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Off-Road Ambition

  • Motorcycles
  •  | 
Tackling the Desert on a Custom Sportster
Throughout the years, our publication has inherently gone through every type of Sportster there is. From cafe racers to stretched choppers, there’s no shortage in Pittsburgh. The XL train keeps chugging along in issue Number 10 but with another twist—this Sporty is set up for desert racing.
You might remember Tyler Valentik and his flamed Sportster chopper from issue Number 006 or at the Glory Daze motorcycle show in 2019. Following our feature on his chopper, Valentik set off on a road trip across the country, enduring many mishaps and learning a few lessons along the way.
More recently, after spending some time out west with an off-road style Sportster, the opportunity to compete in a one-hundred-mile desert race in Ridgecrest, California popped up. Valentik jumped on it, and just like our last interview, he took off a few days later to embark on another journey out west. The Biltwell 100 is an endurance race through the open desert, an environment completely different from anything we’re used to in Western Pennsylvania. We talked with Valentik at a private motocross track owned by the generous Hufnagel family, where he was getting in some last-minute practice.
This build is much different than your Sportster chopper we featured previously. Can you give us the backstory of the bike and why you went in this direction?
Tyler Valentik: This was actually my first Harley, a 2000 XL883 hugger. I bought it when I was nineteen or twenty years old. It had a shorter stance and broke down all of the time, but I rode it everywhere for years. I started working with it a little more after my other Sportster chopper was finished. At the time, I didn’t have a dirt bike, so I figured I’d be that idiot who rode his Harley through the woods. I was super influenced by the Rusty Butcher and Virus Moto dudes out west. I would see them riding in the desert or going through creek crossings on Sportsters, and I wanted to do something like that. You just don’t see people jumping gaps on a Harley too often.
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
How did you go about setting it up for off-road use?
TV: I started with the suspension by buying a front end off of one of my buddies. It was a Sportster XL1200S front end that came with adjustable rebound and dampening from the factory, perfect for what I was doing. I’m running heavy-duty fluid, but nothing too special. For the rear, I picked up 14-inch Fox Racing piggyback shocks from Rusty Butcher. I’m using a stock 13-spoke front mag with an old AMF 18-inch rear. Once I had the roller figured out, I took it out to a buddy of mine, Kevin Perry. He’s a technician at Steel City Harley-Davidson and does all of the performance builds. Everything was entirely redone, bumping it up to 1200cc with aftermarket cams, high-compression pistons, new valve and valve springs, and some other fancy racing stuff. He pretty much made all my stupid ideas come together perfectly haha.
And the rest of the bike?
TV: I’m using a TrackerDie sprocket cover that I picked up in an emergency situation during my last visit to California. The powder coating was done by Eric at FM Powder Coating in Washington, PA. Almost everything was redone from the frame, swingarm, engine cases, and covers. I’m using a Baja Designs headlight that I’m super hyped about. I’ve always had issues with other headlights, but this works great! The handlebars are Rusty Butcher, and the risers are Hard Case Performance. Tyler Elliott of TE Customs did the paintwork. I told him that I wanted it to look a little vintage and roughed up, and he nailed it. I’m also using a Biltwell tail light and cafe seat with a Lowbrow Customs Tsunami rear fender.
Did you do anything with the controls for off-road purposes?
TV: I’m using a Biltwell Whiskey throttle setup, got rid of all electronics on the handlebars, and switched to a one-finger clutch lever. TrackerDie sells them, and you can literally use one finger.
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
You took this bike to Daytona Bike Week. How was that?
TV: I took both the chopper and this down to Daytona. It was wild this year. The people were cooped up from the pandemic and just let loose. At one point I lost my license plate and got a ticket. The past few years were adding up, and they finally got me this time.
What made you want to do this desert race?
TV: I rode this in the desert last time I was out west, and it was super tough but fun. It was like one giant party with people in trophy trucks, buggies, and dirtbikes. Later on, I saw the post about the Biltwell 100 but missed the signups. Luckily, my buddy Cliff, who was also racing the event, sent a video of mine from the previous desert trip to the guys at Biltwell, and they opened up some more spots that allowed me to get in.
What’s your plan?
