The Old Timer: 1957 Tribute Sportster

'57 Tribute SportsterBuild Like a Girl: Cheyenne “Shiny” Keogh’s ’57 Tribute Sportster…   

In 1957, Harley-Davidson released the original XL Sportster, birthing one of the most successful, beloved, and longest-running models in motoring history. While the bike shared many parts with its predecessors, the engine was a revelation — a brand new lightweight overhead valve V-twin designed to battle the Nortons, Triumphs, and other British bikes blazing across American roads and tracks. 

“It even built a reputation as an American ‘sports bike’; the combination of American-made V-twin power and lighter weight meant that the XL was ridable by all.” -Martin Squires, Hagerty

 

1957 Sportster

Only 1983 of the original ’57 XL models were produced, but that was just the start of the Sportster story — the pattern had been cut for one of the most popular motorcycles ever made.

Enter our friend Cheyenne “Shiny” Keogh, a Forensic Psychology student whose custom BMW “Problem Child” we featured last year. Cheyenne and her father, Mark — a design engineer and technical author — build bikes out of their conservatory turned workshop under the names Bleeding Heart Customs and CKM Designs.

Problem Child: Father / Daughter BMW R80 Roadster

Although Cheyenne has several custom builds under her belt, her “Problem Child” BMW in particular led to a lot of new and exciting opportunities. She was on the cover of Cafe Racer magazine, invited to The Women in Moto Exhibition as a speaker, and appeared at the M&P “Ride Like a Girl” event run by South Wales Female Bikers.

'57 Tribute Sportster

While Cheyenne loved her BMW, it was never going to be her first choice for everyday riding and touring. The bike was a bit tall for her, and the ungainly width of the horizontally-opposed cylinders made parking, reversing, and tight maneuvering a bit of a pain. And, by selling the bike, Cheyenne could fund a new project like the one you see here…

“I’m just finishing my third year of a Forensic Psychology degree and, having had a year off since the BMW Roadster ‘Problem Child’, I had the opportunity of a Harley Sportster 883 2009 at a good price with the money Dad and I had raised from the sale of the BMW.”

'57 Tribute SportsterCheyenne quickly conceived a vision for a (relatively) modern Sportster with EFI, rubber-mounted engine, and all the comforts to help her keep up with her parents on the trips to Wales they love so much…but modeled after the original ’57 XL.

“The 1957 Sportster is a classic first one of its kind and it just appealed as soon as I saw it. Not too low, great paint line on the tank, especially that two-tone colour scheme, classic looking exhaust and seat.”

'57 Tribute SportsterEven better, the build would give Cheyenne and father Mark the opportunity for a little old-fashioned mischief — all in the name of good fun and traditional hot roddery, of course:

“I love old looking bikes but equally we both like confusing people who think it’s a new model they’ve missed the release of…”

'57 Tribute SportsterSo with an ’09 883 Sportster in hand, the Keoghs set about turning back the clock 52 years to the original year of the XL. Cheyenne details all of the modifications in our interview below; suffice to say the work was extensive, and not without significant challenges.

'57 Tribute SportsterHighlights include the old-school mudguards, solo seat, Superlow tank painted in two-tone ’57 style, engine bars, longer Hagon rear shocks with black covers, spoked wheels, custom fork covers, a 2:2 exhaust inspired by the original ’57 system, a set of Highway Hawk Beach Bars that Cheyenne absolutely adores, and much more.'57 Tribute SportsterWe especially love Cheyenne’s description of the “benchwork” it took to mount the 7-inch Lucas headlight bowl:

“Dad manufactured a bracket in his garage with just his 80-year-old pedestal drill, a vice, hacksaw, and some files. He does all bracketry with just these tools, ‘benchwork’ he calls it, and it does seem to make him happy. Not so much with drilling the fork mounts though, as that got a bit ‘sweary’!

'57 Tribute SportsterHa! We don’t think any motorcycle has ever been fixed or customized without a certain amount of swearing to “bless” the work. Nicknamed “The Old Timer,” this Sportster smacks of the original ’57 model while providing all of the modern comforts necessary for trips along the Welsh coast and weekends on the roads with Mom and Dad. And it’s certain to fool a few folks at the custom shows, who might think H-D released a 50th anniversary tribute model that looked like this — they should have!

'57 Tribute Sportster

Below is our full interview with Cheyenne “Shiny” Keogh for the full details. Readers, keep an eye on this young lady — she’s going places on two wheels!

