Almost exactly five weeks ago, as of this writing, my friend Paul at Branch-O’Keefe interrupted our bench-racing session to take me next door to Bennett’s Performance for a brief interlude of bedazzlement. You see, Paul knows, as many do, that I’m an absolute freak for FXRs, and he knew of a new project by Roland Sands he thought I just might find interesting. Sheesh—little did he know!

There are “FXRs” and there are FXRs, folks! This one is a real FXR in that it has a factory frame, not some “pro-street” replica… indeed, not a replica of any kind! That—makes all the difference. How this particular machine came to enjoy its current suit of clothes and fresh makeup is a good story.

Ron Mercurio, a 41-year-old former Navy SEAL turned small-business owner, sent an entry that happened to be the one selected from thousands of stories of why they should get the dream bike makeover of a lifetime. Mercurio was the winner of Bell Helmets’ and Roland Sands’ “Bell Star Treatment” contest, which gave the winner a trip to the Roland Sands Design (RSD) headquarters in Los Angeles where he collaborated with Sands on a customization plan for Ron’s (formerly his father’s) old 1987 Harley-Davidson FXLR. Since I’m probably older than Ron’s father and the contest ended on my birthday last year (August 31, 2012), I found it intriguing this project was completed in a relatively short period of time and done to a turn! (If you Google images of stock or near-stock FXLRs, you’ll see a motorcycle that was/is pretty sharp to begin with, but when you get a look at the results of Ron’s RSD MC makeover, you clearly see the mark of a master—for several reasons!)

First off, this thing on initial approach looks like a Sportster being so small and compact. Fact is, I’ve seen similar treatments by Roland on XLs and it suits them (and this FXR) damn well. For lack of a better way to describe it, it’s kind of a café bobber and, as such, I doubt most of us would really want to stay aboard for much longer than it takes to run out of gas in that little tank, but… what a fun ride! I call it “high intensity—short duration!” Enhancing the FXR’s basic virtues, such as light weight and handling, is what it’s about. Ninety nine and nine-tenths of the attempts at customizing FXRs get it all wrong on that level (as well as many others) so it’s refreshing as hell to see a machine modded to improve those capabilities rather than diminish them… and look good doing it. Just to be clear, I’m not saying this bike is flawless, but I can overlook (and/or justify) most of them for the sake of the “package.” Sure it’s a rolling showcase for Roland’s parts and pieces, as well as those of many others who contributed, but it’s as close to “right” IMHO as any custom FXR I’ve seen in years.

Now how about we take a little closer look, OK?

Bell Helmets and Roland Sands "Bell Star Treatment"
Bell Helmets and Roland Sands produced a fantasy FXR for “Bell Star Treatment” contest winner Ron Mercurio

As easy as it is to get diverted by the dandy overall “look” of this “Black Ops Opus,” the first functional detail to study is the stock OEM frame. Consider this; a new factory FXR frame will cost twice what a new frame for a bagger or Dyna costs! Look close at the stout gussets around the steering head for a partial answer as to why that should be. These gussets and welded-up box structures stiffen the steering head (and swing arm pivot area, to name but two areas where this is done) and constitute a reinforced foundation for what is, in the first place, a very strong, inflexible, “back-bone” chassis. Aftermarket versions of the FXR frame never use gussets and box welding, although the best of them will have some extra tubing welded in to try and accomplish the same goal. Trust me, this robotically welded original frame is the best, stiffest and probably lightest frame there is. Functionally superior–period! However, the cost of building it, welding it up and then checking and straightening it before it went to the assembly line is arguably the main reason H-D ceased production of the FXR. (Well, that, and the notion that they would have had to redesign it to hold a Twin Cam engine.)

Roland Sands FXR Build

From this angle you can tell a little about the effort to lighten up what is already the lightest Big Twin. Bobbed fender, trick six-spoke “Morris mag” lookin’ wheels, small Sporty tank, featherweight 2-1 pipe, front fork brace rather than full fender and more lend a Spartan, no-nonsense, hyper-functional, “clean” aspect to the style. It also doesn’t hurt that damn near all the lights, switchgear and various crap that most stockers are festooned with are gone, cleaned up, or minimized to the max!

Roland Sands FXR Build

From right to left you notice the lack of a guard for the chain, the little bobber taillight, trick top motor mount, lack of a coil cover, the clip-on handlebars, the mid controls… and… the brakes. The front, naturally enough, is a Performance Machine caliper and rotor combo that has to be lighter and far more effective that the stock setup. The rear is also a PM caliper, working as a so-called “sprotor”–meaning the brake pads actually clamp down on the flat surface not used by the chain… on the rear sprocket. This is clearly intended to do away with a practically unnecessary, and ungodly, heavy stock rear brake setup.

