Biltwell’s off-road proven Sportster

Words: Bill Bryant Photos: Courtesy of Biltwell

As desert races go, the NORRA Mexican 1000 is one of the more mild and fun events, IF you are in or on a proper off-road vehicle. A Harley Sportster isn’t a proper off-road vehicle no matter what you do to it, but we were determined to build and ride our little Milwaukee tractor from Ensenada to San Jose del Cabo. The hard way. The race takes place over five days and covers 1,000 miles (not kilometers!) of off-road terrain and another 300 on asphalt. When we decided to start this project last fall, we knew it was a foolish idea, but it would be really fun if we could actually pull it off. We did several test sessions in our local deserts and fine tuned the bike over the winter months. There were several baked-in compromises based on the fact that we wanted to retain the stock(ish) look by keeping the Sportster gas tank, oil tank, rear fender and totally stock frame. We didn’t want it to be a modern dirt bike with a H-D power plant, we wanted it to be a lightly-modded Sporto, built more for endurance and survivability than all out performance.

Riding the Frijole was surprisingly easy in most conditions. The tractor-like attitude of the Harley made it an animal in the sand. Even in the really deep stuff, it would just power right through and never felt like it was struggling for power. Through big rocks at low speed it was a little less predictable than a normal dirt bike and of course a lot less nimble. It’s so heavy that moving your body around doesn’t have near the effect as it would on a lighter machine. That excess weight makes it push right through some larger rocks, so that was kinda weird. The high speed washboard stuff was a blast, as were the twisty ascents and descents. If we had it to do over again, I’d give in and put a permanent kick stand on the bike like all the other riders asked for. I’d also consider lengthening the swingarm just enough to make it less twitchy at high speeds in small whoops. Cams would probably have been a good idea too. If the response was snappier, it might have been easier to wheelie over some terrain. Other than that, it felt like this was about as good as a Harley-Davidson could possibly perform in this kind of terrain

Frijole 883 Specifications

Built at Biltwell HQ in Temecula, CA by Rob “Rouser” Galan and Bill Bryant

Model: 2000 Harley Davidson Sportster 883

Frame: Stock Harley-Davidson, rear shock mounts reinforced

Tank: Harley-Davidson Sportster, clearanced for stabilizer

Rear Fender: Chopped Harley-Davidson Sportster

Swingarm: Stock Harley-Davidson. Gusseted and shock mounts moved by Roll Design, Fallbrook, CA

Forks: Honda CRF250 Front forks, hub, brake. Internals reworked by Precision Concepts, Riverside, CA

Rear shocks: Elka, custom

Paint: Hot Dog Kustoms, Temecula, CA

Seat: Stock Harley-Davidson seat foam by Duane Ballard, cover by MotoSeat, Temecula, CA

Carb: CV with Rouser mods

Air filter: Four layer, custom

Stabilizer: GPR

Top Tree: Gigacycle

Rear Brake: Tokico 4-piston with custom Gigacycle carrier

Tank bag and rear gear bag: Biltwell Exfil-11 and Exfil-7

Bars: Pro Taper Adventurer

Risers: Fastway 2”

Hand Guards: Cycra

Gearing: PBI 65t rear / 22t front

Rocker Boxes: Buell PCV breather style

Exhaust: Custom using Biltwell exhaust kit and shortened Super Trapp

Oil Tank: Harley-Davidson, customized with rigid mounts, two additional mounts and screw-in oil cap

Shifter: Modified Honda XR400 folding, mounted in reverse (GP style)

Brake pedal: custom

Foot Control Mounts: Hugo Moto (modified)

Skid Plate: Hugo Moto (modified)

Pegs: Moose (modified)

Oil Cooler: Honda XR400

Navigation: Primary: Lowrance Elite 5Ti, Secondary: iPad mini with LeadNav app, Third: iPhone with LeadNav app, Fourth: Road books from NORRA

Throttle, cables, tools: Motion Pro

Headlight/Fairing: Baja Designs Squadron Pro

Rear gear rack: Custom stainless steel




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