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Gleam Machine: Rodsmith’s Ironhead Sportster cafe racer

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer
A sleek frame, a mechanical aesthetic, a distinct lack of plastic and lots of polished metal. This Harley-Davidson Ironhead Sports athlete cafe racer must come from Craig Rodsmith. Based just north of Chicago, the former Australian artist’s virtuosic skill in dark metal art is evident in everything he builds.

A few years ago, Craig was approached by a customer, Reto, who liked one of his previous Harleys so much that he wanted a copy. Craig is understandably hesitant to copy another bike, but he’s unafraid to take inspiration from it and install it for a new owner. That turned out to be the right decision, because the Reto was 6’6″.

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer
I’m not sure how many Sportster cafe racer You’ve stood by, but I can assure you that most of the time, they’re pretty low. So with the Reto’s height, it all started with the 1973 Sportster frame. After removing all the unnecessary racks using an angle grinder, the head body was modified and a set of forks. 35 mm newly installed.

As for the wheels, Craig started with the front axle from an old Moto Guzzi and the rear axle from an early Sportster. Then, in typical Rodsmith style, he adjusted the dual front shoe brakes, adding a vent to the front edge. Both hubs are fitted with stainless spokes with new 18” Borrani wheels and wrapped in Avon Roadrunner tires.

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer
The engine is from a 1979 XLCH Sportster and has plenty left over. It features split rocker boxes and nickel-plated ends and posts. The Dynatek ignition system ensures a strong spark while the S&S Super E carb boosts clean fuel into the newly rebuilt engine.

Not to avoid a bit of noise, Craig built a special exhaust for the Sportster. “I created a stainless steel two-in-one exhaust that exits to the left instead of the usual right,” he says. “I’ve been told it’s one of the sweetest sounding Harleys!”

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer
One of the things I love about Rodsmith builds is that you can immediately tell that everything is hand-made. For this project, Craig built the front fender, fuel tank, saddle, and rear subframe. The adjoining position of polished metal with the charcoal leather upholstery and cushions is particularly elegant.

Dane Utech at plzbeseated in Chicago handles the upholstery. The main body of the frame is powder coated in dark denim blue, perfectly designed by incorporating pinstripes by Jim Brando, also in Chicago.

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer
The battery is hidden under the tank while the oil tank is attached to the rear subframe, which is nickel plated to match the engine. There’s a new rear shock absorber holding things in place, which is speculated to be longer than stock to match the Reto’s height.

The front end is equipped with a clamp-on equipped with new handles, custom buttons and a single mirror at the front of the car (not shown in the picture). The headlights are covered with Sportster’s distinctive shield, which also features a pair of LED warning lights. At the rear, the taillights have been combined with the seat backs.

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer
For such a casual cafe racer, there’s really a lot to go into. You could spend hours mulling over every little detail — just like Craig spent hours crafting them.

“Reto turned out to be a great guy,” he said, “when he realized that I was also building a few other bikes for my friend Bobby Haas and the Haas Moto museum. So he assured me he was in no hurry.”

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer
“After completing the final build for Bobby Haas, I decided it was time to take care of Reto and his Harley. Unfortunately, not long after that, we lost Bobby, which obviously came as a shock to me and slowed progress further.”

“Reto is still very understanding. With that said, I feel he deserves something a little more special — so I’ve gone further in this build than we originally agreed to. “

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer
The results of Craig’s commitment speak for themselves. Being able to perfectly maintain classic café racer proportions, while giving Reto the ergonomics he needed, is further proof that the Rodsmith bike is the work of a true master.

Rodsmith motorcycles | Facebook | Instagram | Photo of Grant Schwingle

Rodsmith's Harley Ironhead Sportster cafe racer

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