Taiwanese custom motorcycle builder Alex Gao has a tendency to base his cafe racer builds on rather unlikely donors. In the past, we’ve seen him transform performance motorcycles like the Ducati Hypermotard and a Kawasaki Z1000 with intriguing results. But today he’s sent us a build based on one of the most customised motorcycles in the world, the Harley Davidson Sportster. Although Sportster cafe conversions are nothing new, Alex’s sleek XR1200 cafe racer shows just how svelte H-D’s evergreen v-twin platform can be.
Built for one of Taiwan’s most popular breakdancers this XR1200 cafe racer was a 4-month project with a straight forward brief. The owner wanted a blacked-out, low slung, Harley cafe racer and there’s no denying Alex has delivered exactly that.
What approach was used during the design stage of this XR1200 cafe racer?
“The customer wanted a cafe racer with an aggressive stance,” says Cowboy’s Choppers representative Jimmy Chang. “So we worked out its general shape together. The idea was to move most of the visual weight to the front and to fit a compact tailpiece.”
Alex’s revised design has also significantly tightened the Sportster’s proportions. Along with shortening its length, the new bodywork is ultra slim. This leaves the heads of the v-twin visible from above and emphasizes the performance-focused nature of this Harley cafe racer.
Were any special considerations made during the fabrication of the bodywork?
“To keep the weight down, Alex decided to use aluminium for all the metal fab work,” says Jimmy. “The fairing, fuel tank, fender and tailpiece are all handmade from aluminium. Alex is admittedly new to working with alloy so it took many iterations to get to the final shapes you see here. Because of the challenge of working with aluminium, this bike took almost four months to complete, in the midst of other projects.”
Beyond the bodywork, Alex has made several other modifications to create this XR1200 cafe racer. All of which complement its revised styling and purpose. For starters, the v-twin has undergone a full rebuild with a slight increase in capacity to 1250cc. To free up the intake he’s installed a stainless steel inlet which wears an aftermarket air filter. The exhaust is all stainless too and was also fabricated entirely in house.
To set the Harley up for more spirited riding it now wears clip-on handlebars and aftermarket rear-set footpegs. Bar-end mirrors provide the steering clearance necessitated by the front cowl. The gauges have been relocated to the side of the tank, leaving the cockpit suitably uncluttered. Additionally, low profile LED lighting has been fitted to replace the bulky factory items to achieve a quintessential bare-bones cafe racer look.
Sportsters typically have a cruiser oriented stance that sits taller in the front, whereas the cafe racer stance is flat and level. Straightening a Sporsters frame is near impossible without completely rebuilding the rear half. So, as a workaround, Alex has shortened the Sportsters factory forks. To get the bike sitting level he’s taken 4 inches out of the front end and fit them with new internals to prevent them from bottoming out. This approach also ticked the customers ‘low slung’ request without having to perform any invasive or prohibitively expensive structural work.
What was the most challenging aspect of this build?
“The most challenging part was working with aluminium,” says Jimmy. “But cafe racers need to be fast! To keep the weight down Alex knew he needed to work with a material he didn’t have much experience with. Being able to try something new and acquire new fabrication skills ended up being his favourite part of this project.”
“As far as the finished bike goes, we love how loud and aggressive it is. As the shop’s name suggests, Alex builds mostly choppers. Being able to “hug” that Harley motor so closely in a chin-on-the-tank riding position gives an entirely different sensation than what most Harley riders ever get to experience.”