My Harley Experience

This is a post I made to a the Harley Sportster maillist. I'm putting it here for reference and possibly to help others who are about to make the same mistake I did in purchasing a Harley Davidson. This post does not constitute the full extent of the trouble I've had since being talked into buying a Harley Davidson back in 2000. 3 of the 5 dealers I've dealt with were incompetent. You can make that 4 of 5 if I determine that recent service resulted in my blown bottom end.

In any case, most folks will want to ignore this post. But if you are considering buying a Harley for the first time, please read on...intro to this post:

Summer 2000, I'm looking to get back in to motorcycling. Many of my friends at the time were Harley owners. They convinced me that Harleys were now reliable, quality motorcycles. One afternoon, with a strong desire to ride again, and an abundance of dot-com loot, I went into the dealer and placed an order for a new 2000 XL1200C. Of course, I would have to wait about 6 months for my new bike as Harley Davidson is a master at creating artificial gluts in supply, helping perpetuate the silly mystique that surrounds these cheap, union-made motorcycles.

There's no feeling like pulling off the dealer lot on or in a brand new vehicle. That utter joy of owning a new quality motor vehicle. However, my situation wasn't quite like this: I was riding away on a Harley Davidson.

I'm not really impressed with the Harley Davidson name alone. I assumed that there must be a reason that folks were so fanatical about these bikes. I presumed that my new bike would be all that I hoped for and then some. But as I rode away, I quickly noted that my bike didn't sound anything like a Harley. It also didn't feel anywhere near as powerful as most Harleys "appear" to be. Well, this is not entirely Harley Davidsons fault. All new Harleys require the paying of a "Harley tax". The Harley tax is the difference between the bike Harley designed and the laws that make a bike legal in any given state, particularly California. In order to get a Harley to run properly, you need to let the motor "breathe". This means replacing the exhaust, the air intake, and re-jetting the carbs so that the motor can recieve the proper fuel/air mixture. Fair enough. I don't spite Harley for that, and it's not very expensive to perform this operation. The bike was notably more responsive after I had this "stage I" upgrade performed. However, the bike was still dog slow. I simply didn't feel safe on the freeway with this bike. I could not pull myself out of a pack of crazed rush-hour drivers, let alone lose the maniac asian kid in the acura. So I looked for more from my bike. I wanted a bike with a teeny bit of balls. And this is when I had the doomed upgrade performed. And my post to the Sportster mailing list outlines that experience in its dreadful entirety.

posted to [email protected] 09/10/2003

I bought this thing new in 2000. After the stage II and completion of break in, I was quite disappointed in the lack of power this bike had. So I took it to a reputable Harley mechanic who replaced/installed the following:

- crane cams and associated items
- SE ignition module
- 44mm SE carb
- thunderslide
- buell cylinders
- buell heads
- buell pistons
- hooker 2 into 1 header/exhaust
- hi-flow air cleaner
- misc. related items

total bill = $6200 ($3600 in parts + labor + tax)

ok, so i get the bike back and break it in. definitely has a reasonable amount of power now. can pretty much outdrag any hog on the street and have a fun time doing so (though i don't generally ride the bike that hard). i set rev limiter to 7000 just to be safe, and a happy duck i am.

about a month or two after this rebuild, head1 blows a gasket. i take bike to a different mechanic, as i had moved, and i have gasket replaced with the same crap the original mechanic used (a james teflon thing <-- AVOID). about a week later head2 blows a gasket. new mechanic decides to replace both head gaskets with traditional paper gaskets. and bike runs great for about 1500 miles. not a drop of oil out of either head.

... a few fun months pass

last night on the freeway, the thing blew all to hell. i hit throttle to pass a car and kerklunk.. rattle.. bang bang... klunk.... grind grind

i quickly pull clutch and safely coast to the side of the freeway where the motor bleeds to death.

no metal in plugs, so i imagine pistons are intact, but something blew and put a 1/2 inch hole in the crankcase just behind the rear cylinder.

my guess is that the original mechanic should have redone the bottom end at least in part, to be able to handle the newer high rev, high power top end. i'm thinking a rod broke or something, maybe a piston skirt. gonna have it torn apart to see exactly what happened. but what to do after that, i'm not sure.

i'm fairly confident i'm done with all harley products for the rest of my life. i'm not impressed with their bikes or their parts. in addtion to the motor trouble i'm having, i'm also constantly replacing cheap harley parts that break over and over. kickstand, tach mount, belt guard, etc...

i know there are people out there who enjoy these bikes for whatever reason. i guess maybe if i were more into spending a lot of time wrenching rather than riding, i might like mine too. but i like to ride, not sit on the side of the freeway, so i'm looking to get outta this bike, losing as little $$ as possible.

