Flying Tiger's XL1200
By Anthony van Someren - 19 Jun 13
Harley cafe racers can be a bit hit or miss. On the one hand you get a torquey, large capacity, attractive, air-cooled V-twin engine, but on the other, it weighs a lot and the rest of the bike is full of ugly shapes, pointless bling and chassis parts that are a couple of decades behind the rest. However, if you pick the right donor model and change the right parts you can end up with something as lovely as this cafe custom from Flying Tiger Motorcycles, without major drama or expense. Eric Bess's Flying Tiger Motorcycles in Maplewood, MO, is a full service and repair shop, working on all types of motorcycles from turn of the century Triumphs to 60’s & 70’s Japanese bikes to brand new BMW’s. We do everything from oil changes to complete motor rebuilds, and although it is not overly profitable, restoration and custom builds is what we really like to do. St. Louis has seen a serious resurgence in the vintage bike scene over the last few years, and we try to give these people a place to feel at home. A friend of Eric's had been in search of her first bike for some time. She wanted to turn an unused Harley Sportster into a cafe racer, so she came into the shop and asked if she could get the look she wanted out of it. After a quick chat she told Eric the bike was on the way... What we got was exactly what one might expect of a poorly executed, used and abused 96’ XL1200 chopper. It had the typical fuel stained engine cases and overdone flaky chrome bits everywhere - complete with a classy Jack Daniels bar clamp. The guys got on with stripping off everything that wasn’t essential and getting the bike in decent running condition. Once she was purring along we fabricated a new seat-pan and sent it to local leather guru Rich Phillips to make to a custom ribbed seat. We then adapted an early 70’s Honda CB450 tank and paired it with a Legendary Motorcycles tail section. Electrics, switches and controls were minimized as the clip-ons were fitted, and all the shiny stuff on the bike was given a brushed finish to match the satin finished tank and tail section. Chainsikle rearsets replaced the HD foot controls. Pipes are a two into one Super Trapps which give the bike a rich deep tone, but are not loud enough to be obnoxious. Headlamp, bars and controls are about as lean and simple as you can get. The riding position, ground clearance and choice of tyres suggests a Harley that actually goes around corners. The seat looks pretty well padded and the clip-on bar position isn't too low, so hours of back-road scratching look to be on the cards. We'll leave the last word to Eric Bess... We set out to build a clean, minimalist café bike that was user friendly but it still had to be fun to toss through the twisties. After the first test ride, I think we got it. ...It certainly looks the part, Eric. For the last word, we've pinched this comment from Jen, the new owner, which she posted on Bike EXIF's Facebook page after Chris shared the story: "I have to chime in here because this is my bike I brought Eric this "project" in December after years of nagging to buy his Ducati monster (i was unsuccessful). A friend bought this 96 sportster off craigslist, knew I've wanted a bike for a long time and offered to sell it to me. I've honestly never thought of buying a Harley but I started daydreaming about how it would look as a cafe. Eric took the time to help me pick out parts to get the look I wanted within my budget. This is my first bike and I was literally shaking with excitement when I saw the finished product last week. Eric, Teresa, and all of the guys at Flying Tiger are an honest, no b.s. crew. I love my moto."