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Harley Shovelhead Tech Tips

by Sue McCarty

In 1966, Harley-Davidson unveiled the powerful Shovelhead motor, which took its name from the coal shovel shape of it's rocker covers. Although workmanship on the this motor is believed to have suffered during Harley's temporary merger with American Machine and Foundry Co. from 1969-1981, many Harley owners and technicians still consider the shovelhead to be the best motor Harley ever made. Technical information for the shovelhead is easily acquired in manuals or online.

Oil Leaks

Oil may leak from the internal primary line.

Oil leaks, or the "Shovelhead Drip," have been plaguing Shovelhead owners for decades. The culprits can include worn head gaskets, the valve cover on top of the engine or the oil pump. The Shovelhead was equipped with automatic oilers in the primary and for the chain drive. These two systems have historically taken the blame for oil leaks. According to Shovelhead USa, both the primary and chain oilers can be plugged without harming the motorcycle.

Loose Bolts

Re-torquing or tightening bolts on a Shovelhead is a common practice due to the amount of vibration from the motor. Just tightening a loose bolt will do little for the performance of the motorcycle, however. The bolt must be properly torqued to the right specifications. When re-torquing or installing new bolts on a Shovelhead, it's a good idea to apply a light film of lubricating oil to a bolt to reduce friction. Always check manufacturer's instructions and specs before beginning this type of job.

Starter Tips

Starter problems can often be traced back to the solenoid.

Shovelheads are notorious for having starter problems involving the solenoid, but many times this can be traced back to connection errors or bad parts. If the starter relay wire is not connected to the "S" post on the solenoid, the bike won't start. The starter relay wire itself can also be wired incorrectly. This can be checked by using a volt meter and a Harley wiring diagram. Terminal contacts inside the solenoid housing should also be checked to make sure they were not over-tightened and twisted during installation.

About the Author

Sue McCarty, a writer and copy editor since 1994, penned a newspaper humor column for several years. She assisted in her husband's motorcycle shop for 20 years and was also a professional gardener and caterer. While earning her Bachelor of Arts in communications, McCarty began her journalism career at a Pennsylvania daily newspaper.

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