’57 Tribute Sportster: Builder Interview

'57 Tribute Sportster

• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.

Since we last spoke about the BMW R80 Roadster, which was my third bike building at home with the fabrication, development, and engineering help of my Dad, Mark, we took a year off to just enjoy riding and other activities with Mum too on bikes. He has his Street Bob 2019 (very modified), Mum has her Yamaha MT-09, and I was on the BMW or my little Suzuki GS500 which had remained in the garage as well, just in case.

'57 Tribute SportsterThe Beemer was a little large for parking and maneuvering for my 5’4” frame and, while I enjoyed getting out on it, doing a photoshoot, being cover girl and a large feature in Café Racer USA, my BikeBound feature too, the year was great. And I also got asked to go to some show appearances to discuss my journey and encourage female riders, but the BMW clearly wasn’t going to be my favourite long term bike so it was sold on, and we continued with my trusty GS500, and I thoroughly enjoyed a year of not building and just riding.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Wales trips, days out here and there, going to custom shows with just a camera and chatting, and especially doing the two appearances to discuss my journey into motorcycling and custom motorcycles at M&P ‘Ride Like a Girl’ event (which matched my own t-shirt line my dad had funded) and Women in Moto Exhibition later that year.

That one (Women in Moto) is a really big event specifically aimed at females in motorcycling and a weekend dedicated to encouraging other ladies, so I especially enjoyed that.

I’d passed my full UK licence and was enjoying so many different aspects of motorcycling many aren’t lucky enough to afford. I’m lucky because of my Dad and Mum being able to support me, so experiencing riding and talking to encourage others was my bit of giving back and gives me great satisfaction.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Dad also decided that, as the conservatory on the back of the house never really got used, he’d make a full-time working area for all our hobbies and bought a massive tool chest with room for a motorbike in the middle.

• Why was this bike built? (Customer project, company promotion, personal, etc.)

I think Dad was itching more than me to build something else to be honest, but we both wanted to do something and he came up with the idea in July 2023 of building something new for me this year.

I was nearly 22 and already held my full UK licence, passing the first time, so the options were wider than before. We looked at many ideas but I kept coming back to a classic like my first little Honda Rebel 125, just with more power…

'57 Tribute Sportster

Dad suggested a Harley after we’d looked at Triumphs, Royal Enfields, old British stuff, new Japanese bikes, and I looked through many custom ideas, not really feeling there was anything new-looking I could achieve. Or my style to be honest.

I love old looking bikes but equally we both like confusing people who think it’s a new model they’ve missed the release of…

'57 Tribute Sportster

If my Dad has anything to do with finish, it’s ensuring both he and I put something together to a high standard…enough to look like a professional or factory produced bike.

He’s got a 2019 Street Bob he made look old with a bit of my input, and I liked that idea, so we looked at the early Harleys among others, and there it was, the 1957 Sportster!

I wanted to use a later model as a base, with fuel injection, as I wanted some of the comforts my Mum and Dad enjoyed, and no choke! But also affordable on insurance, so the 883 was the chosen one.

Dad did a bit of his usual photoshop, as he does every time from the parts I point at that I like online, and we had a bike materialising that I really wanted to do…and we felt was achievable, including the fabrication that Dad would be doing that was beyond my abilities…

Photoshop Mockup

Dad found a wire wheels 2009 model in pretty good order so we were ready to strip it and start.

• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?

The 1957 Sportster is a classic first one of its kind and it just appealed as soon as I saw it. Not too low, great paint line on the tank, especially that two-tone colour scheme, classic looking exhaust and seat. And no-one except a guy in Spain had done anything similar as far as we could find, so it was unusual too.

Add to that it was my first Harley, so what’s not to like about that if you’re a custom person.

'57 Tribute Sportster

My dad waited most of his life to try out a Harley due to circumstance and finances, and here I was with enough back from the BMW to have one now! (Even though technically it’s Dad’s money…)

I found an image of what I liked and we set about finding mudguards that might do. Bouncing around ideas for big handlebars because I just wanted some beach bars like Dad’s, headlight size, indicators needed to be invisible if possible as the old bikes didn’t have any a classic round filter, the right mix of chrome and paint, and so on.

