Josh Mueller’s 120-hp Sportster hillclimber…
On the Founders Terrace of the Harley-Davidson Museum stands The Hill Climber, a 16-foot-tall welded bronze monument to the “slant artists” of the early American hillclimbing era.
One of the rider’s hands is flung back from the bars like a rodeo rider’s — an intentional parallel according to artist Jeff Decker, who shaped and welded together more than 500 pieces of bronze to create the sculpture.
“He is crashing. But every hillclimber crashes. It’s part of the race.” -Jeff Decker
This form of vertical drag racing exploded in popularity during the Great Depression, pitting riders on alcohol-fueled Harleys, Indians, and Excelsiors against hills of widow-making steepness and proportion:
“With the machine bucking like a wild animal over a completely ungroomed surface, an enormous rooster tail of flung dirt behind the bike, and a tremendous roar, it was everything a spectator could want in a sport, especially as the success rate on many hills was almost zero.” –The Vintagent
Today, the sport is still going strong under the auspices of series like AMA American Hillclimb and the IRC Motoclimb Super Series. The 2023 American Hillclimb series kicks off in June and ends with the infamous Devil’s Staircase in Oregonia, Ohio.
Though the sport is essentially unchanged from its origins nearly a century ago, the machines themselves have continued to evolve. Today’s purpose-built hillclimbers are some of the most beastly things on two wheels.
A couple of weeks ago at the 2023 Mama Tried Show, we fell in love with this Sportster-based hillclimber from Wisconsin native Josh Mueller (@joshmil128), a 25-year AMA veteran and heavy equipment operator who’s been racing in various disciplines since he was 4 years old.
Today, Josh competes at the national level in the AMA’s American Hillclimb series, racing with the support of his family — especially his old man, who’s his mechanic and fabricator.
Together, father and son built the monster you see here from the “workbench up,” fabricating a motocross-style chassis to hold the big Evo V-twin:
“When Dad and I started the design and build of this bike we were shooting for the lightest bike possible still with a durable cage around the motor. The Hillclimber weighed in at 377 pounds. The motor is a fully built 1450cc Sportster…making 120hp and 125ft pounds of torque.”
A fully adjustable extended swingarm allows Josh to tune the geometry for various inclines and terrain. As you can imagine, riding this monster is a rush like no other. Says Josh:
“There is no feeling comparable, with the feel of a motocross bike with that performance of a high powered V-twin is epic.”
Below, we talk to Josh for the full details on this 1450cc Harley hillclimber.
1450cc Sportster Hillclimber: Racer Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
Hey guys My name Josh Mueller I have been a AMA member for 25 years. Starting back when I was 4 years old on a PW50 racing flat track. I currently am in the American Hillclimb series competing all over the country.
My family is my biggest support with my dad being my mechanic and bike fabricator. My mom has also been one of my biggest supports at the races. My sister one of my biggest fans always pushing me to do more! I am married to a wonderful wife Liz and two beautiful daughters with another baby on the way! I could never do what I love without the support from my family and friends.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
One of the bikes I currently race is a custom Harley-Davidson 1450cc hillclimb bike. This bike was fabricated from the workbench up with the art of my dad’s skills behind a welder!
We completed this build in 2018 with putting it into the season opener at Billings Montana, motoclimb event.
• For what class of racing was the bike built?
The Harley-Davidson competes in the open class on motoclimb series and Twins class on the American Hillclimb side.
• What custom work/upgrades have been done?
This bike is fabricated with a motocross style chassis and built suspension to handle the rough hills and large jumps. We also fitted it with an extended swingarm fully adjustable for certain inclines and terrain at each event.
• Any idea of horsepower, weight, and/or performance numbers?
When Dad and I started the design and build of this bike we were shooting for the lightest possible still with a durable cage around the motor. The Hillclimber weighed in at 377 pounds. The motor is a fully built 1450cc sportster. This bike has the best internal parts and tune from HTP Performance. Making 120hp and 125ft pounds of torque.
• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride/race this bike?
Throwing a leg over this machine is a instant adrenaline boost. There is no feeling comparable, with the feel of a motocross bike with that performance of a high powered V-twin is epic.
• Anybody you’d like to thank?
@nitropilotusa (Photo credits)
Please check out my media for updates on racing season and some awesome footage throughout the year. Find me @joshmil128 on Instagram.