"Not Your Average Shop" Thunder Alley - February 1996
Kirk Kelley used to work behind the counter at a Harley-Davidson dealership, and he winced whenever a colleague insulted a Sportster owner. To Kirk, everyone that rides a Harley-Davidson should be entitled to the same courtesy, and in his days at the dealership, he went out of his way to give good service to Sportster owners, because he said, "They really were neglected."
"Today, people don't realize," said Kirk, "that the Sportster was always the 'bad' bike. Until Andrews started making Big Twin cams and close-ratio gears back in the early '70s, Big Twins were slugs. A good Sportster would always beat a Big Twin, that's why all the bikers in the '60s rode Sportys. Go watch a few biker flicks and those are the bikes you'll see." Even today. drag racers build engines with many Sportster parts. Delkron cases, engine cases of choice for many straight line racers, are designed to use Sportster oil pumps and four cams, like a Sportster. "A properly set up XL1200 is still the fastest Harley on the road," said Kirk.
In 1993, Kirk decided to give this neglected bunch a shop of their own when he opened Sporty Specialties, Inc.. Exclusively catering to Sportster owners, the shop offers retail, online and mail order sales of new and used parts, & sells used Sportsters.
The parts service covers machines from 1952 (the first 45 cubic inch model K) to Present. And whatever your parts needs, Kirk is confident he can get you that part, eventually. "Other shops will say some parts are NA, not available," explained Kirk, "but no Sportster part is irreplaceable. What the other guys really mean, is they aren't going to try and get them for you. That's why we're in business. We concentrate on first-class used parts, and we can get just about everything you need for a Sportster of a Model K. If it's not available on the shelf, we put you on our list, and eventually the part will turn up." A select few parts are extremely difficult to find, like the sheet steel shrouds that fit behind the headlamp on early Sportsters, the long-tail '52 to '66 rear fenders and some tank emblems, but many other parts are available off the shelf. And Kirk makes a promise to his customers: "If we don't have the part, we will find it for you."
Kirk also supplies remanufactured hard-tails for Model K frames, a faithful reproduction of the original part. The factory made the Model K in two versions, with a swingarm for street, TT and roadrace applications, and with a hardtail for flat track racing. In all cases, the front part of the frame is the same, and suspension-equipped K Models can be converted to rigid rear with the bolt-on hard tail. It's the only reproduction part the shop sells, at the moment, said Kirk. "I have no objection to selling reproduction parts. But making a quality part, at an affordable price, continues to be a problem, and right now we can still supply original parts at much less cost."
Other shops need legions of mechanics to fit the parts their customers order, but most of the retail customers of Sporty Specialties, Inc. are hands-on types of riders. They will buy performance parts - like the ignition module, performance carburetor and pipes that open up the Sporty just as much as a Big Twin - but they'll usually take the parts home and work on the bike themselves. Mail order buyers tend to be die-hard enthusiasts and restores, guys that want the best quality, original parts because they know original parts work best. Not too many Sportys are show creatures, and that's just the way Kirk likes it. "I'd rather see a guy ride his bike than trailer it in to a show," he said, "I do appreciate a well turned out bike, but motorcycles are meant to be ridden."
The Sportster has gone through many changes since its introduction in 1957, and Sporty Specialties, Inc. knows about all of them, and all about the tricks of the trade that every XL owner needs to know to make that bike run well.
While it's true that many of the customers of the shop ride older bikes, don't expect to see any of the pre-EVO versus EVO rivalry here. Every Sportster is a good Sportster. According to Kirk, "The new bikes are just great. The Evolution-engined Sportster is one reliable motorcycle."
If you get the chance to attend any of the Southern California swap meets or shows, you'll probably run into the Sporty Specialties, Inc. stand. Kirk tries to get to all the SoCal meetings, and as many as he can in Central and Northern California, thought the shop keeps him too busy to venture over the Rockies to any of the meets further east. The best way to find out what they have is to drop a line or give a call. You're guaranteed to find an enthusiast on the other end of the line.
Like many other kids during the '60s, Kirk was turned on to motorcycling by a Big Twin, though in this case, it was of the British variety. "One day when I was 12 years old, I was sitting in a donut shop," he remembers, "when some crazy guy rolled right in through the doors on a BSA Thunderbolt. I remember the chrome tank, the red badges, the noise from the straight-through pipes. Right away I thought, this is for me."
The evolution from motorcycle-mad kid to motorcycle owner was the usual long and involved parade of cheap motorcycles: There was the Montgomery-Wards Riverside that some how got ridden into a hedge, the mini-bike and the many Triumphs and Hondas. Eventually, a decade and many motorcycles later, Kirk was earning enough to afford his first Harley, and bought, you guessed it, a '75 Sportster in a rigid frame. That bike was his introduction to Harleys, and like every one else, he "graduated to Big Twins in time but decided the Sportster had many more qualities he liked.
Harley-Davidson has come around to Kirk's view: the new Sportster Custom represents what many of his customers have been doing for a while: fitting shorter shocks, a sleeker tank, going back to that '70s look. Looks like Sporty Specialties, Inc. is on to something.