Sideburn reader and DTRA racer Tim Newbrook tells us about his recently finished hooligan build.
There I was, just a young lad looking at a new poster on my bedroom wall of a Harley Davidson in front of the big HD Logo, I can’t remember what bike it actually was, apart from the fact that it was orange and had wide bars, but I knew I wanted one . . even at 10 years old
Fast forward 45 years and there I am again, looking at a picture of a Harley Davidson, the difference is this time it’s in Sideburn Magazine issue 39 and being put through its paces and written about by George Pickering of Greenfield Dirt Track fame - followed by the obligatory Facebook post, which is where the story starts
George said in his post that he ‘was asked to test Europe’s only Harley Davidson XG750R’ which was enough to set the old braincells firing away, as I was sure I knew where there was an ex XG750 press bike somewhere, with the same paint job that was used for Dirt Quake in 2017
A few messages to a mate who was in Spain at the time, a text or two to a UK contact, a bit of haggling and I was the proud owner of a 2017 HD XG750 Street Rod that I hadn’t even seen, and yes it is orange, well half of it is anyway.
[How the bike looked when Tim bought it]
Bike collected on a Friday afternoon, tyres inflated, battery charged, fuel topped up and it was off to Scunthorpe on a cold and wet Sunday in December, without even having ridden it. Got there, unloaded, fired it up and took an inaugural rip across the car park in jeans and a tee shirt before suiting up and racing in the Street Tracker Class
Quite an experience - I discovered on my first outing, that as the foot-pegs were so high, and the seat so low, wearing leathers meant I couldn’t actually get both feet on the pegs, so I rode the first race with dangly legs ! Back in the pits and with some insulating foam duct taped in place I was sorted for the rest of the meeting, but it made me realise that although some mods had been made towards making it look like a Flat Track bike, Ohlins shocks, chain conversion, Dynojet Power Vision tuning system, FT seat unit, lock stop modified, twin air filter and trimmed tank, to get it into ‘press trim’, the standard pegs, narrow bars, low seat height, no exhaust silencer, 17” wheels on Wets and standard switch gear still fitted just wasn’t what I wanted, and certainly wasn’t anything like the one in Sideburn Magazine, so work needed to be done
I was acutely aware that I’d not be able to have a ‘special frame’, mono-shock or cast 19” wheels, but I did think with a bit of work and effort I could get it a lot closer to a factory bike look (that I wanted) than it currently was
First call was to an old mate Daryll Young of IDP Moto, Silverstone, who did the original mods for Harley to get the bike (along with a few others) Dirt Quake ready. Had a good chat, got a bit of history on the press bikes, and picked his brains on mods – it’s always good to have a BSB technician with his own business as a mate!
I spent a fair bit of time on the internet looking at past and current Harley Flat Track bikes, scrutinised ‘George’s’ HD pictures, and re read the Sideburn piece a few times.
There was also another article in Sideburn on a road version Street Rod built by IDP too, with 19” wheels ,so I was off. I knew the look I wanted, had some technical advice, knew wheels could be made to fit, so apart from not having a definite plan I had an idea or two to be going on with.
First and most important job was to raise the seat so a few hours in the garage, a butchering of a gas bottle trolley I had lying around, and a new frame was made. Topped off with a bit of plywood I now had a solid seat base that meant I could at least get my feet on the pegs now. I tidied it all up with carbon look side panels to hide the handmade frame. It was a vast improvement on the riding position and would do until I had time to get round to modifying the footrests to a position where I wanted them to be.
