Jim Bortles' Orange Sunshine

Written by  Photos by Jack Cofano Thursday, 29 March 2018 12:00
Published in Bobbers
Once a year Carolina Harley-Davidson Buell has their in-house custom fabrication department build a completely custom bike. The custom build helps show that the Gastonia, North Carolina, based shop (located about 20 minutes west of Charlotte) can do more than just bolt-on H-D branded parts and it exposes the public to the custom fabrication they’re capable of. Jim Bortles is the sole man in charge of managing that division of the shop, plus he’s the one that performs all the welding and fabricating for it as well.

Jim and the owner of the dealership, Click Baldwin, had just begun researching what type of custom bike to build for the year when a close friend of the owner, Terry MacCampbell, inquired about a personal project. He suggested they build a Redneck Enginuity Mutant Buell, but instead of selling the bike after it had served its purpose for the shop, he wanted to keep the bike for himself. Terry and the owner of the shop agreed on the build and both parties involved walked away from the deal happy with the arrangement. The shop had money down on a bike that didn’t exist yet, and Terry would get a full-on custom that would be tailored to his needs. Now, all Jim had to do was build the entire bike.

Starting with a donor ’97 Buell S2, Jim removed the entire drive train, front end, and wheels from the frame. The shop’s motor guy disassembled the engine so Jim could change the color of some of the components bolted to the natural cast finish of the aluminum motor. First, he gave the cam cover and primary cover a wrinkle black finish. While the motor was in pieces, the guys took the opportunity to go through the motor to check for problems before it was installed in its new home. “We used a very affordable Sporty rebuild kit from V-Twin that included blacked out jugs with new pistons, rings, wrist pins, gaskets, and rocker covers. Once we had the kit we realized we’d have to black out the cam and primary covers to match the cylinders,” Jim said.

Once the motor was well on to its way to completion, Jim ordered a Mutant Buell frame directly from Redneck Engineering. The sexy curves of the frame’s tubes add two-inches of stretch to the backbone with a neck raked all the way to 41-degrees. The donor Buell supplied the inverted front end coupled with Buell’s 17” wheels on both ends of the bike. The frame is built with enough room to fit a 200mm tire in the rear using the stock 2-piston caliper and stock rotor. More Buell parts included a differential bore 6-piston caliper that was mated to a 13.5” Parts Unlimited rotor that Jim attached to the front wheel. Once the rolling chassis was completed, Jim installed the drive train. “The motor sits so low in this frame that the bike feels almost weightless, but I think a lot of that is because the frame rails sit only three-inches off the ground,” Jim said.

Working at a Harley shop has certain benefits for a custom builder. Instead of being forced to wait for a new, fender blank or making one from scratch, Jim just scavenges the shop’s “take-off” parts room for anything that he might be able to modify into something useful. The Mutant Buell became home for a couple of old Harley parts, like the front fender and the blacked out hand controls. Any parts he couldn’t find or modify, Jim made. He designed and fabricated the wild front fender mounts, sissy bar, exhaust pipe brackets, and an old Shovelhead piston that he turned into an air-cleaner cover.

When Jim finished building the bike, Terry thought it would be uncomfortable to ride due to his previously injured back. He expected to take it around town only for short trips and resigned to sell the bike later for something with a more relaxed riding position. Apparently he assumed too much about the bike because he found the ride to be just the opposite. “Terry loves riding that bike everywhere. The secret to the bike’s comfortable ride is the seat springs. Instead of using fancy chrome springs like everyone else, I use police bike springs that only come in black. Every person that rides a bike with those springs will love the ride,” Jim said.

The bike has been a huge success around the shop and, of course, the owner is exceptionally happy with the build. “I’d never built a custom Sportster before this one, but now I’m building three more. I’m even building another version of this bike in my garage at home,” Jim said.

 This bike feature originally appeared in Barnett's Magazine issue #60, March 2008.


Builder: Jim Bortles

Jim Bortles lives an enviable life that involves motorcycles around the clock. By day he works full time at a sizeable Harley-Davidson shop as the head of the custom fabrication department, and at night he moonlights as a custom bike builder. Even his wife is involved in the bike industry; JoAnn Bortles runs a successful bike painting business (see Up Close: Crazy Horse Painting). It’s almost like Harley sponsors him during the day, and his wife truly understands if he had a bad day work because she’s a part of the industry too.

He may have an exciting life, but Jim’s a regular guy just like you and me. His bike building style is inspired by many well-known legends, but one particular builder’s bikes motivated him to try his own hand at the craft. ”Donnie Smith is one of my bike building heroes. He was really into drag racing and I can appreciate all the details he puts into his customs. I can always tell which bikes he built, plus he’s one hell of a nice guy,” Jim said.

Many people work another job to pay for a custom build, but Jim started building customs to pay for a hobby that can be just as expensive. “I’ve been building bikes for a living since ’91. I ran a shop in Northern Florida with a friend of mine,” Jim said. “Almost all the money we made was spent supporting our drag racing habits. We weren’t treated like stars like today’s builders, but it was worth it because we had a great time racing.” He’s not lazy when it comes to building, and he’s got plenty of experience to draw from. “I’ve built tons of bikes, over the years I’ve had about thirty in a bunch of different magazines,” Jim said. Barnett’s isn’t the only magazine to recognize his bike building ability, and it probably won’t be the last.


Bike Name: Orange Sunshine
Owner: Terry MacCampbell
Year / Make: '97 Mutant Buell
Fabrication: Jim Bortles/ Carolina H-D
Assembly: Jim Bortles (Carolina H-D)
Build time: 9-months
Engine: 1200cc Buell
Cases/ flywheels: Buell/H-D
Rods: Buell/H-D
Pistons/ cylinders: Wiseco
Heads/ cams: Buell
Ignition: Crane HI-4 Single Fire
Carb: S&S Super G
Pipes: PYO/ SuperTrapp
Air Cleaner: Modified Shovelhead piston
Transmission: 5-speed Buell/
Primary: Buell/H-D
Clutch: Buell/H-D
Frame: Redneck Eng.
Rake: 41-degrees
Stretch: 2"
Forks: Inverted Buell
Wheels: Buell
Front Tire: Dunlop 120/70ZR-17
Rear Tire: Dunlop 200/55ZR-17
Front Brakes: Brembo/Buell
Rear Brakes: Brembo/ Buell
Fuel /Oil tank: Redneck Eng.
Fender: Chica Ribbed
Handlebars: Redneck Eng.
Risers: Drag Specialties 3"
Sissy Bar: Jim Bortles
Headlight: V-Twin 4"
Taillight: V-Twin
Hand Controls: Black H-D
Foot Controls: Billet Concepts
Electrical: Jim Bortles
Chroming: Chrome Lady
Painter: JoAnn Bortles/Crazy Horse Painting
Color: Orange Pearl/Crazy Horse exclusive
Graphics: JoAnn Bortles/Crazy Horse Painting
Molding: JoAnn Bortles/Crazy Horse Painting
Seat: Tim Quick/Outlaw Custom Seats
Special thanks to: Ben Jordan at SPPC and Team Carolina H-D


Leave a comment