How to Build a Harley-Davidson Sportster Tracker on a $2,000 Budget

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How to Build a Harley-Davidson Sportster Tracker on a $2,000 Budget

How to Build a Harley-Davidson Sportster Tracker on a $2,000 Budget

Harley-Davidson Sportster Tracker

The reviving popularity of hooligan flat track racing has sparked enthusiasm for customizing Harley Davidson Sportsters by converting them into dual-sport trackers and scramblers. Lines continue to blur what once clearly separated motorcycles into standard classifications. Customizers want to push the limits of what street bikes can do. Icons like Roland Sands, Rusty Butcher, and Johnny Bones have inspired a cult following of Sportster owners who covet a desire to modify their bikes and “Make Sportsters Great Again.“ The Sportster is the lightweight class of Harley-Davidson, so it is the logical choice for riders who want to take their street bikes to the dirt for hooligan style riding.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Tracker

You might desire to turn your Harley Davidson Sportster into a custom tracker, but think you have to be a professional mechanic or spend a fortune to accomplish it. But, that’s not true! You can transform your Sporty into a bad ass street tracker (dirt-ready but street legal) on a $2,000 budget. The thought of locating all the parts you need may seem overwhelming, especially if you’re relatively new to motorcycles.  J&P Cycles is here to help you find the parts you need to complete the transformation yourself.

People often disagree on what is required to classify bikes in every category, whether it’s a tracker, scrambler, café racer, bobber, etc. Some will claim that your Sportster isn’t a true tracker unless you’ve installed an S&S 1200cc Hooligan Kit, chain drive conversion, custom tail section or fender, hand guards, skid plates, etc. Those are great upgrades if you have a bit more to spend. I’m not here to argue about the semantics of bike classifications. I just want to help you get the basics for what you need to get your Sportster ready to rip in the dirt on a budget. While it’s true that trackers historically pay homage to the original race track bikes, a much more broad definition has been adopted for the Sportster Hooligan trackers.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Tracker

Basic Tracker essentials:

  1. Exhaust – you’ll want an exhaust that gives you plenty of ground clearance for hitting bumps and landing jumps. A 2 into 1 exhaust system is standard for trackers and gives you the best performance. Many choose an upsweep design, but I just love the RSD Tracker Exhaust. It brings a loud deep and throaty roar. 
  2. Air Cleaner and Fuel Management – if you try to run an aftermarket exhaust with your stock air cleaner, it will likely run too lean or rich. Do yourself (and your bike) a favor and get to Stage 1 with a complete exhaust, air cleaner, and fuel management system. Any high flow air cleaner will do, but the S&S Teardrop is a timeless classic with an aggressive look. I highly recommend the Vance & Hines Fuelpak FP3 for an affordable fuel management system. Don’t be surprised when you find out you need this along with your new exhaust purchase. When you upgrade your exhaust and air cleaner, you are taking in and expelling more air. So, for your bike to run properly you have to manage the amount of fuel to compensate for the increase in air flow. For fuel injection you need a fuel management system, or if you have a carbureted model you will need to jet your carburetor accordingly.
  3. Suspension – your stock suspension was designed for street and is not ideal for dirt riding. Taking your bike off-road through bumpy terrain requires more impact resistance. The Burly Brand Stilettos are a great option to give your ride a comfortable lift, and won’t break the bank. I’m on the heavy side for a Sportster rider, but I ride with confidence that I won’t bottom out with these amazing shocks. I chose the 13” Stilettos for my 2014 Sportster, because the 15” Stilettos have fitment issues for Sportsters made after 2003. 
  4. Bars – you’ll want some bars that give you aggressive control over your bike, such as the Burly Brand Scrambler Handlebar or the Biltwell Moto Handlebar. The Burly Brand 8” Cables go great with my Biltwell Moto Bars. I’m running them on Milwaukee Twins 4 ½” risers that bolt right into the triple tree.
  5. Shoes – Street tires do not provide any traction in the dirt. I learned that the hard way and paid the price. Some off-road or dual-sport tires are a must if you are going to take your Sportster off the asphalt. Many people upgrade their wheels to an 18/19 or 19/19 set up to give them more choices for tires and extra lift. However, there are still options for dual sport tires for your stock rims. Duro makes a nice dual-sport tire for your 16” rear wheel. If your Sportster came with MAG wheels, they will be strong and sturdy for slamming down wheelies and jumps on the mx track. However, switching to a spoked wheel can help you drop significant weight. I chose to swap out my MAG wheels for some spokes from an older Nightster.
  6. Style – there’s lots of ways to style out your tracker to make it look cool. J&P Cycles makes a good inexpensive rubber fork boot that will help keep dust out of your fork seals. An LED light bar is a popular and iconic choice for modern trackers. The Arlen Ness LED tail lights are small and bright, for a minimal look while keeping it street legal. Biltwell gives you several choices for mx style grips, but don’t forget you will need the Whisky Throttle Sleeve with their grips. Some grips already come with a throttle tube, but the Biltwell mx style grips require you to purchase one. Biltwell and Burly make strong mx style foot pegs that will increase your foot grip and improve control. You can remove your front fender and trim down your back fender for a tougher look, but beware of getting caught riding in the rain! A custom number plate with graphics and decals are cheap and easy to find online. A custom paint job on the tank and fender can really distinguish your bike from others, but pricing can vary drastically. For a tracker, I’d keep it simple. There’s nothing wrong with all black in my opinion.
  7. Seat – Simply purchasing an aftermarket seat can save you money from creating a custom tail section and look a lot better than the stock seat. The Biltwell Café Seat is a popular choice for trackers. I chose the Mustang Café Solo Seat because I’m a big guy, so I needed something a little bigger with more padding for comfort on longer rides. You can’t go wrong with a Mustang.

