On 11/18/2022, Harley-Davidson last rolled air-cooled sportster ever be built off the assembly line in York, Pennsylvania. The announcement marked the end of an era in the motorcycle world; a bookend for the legendary V-Twin for everyone that has been in constant production since 1957.
While the total number of Sportsters in existence is now officially limited to the tens of millions, the death of the Evo comes with a silver lining: with obsolescence comes street cred.
Few understand this as well as Sydney, Australia’s Zen Motorcycles. They’ve turned this 2015 Harley-Davidson Sportster Seventy-Two into a reliable daily driver, with all the classic cool of a vintage bike ironhead. All that’s missing is a kickstarter (if you know where to look, of course).
This build started when a client approached Zen and asked for a 70’s style chopper, with modern performance and reliability. An abundance of chrome was also high on the priority list, but everything else was largely left to the Zen crew. A newer model Sportster Seventy-Two was procured as an ideal starting point.
Work smart, not hard, as the saying goes. Harley first introduced the Seventy-Two in 2012, and both the name and style were intended to evoke the chopper craze of the ’70s of the time. Included in the factory package was the classic 2.1-gallon peanut tank that still lives on the bike today, along with a full range of factory chrome options including the engine, wheels and shocks.
That laundry list of OEM chrome bits shortened the build to-do list quite a bit, but converting the stock Sporty into the clean custom you see here was no easy feat. The team decided early on that a Springer front end was just what the Seventy-Two needed to truly capture its ’70s charm. Sourcing the forks was easy enough—but making them work with the modern frame took some creativity.
The shiny set of standard-length jumpers you see here were sourced direct from Lowbrow Customs in the USA – but unfortunately they weren’t exactly plug-and-play for the customer’s needs. The biggest hurdle was keeping the Seventy-Two’s factory ABS braking system, which required some serious remodeling to adapt to the Springer.
For this, Zen gave the bike to her friend Edi Buffon at Machine 1867– a one man garage a few miles down the road. Edi worked on the forks, and when the bike got back to the shop Zen was able to finish the front end setup. Chrome-plated brake calipers were supplied by Performance Machine, the factory rotors were swapped out for drilled stainless steel units from Russell, and custom spacers were added to keep everything balanced.
Out back, Zen left the Sportster largely unmolested, keeping the factory swingarm, shocks and braking components in place. The factory belt drive was swapped out for a chain relocation kit for a little more Ironhead style, and the rear sprocket received a chrome treatment to match the rest of the Sporty’s shine work.
With the chassis sorted out, it was time to give the Seventy-Two some color. Zen says the client’s only stipulation was that some degree of gold be incorporated into the theme, allowing them to choose their own muse from a catalog of ’70s influences.
The result is really something special. From afar, it’s easy to mistake this for your signature “lively black” Sporty with an added Ohio flame job. Up close, however, it’s a different story altogether.
That’s because Zen used the darkest purple color we’ve seen, with metal flakes buried under more layers of clear coat than we care to count. The flames themselves are finished in the old fashioned way with hand applied gold leaf gilding with purple pinstripes.
Zen continued the gold theme throughout the bike, but opted for polished brass detailing rather than 24k bling, for reasons we don’t need to explain here. The risers, grips and gas cap are all machined from brass, while the front and center spark plug leads add an extra touch of gold glitter.
The final piece of the puzzle was finding a way to stow all the clunky modern electronics, which practically pulled Zen out. The stock lighting has been replaced with minimalistic Kellermann LED hardware from top to bottom; The ten-cent indicator sleeves on the front of the jumper are particularly attractive. The OEM instrument cluster was retained, but Zen moved it down around the front cylinder for an unobstructed cockpit.
As for the controls themselves, Zen integrated flush-mount single push buttons into a set of custom handlebars, creating the look of a neat bare-bones machine. They were able to wire up all the new components without losing CAN bus functionality – as far as the onboard ECU goes, the Sportster is still completely stock.
Finishing touches include a Mustang leather seat, chrome Lowbrow Customs sissy bar, all chrome nut and bolt kit, and braided brake and clutch cables. Zen even added a bit of power, with an S&S teardrop intake and a set of Vance & Hines ShortShot tubes to match the Seventy-Two’s bite with its bark.
The Sportster as we know it may be relegated to the pages of history, but bikes like Zen’s Sporty Seventy-Two will carry the torch on for generations to come.
It’s unsettling to imagine that in fifteen short years all new Harleys could be powered by anything other than an internal combustion engine. But we take comfort in the knowledge that we don’t have to dig for old Ironhead parts to have a timeless classic in the garage when the time comes.