“The Harley, I’ve always loved the engine, the sound of it, the V-Twin look. So I got one last year for the very first time and with the low end torque of its engine I thought it’d be a great base for a scrambler,” said Van den Bussche.
Raised in the Tuscany countryside outside of Florence, Italy, Van de Bussche grew up with dirt bikes in an environment where pretty much everybody rode either a motorcycle or scooter.
“I got my first bike when I was like eight or nine, something like that. My mom bought me my first motorcycle. It was a Yamaha Y-Zed 80, you know, the motocross. We grew up in the countryside of Florence and Tuscany, just running around the country. And then after it was a KX125 which was pretty good for off-roading. Since you can actually drive motorcycles at 14-years-old, that’s the way we used to go to school.”
His dirt-riding background was certainly a contributing factor for opting to turn a stock 1999 Sportster 1200 into a scrambler. Growing up in Italy, Van den Bussche generally wrenched on European motorcycles. The Harley Sportster Scrambler H-1 is the first American motorcycle he’s worked on in his Brooklyn shop, VDB Moto. Not bad for a first effort considering he was invited to show it at the recent Handbuilt Motorcycle Show in Austin, Texas.
In its conversion to a scrambler-style motorcycle, suspension on the H-1 has been totally revamped. A tall set of Progressive 15.75-inch adjustable shocks lift the rear and provide much more travel, the shocks connecting to a chopped-down tail section with a custom rear subframe. Van de Busshe said he was going to go with the original fork and 19-inch wheel on the front but when he set it all up, he didn’t like the way it looked and decided to go with a Buell fork once he got into the project. The Buell fork is a little shorter than the original, helping balance the bike. Teamed to the fork is a set of custom aluminum triple trees from Crossroads Performance. He also went with 18-inch wheels all the way around, which works in conjunction with the updated suspension to straighten up the bike’s line front-to-back. The burly treads of a set of Conti TKC80’s add to its dual-purpose chops. Braking on the front was also boosted by the addition of a Performance Machine 6-piston caliper and a 13.5-inch rotor.
“Changing wheels from 19 front and 16 in the back to both 18 totally transformed the riding experience, more well-balanced,” he said.
While the 1200cc V-Twin received fresh gaskets and seals, besides powdercoating, it’s primarily stock. It does receive a bit of boost from a Boyle Air Cleaner and a set of straight scrambler pipes that have been ceramic-coated and heat wrapped. A chain now spools up the rear instead of the stock belt final drive thanks to Lowbrow Customs’ Chain Conversion with a custom chain tensioner added for good measure.
The old Sporty bars were replaced with a set of enduro-style handlebars and the new mini-switches were wired internally. A Motogadget speedo residing in the headlight bucket and micro LED indicators attached to the bar mounts tidy up the front end even further. Along with the bars, the Chainsickle rear sets switch up the riding position, which is now set four-inches lower than stock. The long, leather scrambler seat gives riders the option to shift their weight around in the custom-made saddle.
One of the motorcycle’s defining characteristics is its big Jaguar green tank. Even though he admits it probably doesn’t sit well with Harley purists, the tank is from a 1977 Hondamatic. Van den Bussche had a couple of tanks he was thinking about but chose the Hondamatic tank because it has the raised spine on top of the tank and the cool flip-up gas cap. The tank also helped level out the lines of the bike.
“That tank is actually huge, very wide. I had to heavily modify it, gut it and re-weld it, but it’s a very original looking tank for a Sportster,” said Van den Bussche.
In its conversion to scrambler, he shortened the frame and welded on a loop with tabs to mount the rear indicators. He also fabbed up brackets for the headlight and steel fenders, added an alumimum mudguard in the wheel well and shielded the bottom of the frame with a skid plate. The VDB Moto Sportster Scrambler H-1 is now better prepared to survive the unforgiving, pot-hole ridden streets of New York City.
Van den Bussche said he opened VDB Moto about a year ago. It all started when he customized his daily rider Triumph into a more street-savvy scrambler. First people would ask him about what he did to it, followed by others asking him to work on their bikes. With the positive feedback he was getting on his work, he decided to go all-in and opened up his own shop. He just moved into a new space at the end of last year and said that’s when things started getting a little more serious. Currently it’s a one-man operation and as a company he’s just starting out but said “Things have been changing and evolving. The response has been great with the few bikes that I’ve made.”
Van den Bussche is currently working on another Triumph, his third, but said he would like to get an old Pan or Shovel for a future project. At least he’s got the tools now. For the Sportster scrambler he admittedly had to acquire a set of standard tools to go along with his metric set. After getting an invite to the Handbuilt Show, he’s on the crest of a wave of bike-building momentum.