Thursday, May 21, 2009

Working on the Sportster

A big part of buying a Harley-Davidson is the heritage. The Motor Company goes way back and the Sportster line started in 1957. The heritage shows up in design and the classic V-Twin engines. Harley-Davidson has never been about cutting-edge, delivering on a fairly consistent motorcycling experience. This is not to say technologies have not changed and that the mechanics have not improved over time but the pace has been slow and steady. 

This slow pace of change, or commitment to the past, is evident in much of the add-on parts available for the Sportster. I’ve worked on cars for a living, and worked on Suzuki and BMW motorcycles as a hobby more recently and I can tell you that the German and Japanese manufacturers take a very different approach to the mechanics of their accessories. This includes everything from the directions to the fit and finish. More importantly, it was obvious that the majority of accessories from Suzuki and BMW had been thought of at the time of bike design. The electrical harness has plugs available for accessories to plug into. Parts fit extremely well with no adjustments required. 

The Sportie, however, is a different beast. Adding the Harley-Davidson tachometer and garage door opener kits requires splicing into the existing harness, adding ground wires, and a lot of work that you don’t encounter when working on other brands. I also found that the directions while not outright wrong do not necessarily provide the most practical guidance on how to install the factory items. 

Sportie electricsA lot of this probably has to do with the age of the design. When creating the add-on parts the engineers seemed to go for obvious choices, or maybe the only choices, when they were creating the instructions. The other issue is that many of the parts are multi-purpose, they work on several different Harley-Davidson models and you have to carefully follow the directions to get the right configuration for your bike.

Harley-Davidson would do their customers a service by:
  1. Updating their specifications and instructions based on the current models
  2. Designing with the idea of factory accessories in mind
  3. Providing model specific kits

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