Article “Yesterdays” from MOTORRAD-GESPANNE Nr. 99
By todays standards, travel in the 20's was no picnic. Motorcycles had useless front forks and the rear had no suspension whatsoever. And yet they brought with them an almost limitless thirst for adventure.
In the Fall of 2003 I sat down with my biker buddy, Hery, and talked about an unusual vehicle: my dream combination. The specifications were strange and brought back memories from the past rather than the present; Hardtail frame, reliable motor, Springer front end, fat rear wheel and genuine period lights. It was not to be a combination to be trailered from show to show, it should be capable of surviving a North African rally.
We decided on a Harley-Davidson Sportster engine. The reason: we couldn't find a frame for a Japanese V-twin. We ordered it from a company in Holland called V-Twin, they make all kinds of Harley frames. Another advantage, it would be delivered with a TUV certificate. We agreed on the specs, 50mm trail, room for a 185 tire on the rear and a ground clearance with the Springer forks of at least 13 cm. I could have saved myslef the work on the construction timetable however, because the frame delivery was delayed by several weeks.
In the meantime I began to look for a used Sportster. It was a nightmare, the market was either empty, or the prices ridiculous. The I found a 883 on Ebay. I bid blind and won it for 4850 Euro. The tiny pictures on the Internet were a godsend, not many were interested enough to bid. It was a snap. The bike was immaculate and only had 6000 miles on the odometer. After the transfer we stripped the bike down in a day and removed everything that would be needed for the rebuild. A naked rolling chasis remained. It was a compromise to use as many original parts as possible but I wanted to remain in budget.
In the process of the engine rebuild we increased the size to 1200 and reduced the compression. Meanwhile the Springer forks arrived from V-Twin and the rear wheel from Jürgen Roth. Slowly the machine was taking shape. We were under pressure; new emissions regulations meant that we needed to register the bike before 31 July 2004. We kept the dealine and the bike was registered as a (custom) Yesterdays model, manufactured by Martin Franitza.
In August I took it to Jürgen Rothhe was to costruct the sidecar accoring to my design. Working drawings flew back and forth via email. It was to resemble a 1918 Harley Davidson sidecar. The rear was to have a small trunk for my photographic equipment with the rest of the luggage being stowed on the foldig luggage rack. The drawings were very detailed. I envisioned myself trekking fully laden throughout the Sahara. We agreed on November complettion, I could have saved that planning too. Weeks and months went by. To try to explain the delay would be beyond the scope of this article. It wasn't until Christmas 2005 that I was able to see Yesterdays on 3 wheels.
The sidecar met my design requirements, despite the unacceptable delivery time, Jürgen Roth had done a good job. Meanwhile however, my buddy Hery had closed his shop. I had the remainder of the owrk to do alone. Front and rear brakes had to be optimized for the sidecar combination, the electrical system had to be expanded and improved, and a thousand other bits and pieces were in need of attention. I still needed a large fuel tank, as well as a spare wheel mounting point, interior upholstery of the sidecar, paint and a thousand other things that filled two whole letter size pages. Procurement and planning ate up another 3 months.
I began by dedicating my time to the sidecar. At the back of the garage I had a blank seat shell. It was fitted to the sidecar by Jürgen Mayerle from the company Schöne Linie. wo weeks later it went straight to the upholsterer Kirschbaum in schwäbischen Reutlingen. Meanwhile I stripped the bike again. The long standing time had allowed rust to form. Al frame parts were blasted and painted with a PU-2K-paint, such as is found on commercial vehicle chasis. It comes in all colors, is easy to work with, and costs a fraction of car paint.
A couple of days later I installed the engine back in the frame. I made it my mission to be able to strip and re-assemble the bike alone and without help. That was only possible by tilting the motor and laying the frame over it. Then I fastened the 4 gearbox screws and quickly mounted the front motor mount. The SPringer forks were quickly mounted, as were the risers and bars. Oiltank and electricals were prebuilt, as were the used footboards. Wheels, tires and sump plate completed the construction to something that resembled a vehicle. But the devil is in the details, and in this case in the form of the electricals.
When the motor was rebuilt Hermann Weigand made an unusual conversion. The standard Sporty alternator only has a capacity of 283 Watts. That was considered too little especially with accessories or for winter riding. You can usually get everything in a Hrley dealership but no stronger alternators were available for a Sporster, just for big twins. We ordered a 32 amp alternator and converted it with the prts from the old Sporty alternator. Needless to say we also needed a new regulator.
We also fitted a fully adjustable electronic ignition that we could retard by turning a screw to avoid knocking if we had bad quality gas. I overcame all this but the resultant cable mess was killing me.
Andreas Öttl offered to help, he used to work for a Harely delarship before starting his own sidecar business. I handed over the bike to him to finish the electrical and I picked up the sidecar from the upholsterer in the meantime. Mr. Kirschbaum was drwan along by our enthusiasm and totally embodied the "yesterday" vision in his work. The seat and the side panels are perfectly pleated.
A few weeks later Andreas Öttl brings the bike back. In the meantime the sidecars has been blasted and sent wth the tank to paint. While building the sidecar I had another brainwave; I would clad the dorr and widshield bracings with wood. I got ash bracings from a carpenter, even curved pieces for the widshield.
After the sidecar and tank were mounted I took the bike for its TUV inspection. It passed after a thorough test ride. The tires ironed out most of the bumps in the road and the spine was futher pampered by a sprung seat and the bilstein suspension struts which were perfectly set.
During a trip in the Fall the starter went out. My first thought, that the battery was dead was not correct, and the starter was a lot more expensive. Luckily I was able to find a used one for 180 Euro.
During the winter months a few other little problems were dealt with. But one still stymied me: the search for brass hex screws for the windshield. Since the luggage strap hardware was brass I didn't want to use anyhting else but no one makes them. Finally I found a company in Neusäß who would plate my steel screws and after three long years I was done!
In early Spring I continued the test rides. A few screws worked loose and locktite quickly became the order of the day on all parts. The bike cruised comfortably at 67 mph on the highway and fuel consumption averaged about 30 m.p.g. I am satisfied.
In the next few weeks I must plan the second stage of the Yesterdays project. I want to relive the exciting traveeling of the 20's and 30's and am planning a trip to Morroco in the desert.
The Yesterdays project manifests Yesterday and Today in coexistence. For me, Morroco symbolizes the combination of the times together with the oriental flair of an older culture in a gradiose setting. I look forward to it.