I’d previously had a chat at Scunthorpe with Guy from Moto Edit Huntingdon who sells Flat Track parts and builds one-off conversions to almost any bike, and he recommended wide Evo ProTaper Dirt Track bars so I promptly ordered a set along with some NK bar risers, to raise the bars above the ignition switch as I’d been advised that you have to leave the ignition in place and the speedo connected. (speedo is hidden out of site behind the front number board). As the bars were wider than stock and I wanted a quick action throttle I ditched the standard one for a Domino twin cable set up, paired with a Venhill cable kit cut to size. I also fitted a cut-out switch and an aftermarket starter button to complete the RH side handlebar. On the left a bit of clever re-routing meant I could retain the heavy-duty clutch cable so fitted a Twenty short clutch lever assembly from 24MX to complete the bar modifications. It was starting to look better already.
I didn’t like the exhaust so just cut the expansion pipe section off and welded on two car exhaust turnouts as a temporary measure, and fitted some front fork lower guards off a Ducati and a homemade aluminium rear shark fin, then it was off to Scunthorpe for another test race.
I started to get the hang of it (shut down coming into a corner in the wet and it locks up the back wheel, so if she starts to slide you have to put the power back on which is a bit disconcerting at first and goes against your instincts) but I must have done something right as I managed to come 3rd in the Final which showed the development was going in the right direction – but I still had to change those 17” wheels and sort the exhaust and foot rests out, so once I’d got home it was back on the internet for more inspiration.
After many nights viewing foot pegs and mounts I bought a set of FZR600 foot pegs / mounts that I thought I could make fit, and using the original foot peg holes and welded nuts on the frame, along with a few other mods I managed to mount them so I had lower pegs. I also had to modify the rear brake cylinder mounting and make up a link to the gear shift. Not sure I was 100% happy but thought I’d give them a try at the next opportunity as at last I could sit comfortably on the bike.
Next was the exhaust. I’d decided early on I wanted a high-level set of pipes leading into twin Silencers akin to the Vance and Hines system on Georges bike, but knew I’d never be able to afford to get a system shipped over from the states (if that was even a possibility) so set about making one myself.
Back on eBay, buying up every odd bit of 35mm downpipes I could, and a couple of lengths of straight 35mmm tube too.
Once I’d got everything together it was just a matter of cutting, grinding, tack welding and a lot of trial and error to get them to look ‘right’. Its not an exact replica of any of the many exhausts I looked at, as I don’t have a pipe bender, have no experience of making exhausts, and certainly don’t have the resources of Vance and Hines or S&S, but I’m happy with how they’ve come out, they look right, flow nicely and sound awesome thanks to the twin SC Silencers.
Next step was the large exhaust shield for the rear, and the front pipe heat guards. After a bit more research, and not wanting to handmake one from aluminium, I settled on an Akropovic carbon fibre guard originally designed for a pit bike. As soon as it arrived as expected it was a bit small, so I spent a few hours modifying it to get it to look something like the factory produced versions. I fitted a couple of aftermarket heat shields and the exhaust was ready for testing.
At the same time I removed the ugly plastic radiator guard and made a bespoke slim shield that incorporated a sump guard, and got that, and the exhaust shield, painted by another old mate Pete at Paint Tec Roade, who did it for me for nothing for ‘old times sake’ so I got professional finish at no cost, so much better than my initial rattle can attempt and a nice gesture.
During this ‘exhaust build’ time I’d been speaking with Simon at Central Wheel Components Birmingham who got some wheels made in the USA and shipped over for me, so I was now the proud owner of the first set of XG750 19” spoked wheels in the country fitted to a bike. IDP have the only other two sets that were imported in at the same time, but as far as I’m aware they’re not on a bike yet. Tyres sourced and fitted, wheels fitted (feedback given to Central at their request) and I was ready to test again, now I just needed a venue
I’d missed the last round of Scunthorpe as the exhaust took me ages to get right but luckily a last-minute cancellation (cheers Lee / George) meant I could test at Greenfield in March
Testing went well, I started to get a bit of feel for how it behaved on 19” wheels and what its like to have a high-level exhaust to lean your right leg against. Unfortunately this does have consequences though, as I did burn my boots and leathers so it became apparent I need a full front pipe heat shield – it seemed ok in the garage just sitting on it, but I now know I move around a bit on the bike when riding so lesson learnt and I guess that’s what test rides are for.
