Baby Dresser to Dirt Road Ripper in $2000 …
Way back in 1957, the very first Harley-Davidson Sportsters to roll out of the factory were powered by the now-iconic Ironhead engine, a two-valve push-rod V-twin with cast-iron heads and cylinders. The engine displaced 883cc and made around 40 horsepower in stock trim — enough to give the 750cc British bikes a run for their money. In 1972, the Ironhead was punched out to 1000cc with a 9:1 compression ratio — good for 57 hp and a top speed of 110 mph. The engine would remain in production until 1985, outliving most of its contemporary rivals.
“There’s a reason they call ’em Ironheads. Not only the casting, but in their heyday they were flattrack, dragstrip monsters…” –Screwy Louie, ChopCult
Enter Chase Sifford of Ohio’s RoastWorthy Cycles, who grew up riding dirt bikes and occasionally racing motocross before turning to street bikes with a Suzuki DR-Z400SM. Today, he operates a full service shop out of his home garage, though he’s soon relocating to a dedicated workshop in South Point, Ohio:
“Most of the work in my shop involves repair, service, and bolt-on upgrades, but I also fabricate parts such as handlebars, exhaust, foot peg mounts, and crash bars.”
The bike you see here began life as a ’77 XLT1000 — the Touring version of the Ironhead Sportster, sometimes known as the “Baby Dresser.” Originally, Chase intended to swap the engine into a hardtail frame and build himself a chopper, but soon changed his mind:
“The rough country roads and a need to ride a bike like a dirt bike changed its future into becoming a tracker.”
Soon thereafter, the build was accepted into the 2020 edition of The Greasy Dozen, a grassroots motorcycle event created by the good folks at Old Bike Barn to support garage builders and showcase the bikes they create. Sponsors help a dozen builders kick-start their projects, giving them a deadline to compete their bikes. The build was on. Says Chase:
“This bike was designed to be a tracker / club bike that would remain era-correct, but have the electrical reliability of a current bike.”
Chase wanted to make sure the Ironhead could handle the punishment of off-road antics. He boxed the battery at the front and gave it a heavy-duty strap, fabricated a high-and-tight shotgun exhaust that won’t drag in the dirt, built a set of T-bars to BMX specs, and took a hard look at the case-mounted pegs:
“I hated the stock foot peg mounts because I knew the bike was going to be jumped, so I built an under-slung foot peg mount that mounts to the frame rails instead of the engine cases. CR125 foot pegs were then modified to use in the mounts.”
Besides the pegs, our favorite part of the build might be the points cover made by Vicious Cycles, which has an Adena arrowhead and the baby tooth from Chase’s pup, Bindi!
The bike has now accrued more than 1500 miles without too much trouble, tripping to shows in both Ohio and West Virginia, but her nickname — “Karen” — is here to stay:
“I gave her that name because no matter how much love and respect I give her, she still likes to complain on occasion.”
In any year but 2020, The Greasy Dozen would culminate in an organized ride along some of Ohio’s best backroads, leading to a campsite with food, music, games, and the dozen bikes on display. This year, however, you can tune in digitally to the big show:
“These builders put in blood, sweat, and tears into these builds over the last year. These guys deserve a big premiere of the builds, so we’re doing a digital show. Tune in Saturday, November 14th at 7pm on Facebook watch! You’ll be able to interact with the builders and fans throughout the entire premiere… Consider it the Super Bowl of custom motorcycles.”
Below, we get the full story from Chase himself.
Ironhead Club / Tracker: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Chase Sifford, currently living in Willow Wood, Ohio. I own and operate a full service / custom motorcycle shop called RoastWorthy Cycles out of my home garage, but soon will be relocating to a dedicated shop in South Point, Ohio. Most of the work in my shop involves repair, service, and bolt-on upgrades, but I also fabricate parts such as handlebars, exhaust, foot peg mounts, and crash bars. I also enjoy building spoked wheels which gives my customers the ability to change rim/hub color or spoke style inexpensively while having a quality, hand-built wheel.
I started riding when I was 8 years old on a PW80. I rode dirt bikes throughout my childhood and occasionally raced motocross without much success. My transition to street bikes started when I bought a DRZ400SM. This bike sparked my interest and I began building and riding classic Hondas shortly after. I was resentful towards Harleys until I purchased my first new Street Bob in 2016. After that I became interested in HDs and custom cruisers. Now I have a 2020 Lowrider S and Karen.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1977 Harley-Davidson XLT1000.
• Why was this bike built?
I bought the bike with intentions of swapping the engine into a rigid chassis and building a chopper, but the rough country roads and a need to ride a bike like a dirt bike changed its future into becoming a tracker. I was then accepted as a 2020 builder for The Greasy Dozen and it became a project with a time limit dedicated to TGD.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
This bike was designed to be a tracker / club bike that would remain era-correct, but have the electrical reliability of a current bike.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
She was fitted with a 2.5 gallon Frisco tank and a chopped rear fender from LowBrow Customs.
The fender struts were shortened and boxed to match the angle of the rear fender. The stock battery box was narrowed and boxed at the front with a heavy-duty strap to keep the battery from bouncing around off-road.
A TC Bros DIY exhaust kit was used to fabricate a high and tight shotgun exhaust with turnouts for the tips. Next was a set of T-bars that I built with the same dimensions as a BMX bar. I added a speedometer mount in the uprights that also operates as a brace.
I hated the stock foot peg mounts because I knew the bike was going to be jumped, so I built an under-slung foot peg mount that mounts to the frame rails instead of the engine cases. CR125 foot pegs were then modified to use in the mounts. The whole bike was then disassembled to bare hubs and engine cases. All unnecessary mounts and bolt holes were then removed or plugged and finished for a sleek look.
The engine was then completely rebuilt and fitted with electronics from Cycle Electric and Dynatec. Chassis components were powder-coated gloss and matte black. I painted the tins gloss black with matte scallops and pin stripes using some spray cans and 2k clear. I cheaped out on the paint because I knew the bike was going to get scratched and dented, but it turned out way better than I wanted it to. I made my own wiring harness. I finished the bike up with a point cover made by Vicious Cycles that has an Adena arrowhead and my dog, Bindi’s, baby tooth.
• What’s the story behind the bike’s nickname?
Karen got her name from the stereotype behind the name. “Let me speak to your manager.” I gave her that name because no matter how much love and respect I give her, she still likes to complain on occasion.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride the finished bike?
When I was building it, I was afraid of what the finished product would ride like because of the horror stories about Ironhead vibration. However, Karen runs and rides like a newer Sportster and isn’t too uncomfortable. I have ridden it to a couple of shows in Ohio and West Virginia and she now has 1,500 miles with minimal complications. She would have more miles if it wasn’t for my FXLRS. My biggest complaint is the 4-speed tranny even though it shifts well and holds each gear unlike most Sportys of the era.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
My favorite parts of the build are the color scheme and the original high-shoulder wheels. But, I’m really proud of the foot peg mount. It’s sturdy as hell, gives a nod to my motocross background, and makes the bike more comfortable because I moved the pegs an inch backwards and down to give it more of a moto feel.
Follow the Builder
I took the updated pictures, but all the photos featured in The Greasy Dozen virtual show dropping Saturday, November 14th at 7pm eastern time were taken by my friend Beth Wallace @untamedphotography_wv.