Building the Web Surfer Special, Pt.1

How to turn $100 into a magazine project bike.

Building the Web Surfer Special, Pt.1

When it comes to the Mt. Rushmore of custom motorcycles—bobber, chopper, café-racer, street-tracker—it's the latter that's the most rational. Street-trackers have livable ergonomics, suspension at both ends and usually a pair of big ol' twin disc brakes up front. Think of 'em as choppers for the thinking man...

It's one of the reasons we're huge fans of the genre here at CW. Using an ex-Jay Springsteen frame, contributor Allan Girdler built himself a road-going Harley XR-750 back in the early '80s. I've got a Roberts-replica Champion Yamaha XS750 that's minimally street-legal, and Managing Editor Matthew Miles, usually such a sensible man, has threatened to build a killer tracker using a ported-n-piped Kawasaki H2 two-stroke Triple for power. Hardly a surprise, then, that we liked Harley-Davidson's new XR1200 factory street-tracker so much we named it Best Standard of 2009.

We're also suckers for stories on street-trackers, especially those machines turned out by Richard Pollock of Mule Motorcycles. It was during an interview about one of his bikes, a super-clean Yamaha XS, that Richard proposed we collaborate on a project bike.

Now, while I liked the idea of a Team CW street-tracker, a magazine project bike can be rife with pitfalls. A set of carbon-fiber wheels here, a full-titanium exhaust system there, and it doesn't take long for the parts tally to price the bike right out of practicality. Besides, Pollock's bikes—he's done about 75 so far—are already a pricey proposition. Figure about $25K. Worth every last penny due to incredible build quality, granted, but as a project bike, not exactly right for the economic times.

Richard argued otherwise: "We do an article using the power of good deals on eBay as the basic theme...call the bike the 'eBay Special' or something like that. We could throw in a lot of my tricks for Joe Average to make his stuff look good without high cost. I figure we could do a trick, show-quality piece for about $8500. Give me a reasonable deadline and we'll whack it out!"

Sold me. The bike's name would change (more on that in a later installment), but the start of the project was true to the bargain-build concept. Richard turned up an unloved 1972 Harley-Davidson Sportster rolling chassis—no motor—at a garage sale. Had to give all of $100 for it. Over the next year, we'd refine our frugal parts picking. Friends' garages were raided, dealers' backrooms exploited and, of course, there was eBay, our virtual, 24-hour swapmeet.

But first we had to get the frame sorted, which turned out to be way more involved than first thought. For details, see the photo gallery.

Reworked frame, all modifications (and a very tasty welded-up aluminum oil tank) in place.

Previously, Pollock turned a rolling-basketcase Sportster into this beauty. He'd work similar magic on the Web Surfer.

At long last, powdercoat!

Building the Web Surfer Special, Pt.1.

Close-up of reworked bottom rail.

Richard closed off the open frame tube and welded in two cross braces to compensate for any lost rigidity.

Subframe mocked up on main frame. Rear attachments are Heims so seat angle can be tweaked just-so.

Because the new motor sat a half-inch farther to the left, the frame's bottom rail had to be sectioned for clearance. Here, Pollock cuts the notch.

Cleaned-up frame looking better and installed in Richard's home-made jig so new steering head can be welded on straight and true.

Worth a hunski, huh? Our garage-sale 1972 Sportster frame prior to major operations.

More sparks. Simple three-hole dress-up panel on rear downtubes is a typical Pollock touch.

...and makes a wooden jig to which the tubes are clamped.

New reshaped, reinforced backbone was welded back in, more grinding commenced.

Because we'd be running modern upside-down forks in a set of Mule's billet triple-clamps, the Sportster's skinny steering head had to go, replaced by this.

Oh crap! Our early Evo four-speed Sportster motor will not fit an Ironhead frame. Too tall, so out comes the backbone and in go a pair of 1.5-inch-longer rear downtubes. A minor setback for Pollock.

Our frame foibles were not over. E-mail from Mule: "Bad news: Motor has way too many surprises to stay on the team. As in, junk. Cases are wasted." Later five-speed replacement seen here required different mounting tabs, more surgery.

How do you keep your rear subframe in alignment during construction? Pollock starts with a sheet of plywood.

Mounting tabs on front downtubes also had to be relocated

The finished subframe, lacking only mounting tabs

Mule Motorcycles, Inc. Amazing what can be packed into a well-organized two-car suburban garage. That's the Web Surfer's engine/frame package closest to camera.

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The previous Iron Sporty's starting point. Web Surfer had similar beginnings--except we didn't have a motor. We'd keep the main frame; everything else was bought/found/scrounged.