A Sportster from the father/son founders of BikeBound…
From the editor, Taylor Brown: Today, I’m excited to feature one of our own personal bikes: my 1989 Harley-Davidson XLH1200 Sportster — “Blitzen” — which my father and I worked on side-by-side during holidays and vacation time. Tragically, we lost my old man — Rick Brown — less than a year after this build. On October 16, 2017, a concrete truck pulled in front of his motorcycle just north of the Georgia-Florida line. Though we lived in different states, I’d ridden that same highway, that same morning, on this very motorcycle — during a 1000-mile ride from North Carolina to New Orleans via the old coastal highways.
For that reason, Blitzen holds a very special place in the heart of the BikeBound family. It was the last motorcycle my father and I worked on together. Just after the memorial — and thanks to a mother with nerves of steel, who gave her assent — I finished the ride to New Orleans in honor of my old man, riding the bike we’d built.
Some of you had the pleasure of meeting my father at various events: Riding into History, Handbuilt Show, Barber, Mid-Ohio Vintage Days, or various shop visits. For those who didn’t meet him, I encourage you to read my recent eulogy for him, published in Garden & Gun magazine: “Two for the Road: A Son’s Eulogy for his Father.”
Below, we thought it only fair that I get subjected to the very same interview I’m accustomed to giving our featured builders here on BikeBound 🙂 Thank you to the lovely AJ Grey for the photography.
“Blitzen Tracker”: Interview with Taylor Brown
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I’m 36 years old, born and raised on the Georgia coast, and currently reside in Wilmington, North Carolina. I live something of a double life, as I’m the founder/editor-in-chief of BikeBound.com by day and a novelist/author by night. I have three novels in print: Fallen Land, The River of Kings, and Gods of Howl Mountain — published by St. Martin’s Press.
Like many, my history with motorcycles started with my old man, riding on the back of his various bikes. He once owned one of the fastest street-legal Sportsters in the state, as well as a highly-modified Wide Glide 90th Anniversary Edition, a Suzuki SV650 track bike, a Kawasaki ZZR1200, a Ninja 1000, and a Kawasaki KZ650.
He was in the middle of completing an XS650 street tracker at the time of his death. He was a graduate of the Kevin Schwantz Superbike School and Penguin Racing School, and in 2014 he rode coast-to-coast, circling the country in a journey of more than 9000 miles.
When I was a kid, I would go with him on poker runs, post-work loops around town, etc. In my teens, we got a pair of Honda XR200 trail bikes and spent our weekends cruising the back roads with the thumpers in town, looking for places to ride. Fire roads, borrow pits, abandoned construction sites, and off-road parks were our domain. Later, I got my first street bike, a Kawasaki KLR250, later followed by an 883 Sportster, and we made trips to Daytona, Sturgis, and more. We watched one of our favorites, Nicky Hayden, win the MotoGP race at Laguna Seca in 2006, and dreamed of one day attending the Isle of Man.
I founded BikeBound.com in 2015 and my dad, who’d just retired, quickly became a close partner in the project, acting as our “senior correspondent” and making shop visits and cover events all over the American South and beyond. My own workshop consists of the two-car garage in the same building that now serves as BikeBound’s office/headquarters, but for this project, we worked out of my father’s modest home garage in Georgia.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1989 Harley-Davidson XLH1200 Sportster.
• Why was this bike built?
Blitzen was a father/son project and also to serve as a sort of “flagship” for BikeBound.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
With BikeBound, from the beginning, we’ve tried to emphasize custom bikes built to be ridden hard rather than show bikes or trailer queens. In fitting with that theme, we wanted a practical scrambler/tracker/bobber that was reliable enough to serve as a daily commuter, comfortable enough for 300-mile days in the saddle, and modified to handle some light off-road adventure — all while looking mean-as-hell.
We’ve always been big fans of muscle cars and hot rods as well as scramblers and street trackers — all of which influenced this bike. What’s more, we’d both owned and developed a fondness for solid-mount, chain-drive Sportsters. In fact, in the 90s, my old man used to own something of a Sportster sleeper — a 100+ horsepower street-sweeper that looked almost completely stock 🙂
We didn’t set out to purchase a 4-speed donor like this one, but it was a solid-mount Evo at the right price. As it turns out, the 4-speed transmission makes the bike some 40+ lighter than the 5-speed models — though I’ve wished for the burliness of the newer gearbox at times.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Besides some dress-up, like the black paint on the heads and chrome covers, the engine itself is largely stock. My old man had dealt with hot-rodded, temperamental Harley V-twins in the past, and we wanted a bike that wouldn’t leave me on the stranded on the side of the road hundreds of miles from home.