Here’s the list of aftermarket parts on my tracker to make it easy for you to find:

Name Part No
RSD Track 2-into-1 High Pipe Black Ops Exhaust 832-984
S&S Cycle Teardrop Air Cleaner Kit Gloss Black 632-411
Vance & Hines Fuelpak FP3 – Fuel Management System 126-995
Biltwell Inc. Moto Black Dimpled 1” Handlebars 634-890
Biltwell Inc. 1” Black Thruster Grips 126-801
Biltwell Inc. 1” Black Whisky Throttle Sleeve 207-271
Burly Brand 13” Stiletto Shocks 161-025
Drag Specialties Black Wide Blade Lever Set 179-077
Arlen Ness Direct Bolt-On Rear LED Turn Signals 306-966
Milwaukee Twins Complete Black 4-1/2” Riser Set 211-344
J&P Cycles Bolts for Threaded Risers 5000885
J&P Cycles Black Rubber Fork Boots 2200007
Milwaukee Twins Synthetic Oil Change Kit 160-569
Burly Brand 8” Handlebar Cable/Line Kit 804-251
Mustang Café Solo Seat 632-319
Twin Power Heavy Duty Inner Tube 3.25/3.50-19 164-103
Milwaukee Twins Inner Tube 5.10-16” 2170095
Duro – HF 904 Median Dual Sport Rear Tire 130/90S-16  
Continental TKC 70 Dual Sport Front Tire 100/90B-19  


Harley-Davidson Sportster Tracker

After my first test run on a local motocross track, I am really happy with how well my tracker handled. I felt comfortable and confident drifting through berms. The Burly shocks took the rollers like a champ. The Biltwell Moto bars gave me a good feeling of control through the turns, but they did collapse back a couple inches twice. Having them knurled would be a wise investment. I scraped the bottom of my bike a few times on the jagged terrain and put a small dent on my frame, so a skid plate will be my next purchase. I laid down my bike once, which is to be expected on the track. I was relieved to find that the bike took the fall without damage proving it was built to take anything I can throw at it.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Tracker

The future is bright for Hooligan Trackers. Rusty Butcher will be hosting the first ever supercross style hooligan race in April. It’s called the Tracker Cross. This is an exciting time for custom culture. I can’t wait to get back to the track to push the limits of what a Sportster can do. The look on everyone’s face when I rolled into the track on a Harley was priceless. It’s exciting to be part of a movement from the beginning. The feeling I got from thrashing through the features was an adrenaline rush like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. While everyone was loading their dirt bikes and quads into the back of their trucks at the end of the day, I simply rode mine home with a huge smile on my face.

See more details and order parts for your tracker project at J&P Cycles.

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  1. Jeff Earnest February 25, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    This was an interesting article. Reminds me of TT Racing in the 60’s and 70,s in Kansas, many of the local racers road their bike to the track to compete. The track was dirt had left and right hand turns and usually one small jump.

  2. Joe February 24, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Where did you get the headlight?

  3. HappyWrench February 20, 2017 at 11:08 am

    I have been agonizing over my next project, and I think this is a real possibility now. I am currently restoring a 1972 Harley FLH, so obviously I am a Harley guy. Thanks for this interesting post.

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