When the Model K was introduced in 1952 it was the first of Harley's models to have a hydraulically dampened swingarm. John swapped the stock shocks for a custom set he pieced together.
When the Model K was introduced in 1952 it was the first of Harley's models to have a hydr
Trace the Sportster's roots back far enough, and you eventually hit Harley's Model K series-a group of motorcycles from the early to mid-1950s powered by side valve V-twin engines. The K's were only made for a few years before The Motor Company realized there was a market for a sportier, stripped-down version that could compete with the British invasion mounted by Triumph, BSA, and Norton.
Finding a Model K in 1979 was hard, restoring one a pretty big task, and custom tailoring it to your body could be a serious bitch. John Carroll managed to do all three back then. He's had his `54 KHK-based red ride ever since and runs around on it to this day.
HB: How and where did you come across this bike?
JC: I've had it since 1979 or so. A friend of mine named Gary Lyons had a shop in Daytona. He mainly worked on Japanese stuff. I'd go there during Bike Week and work on Harley-Davidsons for him. He had an engine and trans unit out of a Model K but not the rest of it. His intention was to build up a K like he had as a kid but he was going to do a custom job until he decided he was too big for it but I'm a little guy. We made a deal. To this day he's one of my best buddies. I'm a mechanic but not a cosmetic guy. Gary was the brains behind designing it. It's a Model K but like a lot of customs it's also a collection of other parts, like the Yamaha frontend.
Elvis Presley posed for the cover of the May 1956 issue of The Enthusiast aboard his new Pepper Red and White Model KH. No, that is not Elvis.
Elvis Presley posed for the cover of the May 1956 issue of The Enthusiast aboard his new P
HB: How'd you get that frame?
JC: We had it in Gary's junk pile. It was a `60 Sportster frame. Since the K was the forerunner to the Sportster, fitting the motor into that frame was prett much a bolt-on deal. Both bikes were right hand shift back then, so that wasn't an issue.
HB: How'd you come up with the idea to add in all the non-Harley parts? Why?
JC: Original K's looked like scaled down dressers. Pretty, but there was no sport appeal. We had the engine/trans unit, which is basically an aluminum Flathead engine. That gave us a sportier platform. The Yamaha frontend kind of fit the package for a racier motorcycle. It took some modification to make the frontend fit and boring the trees was part of that. We're talking about a bike we did back in '79. It's timeless. Still fits right in with what's going on today (laughs).
HB: Why did you run the shorter rear shocks with Harley springs and fabricated collars?
JC: I wanted to run a 16-inch rear wheel. The original had an 18-inch with the fender high above the rear tire. The shorter shocks made sense with the smaller wheel and helped to lower the bike.
HB: What about the front brake setup? It's a Honda front brake on a Yamaha rotor?
JC: It's what we had lying around and I wanted a disc brake up front rather than the stock drum setup.
HB: Why does it have Yamaha gauges and not Harley?
JC: I didn't have a Harley speedometer so that's what I ran. It has a Harley emblem on it, though. People ask about that speedo a lot. It looks like a factory job but isn't (laughs).
HB: What do you like most about this bike?
JC: It's a really neat looking little motorcycle, it doesn't have anything there that's unnecessary. It's very light like a mini bike, peppy, fun to ride, and cute. There are also parts from Gary Bang on this bike. The Bang family goes way back in motorcycle history.
HB: What was the hardest part of building it?
JC: There wasn't a real hard part. Basically it was a matter of putting ideas and parts together. Everything mostly bolted together with no real extensive machine work. Overhauling the engine was straightforward. Parts for a K are hard to come by and not available, like the cylinders. We had to sleeve them and bore back to standard bore because they were worn pretty bad. That was the biggest part of the engine build.