Hardtailing your Harley-Davidson Sportster is a great way to build an affordable chopper with thousands of aftermarket parts available for endless customization. It’s also a great option if you want to put the emphasis on riding over wrenching. Using a kit makes hardtailing simple. Additionally, by hardtailing your Sporty’s frame instead of buying a full custom frame, you keep your donor bike’s VIN and dodge pesky custom vehicle inspections.
Sold on a Sporty chop yet? Here are a few things to keep in mind before you take an angle grinder to your frame.
Choose the correct donor bike
Find a Sportster from 1982-2003. Few hardtails and zero kits are made for Sportsters earlier than that. Same goes for 2004 and newer. Starting in 2004 Harley changed up the Sportster frame and rubber mounted the engine. You can hardtail it, but there isn't an all-in-one kit. Conveniently, ‘82-’03 hits the sweet spot for both donor bike price and kit availability.
You can keep the overall build price down by selling stuff off your donor bike. Any extras like windshields and saddlebags can be sold. Stock tins can also get you a few hundred bucks back. You’ll get more if they’ve got stock paint, badges, and are dent and rust free. For more on donor bikes, Zach put together an in depth video on the subject:
Consider which engine you want. Our recommended date range covers the last few years of the Ironhead motor through the first years of the Evolution Sportster engine. Reliability and performance will be best the closer to 2003 you get. Choosing an Evolution motor will get you more reliability than an Ironhead, but some prefer the Ironhead look. If you go Ironhead, just keep it newer than 1982. Displacement matters. You can save money by getting an 883. But if you know you’ll want more power down the road it will be cheaper to buy a 1200 off the bat then buying a big bore kit later on.
Deluxe Hartail Kit or Hardtail only
Be honest with yourself about your fabrication skills. Do you know your way around a fab shop? Consider a raw hardtail. Buying the pieces of a kit separately allows for a greater deal of customization and can save money. Never touched a welder but ready to ride a hardtail chop? Or just want to save time? Get the kit and get on the highway pronto.
Installing the kit is as simple as it gets. Here's how you do it in 5 steps:
1. Disassemble a Sportster.
2. Cut the frame where the instructions tell you to cut it (or take it to any machine shop and have them do it).
3. Have that machine shop or a buddy weld three tubes together.
4. Spray paint the frame black and put it back together with an extended belt since you stretched the frame 2 inches.
5. Put everything else back on and take a ride on your chopper.
Obviously you can let your imagination run wild and change a million different things along the way, but that’s really all it boils down to. Zach and Seth made one in 12 hours to show you how it’s done:
Take a look at the instructions for our Sportster Hardtail kit to get an idea of how simple hardtailing the frame is.
A look at the finished product
Here’s what all went into our finished Sportster chopper. This is the same bike Zach and Seth hardtailed in 12 hours with some extra time put in after the fact to make it pretty.
Planning further customizations
What kind of gas tank do you want? Where are you putting the license plate? Are you going to keep the push button start? Or are you stripping the stock wiring and cleaning things up?
The answers to these questions will have ripple effects back to painting the frame. If you want a chopper tank, you better weld in the mounting bungs BEFORE you take the hardtailed frame off to get powder coated. Mounting the license plate to the sissy bar? Same thing.
Learn from our mistakes. We wanted to hide as much wiring as possible on this build. But when we went to wire this bike we realized we forgot to cut a hole in the backbone before getting it painted. We were able to drill the hole in a subtle spot but it didn’t feel good cutting right into a professional paint job we spent good money on. Make a plan.
Pick a Seat
Our Deluxe Sportster Hardtail Kit has 6 different available seat options designed to fit the kit. The King & Queen, Cobra, and Solo seats for the hardtail are all made to compliment the lines of your hardtailed frame exactly. Run any seat you want, but you can’t go wrong with one of these 6. Don’t want a black seat? We sell seat pans for each style that you can take to an upholstery shop and get something custom you know will fit your bike.
Unless your donor bike is from the earlier end of our recommended date range, it’s probably belt driven. Our Deluxe Sportster Hardtail kit stretches your bike by 2”. That means you’ll need a new, longer belt. For about the same price as a new belt, you can buy a chain conversion kit instead. It’s tough to beat the classic look of a chain-driven chopper.
Key Start and Removing Excess Electronics
Chopping a motorcycle is all about cutting back on the superfluous and emphasizing style. You can do both by stripping your bike of some electronics and the nest of stock wires it has. We’ve created a bare bones wiring harness that is designed to fit our Deluxe Sportster Hardtail kit. Here’s a video showing how you can relocate your coil, convert to key start, and install a performance ignition setup using our wiring harness:
How to clean up the wiring on your Sportster Chopper
Front End Cleanup
On our Sportster we removed the front fender for the classic chopper look. Then we took apart the front forks and had a machine shop turn down the old fender mounts on a lathe. We took off the reflectors, and added an inch of height to the front end using a tube extension cap. To finish it off we removed the stock controls and replaced them with some sleeker aftermarket ones. Check out our two-part video series to see how we did it.
Removing Fender Mounts and Installing Fork Exstensions
How to install custom hand controls