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  1. #1

    Default 1976 Ironhead Sportster XLCH Chopper Rebuild

    I just joined ChopCult due to the endless concerns I've encountered with this project bike. Some background:

    ME: 26 year old that wanted to buy a project bike, I have no training on motorcycles, engines, etc. Just a ton of curiosity and a willingness to learn. I'm currently rebuilding this bike out of my apartment living room with minimal tools and practically no experience. I did serve in the USN as an Aviation Electricians Mate for 5 years - So my exposure to tools, procedures and manuals is pretty solid. But I mean it when I say it: I'm a novice with a bag of tools, ratchet straps, and a harbor freight motorcycle jack.


    • Purchased late 2017 in SD, CA.
    • '76 Ironhead with "no first gear" - This is kind of true, first gear doesn't engage unless you can finagle it the right way. More on that later.
    • Major oil leaks - everywhere on the case. Leaking from the OEM oil bracket mounts (they weren't plugged), leaking from the breather valve that wasn't installed, fairly positive the cam cover was leaking, etc. To be honest, I'm not sure what wasn't leaking.
    • Bad generator - wouldn't recharge the battery for anything. Battery ended up being bad as well.
    • Original points ignition installed, ignition coil mounted backwards (with live leads facing out...) - this should of been my first sign to run from this bike.
    • "70's survivor frame" - This engine was put in a cheap frame with lots of 'interesting' shortcuts and things that have now later become concerns.
    • S&S super E Carb installed.
    • Narrow Glide front end with 21" spoke wheel
    • "Custom Drum" brake in the rear - this was chopped up and flipped around to work with the frame I think. You'll see later.
    • Custom upswept pipes with a bumch of chrome missing - I actually love these but they need some love. If you don't mind not hearing anything for a bit, these straight pipes with throw flames. I don't mind.


    • From the front/top.
    • I'm not sure which tires to put on this thing, it's got some old track style tire on the front that looks great but isn't up to snuff for me up in the PNW. Front disc brake is staying on, I don't trust the drum brake or the kind of work that went into getting it to fit this frame. (hint: suggestions for a new front tire are welcome. we'll get to the drum brake later)
    • The bars are 12" half apes? No controls, just a throttle, clutch and mirror.
    • Throttle addiction peanut tank, triangle head light and tailight. I wanna replace the head light with an LED or two of the chopper style lights, or if i can get my hands on a chopper style lamps with LEDs I'd be stoked.
    • Cycle Electric is rebuilding my Generator to the tune of $350. Some dummy tried to do a DIY fix and burnt up the whole damn thing.
    • I didn't touch the top end until recently, so theres not much to add here, i willl get to what needs to be done later on.
    • Tatro (SD, CA) and I put a Dyna Electronic ignition in, new plus and 4 ohm coil, I believe. This made a world of difference once we got the bike running.
    • Tatro rebuilt the carb with new jets and it ran like it had asthma, so I went with a new body and got her running right.
    • The Idler was set to something like 3k RPMs and my accelerator adjustment all out of whack too. This tune was a while back and I can't recall what all was done. But when she was running she cold started like a dream and ran like a champ.
    • The Starter solenoid had some missing teeth, the starter motor was not up to snuff. Replaced those with new ones. Starts right up.
    • The clutch needed adjustment, as it always does - but seems fine.
    • We fixed the wiring to the ignition cylinder, the PO had 3 circuit breakers wired to each other??? Not even sure what they were thinking. While does this, installed a quick disconnect for the inevitable trouble shooting that will need to be done.
    • Installed a turn signal controller and turn signals for the rear. This was "required" drive on base when I was in the Navy down there in SD. I used a three way switch with this that I zipped tied to the frame. THe only cool thing about this was the fact that I got the switch from a parts bin for H-60/R Seahawk.
    • She's got a nice rear wheel that matches the front spokes, I don't know enough to tell where these came from, but the wheel has the drum brake sprocket combo, so i'm thinking it may be original.
    • I did a hack job with a grinder and tried to take off the paint. Well, If you don't know what you're doing it shows, and now I have some nicks in my rocker tops and a spray painted frame that looks like hell. It's a deep turquoise form the spray paint section at Lowes. I actually really like the color but it's no powder coat.
    • I cut a nice "rain groove" in the rear tire when my seat mounting bolt came undone and carved a nice 1" wide grove about 1/2" deep into the center of the tire.

    I'm not sure what else I've failed to mention. This is going back over a year. BUT this is just the beginning. All of this is so anyone who comes to a cross roads with purchasing an Ironhead from 1976 can hopefully gain some insight with what might need to be done to it.


    I started working on this a couple months back, here and there, a couple hours at a time, just trying to learn what I have, what works, what doesn't, how it needs to be fixed, why, and where I can skimp out, where I can't, and what all of this means when some one else decides they wanna take their Ironhead down to the frame.

    Here's "Maria" from the Craigslist posting before I got her.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    What's next in this thread?

    I'm going to start collecting all the photos I've taken so far in getting this bike taken apart, some of which will have commentary, some of which will just be to show what the process was like. I'm a newbie, beginner, idiot with too much time and I want the next poor soul to see an Ironhead in their garage to have little help before they lose their minds.

    If there are shops, individuals, websites, resources, etc. that you might think could help me with my "learn as you go' approach to rebuilding a bike, please say something! Message me, post on the thread, you know the drill if you're reading this. I'll be back with a photo album of the progress so far later this week when I'm off. I've got a long weekend and a weeks worth of ice rain coming so I should have some updates sooner than later.

    I will also be posting a list of concerns I have, this is where you all come in. I have A LOT of concerns.


    Measuring Transmission: HERE
    Last edited by portlandironhead; 02-19-2019 at 2:21 AM.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 2018


    Looks nice iron heads are made to be choppers

  3. #3


    Hey where are you with your rebuild? Just got a '76 Ironhead myself. I have compression and the tranny seems to go through the entire pattern without issue. I built a '71 XS650 bobber and am feeling a bit out of my depth with rebuilding this bike. I have to run electrical and oil lines to figure out just where this sweet thing sits.

    Please let me know what you've come across and where you're at with all of it.


  4. #4
    Senior Member

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    Join Date
    Nov 2012


    Super cool man. Was Tatro filming when you were there? If so I must have missed those videos.

    Good for you in jumping right in. I was in much the same boat a year or so ago. I picked up a '71 ironhead and wanted to fix it... and customize. The full build thread is at: if you want to take a look. I asked a TON of questions and the veteran CC members here were super helpful every step of the way. They taught me about the oil system, electrical, engine rebuild, even the foo foo valves! It's a long thread but there are some gem conversations along the way including all the things I messed up in the process and had to undo or fix. Grab some popcorn and have a read.

    Looking forward to what you do with this bike man. Gonna be cool. Keep at it!

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