I met Jim Carducci at a popular twisty-road rest stop a few months back. I was riding with a friend from Nevada and he said something like, “We’re going to meet up with this guy who’s making a dual sport out of a Sportster.” I groaned and replied with, “this ought to be interesting.” I was expecting some kind of hacked-together abomination, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Carducci Dual Sport SC3 prototype is a work of art—from the angular, CAD-designed structures to the flowing, organic shapes of the aluminum fuel tank.
Fast forward to December, and I’m hanging around Jim’s shop, peppering him with questions. The big one: why a Sportster?
Jim tells the story: “I’ve been riding Harleys for a while now, and also dual sports. I got my first dual sport when I was 12 years old. I didn’t have a license, so I left the dealer-plate thing on and I would ride around the streets to get to the dirt.” Later in life, he went through all the big adventure and dual-sport bikes: BMWs, KTMs, and of course the venerable Kawasaki KLR650. But he kept coming back to the idea of a Harley-Davidson dual-sport. “I waited, waited, waited—maybe someday Harley will make a dual sport with a Sportster motor and frame. I could envision how to do it. I would sketch it on paper, thought I could do it. Finally, I got tired of waiting, got the CAD out, and started doing 2-D architecture of the frame, the motor, the suspension, pictured it just the way I wanted it and finally I got to the point where I said “This looks like I can do this.” And I just went for it.”
This was about almost three years ago. Pointing to the disassembled Sportster on a rack, he says, “Three years ago, I bought a stock Sportster, just like that on the first of the year. The next day, I tore it completely apart and starting measuring and doing the CAD design on it.”
The biggest challenge was getting the geometry right, but Jim proudly points out that the swingarm on his prototype is the first one he made. Once he figured out the spacing and geometry on paper, his first try “just came out dead nuts.”
Check out that swingarm, by the way—a beautifully crafted break from the box-section boredom. Sure, it’s double-sided with two (!) shocks, but the industrial elegance of the truss design is striking.
This purposefully elegant and utilitarian design ethic is echoed throughout the machined parts all over the bike. Everything is so obviously custom-machined around function, and yet the forms are attractive in a no-nonsense kind of way—mostly brawny, bare metal.
And then you get to the gas tank, curvy and organic in stark contrast to the machined precision of the other parts. Jim designed the tank to get maximum fuel volume without putting the weight too high, and the form follows these requirements. It’s narrow where it meets the seat, carrying the majority of its six gallons of fuel low and forward. The aluminum tank on the SC3 prototype is a ridiculously expensive hand-built one-off, but plastic tanks based on this design are in production. Dual-sport bikes fall over now and then, and this tank is just too pretty to suffer the indignities of being bashed on rocks when things go sour.
Bolt-on parts that Jim didn’t make are all top shelf too: Öhlins suspension bits front and back, beautifully welded pipes made by Curt Winter at BTR with a carbon fiber Leo Vince can on the end and of course, Pivot Pegz for off-road cred.
What’s left of the Sportster? The engine (in this case, an 883 with bigger jugs), the frame, electrical components, the rear brake and some miscellaneous small stuff are all Harley. Jim wanted the core parts to remain so the bike could be worked on at any Harley shop. The bike weighs in at 475 pounds, tank empty—100 pounds lighter than a stock Sportster and about 20 pounds lighter than a BMW R1200GS.
Response to the bike has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s a 50-plus page thread on ADV Rider full of breathless enthusiasm and admiration, and the bike won the Modified Harley class at the International Motorcycle Show in San Mateo this year. Jim recently gave a presentation at the Autodesk University conference in Las Vegas (he used Autodesk software for the design work on the SC3) and although he presented alongside giants like Aston Martin and Jaguar, the media and attendees in general were most excited about his bike.
He has serious interest from several buyers, including an Italian race car team owner and an actor who’d like to use an SC3 in an upcoming movie. A TV studio has also expressed interest in featuring an entire SC3 build. The next SC3 is sitting on a lift next to the prototype in the shop, waiting to be turned into a serious adventure machine. Jim plans to build complete conversions and sell conversion kits as a “side project” while keeping his day job—for now.
If you’re like me, you’ve switched from rolling your eyes at the idea of a Sportster-based dual sport and you’re thinking, “I gotta get me one of those.” Great news! Jim starts production of conversions in early 2014, but you’ll need to act fast—he’s planning to build just six bikes per year. Oh, you’ll also need $47,000—and a Sportster to start with.
That’s right—$47,000. Sure, you can save a few thousand bucks by opting for a plastic tank, deleting the GPS mount and using the battery that came with your donor bike, but that’d be missing the point. If you’re going to get yourself a custom-built Sporty-based dual sport, shouldn’t you go whole hog?