Garage Band

Our classics: 2005 Harley-Davidson XLH 883

by Ste Applegate
8 June 2021 6 min read
Our classics: 2005 Harley-Davidson XLH 883
Ste Applegate's Harley-Davidson 883 Ste Applegate

In the saddle: Ste Applegate
Owned since: September 2015
Hands-on or hands-off? Hands-on
Current condition: Easy rider

Ste Applegate is a Client Service Advisor for Hagerty. By week, he is one of the go-to guys and girls who help our clients with their insurance needs. By weekend he is Wyatt (Peter Fonda) in Easy Rider. Sort of.

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16 February, 2021: How I bought a Harley

I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to ride a motorbike. When I was a kid we were told to count motorbikes during long car journeys, and I always loved the sound of them as they thundered past. Then my dad acquired a Honda C90 to get to work and I remember being fascinated by it. A few years later I managed to ride my friend’s moped on his farm, bouncing across a field on a twist-and-go 49cc machine, and I was hooked!

Fast forward to 2019 and I realised that I needed to stop waiting and dreaming and just do it. After a few failed tests I passed, and the first thing I did was jump on eBay to find my dream bike. I’d always loved Harleys, seeing them at various shows, in American movies, and watching the Terry Wire Memorial Run roaring through the streets of Northampton. It wasn’t long before I came across a group on Facebook called Sportster Sickness UK, an online group of Harley Sportster enthusiasts, and scrolled through pages and pages of wonderful machines until I saw a style I wanted.

I managed to find a Harley-Davidson 883 on eBay for £3900. The advert had expired without a sale, so out of curiosity I messaged the seller who, I was pleased hear, told me it was still for sale. They lived about a mile away, so I hopped on my little 125cc and rode over.

As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted it: the look of the chrome pipes, the vivid black paintwork… Sure, it had some dinks and scratches but nothing some T-Cut couldn’t fix, and the owner talked me around the bike’s features. People had advised me to get a carbed model as newer bikes are fuel injected and apparently not as reliable or easy to fix when they go wrong – and I prefer machine and road, not computer and machine. As soon as I heard that distinctive roar of the 883cc V-twin engine fire out of the Vance and Hind twin pipes, I felt elated. This was my bike! Sure enough it was, and a few days later I went to pick it up.

Living with a Harley Davidson XLH 883

The first ride was from my home to the Hagerty office and with the distinctive clunk of first gear and the feel of the road below, I was off. Sure, the A43 isn’t Route 66 but that did not matter. I was free! Not long after that I managed to ride the Terry Wire Memorial Run and take part in a meeting of over 600 Harley Sportsters for a ride around Donington Park.

My plan is to transform the Harley into a kind of extension of myself. So far I’ve added a set of new handlebars and a large backrest which will hold some equipment for a European holiday I’m planning with my brother. For the future the plan is to add a “T-bar” handlebar set to make long distance riding easier, and possibly convert the engine to 1200cc.

7 April, 2021: Are you sitting comfortably?

Harley-Davidson XLH 883

As lockdown carried on over winter and my bike sat in the garage begging for attention every time I nipped out to get something, I decided to treat her – and my back – to a more comfortable sitting position.

After some scouting on eBay I found a set of handlebars that gave an eight-inch rise, reducing the amount I’d have to lean forward. Given the Harley’s forward-mounted pegs this would give me a more comfortable and laid-back position, particularly when riding long distance.

Removing the existing Biltwell Keystone bars was a fairly simply process. I would need to fit a slightly longer front brake line, which meant bleeding the brakes. And of course, the only place to find DOT 5 brake fluid is one of the only companies to use DOT 5 brake systems… Harley-Davidson USA.

With international shipping paid for, and after a wait for all the parts to arrive, one sunny late winter afternoon I set to work. The brake line was first. It’s easy enough to do with some makeshift fluid lines to drain the system, and after realising this would be easier as a two-person job I enlisted the help of my better half to operate the front brakes while I drained the system. Once we had a good resistance, I pulled the brake on and tied it off so any remaining bubbles would float to the reservoir on the handlebars itself – a handy trick if you’re planning to do a similar job in future.

