Lil’ Hot Rod | 1996 H-D Sportster Karns Kustoms

Resurrection the Karns Kustoms Way

Depending on your perspective, this story starts with either a cream puff or a turd. It ends, however, with a really cool hardtail bobber, no matter who you are. We’ll talk more about the cream puff/turd controversy in a moment. For now, what you really need to know is that this bike was created by Adam Karns from a ’96 Harley Sportster. He’d wanted to cut a Sportster in half and make it a hardtail bobber for years. Adam just never had the opportunity to do so with the other Sportsters that have passed through Karns Kustoms over the years. He finally bought this one just for that reason.

Like a good Russian bride, the bike was purchased on eBay sight unseen. It only had 3,500 miles on it at the time and the guy told Adam it was a cream puff. And he was right. That is, if your definition of a cream puff is a steaming dung nugget. When Adam showed up to claim his purchase, the bike looked like it had sat out in salty air for at least a year. The gas tank was leaking due to a rusty hole in it, the engine covers were all stained, the front forks and wheels were pitted, and the fenders and seat were in terrible shape. Needless to say, the two guys had a rather vigorous talk about what is and is not a cream puff. However, on closer inspection the bike seemed to run well and shift well and the internals seemed great. Since the frame, engine, and transmission were all that Adam really would be taking from this bike, he eventually agreed to purchase it after their heated argument.

Now, anyone with a working colon and a sweet tooth can turn a cream puff into a turd. Doing the opposite is what takes real skill. Adam has that in abundance, as you can see. The hardest part of the build was getting the gas tank to look right on the frame and make sure it wasn’t too big or too small and would hold enough gas to actually make the bike ridable. Adam and his crew also had to keep thinking ahead to the next step since they hid so much stuff behind other stuff to give the finished Sporty that super-clean look. He says, “We accomplished what we set out to do with this bike—make it a great-looking, light, fast new-school bobber that is truly a ‘LiL’ Hot Rod and a blast to ride!”

Every part of the bike has been modified except for the transmission and tires. The ’96 Sportster frame was cut in half and its rear section was replaced with a Led Sled rigid unit that Karns Kustoms modified by adding a pan under the seat with speed holes, custom battery box, seat tabs, and fender tabs. And just for the hell of it, the kickstand was welded on to the right side of the bike. “Hey, it’s a custom,” Adam said. “Why not put it on the right side?” All of the frame welding was done in house, as was the molding of those welds.

Mounted to the front of the frame is a DNA springer in matte black that’s 4 inches under stock length. Karns Kustoms tore the springer apart and powdercoated the springs matte black to match the rest of the matte black on the springer as the chrome springs just didn’t flow with what Adam was looking for. He modified an internal stop from a Softail to fit the Sportster frame to allow the forks to stop from side to side without hitting the frame. The forks are set up to accept a front brake if he ever decides to add one in the future.

Adam matched the suspension with a set of DNA Specialty front and rear matte black rims and hubs with stainless spokes that he had Jason Wharton add a green pinstripe to on the rims. Adam wanted that 23-inch front wheel look without the headaches of running a wheel that big, so he ran a 21x3.5-inch wheel, which makes the front wheel look huge on this little bike. He also ran the rear brake lines through special tubes in the frame to give the bike a super-clean look.

By now you’ve figured out Adam puts a lot of love into his work. The powerplant for this chopper was not an exception. His shop custom-built the motor mount and hid the coil behind it. They also added a remote petcock and kill switch to the motor mount/coil cover. That set the tone for how the engine would eventually look: clean. It was an uphill battle, though. When the bike was purchased the engine was a silver 883cc mill with butt-ugly looks. The saying goes that beauty is only skin deep. Luckily for Adam, so is ugly. Internally, the motor was in great shape. Karns Kustoms tore it apart and bumped it up to a 1,200cc with 9.5:1 compression, cut down the cam cover, powdercoated all the covers in matte black, and painted the engine. They also painted the heads and hand cut the fins to match the new lower jugs. The exhaust was built by hand from pieces they had laying around the shop. They twisted the pipes so that they exited out the left side of the bike and then painted them black and wrapped them in silver header wrap. Adam felt that the pipes needed a little something more, so he talked Jason into painting eyeballs in the exits of the pipes. Adam says he’s been running the hell out of the bike and the eyeballs have darkened over time, but are hanging in there, even though everyone said they wouldn’t last a week.