'57 Tribute Sportster

• Please list the custom work was done to the bike:

The bike itself was very clean 22k mile 2009 peanut tank Sportster, but the alloy and chrome were not pretty. It was almost like the previous owner had only used it dry then and parked it somewhere over the winters where it just corroded the wheel chrome and aluminium badly. The frame still had perfect frame decals for numbers, and I wanted to retain that to add to the confusion of it looking genuine factory fresh.

 

I began with a strip-down of the parts we were going to replace so mudguards, handlebars, indicators, seat were straight off.

With the help of Ian at Marshall Speed and Custom we’d found a Heritage style blank rear mudguard that would need some serious cutting to fit, and unfortunately the ’57 pattern front wouldn’t work because the stays now had a modern disc brake in the way, so I opted for the slightly later 60s version that still had the right look.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Cut and jiggled metal bits about with my dad holding stuff up or taping it to a stack of cardboard.
Then me holding stuff up while he checked too, and we had the rear cut down around the oil tank end and took 3” out of the back end to look more like the line of a ’57.

'57 Tribute Sportster

The front required only some careful bending of the mounting rails to get the alignment fortunately.
The riser-mounted speedo was adapted and relocated to where the headlight mount originally was, which was handy as the centres were almost the same.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Our good friend Mike at Classic Bike Shop got in touch after seeing our photoshop render saying he’d got the perfect 7” Lucas light bowl, which we fitted with a stock glass lens, and Dad manufactured a bracket in his garage with just his 80-year-old pedestal drill, a vice, hacksaw, and some files. He does all bracketry with just these tools, “benchwork” he calls it, and it does seem to make him happy. Not so much with drilling the forks mounts though, as that got a bit “sweary”!

'57 Tribute Sportster

The forks weren’t in the best order, so some 2014 near-new bargains were sourced. Annoyingly these required new spacers to fit, but it was quickly resolved with the help of a local engineering firm.

The exhaust look I wanted you cannot just buy off the shelf, and I wanted a 2-into-1 or as close as possible to the feel of the original slim pipe set. Dad researched and found that the 2014 later model headers were stainless and, as we’re always stuck on a tight budget, we could modify these possibly for a look that would work, so back on the photoshop.

'57 Tribute Sportster

It was simply the next diameter up stainless tube over the ends welded onto the original headers, O2 sensors replaced with the older versions (technically that went over my head but Dad sorted it with the guy who did our first little Rebel exhaust), brackets added and just Autoglym applied.
Dad is also the baffle wizard so he’s made some from two split and linked DB killers wrapped in exhaust wadding. The sound is excellent!

'57 Tribute Sportster

A “Superlow” tank was found as we’d planned that in when we scaled it on the photoshop version. It just took some time to find a good one; this had a slight bruise but was directly above the fuel pump hole, so Dad showed me how to carefully knock it back out with the use of a hammer but the wooden handle end of it.

'57 Tribute Sportster

The seat was spare from a previous project which is a little thin; we ran out of time to get it filled out and re-trimmed before the first show in April, but it looked right and brackets were made.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Engine bars I insisted on, despite no one else liking the idea…and now it’s finished all the doubters agree it works, including my Dad! It was how the original was made so I wanted a set similar and, fortunately, the great well known auction site did not disappoint with a mint pair for half price.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Little mirrors the same brand as we’d used on the Beemer were perfect from Alchemy Parts.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Ebay provided secondhand mint condition risers that looked a little classier, and a perfect round air filter off a Harley 48, which cost next to nothing and was like brand new because most people change them for a spike or some big tube thing…

'57 Tribute Sportster

It already had Hagon shocks but we got some 5” long covers to add to the look at the back and stripped and repainted the shocks before fitting.

'57 Tribute Sportster

The rear mudguard was 20mm narrower than the original, leaving a big gap between the rail and the mudguard, but Dad came up with a cunning plan the way only he does. He bought some cheap steel covers off Temu for £11 (just in case it didn’t work) and had Wobbz (our painter, who is also an ex-welder) weld a filling strip onto them, but also so it could hide the tiny Kellerman Integral indicators right at the tip at the back and give me that no indicator look I wanted.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Finally, to the bars and front fork cover. The bars are Highway Hawk Beach Bars, and despite Dad trying to convince me to cut them down 50mm, I loved them as they were, and I can still steer it into a parking space even with my little arms, so no problem. Wiring is taken through them to tidy things up and little underlever indicators are fitted, wired through the bars as well.

