What We Ride - Jay Cagney's 78 Sportster


Jay Cagney is one of those guys that you want in your corner. He lives life to the fullest, is loyal, and very content with his surroundings. If you attended the El Diablo Run, you witnessed Jay’s enthusiasm first hand. Jay rode his hardtail sportster from Temecula, CA to Ensenada and brought home the coveted “Circle of Death” Rigid Class award. He likes to ride hard, not to showboat, but for pure enjoyment. I would like to thank Jay for his ongoing contribution and for allowing me to feature his bike here. I hope you enjoy it as much as he does.


(Photo by Shane Brooker)

Words by Jay Cagney.

Photography by Jay Cagney and Virginia Hall.


This bike is my daily rider. I take it to work at least a few days a week and then ride it all weekend. It’s dirty, rusty, and full of temporary fixes that have ended up being permanent. It’s left me stranded plenty of times (never on the way to work, always on trips), but has taught me so much along the way. I bought the bike from its second owner, who had it for 25 years. It was built in the 80’s and definitely looked the part, with huge blue and pink tins, massive seat and covered shocks. I rode it around for a while and decided I wanted to learn how to build a bike. I thought I could make it a sweet chopper for under $800. Wrong. I’ve always been into making stuff, but most of my background has been with wood. So, metal was completely new. My buddy, Marc, gave me a crash course on how to weld, so I pretty much learned how to mig weld on this bike. Since I had no fabrication experience, and didn’t know anyone in the scene at the time, I pretty much learned everything from the internet. A lot of that internet learning came from ChopCult. The bike’s been overhauled every year, and every year I like it better. The more I try and make stuff, the more I enjoy the process. Lately, I spend 9-5pm at my desk at work and then 6-12am in the garage, just tinkering around. All the money I spent buying tools, making mistakes, and changing my mind added up to way more than just buying a sweet bike. But it’s not really about that for me. What I have is far from perfect, but it’s mine. You can see the progress of the bike over the years here.



Owner name, location: Jay Cagney, Blairstown New Jersey

Bike name: I don’t name my bikes, but I’ve certainly called them names.



Engine, year and make, model, modifications: 1978 Harley Davidson Ironhead Sportster. It has early 900 rockers on it without the notches. Bison Motorsports velocity stack, Old-Stf rocker box loop oil lines.

Frame: Stock frame with a David Bird hardtail welded on, 4 stretch and 2 drop. Fork: 8 over 35mm front end with legs shaved, drain screw filled and hamburger drum brake stay welded on. Also has some neat bronze wheel spacers from some stock Retrofit had laying around. Chassis mods: I cut a bunch of unnecessary stuff off, added some more tubing to the hardtail to make it look more natural to the bike, and had to add mounts for everything such as the gas tank and pipes.



Tire/wheel size and style: Rear: 16” Drum with Avon Safety Mileage mkii / Front: 19” Hamburger Drum with Avon Speedmaster

Favorite thing about this bike: My favorite part is that you can see my fabrication skills go from really, really, bad when I first started with no experience, to kind of decent on some parts now that I’ve been trying this for a few years. There are so many mistakes on it but they are all MY mistakes which is way better than having someone else’s, in my opinion. It also never fails to make me smile while riding it.



Next modification will be: It’s always changing, but I’m hoping to try and build a horsehoe tank to fit the frame perfectly from scratch, and see how that goes.

Other mods, accessories, cool parts, etc.: The bars are the 12” apes that the PO had on it that I cut up and shortened, narrowed and made riserless. The pipes are two sets of drags and one set of shotgun fishtails. The battery/electrical box is a watertight military box. It has a loud old bicycle horn. Throttle Addiction tank, Lowbrow plug wire kit, LC Fabrications points cover, random king and queen seat that happened to fit perfectly from ChopperSwapper, LED brass tail light, and it has chalk board paint on the tank and fender. I try and keep chalk pens with me so the look of my bike is always changing. I mostly just let other people draw on it and some of the stuff on there is from many months ago, it’s neat to see it and be reminded of good times, like from Gypsy Run or some other fun event.



Thanks to: Thanks to ChopCult, Cal and Ben at Retrofit for always helping me out, my girlfriend Virginia for supporting the build/obsession, and every other person who has helped me along the way, given advice, or just made fun of me for riding a sportster.


Check out Jay’s world:


Instagram @JayCagney


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Comment with Chopcult (9)

Commented on 7-9-2015 At 07:45 pm

Nice article. I really enjoyed reading it. I feel the same exact way about my bike and my 'progression' over time. I can totally relate to this feature. Keep on truckin'.

Commented on 7-9-2015 At 07:46 pm

P.S. Love the stance and I am curious what you did with the extra tubing to change up the Bird Hardtail section. I am assuming something with the bottom tubes....couldn't see any pics of that area though...

Commented on 7-10-2015 At 05:43 am

I love this bike man. Every time I think about how long it's taking me on my Honda I see a bike this this and it lets me know to keep on going.

Commented on 7-10-2015 At 05:45 am

i actually read your thread a while back which was pretty awesome.
bike looks tight man a real dirty nasty daily chopper!
i think i remember the tubing on the bottom mounts of the frame to smooth the transition great idea.

Commented on 7-13-2015 At 06:16 am

This is a great article, especially combined with the build link.
I'd like to see more write ups like this of this, and less advertising for lifestyle get togethers or clothing stores.

Commented on 7-13-2015 At 07:51 am


thanks man! the tubing was just to blend the frame so it looked more natural on the bottom, I thought I had photos of it but maybe not. It's just to cover where the frame bolts on the bottom section

Commented on 7-13-2015 At 07:51 am

thanks everyone else

Commented on 7-14-2015 At 07:58 am

This feature was cooler in PUTT zine 4. Color photos are neat though.

Commented on 7-14-2015 At 03:25 pm

I'm glad you caught that issue, it was rad. it wasn't quite done yet for those photos though

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