As mentioned before I wasn’t sure about the foot pegs positioning, and whilst they were ok they didn’t exactly set me on fire (unlike the exhaust) and they didn’t look quite right, so it was back to the drawing board again when I got home
Another session on eBay this time buying various Harley exhaust shields, as I needed to get the right bends to match the modified pipes. Again a lot of trial and error, cutting, tacking and test fitting before I got a pair of full front pipe heat shields I was happy with, which were again painted by Pete FOC for me.
At this time, as the exhaust was going to be pretty much hidden, I decided to cover it in black heat wrap, not quite the finish I wanted as I like the ‘blued pipes’ look, but they’re hot and I can’t afford a new set of boots every time I ride it, so the practical side of me led the heart on this occasion. That said I’m more than happy with how it looks, and now wonder why I wasted so much time metal finishing the exhaust welds!
The last job was the foot-pegs so back on eBay for ideas again. I’d decided I wanted them further back, similar to the HD factory positioning but not quite as high. So after many hours I settled on a set of gold Suzuki rear sets that looked like they’d mount where I had in mind, and would allow the rear brake and gear linkage to be adapted without too much work. Ideally I’d have had them in black but the gold were the only used ones for sale at the time, and in my opinion they tie in with the Ohlins gold reservoirs nicely so I’m happy with them now they’re fitted
Anyway, I removed the FZR ones, cut away the rear brake master cylinder bracket and fitted the Suzuki rear-sets without too much trouble, along with a Suzuki rear brake master cylinder and some Sintered rear pads. I set the gear shift to race position (1 up 5 down), to make it easier to change up a gear during a race wearing a steel shoe and the footpeg mods were complete.
I’d also got a few sticker kits in stock, so fitted some appropriate sponsor decals, and as last flourish fitted my coveted Vance & Hines decal (that I think I’d subconsciously been saving for this very moment) to the rear exhaust guard, along with the compulsory iconic Sideburn sticker to complete the ‘factory race bike look’
I reckoned I was just about done and ready to test / race again and see if this next stage of mods had improved the handling as well as the look - but then as we all know things changed, activities and movement were curtailed, racing (along with every other large gathering) was cancelled, so I can’t complete the story at the moment
I plan to test again the first opportunity I get, and you never know, perhaps I’ll be happy and the development can cease, although I doubt it as I want to fit gold anodised forks next if that’s an option, a better seat pad, and maybe shorten the swing arm somehow - so it’s likely going to be another few hours in the garage and on eBay for me before I’m finally finished, or maybe I’ll just sell it as there’s a Vintage 2 stroke engine and Flat Track frame lying up the corner of my garage just crying out for my attention !
Full Modifications list to date:
Slimmed down tank
Two-tone paint job with HD tank graphics
Modified lock stops
Modified Twin Air air filter
Ohlins rear suspension
Dynojet Power Vision ignition tuner
520 Chain & Sprocket conversion
Flat Track seat unit with bespoke frame and carbon look side panels
DTRA front no board
Cut out switch
EVO Pro Taper Dirt Track bars
NK Fat bar risers
Bespoke radiator / sump shield
Handmade High-Level exhaust
Bespoke exhaust front pipe heat shields
Carbon / Ali rear silencer heat shield
Twin SC Silencers
Gold anodised rear sets with race gear shift set up
Braided rear brake hose
Handmade Ali shark fin
Ducati front lower fork guards
Sintered rear pads
Lowered front forks
19” Central Components spoked wheels
Domino soft off-road grips
Domino Quick action push and pull throttle
Venhill cable kit
Aftermarket starter switch
Cut out switch / lanyard
Twenty un-breakable clutch lever
Photos: Tim Newbrook, Braking Point Images
See the XG750R ridden by George Greenfield' Pickering and the Street Rod street tracker Tim refers to in Sideburn 39