'57 Tribute Sportster

The fork cover though, I thought might break my dad! He got some stainless as the Harley covers with the ribs were too wide and cutting down and welding one would distort it, he said. Instead, he rolled the flat sheet by hand around a piece of leftover exhaust in its cardboard shipping tube, bought some weird-looking pliers for sheet metal folding and carefully formed this 3D cover and rear panels over two weeks, with plenty of cursing and doubt about finishing it, to create the final effect you see, drilling the yokes to hold various bits in place and a nice little ABS top cover. It was critical to create this really, it would just look like any other slightly modified Harley without it.

Then the big flat at the front area looked too much, so I found a Harley emblem off a sissy bar to stick on and break up the expanse of stainless. He’s not happy there are a few ripples, but it just adds to the look of an old but well reconditioned bike.

'57 Tribute Sportster

The ECM was reworked to a bracket off the rear mudguard just in front of the oil tank and, because I was on my last critical year of my degree in Forensic Psychology, Dad did the engine with a quick overspray of silver keeping the original look, learned to fill and paint to a good standard to touch in the chips on the frame, cleaned the casings with a power drill and wet & dry paper, and modified the loom to accommodate the new rear wiring, the pattern 57 tail light, tiny indicators and such, all using original HD pattern connectors so the main loom is untouched and plugs in just like the original parts.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Paint went off to Wobbz with our photoshop design, and a quick re-think of the logo (as our first design was a bit problematic to hand spray) got that beautiful handwritten Harley tank logo which suits the bike perfectly, plus he repolished or lacquered the original side panels and chain guard…

'57 Tribute Sportster

Wheels went off to Joe at Staffordshire Wheelworks for thicker stainless spokes and nice black rims and look great.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Finally, all assembled over winter, with a full service, new engine rubbers, thorough clean of all remaining parts, new logo badges made my us in brushed aluminium for the calipers from a local service we’ve been using for other projects, and it was all complete.

'57 Tribute Sportster

• Can you tell us what it’s like to ride?

It is wonderful to ride, and even better than I expected… The bike itself is a very predictable ride over any torn-up road surface or otherwise. With the Hagon 13” rear shocks giving the rear suitable clearance, and the later model front forks slightly dropped through the yokes it’s very predictable.

'57 Tribute Sportster

The wide bars help muscle it around easily, and the rubber mounted engine just has that nice vibration added. You feel like you’re on a really old classic thumper at 50mph, or any speed for that matter, and parked waiting at the lights it’s just wobbling away back to front, and makes me smile every time.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Dad triumphed with his baffles, as the sound is like a video I saw of an old Vincent “pop popping” down the lanes, but with the underlying Harley double pop “potato-potato” sound.

'57 Tribute Sportster

It’s so comfortable even with the thin seat, and building a bike for yourself is always nice as it’s always a custom fit to me. Although for our upcoming Wales trip I’ve got a cushion pad until we can afford to get the seat redone over the winter hopefully.

'57 Tribute Sportster

It has bags of character, fits me perfectly, and is surprisingly quicker than I expected. Even the brakes, which are still fitted with original lines (because they were in perfect condition so we thought this would confuse people further as custom bikes always end up with braided lines) are very responsive and stop it all really well.

'57 Tribute Sportster

It’s a little heavy backing up a slight slope, but once riding you don’t feel the weight at all.
I never thought I’d love it so much…

'57 Tribute Sportster

• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?

I’m most proud of just the overall final look of the whole bike. It’s virtually exactly what I visualised and has already confused more than a few.

'57 Tribute Sportster

Apart from the exhaust being a two-pipe it still has that old look, and I have everything I want in a classic but custom bike.

'57 Tribute Sportster

The paintjob couldn’t have come out better, and the tank line between the Pearl White and Toyota Turquoise blue that flip flops from royal blue to green in the changing light and is just the best part I suppose, especially with the red logo and bit of drop shadow.

'57 Tribute Sportster

And I love my wide bars!

Follow the Builder

Web: www.ckmdesigns.co.uk
Facebook: @ckmdesign22
Instagram: @bleedingheartcustoms | @markkeogh_ckmdesigns

5 Comments

  1. Mark Magoch

    Had me fooled at 1st glance what a very nice build you and your dad should be very proud of yourselves Congratulations just beautiful

  2. Martin Padilla

    beautiful, but you could have used Drum Brakes unless you ride real fast.
    Great bike and now i want to build one…

  3. Very nice build. Congratulations.

  4. looks good. i was never a fan of that particular livery. but it looks good.

  5. That’s really lovely! Love the look and the colours.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*