i'm into the bike for about $20K with the original cost, the rebuild and various accessories.

as i see it my options are:

- sell as is for a few grand (if that)
- replace motor (probably reusing the original parts that i still have) and sell as a working sportster.
- part it out and sell all this high end stuff for a fair amount (which i can't imagine netting more than selling a running bike :)
- take the thing to the nearest canyon and roll it on in. not very cost effective, but then, you can't really put a price on the satisfaction i'd get from that.

i *truly* love this style of bike (sportster with hopped up motor), semi-sporty, semi-cruise, torquey v-twin. if harley made a reliable bikes and parts, i wouldn't be looking to get rid of this thing at all. but i'm convinced the cause is pointless and that i either have to go back to a standard powerless stock sportster or continue with these types of issues. not sure what i'm going to go with next. jap big twins are too sporty (suzuki t1?), fake jap harley's are too ugly and too fake :) indians are junk. there's the new viper, but that's unproven. maybe some of you have some ideas of a harley-like bike without the harley trouble.

most importantly, i'd like ideas on what to do with this thing. how to most painlessly get rid of it without losing the rest of my shirt. i had some fun rides on that bike. while the new motor worked, it was a lot of fun. super torque at low speeds (accidental wheelies ;), very nice pull at high speeds that you'd never see outta stock sporty. but i was expecting an apple to be an orange, and that's not gonna happen :)

i appreciate all input, flames, rants, suggestions, hate mail, sympathy cards and such...


Bub, my love life isn't a problem, My harley powered Buell has never left me stranded and over the sixteen years I've been riding I've put more miles on bikes than most people have put in cars. My motorcycle is not a toy or a weekend warrior, it's my daily...and I mean rain or shine, warm or cold as long as there is no ice on the road, form of transportation. I'm not bragging, but I'm as serious a biker as there is in the world and my Buell is as real as the sun in the sky. I ride my bike hard and fast every single day and the damn thing just keeps on workin. I will state again that I am a motorcycle mechanic for a living and through that experience I've found the only bikes that break are abused, or sit for long periods of time or are "maintained" by hacks who have no business with a wrench in their hands. The problems you have with your sporty are problems I see daily with all makes of bikes, somewhere down the line the wrong hands touched em and the results were ugly. As far as aesthetics go, sure Harleys lack in some area's or refinement, but your problems are not common to the make. Weeping gaskets may be the one and only common factory defect, but I can tell you it's an easy fix if that sort of thing really bothers you. By the way, just so you know, Yamaha's v-twins have a factory recall going right now for bikes from 1999 to current, it seems the tranny's tend to fall apart and explode, so I get to tear about two down a week and install a couple new shafts and gears...Honda had a trans prob on their cbr's a few years back and I've seen my share of Suzuki's come and go for warrenty work as well. I've seen just as many or more Harleys with 100,000 miles of trouble free service as I have any other bikes, but there is bound to be a bad apple in the bunch no matter who makes what and friend you seem to have gotten it. And just so you know I have a 1969 Ford f-250 that's been family owned since new sitting in front of my house for those icy days, and it has over two hundred thousand miles on the stock lower end and one set of pistons and rings and I'll be damned if the thing still don't run just like new. God that must put your panties in a bunch.


I'm sorry that you too chose to buy a Harley. Harley owners will replay the same line that HD played you: "there's an occassional lemon in any make of motorcycle". However, in the case of HD, they really should eliminate the word 'occassional'. HD has historically been an extremely unreliable bike. And HD motorcycles continue to be very historical.

DO NOT BUY A HARLEY DAVIDSON. If you'd like a quality American made big V-Twin, there are plenty of makers such as Big Dog, Victory, and oh so many others, that will give you a great bike with a great motor at a fraction the cost of a Harley. If you're into rock stable reliability, performance and excellence in engineering, please look at the numerous Japanese cruisers. My Yamaha Road Star Warrior will beat the shit out of any stock Harley, and it cost me less than a Sportster. Do not be fooled folks. Harley lives on it's name, not the quality of its products. If you want to get laid and don't care how much you spend, get a fat boy and put some slip ons on it. The chicks will dig it, you'll get laid, and your HD dealer will look forward to years of income off your bike.

Why if you had all this dot com money would you buy that bike instead of one that suited you.
The problem is mostly ass hole yuppies that want to become bikers late in life instead I have ridden Harleyfor 30 years and one of those was the fastest Sporty with an 18 over springer and a rigid frame......
Hey ! to each his own...........