Then it was onto the bars themselves. With a bit of shoving and a little cable manipulation everything was in place, before a final fit and finish and adjustment to where I wanted them to sit.

The saying goes that you are only one broken screw away from a three-hour job, and luckily I only managed to break one right at the end of the upgrade. Not so luckily, its replacement decided to disappear into whatever magical realm all the 10mm sockets or tools you only just had in your hand seem to end up.

After turning half the garage upside-down to find it (it eventually appeared from underneath a shelving unit) I finished the job and had a quick spin around the block to make sure all the electrics, clutch and brakes were operating correctly.

A few days later I even managed to get a little saddle time in, riding to the office to film a small piece about my bike for a promo video, and instantly I could tell the difference. I was no longer hunched over the tank and I could relax a bit more though long and twisty corners.

Now all that’s left to wait for is some decent weather, so I can load up my camping gear and visit my mother once restrictions have lifted!

8 June 2021: High days and holidays

Harley-Davidson XLH 883

With restrictions easing, me and my brother decided on a little camping trip into Wales on the first May Bank Holiday, him on a modern Suzuki V-Strom Adventure Touring and me on the faithful Harley.

I loaded up a most excellent bag I purchased from Biltwell that would hold all of my camping gear, clothes and food for the trip, and we set off early Friday morning with a planned stop near Alcester in Warwickshire. It’s a route I used to do to college on a little 125cc moped, and I can tell you the trip went a lot quicker this time around! 

We got to Wales and a little campsite near Llanthony Priory, set up the tents and settled in for the night. The next day we attempted to cross the Brecon Beacons, only to find a landslide had knocked out the road and we had no option but to turn back and seek shelter in a pub (so not all bad!) and then made our way back into England to visit our mother who neither of us had seen in over a year. Needless to say, the little town of Wellington was awoken by the 883’s twin pipes, but respectfully I kept the revving to a minimum. Well, only once or twice, just to signal to our mother we were turning up…

The next morning we loaded up the bikes once more, had a quick coffee and set off on the long trip home. We stopped in a Caffeine and Machine in Stratford Upon Avon. It’s become a hugely popular destination and is well worth a visit if you ever get a chance, with excellent food and always a few cars to gawp at. The Harley and Suzuki were the only two bikes in the car park mind you, but I managed to bag a shot of my fully-loaded bike in front of the now-famous sign.

After getting back I dumped all the camping gear and locked the bike away in the garage. Having spent three days in her company I was sad to lock her up still covered in most of the mud and dust from the road… and little did I know that May would bring rain, rain and more rain! Luckily I managed to find a break in the day to give her a quick sponge bath!

After a long month of poor weather June is now upon us and with it came the opportunity for a little ride out to the office for a meeting. One of the benefits of living in Northamptonshire is that we do have some very pretty roads. After the meeting I hopped back on and enjoyed the ride home. I could have kept riding for hours after such a long time with the bike tucked away, and after I got home I discovered a invite for a little ride out to a coffee morning at Idle Torque in Lutterworth – the perfect opportunity.

After some minor repairs picked up on the trip to Wales, I met up with the South Mids branch of the Sportster Group, Sportster Sickness. We rode straight along the A5 and into the little courtyard of Idle Torque. Once the East Midlands group turned up we set off again; 25 bikes in all, headed for Kettering this time and the bike-friendly Mental Monkey Coffee shop. The public stopped to talk to us about the bikes and how wonderful they all looked, and then it was back home to Northampton.

What I love about my bike is that feeling I get when I’m riding home. I could quite happy just peel off and keep riding for hours and hours. In fact sometimes I do… just don’t tell the wife!

Harley fan? Bookmark this page as Ste will regularly report on his XLH 883.

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