Insofar as the transmission goes, Karns Kustoms left it stock since it, like the motor, was in good working order, if not easy on the eyes. Adam also added a foot clutch/jockey shifter, and converted it to a chain drive. The trans was then painted black to match the engine.

Adding the jockey shift and foot clutch into the mix not only upped the ante in the cool department, it also brought the difficulty to a whole new level. Adam used the stock Harley forward controls yet had to build a special bracket to mount the rear master cylinder. Since he moved the master cylinder forward, he had to shorten the brake rod. The shifter was also modified to act as the foot clutch and his shop put a groove in it so that the cable would track straight.

You don’t see too many 200mm back tires on old Sportsters. Consequently, you don’t see too many old Sportster rear fenders made to cover a tread that wide.

While the motor and transmission were savable, the same couldn’t be said for the Sportster tank. Adam built the replacement out of flat metal and kept banging on it until he liked the way it looked. The bottom of the tank is flat and smooth, with hidden mounts in the center, that way the tank looks like it’s just sitting atop the frame with nothing holding it on. Adam ran a remote petcock so that he could get the tank closer to the engine and still have a reserve fuel option. He used a Westbury Big Baller gas cap that got some special treatment. He took dental tools to it and cut the crown down to make it a little smaller in order to fit the bike and tank better, as well making the cap his own. He talked Westbury into allowing him to use one of its gas cap bungs that it uses for its bikes. That let him raise the gas cap up a little higher on the tank. After the cap was powdercoated, Jason hand-painted the silver details on it.

You don’t see too many 200mm back tires on old Sportsters. Consequently, you don’t see too many old Sportster rear fenders made to cover a tread that wide. Since Adam was running 200mm rubber on his bobber, he had two real options when it came to the back fender—make or modify. He opted for a West Coast Choppers One Ton Ho fender that was originally made for a left-side drive Softail. Adam filled in the chain area on the left side of the fender, then cut slits on the right side for the Sportster drive and cut down the sides of the fender to radius the rear tire better.

Given the painstaking tweaks and sweeping changes Adam brought to this ambitious project, he’d have been remiss in phoning in the paintjob. He has John Dunning to thank for the chopper’s distinct green paint and matte black stripes on its fender and gas tank. The color started out as a Chrysler Sublime green that was tweaked to make the green a little darker. Jason added the “LiL Hot Rod” lettering to the gas tank. Adam wanted the lettering to look like the old sign lettering found on a tow truck in the ’60s. Jason also completed the pinstriping on the frame and underside of the gas tank, as well as hand-painted the mural on the air cleaner.

You can see in the photos just how much work it took to transmogrify this dying Sporty. Hours of labor and minute attention to detail show throughout the finished bobber. And that, my friends, is how you turn a turd into a cream puff. HB

### Specifications
Bike Owner Adam Karns
Shop Name Karns Kustoms
Shop Phone (814) 979-4912
Shop website
Year/Make/Model ’96/H-D Sportster/Karns Kustoms
Fabrication Karns Kustoms
Assembly Karns Kustoms
Build Time Four months
Year Manufacturer ’96/H-D
Type/size 1,200cc
Builder John Dunning
Cases H-D
Cylinders H-D
Heads H-D
Rocker Boxes H-D
Carb H-D
Air Cleaner Arlen Ness Big sucker
Exhaust Karns Kustoms
Year/Manufacturer/Type ’96/H-D/five-speed
Case H-D
Clutch H-D
Primary Drive H-D
Year/Manufacturer ’96/HD/Led Sled/Karns Kustoms
Rake stock
Stretch 4 inches out
Manufacturer Front DNA Springer
Length 4 inches under
Triple Trees DNA
Manufacturer Rear N/A
Wheels, Tires, and Brakes
Manufacturer Front/Type DNA Spoke
Size-Height/Width 21x3.5-inch
Tire/Size Metzeler 120/70/21
Manufacturer Rear DNA Spoke
Size-Height/Width 18x5.5-inch
Tire/Size Metzeler 200/50/18
Caliper Wilwood
Rotor Drag Specialties
Color Custom blend Sublime green
Painter John Dunning
Graphics Jason Wharton
Rear Fender WCC/Karns Kustoms
Fender Struts WCC
Gas Tank & Cap Karns Kustoms/Westbury
Oil Tank eBay/Karns Kustoms
Handlebars Twisted Choppers/Karns Kustoms
Hand Controls ICE Internal throttle
Foot Controls H-D/Karns Kustoms
Footpegs PM
Headlight DNA
Taillight No School Choppers/Karns Kustoms
License Mount No School Choppers
Seat Rich Phillips

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