I have a 2002 XLC over 10,000 miles on it and haven't had one problem and not one leak. Performance wise I have an S&S Super "E" carb, Crane cam ingnition and coils and a Samson exhaust and I'll smoke most other harleys in a drag race. How did you figure out that a sporty isn't meant for over 80mph. With my gearing right now I can top out at almost 140mph and if I changed the gearing a little more it could probably hit 160 easily. Also i have to include the comment that you made about harley makes cheap parts. I'm a Machinist and make parts for the Aerospace Industry, Pratt & Whitney etc. and from everything that I've seen with regards to Harley's machining they are machined very well not quite to aerospace standards but motor vehicle transportation it's top notch. You realy do need to do some research before doing any mods to any type of bike, you paid an outragious amount for your mods you got a$$ reamed on that and you set your rev limit to 7,000 rpm with a stock bottom end big no no. Even if it was built for that rpm you still have to tear it apart and rebuild every once and a while because of the high stresses it's under. If you would've set your limiter to 6,000-6,200 you wouldn't have any problem with a stock bottom end. Sorry to say it but you deserve what you got because of your own ignorance in lack of researching. Good luck with your cheap looking Yamaha

Hey, Sal

Why don't you take an inventory of your "American made" motorcycle? Sure, a lot of it was assembled in the USA. But the fact is, there are probably almost as many foriegn parts on your bike as on my Yamaha.

As far as union labor goes, that's a large part of what drives up the price of these mechanically inferior machines. Your union man gets his $35 an hour whether he does a superior job or a barely passable job. And the union's there to prevent him from getting fired for shitty work.

I'll keep an eye out for you on the side of the road or in my rear-view.

JJ, thanks for your comments. You are mostly correct. I bought a snail and wanted it to behave like a rabbit.

But more noteably, I bought 1950s technology for a 2010s pricetag.

Harley's are not for motorcycle riders. They are for fans of the impressive history of Harley Davidson who are willing to pay 2-3 times the actual value of these machines.

I've since found what I was looking for in the Yamaha Road Star Warrior. It's a beautifully styled cruiser with a classic air cooled, pushrod, V-twin motor with the techology to beat any Harley at any speed (except maybe the VRod which the good Porsche folks actually designed, not HD). And the bike is cheaper than any HD bike except that 883 moped they make. Of course it pushed all Hogs out of its class in last years NHRA nationals, but you HD fans probably don't keep up on that stuff.

If you want to buy a Harley, have at it, just keep in mind that half that price tag is for the name, not the bike.

I can sell you a 88 cubic inch Sportster complete for the 7g's you are talking about spending. check it out on Ebay no reserve!

It is a 1999 Sportster XLH that I converted from 883-1200-thunderstorm-1426cc It is an awesome bike with all the goodies. I built it to race with but only locally and the motor broke on me back in June and I rebuilt the whole motor from the ground up. I had a local shop do the bottom end work. Runs great!


Other than leaking rocker box gaskets I've had no problems with my Sportster. But it's not the high performance machine you expected. You shuda got a Ducati Monster for that.

Andi - YOU BLEW IT!!!
You now be-long with the Herd animals on the road Baaaaaaa Baaaa - you are all Sheep!!
You just bought into the H.D. bullshit & the Fashion show $$$$
I hope YOU learn good rider skills - because You will get involed with group riding = Lots of Herd riders with -BAD RIDER SKILLS!!- trying to
"Look Cool" on their "Hardly Reliables"

As a Harley Owner and a 2003 Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom owner I am PROUD to say that I am more than Happy with my UNION made and AMERICAN made Bike. I am a Member of the Harley Owners Group National Member and a Local Member here on long Island NY. I may not know much about mechanical repairs and I will never claim to know much but what I do know is this, As a American and as a person who works in a UNION shop to buy anything FOREIGHN is totaly wrong. To even consider spending my hard EARNED AMERICAN Dollars on a JAP bike or a so called RICE ROCKET never even crossed my mind. You see many jobs leaving this COUNTRY and alot of FACTORY jobs that were ONCE UNION JOBS held by AMERICAN WORKERS lost to who??? YEP thats right some person that will do YOUR job for a slice of BREAD.. So if you want to spend your HARD earned AMERICAN DOLLARS on some FOREIGHN hunk of junk you should be ashamed of yourself. You beat the shit of your bike and didnt take care of it, thats what it seems to look like to me. THINK before you speak about certain things, AMERICAN Products are made by AMERICAN Men and Woman. Maybe your job is next for DEPORTATION, ever think of that??? God Bless America and God Bless Harley Davidson....