Roland Sands FXR Build

Philosophically spot-on, in the finest Colin Chapman tradition of “adding lightness” to improve performance, there remains a compromise. You see it here, in the form of a cut and welded swingarm required to clear the caliper body. While the purist in me shudders a bit, pondering whether or not the arm is now weakened, crooked, crystalized or otherwise capable of any nasty surprises in the future, the pragmatist in me (who doesn’t use his own rear brake at all) sees this as a viable and clever solution to the very real problem of unsprung weight on Harleys. While we’re at it, knowing what a giant P.I.A. it is to change the drive belt on Big Twins and the limitations of both gearing and tire sizing involved with belts… the chain drive conversion sure seems logical to me!

Roland Sands FXR Build

What isn’t so logical for about 99 percent of us is the choice of so-called clip-on bars for this beast. This view from the saddle shows the typical RSD cleanliness and lack of clutter in instrumentation, not to mention switchgear. But how many folks could really appreciate (let alone utilize) the riding position… especially without rear-set footpegs to go with the bars? Well, there might be a way…

Roland Sands FXR Build

Sorta like the setup I have on my own FXR, using the cartridge-type leg assemblies from a XL1200S. These (or the tubes from any 38mm FXRP) are a bit longer and can easily be slid up in the triple trees for a “perch” to attach clip-on bars, yet leave plenty of tube (and fork travel) below.

Roland Sands FXR Build

Look at the front end of Ron’s RSD FXR and you can visualize what I’m suggesting—right? Seems like doing the long-tubes-up-the-tree trick would also take care of the one and only awkward aspect of this bike, as well. Namely the “line” between the top of the trees and the tank, which is less than aesthetically (let alone practically) suitable. If you imagine having those clip-ons above the trees and more on the same plane as the tank top, I suspect you’d like the look as well as the use of the bike much more. (My 2 cents… FWIW!) The rest of the detailed “treatment,” from choice of tires, to hand levers, to the remainder of the (both seen and unseen) suspension upgrades is superb, especially the use of the otherwise useless little bracket below the right side cover, to mount the ignition switch… in a very tasty little “box.”


By the time you read this (as opposed to when I wrote it) you’ll likely have seen plenty of this bike elsewhere in the pages of magazines, on the Internet or elsewhere (even Ron’s garage?). But as with most really special efforts like this, most of what makes it this good is too easily overlooked, buried in the details or hidden altogether. A quick rundown of who supplied what for this project is an indicator of the depth of detail and the quality of the doodads employed here:

Chopper Dave = battery side covers (I’d love to have a set just like ’em for my bike, BTW)
Bennett’s Performance = rebuilt the engine
BAKER Drivetrain = a new 5-speed tranny with Delkron case (which enabled an upgrade to a late-model compound starter)
Diamond Engineering = every bolt on the bike and 12-point stainless steel axles
Rivera-Primo = new Pro-clutch (the best clutch upgrade going for an FXR of the 1984-1/2 through ’89 era)
Spiegler = really nice brake lines
Barnett = cables (naturally)
Dakota Digital = the multi-function digital gauge—a great upgrade from the ol’ mechanical gauge
Performance Machine = the hydraulic clutch slave, hand controls and front and rear brake calipers
Progressive Suspension = 444 shocks and front fork kit
K&N = crankcase breather and oil filter
Zippers Performance = chain conversion kit (with the right gear ratios) to squeeze in a Dunlop 180 rear tire
Dynatek = 2Ki ignition system
Airtrix = the great paint work
Anti Gravity = the lightweight battery
DP = organic brake pads
Wiseco = pistons and rings for engine overhaul
And last, but not least, Roland Sands Design (and his crew) for damn near everything else!

Roland Sands FXR Build

One area where enhanced performance seems to bow a bit to a pretty face is, weirdly enough, the engine. Still an 80” Evo (fine by me), it was not hot-rodded to any large degree (barely OK) then saddled with this trick lookin’ (but likely breathless) velocity stack-style air cleaner. I know for sure that Evo engines like more air to breathe than this and I’m not so sure the S&S carb likes it or the pipe, which is more important. Still, it’s safe to assume it performs well enough because it was tuned properly and it’s far lighter, handles and rides better due to lowered unsprung weight, stock chassis and upgraded brakes… just the obvious! Then there’s the not so obvious–just one example of which is the use of two-piece rocker boxes from a late-model, rubber-mount Sportster (which fit right on an Evo)! But damn, I’d love to ride it just ’cause it’s so purty! Henceforth, I guess I’ll just have to refer to the owner, Ron, as just plain LUCKY! Oh, and thanks again, Paul!


  1. Very cool bike indeed. Rons is my 2nd cousin but i have not seen him in years. I have been riding Harleys for years and from Rome NY my friends and I went to Chicago then onto route 66 all the way to Santa Monica and back to NYS. Just wanted to say i enjoyed reading about the bike you guys built.


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