By Bryan Harley

Making a great bike look even better

Since swapping out the “grandpa” stock bars on our 2004 Harley Sportster project bike for some sweet RSD Prostep Handlebars, Tracker Billet Grips and Avenger Levers, the motorcycle is definitely sporting a fresher, racier disposition. The back end though, not so much. The stock taillight on the 2004 Sportster 1200 Custom is huge and sticks out a couple inches. The fender itself is big as well, and having the signals and license plate all mounted on it makes it look busy and cluttered. To clean up the back end and match up better to the rest of the bike, we installed a Chopped Rear Fender Kit , Chopped Fender Edge Light Red Lens and Side-Mount License Plate Kit from Harley-Davidson. This combination should really tidy up the back end, relocating the signals to the side of the fenders, giving us a flip-out license plate on the left side of the bike and trimming down the fender considerably.

Tackling this particular task is the lovely Mrs. Harley. She’s been working with me on all of our Sportster mods, taking pride in learning to repair and maintain a Sportster since becoming a rider. I have to admit – she’s good, very task-oriented and a determined problem-solver with greater patience than me. She did all the work on the rear fender install and side-mount license plate relocation.

To start the project, the seat needed to come off first, followed by the left side cover where the battery lies. With the cover out of the way, she disconnected the main fuse before taking off the small bracket that holds the battery in place. Next she wiggled the battery out, which is tightly wedged in. The negative cable was disconnected first, followed by the positive. Harley’s instructions come with a big warning to remove the negative cable first, stating “If positive cable should contact ground with negative cable connected, the resulting sparks can cause a battery explosion, which could result in death or serious injury.” Information worth passing along.

The old fender had to come off next. This includes disconnecting the electrical plug for the blinkers/taillight and removing the fender support covers. The license plate and bolt for the seat mount came off next. Then she removed the OE turn signal housings, which also requires cutting the wiring.

At this point, she couldn’t follow the directions verbatim. We had to buy a pair of chrome turn signal supports because our 2004 Sportster 1200 Custom didn’t have any. Fitment guidelines for the Chopped Rear Fender Kit say it’s for 2004-and-later Sportsters, but the ’04 XL1200C doesn’t have them because the old lights were mounted on the fender. Luckily, we scored a pair for $20 from our local bike shop, Redwood Cycles in Grants Pass. This also meant that the taillight stalks weren’t the right length, so we had to have a pair custom cut.

Next she tackled wiring the housing. It says to keep the OE turn signal housing while all other internals are replaced, but she kept the stock gasket as well because it’s longer and actually sealed up better than the doughnut-shaped one that came with the new kit. Harley lays out directions to remove everything from inside the stock turn signal housing, from cutting off the terminal ends of the signal wires to disassembling the reflector, bulb and amber lens.

At this point it’s best to pay close attention to Harley’s step-by-step instructions on putting the new lamp together. There’s a small spring and bulb socket that go back into the new reflector housing. The directions say to “align the locating tab on the bulb socket with the slot on the reflector. The violet wire should be closest to the tab on the socket.” In the course of putting this all together, the bulb socket had gotten pushed out a bit from the reflector housing and unknowingly rotated a bit. The new reflector housing has four slots, the largest at 6 o’clock and three others at 12, 2:30 and 8 o’clock. After putting the full light house assembly together, the battery was reconnected to see if they were working properly, but the lights were solid and wouldn’t blink. Because the spring had pushed the bulb socket slightly forward and moved the housing a quarter-turn, the lights remained solid instead of blinking. Once the socket was realigned in the notch located at 2:30, the lights worked perfectly.

One other item of note: The lighting housing wires need to be crimped. The directions state an Amp Multilock Crimper is needed, but it’s a specialized tool that we discovered is extremely spendy. Bob, our buddy at Redwood Cycles, bailed us out by using a round crimper and needlenose pliers to get the job done. The wires for the light on the license plate housing came pre-crimped, but the ones for the fender install did not. It would have been helpful if they'd come crimped from the factory, but they weren’t.

Bob at Redwood also helped out by attaching the five pop rivets needed to connect the rear fender extension to the fender itself. The install instructions don’t state you need a pop rivet tool for the chopped rear fender assembly. Goes to show you it’s helpful to have a good relationship with a local shop.

At this point, Mrs. H switched gears to put together the side-mount license plate, which is not included in the rear fender kit. She started by hooking up the fender light first. Then she attached the mounting bracket to the light housing. Affixing the license mount back plate came next, followed by placing the license plate on with five sticky pads.

The final phase included putting everything back together. With the fender support covers already in place, she started with the fender. It bolts on with five main bolts: one under the seat, two on back and two in middle. She attached the first three but not the two in the middle. Underneath the fender in the back is a rear fender brace that went on next. Installing the reflector mounting bracket followed. Make sure to line up with the holes in the fender in order to feed the taillight wiring through and be sure to put the reflectors on the brackets first. The left-side with the license plate housing needs to done first in order to feed the tail/stop/turn signal lamp wiring through the holes in the fender and license plate bracket assembly, followed by the right. At this point, she put the OE 1.38-inch screw and washer through the forward mounting hole in the fender support and the mounting hole in the rear fender and mated it up to the slot of the reflector mounting bracket. The new taillight stalks were then connected to the fender with a flange nut so she could attach the lighting housing next. These are plug-and-play beneath the seat. All fender mounting hardware was then tightened down to spec.

The new bobbed fender looks so much better than the bulky stock unit. With the taillights moved to the side and the license plate down to the left, the lines of the rear match the front better, too. It also shaved at least a couple of pounds off the back end. While the wiring is in place, Mrs. H. didn’t connect the Chopped Fender Edge Light yet because we’re going to get the fender painted first. There were a few hang-ups along the way, from having to buy turn signal supports to needing help crimping and attaching pop rivets, but there’s generally a learning curve to projects like this. Needless to say, Mrs. H. was up to the task, and the back end of the Sportster looks better than ever.