Monday, January 9, 2017

Harley Davidson number two, 1977 Harley Davidson XLCR.

At least in the looks department, it was a home run.

After riding a somewhat unwieldy chopper around for a couple of years. I realized that I was looking for a higher level of performance than I was getting from my modified bike. While it was quite stable and smooth riding on the highway, the braking still left much to be desired, and the range on that little gas tank was laughable. While on my trip to Canada I could only count on a maximum  of 60 miles. At one point there was a minimum run of 75 miles without any towns at all!. I had to scrounge up a couple of used antifreeze containers as spare gas cans to make the distance. So I was always looking for a bigger tank. There wasn't a lot to choose from. 


The K model and the original  Sportster of 1957 had a pretty nice large tank. I don't know what the capacity was, but I would guess around 4 gallons. I don't know what ever happened to those tanks, but I looked high and low for one, but could never find one. It's funny, but since Sportsters were so popular as choppers many original parts were discarded and are now quite rare. They were even rare back in the late 70s. I tried hard to find a handlebar mounted Speedo/Tach  instrument panel. I finally had to piece one together from a Superglide set up.

The second touring tank for the Sportster came out in the mid Sixties. This was nicknamed the "Turtle Tank", not a complement. It did hold four gallons but was low and wide and not exactly attractive. You can see how the seat is perched rather awkwardly floating above the tank and frame. Not exactly sleek. In the Seventies Harley would do away with all these more practical designs and every Sportster came with the classic Sportster  XLCH tank and a contoured "Cobra " type seat. Practicality be damned! At least they looked good.

Over time I did acquire some of the parts like those of the old blue 1965 XLH pictured above: The headlamp/ handle bar  enclosure, front  and rear fenders, crash bar, and seat. I did manage to incorporate some of these parts into the later rebuilding of my XLCR.

Just as I was planning to come up with my own design for my super Sportster,  little did I know that old Willy G. had his own design ready for production. The XLCR seemed like it was exactly what I was looking for, just look at the specs; a triangulated frame, alloy wheels with triple disc brakes, Siamese dual exhaust, with rear set controls, a long, XR750 styled tank and seat combination. 

The only discordant note is that exhaust pipe that curves along the primary side, it kind of looks like it was stuck on as an afterthought, but how else could you run that second pipe? The 1965 XLH featured a set of long mufflers connected at the end of the head pipes. It was probably quiet but a bit restrictive. Back in the day a set of staggered dual short pipes let the engine breathe but they were always going to be a tad loud. Harley tried to cope with that problem by tying the two head pipes together with a cross over pipe. This would allow the exhaust to flow through both of the small mufflers. This was only effective for a short time. The next plan was to utilize a two into one collector header.  This was actually a much better alternative. This was not only quieter but smoothed out the torque curve. This was used for '77 and '78. I kind of liked the look of the Siamese duals from the carb side. These pipes were the best flowing stock exhaust that were ever used on the Sportster, and this was probably the most powerful of the old Iron head 1,000cc motors. The factory claimed a quarter mile e.t. of 12.77 seconds. Surprisingly this was the same e.t. that Kawasaki claimed for the original 500cc. H-1. I remember reading the road test of this bike in Cycle World magazine and they almost managed to make it into the twelves, but it was close. Later models went back to a staggered duals system. but they were punishingly restrictive, and were ruinous to performance.

My first and only brand new motorcycle.

I thought that Harley was never going to incorporate these chassis improvements into the mainline Sportster so I thought that I would make my own version. I rode the bike stock for around a year, making some small changes. I used a set of Lowrider model set back handlebar risers, I bought the two up seat and pegs when they became available. I found that the stock XLCR just wasn't that good a motorcycle. For one thing, it was pretty uncomfortable. There was a huge steel/ rubber rear tank mount that was easy to feel through the seat cushion. The rear set controls and the drag bars were okay, but it wasn't easy to carry anything on the bike. We didn't wear backpacks in those days. The handling wasn't anything outstanding either, nor was the straight line performance. It just didn't deliver on the looks.

My plan was to modify the rear of the bike to use a traditional style rear fender and mounting system. The XR style tank was replaced by a custom "King Sportster" 3 1/2 gallon tank. For all my efforts, my modified XLCR ended up looking alot like a standard 1979 Sportster. The footpeg and control lever set up though, was just what I needed to convert my bike. I even used the stock '79 XLS seat.

To be honest, I never saw this coming.

Even so, the bike was now well suited to my needs and desires. I rode it everywhere, all the time. It was comfortable, the larger tank increased the range, I added a sissy bar and slung a set of pony express style leather bags across the rear fender and I was ready to go. And I did.

The seating position was very comfortable. The bike was compact and easy to use around town. It was very stable out on the open highway and it handled well up in the mountains. The motor was smoothest at 70 mph. which made it suitable for long trips. The bike was very reliable and I never had a qualm on setting out on any journey, even at the moment's notice. I added an external oil cooler, oil filter set up and highway pegs. I had a set of HD "compact hard saddle bags" and a "compact windshield" up front. Overall, this was a great set up for the "solo" tourist. I never did  take a passenger with me for a long ride during this time. The bike would have been lacking in long term passenger comfort. There's not a lot of room on a Sportster! There was one trip where my newly wed Wife and I rode up to Mendocino from my parent's home in the Bay Area. My Wife was a good sport even though we did get caught in the rain. We had a good time.

I kept this bike for over twenty years. Over that period I put at least 80,000 miles on it. I did a top end rebuild once at around 15,000 miles and a full rebuild at around 40,000 miles. I modified the bike from this configuration into a copy of the '57 Sportster pictured at the top of the post. I even went after the Euro look, with an attempt to emulate the BMW RS. I used drag bars, a Rifle fairing, Genuine Krauser side cases, (can't call those saddlebags),chrome '79 chrome Siamese pipes, a '79 "ham can" air cleaner housing, and a '79 "fat seat" . It was painted a very tasteful charcoal grey with black pinstripes.  I may have some pictures of these different set ups stashed somewhere around the house. I will post some pictures if I ever find them.

I even held onto this bike when I finally bought my first Big Twin, my 1981 FLH Sport. This Sportster was the bike that I took my month long trip around the USA on.

On the road, More about this later.

No comments:

Post a Comment