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1996 Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster      

Harley Davidson SportsterHarley Davidson vibration

Once in my life I bought a new motorcycle.  It was a 1996 Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster.  It was $5250 plus tax.  I rode it for 4 years and put 42,000 miles on it, then sold it on eBay for $4,025.  Pretty good deal.  

What's a Sportster like to ride 50 miles a day on, rain or shine?  If you keep it under 60 mph, it's a real sweetheart.  Above 65 mph the vibes get pretty bad, especially the handlebar vibration, and the stock suspension gets wiggly.  I got between 50 and 55 miles per gallon before I put on the loud pipe and jet kit, after which I got 45, but it was noticeably quicker.  With the low center of gravity, narrowness, and good low-end power, the Sportster is really good in the rain.  Also, I never had problems stalling or shorting out when riding in heavy rain.

Here are some of the modifications I made to it.

Screaming Eagle air filter kit.  Available from the Harley dealer, it's a kit to make a K&N filter fit under the stock ham-can air cleaner cover.  Supposedly it flows as much air as having no air cleaner at all.

Thunderheader black 2-into-1 exhaust system.  I bought it on eBay for $110.  These pipes cost around $500 new, and are available in Chrome or black.  It may cost a little more for the black ones.  The black ceramic coating turned gray near where they bolt to they cylinder heads.  I understand this is a common problem with Thunderheaders.  They do sell a heat shield kit, which covers the top part of the pipes.  They also get really hot, so heat shields may be a good idea anyway.  Many tests have proven that Thunderheader 2-into-1 pipes are the best high-horsepower Harley pipes, and that they also deliver a boost in midrange power do to the anti-reversion pyramid valve in the header, which stops exhaust gasses from flowing backwards into the pipe.  I found a gain in roll-on power from 60 to 80 mph in top gear as well as more power at maximum RPMs.  These pipes are REALLY LOUD.  I'd say they're as loud as straight pipes when you get on the throttle.  At idle they sound great and a little quieter than straight pipes.

Pauchgo 4.2 gallon axed gas tank.  I think the tank is really ugly, but it's just so nice to go 200 miles on a tank of gas that I put it on my bike. It was the biggest Sportster tank I could find at the time, and I was commuting 250 miles per week, so I needed it.   The stock peanut tank would go onto reserve at 75 miles.  It sits very high on the frame and makes the bike feel heavy when it is full.  Also, the stock handlebars banged into it at full steering lock, so I had to install 4" handlebar risers (which work with the stock cables and brake lines).  Workmanship on this tank was impressive.  It is totally seamless.  They hammered out 2 peanut halves out of steel and welded them together, then ground the welds smooth.  Also the price was much lower than any other tanks I looked at. 

Fisher Harmonic Balancer.  This is a big rubber donut with steel plates on both sides, bolted to the end of the crankshaft inside the primary gear.  It takes the edges off of the vibration, but doesn't eliminate it completely.  It does make the bike more tolerable on the freeway.  I'm not sure if it's the best solution out there.  I've always wanted to ride a bike with a Balance Master installed to see if it's better.  

Handlebar Vibration The handlebars still vibrated noticeably above 65 mph with the Fisher damper installed, though it was better.  I filled the handlebar with latex caulk to reduce the vibration, and it didn't make much of  a difference.  I have heard of some people filling the handlebars with shotgun pellets to reduce the vibration.  Most recently, I read a long-term review of a Kawasaki Z1000 where they filled the handlebars with #10 shot, and it significantly reduced the buzz.  Also, there's a company called Bar Snake who makes a heavy rubber rope which you put inside the handlebars to reduce the handlebar vibration.  They also make a liquid version, which can be poured into the handlebars to harden and dry.  They claim to have a special type of rubber which will do the job better than any other substance.  Since I had already filled my handlebars with caulk, it was too late to try bar snake products.  (I did put the bar snake in my Honda XL500R handlebars, and it smoothed them out a little bit)  I ended up putting big cushy touring grips on, and it helped a little bit.  I also recently bought some gloves with gel in the palms, which insulate my hands from the vibes.  It's the simplest and fastest solution to Harley-Davidson Sportster handlebar vibration I've found.

Energy One Kevlar Extra Plate Clutch Kit.  This kit includes friction plates, steel plates, a 15% heavier spring, and it works great.  I didn't do any drag racing, but it worked fine getting me to work.  I used the stock clutch spring and it worked fine, as my bike didn't make enough power to need the heavier spring.  The stock Harley Davidson clutch spring plate has brass rivets in it.  On my bike, the rivets worked themselves loose and got into the clutch plates, making the bike stick in gear sometimes, so I had to take it apart and replace the clutch.  The extra plate clutch kit replaces the spring plate with an extra friction plate.  Price is under $100 for the kit, so if you have your engine apart, you might as well put one of these in.

Saddlemen Saddlebags with turn signal relocation kit.  These bags are made of heavy vinyl.  Saddlemen claims they are water resistant, but they have big holes in the back where the turn signal mounts stick out..  The turn signal mounts on both sides started to crack, and I had to glue them.  These are the cheapest rigid-mount bags out there, but if I had to do it again, I'd spend a little more money and go with a different brand.

Progressive Suspension shocks and fork springs.  I ordered the shocks and springs from Dennis Kirk.  The fork springs work great, and I highly recommend them.  The shocks were REALLY firm.  I weigh about 165 pounds and ride solo.  I looked in the catalog and realized that Progressive Suspension recommends the exact same part number of shock for a Sportster that they do for a Super Glide, which is 200 pounds heavier.  I called Progressive Suspension to complain, and they told me they could re-spring the shocks with lighter springs for free if I mailed them in.  I sent them the shocks, and they came back quickly with lighter springs, which were much better.  Great customer service.

Harley-Davidson Deluxe Touring Saddle.  This is a great, comfortable seat made of real leather.  I sat on it for 7 years and 42,000 miles, and it still looked new when I sold the bike.

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