Harley-Davidson XL1200 “Adventure Sportster”

Adventure Sportster

A Go-Anywhere Sportster from FrenchMoto… 

Even as Harley-Davidson promotes their liquid-cooled Sportster S, the air-cooled Evolution-powered Sportster is experiencing something of a renaissance in racing circles. Built from 1986 to 2020, the Evo Sportster is a highly popular donor for Hooligan flat track builds around the world, and it’s also made its way from dirt tracks to the desert.

Adventure Sportster

In 2020, a Hooligan class was added to the AMA National Hare and Hound Championship, which includes the mighty Mint 400, and brands like Biltwell, Rusty Butcher, Carducci Dual Sport, and many smaller workshops and privateer racers have been building Sportsters to compete in desert races and off-road rallies. BikeBound even sponsored the “Bajarley” desert racing campaign of our friends at Good Times Racing Family.

Desert Hooligan: “Bajarley” Sportster Enduro

That said, using a Sportster for adventure riding isn’t as new an idea as it may seem. In 1986, a purpose-built Sportster desert racer, “Harley’s Comet,” took home 4th place in the Baja 1000. And way back in 1969, a custom XLH featured prominently in the NBC television series Then Came Bronson, where disillusioned reporter Jim Bronson blasts around the American West on a ’69 Sportster, doing things off-road on an Ironhead you might not expect.

Photo: Cycle World

The pattern has found its way to street-legal Sportster adventure builds like the one you see here, designed and executed by brothers Florian and Thibault Klingler of FrenchMoto. While it’s a vastly different project from the last build we saw from them, “Stellar,” an aluminum-clad Royal Enfield 650, this “Adventure Sportster” actually leans on some of the same collaborative work with a French metalworker Jake Apiata of Apiata Metal Shaping.

Aluminum Enfield: “Stellar” Interceptor 650

The bike began life as a 2019 Sportster 1200 with relatively low miles, and the design brief was direct:

“The customer’s conditions were simple: go off-road whenever he wants!”

Adventure Sportster

The Klinglers completely revised the running gear, starting with two spoked wheels wrapped in Dunlop DT3 dirt track tires — great for a blend of tarmac and dirt riding. Up front, a 2019 Honda Africa Twin inverted fork was installed, complete with the upper and lower triple clamps, Brembo brakes, and a custom steering stem to adapt everything.

Adventure Sportster

They integrated the original speedometer into the upper crown and installed an LP9 Baja Designs headlight from Uncle Sam’s Road, along with custom-made grips, a homemade throttle, and a Rekluse clutch.

Adventure Sportster

The swingarm is a custom aluminum unit made in England, matched with custom-made 500mm rear shocks from the YSS G-Racing series. “The best of the best!” says Florian.

Adventure Sportster

The entire aluminum bodywork assembly was custom-shaped by Jake Apiata, who also did the Stellar project. This includes the tank, the two mudguards, and the oil tank covers. The saddle is of course custom-made in brown leather.

The exhaust comes from MAD Exhausts of Holland, and it’s one of Florian’s favorite parts of the build.

“It makes it look crazy!”

Adventure Sportster

They moved back the pegs for better stand-up riding and gave the bike a set of crash bars to protect the engine and exhaust in case of falls. A skidplate and handguards round out the armoring.

Adventure Sportster

All in all, this is one heavy-duty Sportster that’s ready for adventure, complete with long-travel suspension, plenty of crash protection, and powerful enough lighting to illuminate even the darkest desert nights. Florian and Thibault are duly pleased with the outcome.

“This project took more than a year of work, it’s one of the biggest in our workshop! We are very proud of it!”

Adventure Sportster

This is certainly one of the best-looking, most capable ADV-inspired Sportsters we’ve seen. Great job, guys!

Follow the Builder

Website: frenchmoto.fr
Instagram: @frenchmotoshop
Facebook: @frenchmotoshop

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  1. The bike looks like a blast to rideand fabulous craftsmanship, but as someone who has ridden enduros, am I the only one who dislikes the recent trend of routing exhausts in ways that will be uncomfortable to the rider or burn their legs? I can’t think of any good reason to route a hot exhaust in places where it makes the bike less fun to ride, or worse, in the event of a mishap where it falls on the rider, trapping the leg between the bike and the ground.

  2. Way cool: – The somewhat intestinal exhaust looks more complicated than it could have been, but otherwise, the “nude” metal tank, the funky headlight, it all somehow gells together into an idiosyncratic and characterful, and still cool-looking bike…

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