The Harley-Davidson Sportster has now been in production for more than 60 years, an air-cooled 45° V-twin machine that’s served as the company’s most performance-oriented offering for most of its run. In 1986, the Evolution engine supplanted the Ironhead, offering 883cc and 1200cc displacements, and the Sportster gained five speeds, rubber engine mounts, and a belt drive over the ensuing years.
Enter our new friend Théo Cabart of Normandy’s Black Petrol, a young metalworker and fabricator who’s been customizing bikes for the last three years. His first build was a CB750 cafe racer, and then he got interested in building himself a Sportster, starting with an ’03 1200 model. Théo’s desired riding position served as the crux of the build:
“I wanted a high position on this bike, with a wide handlebar to create the perfect position for cruising.”
Théo says it took a good bit of time to dial in the basic design…
“But after a lot of research and testing, I managed to find what suited me…a Sportster 1200, flat track style, a bit unusual with Buell parts.”
The bike is sporting a set of GSXR forks mated to a Buell perimeter-style front brake setup — a massive improvement over the stock Harley brakes. The tank is from a Yamaha SR500, cut and welded to fit, and Théo fabricated a whole slew of aluminum parts, including the bash plate, mudguard, battery cover, foot pegs, and more. The exhaust is a custom system, and one of his favorite parts is the tank logo designed in 3D and laser-cut from stainless steel.
Below, we get the full story on this V-twin “Beach Cruiser” from Northern France.
Sportster 1200 Scrambler: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Théo, I’m 23 years old and I’m a sheet metal worker located in Normandy (North of France). I’ve been customizing motorcycles for three years. First one was a cafe racer built from a Honda CB750kz, and the second one from a Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Scrambler. And I’m working on other projects…
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 (2003).
• Why was this bike built?
It was built for myself.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I wanted a high position on this bike, with a wide handlebar to create the perfect position for cruising. My basic idea was to install a GSXR fork with wire wheels to give it a little sportier feel.
But after a lot of research and testing, I managed to find what suited me…a Sportster 1200, flat track style, a bit unusual with Buell parts. I then dismantled everything…tank, saddle, handlebars, headlight. Then I started again from zero.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
New tank from a SR500 — the bottom was cut, re-shaped, and welded. Rebuilt the rear frame. Seat from “Harley Grove.”
Fabricated the aluminum parts (bash plate, mudguard, battery cover with integrated voltmeter, and foot pegs).
Custom exhaust pipe with Spark muffler. Pirelli Scorpion rallye tires. Tank logo designed in 3D and cut with a laser machine. 3D-printed headlight shell. Handlebars by BAAK Motocyclettes, Biltwell grips, Brembo brake cylinder…
• Does the bike have a nickname?
I called it the “Beach Cruiser” because of the riding position…
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride this bike?
The mix between the cruiser position and the torque of the carbureted Harley twin is perfect. The Buell front brake system is really powerful — this compensates for the Harley’s bad braking.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
I just love the tank logo from a stainless steel. And the Buell parts which are now quite rare — these are pieces that cannot be found everywhere…with the famous front brake disc which is attached to the rim…it’s massive!