The bike does have a Dynatek ignition, aftermarket breather from the good folks at Get Lowered Cycles, and I just installed a coil relocation kit with new top motor mount from Lick’s Cycles. The exhaust is a custom version of Kinetic Motorcycles’ 540R Laterals — built in 304 stainless steel, TIG-welded, with Apex mufflers. We came up with a rear bracket welded to the frame, but constant heat cycles and metal fatigue caused the bracket to fail a couple times. Finally, I got with Joe at Performance Cycles and we came up with the idea to use a simple horn damper to rubber-mount the rear hanger, which seems to have resolved the issue.
This exhaust system is designed to make room for rearsets, which we got from Shane at Chainsikle and paired with a set of 1-inch lowered foot pegs from Randy and Alicia at Knight Design — fine-tuning the riding position for yours truly. The rear shocks are 15-inch Burly Brand Stiletto shocks — the tallest they make for the Sportster. The front suspension is stock except for slightly heavier weight fork oil and rubber gaiters to keep out the dust during dirt-road adventuring.
In the rear, we have a raw aluminum Lowbrow Customs Tsunami fender — it’s designed for 2004+ Sportsters, but we modified it to fit the ’89 frame, giving it a bit more of a raked angle in the process. On top of that, we mount a Biltwell Banana seat. The saddle might look thin, but I’ve done hundreds of miles a day on this setup without issue — really comfortable. Stubby fiberglass front fender for keeping the rain and grit out of my face.
We swapped the king tank the previous owner had installed for a factory “peanut tank.” This was intended as a temporary solution. In fact, I spent hours buffing, sanding, and prepping a raw tank for clear-coat. But once we got it back from the painters, the stock tank and factory colorway had grown on us. It seemed very “of the era” and we decided to keep it. Besides, we’re from Georgia, so the colors red and black are in our blood 🙂
People always ask about the bars. They’re the Burly Brand Scrambler bar in chrome, and they are simply my favorite handlebars ever. In terms of riding position and feel, they make the bike. Lately I added a set of stainless handguards from JD Customs Shop — they allow me to wear thinner gloves in winter and I love the “oversize enduro look” they give the bike. Grips are from Oury — the same ones I have on all of my bicycles.
Last but not least, we just swapped the stock mags for a set of 19/16-inch spoked wheels from TC Bros, wrapped in Bates Baja tires from the fine folks at Germany’s W&W Cycles. We hand-painted the sidewall lettering for that old-school muscle look.
With the wheel mounting and lettering, I have to thank my girlfriend, AJ Grey, who is not only an incredible artist, photographer, and all-around woman — but she’s a damn fine help in the garage, too. Also, I wanted to thank Ted at Savannah’s Sport Cycle, who was always willing to lend a listening ear or helping hand when we ran up against an issue.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
“Blitzen.” The reindeer name seemed fitting given the high and wide handlebars, almost like chrome antlers, and the fact that we did much of the work over the Christmas holiday. While the bike isn’t a proper street tracker, I sometimes call it the “Blitzen Tracker” because it sounds like Blitzen Trapper — one of my favorite bands 🙂
• How would you classify this bike?
The bike doesn’t fit neatly into one of the ready-made categories. I reckon it’s a scrambler/tracker/bobber hybrid.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
While there are plenty of bikes that are much more customized, with tons more skill and fabrication on display, the bike is perfectly what I needed and wanted. What’s more, I’m proud of the miles, adventures, and downright love that’s part of this bike’s story and history. It’s one I’ll never let go.
I’d like to give a special thanks to several people, shops, and companies.
- AJ Grey: www.ajgreyartist.com
- Cody at Burly Brand: www.burlybrand.com
- Shane at Chainsikle: chainsikle.com
- Randy and Alicia at Knight Design: www.knightdesignllc.com
- Kinetic Motorcycles: www.kineticmotorcycles.com
- Joe at Performance Cycles: www.facebook.com/perfcyclesnc/
- Ted at Sport Cycle: www.facebook.com/Sport-Cycle-201181323267125/
- Harold at W&W Cycles: www.wwag.com
On the Road: Photos
A few shots from various road trips…