A compilation of Sportster fixes
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Repairing your Iron Sportster

Keeping an Iron Sportster on the road takes some grit. Once you get it right, the bikes will run for years. Here are the maintenance tips and repair procedures that will help.


I've broken a lot of Sportster parts. I keep this box around to remind me of all the good times. I've had clutch steels break in half from using my 1979 Sportster to tow a 1948 Dodge across the parking lot of my Shop/Warehouse/Loft/Consulting-place megaplex. It would not have broken the clutch except the rear brakes in the '48 Dodge were seized.

You can see a some 1974-77 front brake pistons. They get corroded and start leaking. Hopefully the hard-anodizing on the caliper is OK, and you don't have to replace the whole caliper.
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There are plenty of tranny parts, like that gear with one dog broken off. That is scary since the dog is at the bottom of the tranny and can get swept up in the gears, which will grenade the whole transmission and many drop the bike. You can also spy some bent shift forks and a shifter pawl carrier that is broken in half.


Check out that clutch spacer bushing at the bottom of the picture. Note how it is caved in, the formerly flat flange is now cupped and convex. That is do to an idiot, (me) really hammering on the clutch nut with a big powerful impact wench set to maximum torque, That was double stupid, since the clutch nut has a metal tab washer you bend over to keep it from backing off.

There are a couple of coils, one cut in half so I could try to see how it failed. Electrical problems are horrible in any vehicle, Sportster electrical problems are no better.

As far as general repair advice, I will start out with a story when I blew up my 1977 Sporty. I burned a hole in the front piston, 
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due to an air leak at the intake manifold O-rings. I had the cases out and split andwas working on them at the old Harley of Sunnyvale dealership.

Pat, the mechanic, was tolerating me using their press to push out the transmission countershaft bearing. I asked for a pilot, and he pointed at one, saying he thought that was the one. I used it, but it was too big and it ruined the case. I had to hammer it out and the case was all screwed up where the pilot had ruined it.

I had thought something was wrong as I used the arbor press. The pressure gauge on the press really went up as I blithely just kept pumping until the case was ruined.

Since men truly believe that nothing is really their own fault, I accused Pat of leading me wrong and causing me to ruin the case. Pat retorted "I told you I thought that was the right pilot. Don't you feel things as you do them?"

So that's the first general repair rule. Be sure to feel what you are doing. Pete Townsend can whirl his arm around and make playing the guitar look violent. Anybody who plays knows that playing guitar is a very delicate operation. Don't get rude with things, despite the advice of my Jerk Buddy, Roger Shaw.

The same restraint of macho behavior goes for the use of safety equipment. Wear safety glasses. I need reading glasses to see up close, and to my delight, you can by bifocal safety glasses
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that have reading correction. I actually like wearing those so I bought 4 or 5 pairs and have them spread out over the garage.

And sometimes you need a full face shield.Roger Shaw found this out when he was using a right-angle grinder and the wheel came apart at speed. His face got cut up pretty bad. He used a face shield from then on.

I had my own lesson in face shields. I bought a 1948 UL 80-inch flathead basket case. The frame was a later-model straight-leg frame. It was pretty undamaged other than someone had used brazing to smooth out all the welds. I talked to welding legend Kenny Puccio about restoring it. He said the right way to do it was grind out all the brazing, Then he could go over the welds so they looked like original factory welds.

I proceeded to grind away using a 4-inch right-angled grinder and a half-inch belt sander. I wore safety glasses and vinyl goggles over those. I knew I was at risk since there were times the grinding debris would hit me in the face as I worked. I had a piece of metal fly into my cheek, and then bounce under the small gap between the goggles and my cheek.

It took two trips to the doctor, to grind the metal out of my cornea. He said I was smart to come in right away, since if the steel sliver rusts, it stains the cornea and you can't fix it.

Another tip, don't wear gloves around rotating machinery. A setscrew or chuck
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will grab the cloth and rip off your thumb or finger. Without gloves you get a laceration but you still have your digits.

Wear hearing protection. Its enough of a cliche having old Harley guys say "What?" I wear earplugs when I ride as well. It keeps the hearing loss at bay, at least so far.

Now as to general expectations when you fix your Sportster. It will take three tries. The first time you will have the wrong parts and the wrong method. The second time you will get parts or a good procedure, but screw up the other one. The third time you will get good parts installed the right way and then it will last as long as a new bike.

I refuse to glue my bikes together. Silicone is for hacks. I only use Loctite on the four bolts that hold in the trap door, the engine sprocket nut, and the kickstand pivot retention screw.

A tiny sliver of silicone will do more damage than a handful of sand. The sand will get ground into dust by the roller bearing. A sliver of silicone will skate the roller until it overheats and melts the whole bearing.

Vance Breese the racer taught me to be wary of impact wrenches. He does not even use them to take apart his Bonneville Streamliner. Compare that to the idiot hack mechanic I saw drop a nut into the socket and just slam the impact against the stud. This rule goes back to that feeling things as you work advise.
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Torque control is one thing neglected by home mechanics. Be sure to use a torque wrench if you can. I even bought some of those high-zoot torque control nut-drivers for small fasteners.

I also don't use prevailing-torque nuts with the nylon insert in them. They don't free-run so you have to drive them on and off, as opposed to just spinning them on with your fingers. If you use brand-new lockwashers every single time, the faster will stay in place. When I worked at a military contractor, I saw the data that showed a lockwasher was warn out after 5 uses.

