When it comes to customizers, Andy Drobnjakovic is a newcomer to the art. He made custom parts for over 50 motorcycles and painted many more, but only built five complete motorcycles. And even if it’s not much, its stock in the world of personalization keeps increasing. Some of the bikes he built are subtle, others gaudy, but they were all made to order according to each customer’s explicit requirements.
Everything, that is, except that sweet black and white Sportster. No one ordered it; rather, this bike was saved. When Drobnjakovic, a native of Brook Park, Ohio, found the Sporty, it was one of those lost, abandoned bikes that calls out to you like a shivering homeless puppy on the side of the road. If no one has mercy on him, he will soon end up in a graveyard or be abandoned in a desolate place. “The bike was completely dressed in black,” Drobnjakovic recalls, “and it was just injured. It really needed some serious attention.
Being the kind-hearted type, Drobnjakovic (who is of Serbian descent) took pity on poor Sporty. It allowed her to follow him more or less home where he could give him shelter and much needed loving care. And after considering his options, he decided to rebuild and customize it.
“It’s a 1983 Sportster XL1100,” says Drobnjakovic, “and I really liked the idea of making it a custom, especially because nobody does a hard-hitting Sportster these days. I thought it would be more of a challenge, kind of like a “I’ll show you” bike. I also wanted to give it a clean look with body panels and definitely break with tradition. I wanted to make it something you really wouldn’t expect from a Sportster.
Drobnjakovic’s first order of business was to send the frame to Donnie Smith, the master of Sportster frame and neck work, to be stretched four inches and tilted 38 degrees. Once Drobnjakovic stretched the swingarm 21/2 inches, the bike had become almost a foot longer than the stock. Drobnjakovic made the rear fender starting with an FL front fender and making new mounting spacers. The gas tank is an old FXR unit that he cut and stretched. The bike was far from finished, but already it wasn’t your traditional Sportster.
Drobnjakovic decided to leave the engine mostly in stock. “I made the intake manifold to give it an aggressive look,” he says. “He pulls forward, something Arlen Ness has done before, and people seem to really like him.” But that was the scope of the engine’s work.
It was around this point in the project when Andy’s younger brother Michael saw the Sportster and fell in love with it. He started coming to Andy’s regularly to check on the bike’s progress and admire its long sultry lines. Being a biker himself, he appreciated the work of art unfolding before his eyes. “For some reason,” says Andy, “Michael loved this bike better than any I had ever made. He just loved it. Although Michael had never worked in the motorcycle business, he was a avid rider and his big brother was his hero, so much so that he constantly encouraged Andy to stay in customization, insisting that he had the talent to be a great bike builder.
The work was progressing slowly and the two brothers enjoyed the sight of the ugly duckling slowly transforming into an elegant swan. Then the unthinkable happened. While riding a motorbike with two friends, Michael was killed by a drunk driver who ran a red light and crashed into the three riders.
After Michael’s death, Andy was so heartbroken he could barely bring himself to work on the Sportster. The progress of the project has practically stopped. The abandoned bicycle that had barely survived a sad past was in grave danger of being abandoned again. “I looked at him everyday,” says Andy, “and I just pricked him, doing a little here, a little there. Finally one day I just put everything else aside and said, hey, I have to do this thing.
And that is what he did. Andy worked feverishly and continuously until every detail was polished to perfection. He didn’t stop until he could watch the sparkling, reborn Sportster his brother had loved so much and say, with authority, it’s over.
We asked Drobnjakovic if he ever rode a bike, and he told us that, out of respect for Michael, he doesn’t, and that he won’t for a while. Maybe someday in the future he could ride it, he said, maybe when the grief subsides and some of the pain goes away. Maybe when he doesn’t see his brother’s reflection in the Sportster’s paint.
For now, the immaculate white Sporty is resting peacefully in Andy Drobnjakovic’s basement lair. It’s safe and hot out there, where no one can hurt him. And every day, Andy looks at the bike before going to work in his store – the same store and business his brother encouraged him to start.
The same company that Andy named Michael’s Colors.
This article originally appeared in the April-May 2000 issue of Cycle World’s Big Twin.
Andy Drobnjakovic wouldn’t want anyone to think he’s just a Sportster specialist. Nothing wrong with those unit building models or whatever, but Drobnjakovic is actually the most experienced at customizing Big Twins. Its very last effort, completed just after the Sportster was completed, is this hardtail built around a Chopper Guys frame and mostly stock Evo engine. Drobnjakovic did all of the manufacturing himself, including painting, as well as stretching the 5-inch frame and tilting it 38 degrees. RC wheels, Excell brakes, a BDL cover on the main belt drive and a small Le Pera cool seat complete the details.
|Basic machine:||1983 XLH|
|Designer / Manufacturer / Builder:||Andy Drobnjakovic 15325 Brook Park Road. Brook Park, OH 44142 216 / 265-9216|
|Paint and Chrome|
|Coils / Wires:||Accelerate|
|Air purifier:||Velocity Stack by Drobnjakovic|
|Changes:||34º rake, 3 inch extendable by Donnie Smith|
|Swinging arm :||XLH, 21/2 inch stretch by Drobnjakovic|
|Front wheel / Tire|
|Rim width:||16 x 4.0 “|
|Gas tank:||FXR, modified by Drobnjakovic|
|Front mudguard:||XLH, beamed and fallen|
|Rear fender:||Before FLH, edited by Drobnjakovic|