TV: I’ll have a few guys with me and will probably leave shortly after Easter. The race is on the morning of April 10. I have no expectations, I just want to finish. I did a GNCC race last year on a dirtbike, so I have an idea of what it’s like. I’m going to have a Camelback and a gas reservoir on my backpack, so if I run out I’ll have a backup. It’s four laps in 25-mile loops, so I’m thinking maybe two laps, pit, then two more laps.
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Photo by Matt Collins
FOLLOW-UP
The best part of this feature is that even with no expectations and zero experience with this type of racing, Tyler Valentik ended up winning his race class! So, we had to do some follow-up questions to see how things went down.
Take us through a summary of the race.
TV: The race was wild, to say the least. Starting off, my buddy Cliff got some wicked speed wobbles and dished it. Up went a big cloud of dust, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw another rider bump-jump Cliff’s bike, sending him and his bike flying. After that, I had to put my nerves to the side and start hauling ass. I felt good on the first lap, just trying to get used to the terrain and get a feel for the bike. The course was set up super rad. There were markers every mile and course flags, so you wouldn’t get completely lost.
After counting down the miles, the first lap was done, and I pulled through the pits to fill up on fuel. Thankfully, I saw Cliff. He was all good after his crash and said to keep rippin. The second lap felt great. I kept a good pace and nothing too wild happened. I stopped at the pits in about the same exact lap time as before, then kept hauling. The third lap is where I definitely started to feel fatigued about midway through. By mile fifteen, my hands were dead, cramping to the bars. It was getting super hard to pull the clutch and brake. When pulling back into the pits, the crew knew I was hurting. I needed to cool down and get some energy. Every pit stop, my dawg Tosh pretty much shoved bananas down my throat, Jason kept my gas tank filled, and Logan kept me cool and filled my water. Our whole SCVM and NOBODY crew were all hollering and kept my spirits high! The last lap was a straight-up survival lap. It took everything I had to hold on to that 500-pound machine for another twenty-five miles through whoops and washed-out turns. I was just in my own head telling myself to get it fucking done.
Did you have any bike issues or concerns during the run?
TV: I actually lost my oil cap on the first lap, and oil went everywhere. I noticed it at about the 10-mile mark, took one of my gloves off, and shoved it in the filler hole so I wouldn’t lose anymore. I did, however, lose a lot of oil and somehow didn’t blow my bike up. With how whooped out and rocky a few of the sections of the course were, my oil tank/battery tray isolators all broke and were pretty much bouncing off of the top of my primary. Other than that, I kept the bike upright the whole time but did dent up my exhaust a little on the rocky downhill section. That was pretty wicked!
How did it feel to make the trip and actually win the race, knowing your original goal was to simply finish?
TV: Honestly, coming over the hill and seeing the 25-mile marker was surreal. I was running off of so much adrenaline but was so physically exhausted that it felt weird. Pulling into the pits, I could barely hold onto my bike, but the SCVM and NOBODY crew went fucking nuts. It felt like a movie, haha. I sat my ass down in a camp chair and got three sips into a cold Pacifico before realizing I needed water badly. It felt like I was going to pass out, throw up, or both. About an hour after the race, I finally felt better and enjoyed my time in the middle of the Dirt Diggers Spangler Hills of California, hanging out at the awards with all of my buddies. My dad even flew out to party. Winning first place in my class was wild for sure, but the whole experience was amazing, and I’m stoked that my friends and I got to be a part of it!
Anybody you’d like to thank?
TV: Thanks to Steel City Harley-Davidson, Thunder Roads Magazine, Crazy Horse Coffee, and Marty Rubio who owns a machine shop that helped me out. Also thanks to Biltwell for hosting a kick-ass event!
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Photo by Austin Rowe
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Photo by Gregg Boydston
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Photo by Geoff Kowalchuk
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Photo by Cameron Allsop
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
Harley-Davidson Sportster Off-Road Pittsburgh Motorcycle Biltwell 100
  • Featured in Issue 10
  • 2000 HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER XL1200
  • Built by TYLER VALENTIK
    KEVIN PERRY
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  • Words by KURT DISERIO
  • Photos by ALEXA DISERIO
    Race Photos by GEOFF KOWALCHUK
    CAMERON ALLSOP
    MATT COLLINS
    GREG BOYDSTON
    AUSTIN ROWE
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