In addition to free-running nuts, I make sure to use anti-seize every chance I get. This was another tip by Vance Breese, who told me that despite being a lubricant, it seemed to work a little like Loctite, and kept things from vibrating loose.

Always keep several fire extinguishers handy, especially around the welding bench. The Sunnyvale fire department taught me to keep an extinguisher mounted by the exit door to any room. The thinking is that your first reaction to any fire is to get out of the dang room. Once you reach the door, then you decide whether to go back in and fight the fire or get out of Dodge.

Many old Harley parts are plated with cadmium. This about the best corrosion protection there is. Unlike chrome plating, cadmium plating will create hydrogen embrittlement and cause the bolt to snap.
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Cadmium plating looks like a dull silvery finish. Cadmium is highly toxic.  Not so much to touch or even swallow but breathing the fumes is deadly.  Like the fumes when you heat it red hot with a torch.  Zinc from galvanizing is toxic too.  But it cleans out of your system so if you breath a lot of zinc fumes you get nauseous and sick but you're OK after a couple days. Cadmium just builds up in your system while you feel fine until one day you fall over dead.

Another welding problem is burning yourself picking up something hot. I away set up my welding bench next to a utility sink so I can cool off the parts when I set them down. If you don't you are guaranteed to burn yourself when you forget how hot something still is.

To keep any Harley on the road, and especially an Iron Sportster, you need some combination of three things.

First you need to be rich, so you can pay people to fix the bike for you.

Second you have to social, so you have lots of pals that can help you fix the bike or do it for you.

Third, you need wicked-good mechanic skills. That is what this site is trying to help you with.

For the social part, check out the XL Forum and all the other good places on the web, You can meet like-minded individuals on eBay ad through Craigslist.
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We have all suffered and most bikers are happy to help.

There is one caution thought. If you need help, don't just go whining to your pals or the forums. Search for things on Google, real both the factory Harley service and parts manuals, and try stuff until you are truly stumped.

If you go to some older an more experienced rider and just bitch about things, you may likely get rebuffed. If you go to them or a forum with the results of all your research and of all the things you tried that did not work, they you will have the respect of these folks and they will be more likely to help you. And if you do figure something out, try to get it out there, like I am doing with this website, or in social media or YouTube or any other way you can help your fellow person.

I think Frank Zappa had some good advice in one of his songs:
Do what you wanna
Do what you will
Just don't mess up
Your neighbor's thrill
'N when you pay the bill
Kindly leave a little tip
And help the next poor sucker
On his one way trip . . .
The other general repair advice besides feeling what you are doing is to think about things. Why is something breaking?

I thought I had a slew of bad generators
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and voltage regulators on my 1977 Sporty. Turns out it was the non-stock 16-inch rear tire was too wide, and it rubbed through the tail light wiring harness. This would short the electrical system every time I hit a bump.

Bruce, at HP Express in San Jose helped me put together my 1962 Sporty from a bunch of loose parts in a warehouse. He warned me you have to think about how that part got in the junk pile. Was it perfectly good but taken off in the chopper era? Maybe it looks good but you have to really think of what else could be wrong with it. That perfect 1962 gearcase cover might have a porous casting.

Another general repair principle is to have really good lighting. At my shop in Sunnyvale I had an 8-foot fixture every 200 square feet, as well as halogen flood lights and those cheap spun aluminum clamp-on fixtures with florescent bulbs. If you can't see, you can't see.

So I guess the repair recommendations are up to feeling, thinking, and seeing. Do this all while protecting your hearing and your sense of humor.

Perhaps controversially, I included the restoration of my 1952 K-model in this section. My reasoning was that restoring an old bike is just a long protracted repair procedures. It certainly does not belong in the Maintenance or Customization sections of the site.

Once I get the K-model running, I figure the last post in that category can be a summation that highlights the important
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posts and guides people a little better through the process.

So below is the computer-generated contents of the categories in the Repair section and the most-recent post in each category, as well as any favorite post I might have in that section. If you click on the category name itself, it will take you to a page with all the posts in that category.
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The most recent post: Kickstand frame repair

Kickstand frame repair

The big tab on the frame that mounts the kickstand, or side-stand got ripped up. Here I weld on a new tab....

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The most recent post: Oil leaking out the generator

Oil leaking out the generator

Rebuild a generator to fix an oil leak....

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The most recent post: Seven armatures for seven generators

Seven armatures for seven generators

An evaluation of seven armatures for the Harley Model 65A and 65B generators....

My favorite post: Primary gasket leak (1996)

Primary gasket leak (1996)

My '96 developed a leaky primary cover at only 12,000 miles....
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The most recent post: 1952 K-model shifter rubber

1952 K-model shifter rubber

The small stuff adds up. Almost 10 bucks for this little part....

My favorite post: 1952 K-model engine purchase

1952 K-model engine purchase

A K-model engine came up on eBay. Every Sportster lover has to respect K-models....
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The most recent post: Iron Sportster problems

Iron Sportster problems

Be sure to check for these problems if you don't want to have to push your bike home....

My favorite post: Battery replacement

Battery replacement

Batteries seem to fail once a year. Get good at replacing them....
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Bottom of first column This is the end.