some House of Kolor candy blue left from another job, so I just taped off some ghost flames in the base coat an’ shot on the color an’ clear.
When it was all done I only ended up a couple of grand deep in it, includin’ the purchase price. I sold it for four grand and made myself a reasonable profit while still gettin’ somebody on a sweet ride for cheap!
There are several internet motorcycle auction sites out there, too, where you can score cheap, wrecked bikes to start your build at a fraction of the cost of a used bike in good condition. An’ if you’re goin’ to customize it anyway, why not start with a wreck? Sites like www.crashedtoys.com are a good place to start, but watch the shippin’ charges. They’re usually reasonable, but it’d be wise to shop around if you’re lookin’ to buy one that’s located a good distance from where you live.
Over the past few years I’ve built an’ sold several choppers an’ I’ve never lost money on any of them, so don’t get discouraged by the lousy economy. Do what ya love, an’ love what ya do, because your dream ride is out there waitin’ for ya to give her a new life under your ass!


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