Harley Davidson doesn't need any special introduction. They're the bike brand that is eponymous with bikes, and models that are instantly recognisable, even to the uninitiated. No other brand comes close to the iconic status Harley Davidson has enjoyed for well over a century.
The bikes appeal with their effortless touring capabilities, suited for long stretches and riding comfort. Plus, they're bikes that are customisable to any taste. Riders can swap out any part on factory models to get better performance, more comfort, or just add a little style for the ultimate riding experience.
Finding parts is a simple process, considering the wide selection of both aftermarket and genuine Harley parts.
There's so much to choose from, so stretching budgets is a given. Simple, yet practical mods, however, needn't be prohibitively expensive and there is value, even with more upscale specialist brands. If you want a bike that stands out from the pack, but you're having a hard time with which Harley Davidson part first needs a makeover, here are a few suggestions to make your buying decision easier.
Up Rider Comfort with Aftermarket Seats
Good seats are compulsory for the tourer crowd, and anyone into longer rides. What you get as stock is passable, often well-made and should last. Factory seats in all Harleys err on the low side of ride height, more in tune with the style of bikes, but you can get something a bit higher if you're of taller stature, or want a different riding position. Proper posture is essential for comfort, as any seat that doesn't make the cut will result in aches and pains, even after a few miles.
In addition, different seat parts, like pans, padding, and top material will play their part in comfort, durability and how the bike looks as a whole. You'll want a nice blend of all these factors, as well as a seat designed for the bike and your type of riding. Shapes and sizes differ, and you'll find solo seats with or without backrests, 2-up seats that tend to pillion comfort as well, old-school springs seats, and dozens of other options.
For padding, foam does a fine job, but if you want something more cushioning, there's also gel padding. Top materials range from vinyl to leather in different grades and thickness. Vinyl will hold looks longer than leather, with some variants being breathable and more enduring in different weather conditions. But for outright style, leather seats, especially in wider bucket styles on bigger bikes, look darn good.
Choosing seats for your Harley is all about personalising your bike. Pay attention to seat height, width, shape, materials and level of build. Your new seat should offer more comfort, with better posture and improved ergonomics for your riding style, have ample padding and look the part. And the ability for simple additions like heating and ventilation. Look for respected brands and always try the seat out before buying.
More Presence with an Aftermarket Exhaust
Aftermarket exhaust systems can bag you tons of added horsepower and low-down torque, a richer and deeper exhaust note, and the benefits of improved styling and better construction. Change the stock exhaust if you want the bike to breathe easier, and get rid of spent gases faster. This is a Harley part that improves combustion efficiency and adds power. It also changes the sound. Generally, wider exhausts with straighter tubing get better results. As a rule, exhausts are also paired with upgraded air intakes.
Complete exhaust swaps offer more of everything- power, style and sound. Bike specific exhaust designs to look for are 2 in 1, and 2 in 2 systems, with changes to the header tubes, revised and wider collectors, and different muffler combos for more rumble from the V-twin powerplant. Designs differ between straight and swept variants, with the latter also providing a bit more ground clearance.
In terms of materials, stainless steel is the go-to choice while keeping costs down. This can be had in a few different finishes, from standard to polished satin chrome reminiscent of Harley classics, or matte black for a more modern look. Construction-wise, separate parts are connected into a solid unit with seamless TIG welds.
Anyone looking to spend money on other parts, can still do a few tweaks to the exhaust by changing mufflers and baffles, with slip-ons and megaphones being the most popular choices.
Choosing the Right Handlebars
If the stock bars aren't doing it for you, there are dozens of other choices out there.
Handlebars are the main point of contact, determining control, handling and how comfy you can get.
So, if you got the wrong bars with the bike to start with (or found a good secondhand deal), you can always swap them out for something better.
Bars will differ according to height, width, and the diameter in the tubing. Heights or handlebar rise can be between 0 and 20 inches, but those hovering around shoulder height will prove to be the best balanced.
Of course you can go higher or lower than what you've currently got. Higher bars are for a more laid back posture, but may cause cramping in longer rides. Lower bars will bring you forward, and can improve control. These can also be combined with separate risers. Either way, choose the bar height that suits how you ride.
Widths impact how far apart you arms are and this too has a big say in handling and manoeuvrability. Bars that are too narrow, or adversely, too wide will impact things like turning circles, and high-speed stability, and as a result your comfort and confidence levels. Like the recommendation for height, go with bars that are roughly the width of your shoulders.
Bars can have the same diameter along the whole length, or thin out near the clamping area. Most Harley handlebars are of the 1 or 1.25 inch type, depending on the clamp. Another thing to go by is pullback, This is the angle in the tips of the bars and the clamping area. Bars with more pullback are good for shorter riders on bigger bikes. To bring the bars closer, look for pullback risers.
When it comes to designs, there are apehangers, T-bars, window, H-bars, touring and dresser bars, bagger and buckhorn options, as well as lower- set drag and tracker bars. All have their own geometries, and add that special something to the bike. Just make sure the handlebars you choose go with the look and size of your Harley.
To get the lower ride height, most Harleys are fitted with short-travel and shorter shocks that might not suit your riding style or struggle with a passenger on board.
You'll feel this on rougher pot-holed and our not-so-smooth B-roads. Both Harley Davidson and aftermarket brands offer shock upgrades. Going with something stiffer and taller at the back will improve the ride and comfort, while also handling the extra weight of passengers or bags.
At the rear, you're best served with monotubes with tool-less adjustable preload, complete with standard or heavy-duty fork springs. These can be optioned in different sizes to suit you and the bike, as well as varying damping rates.
When shopping for this Harley Davidson part, have in mind that you'd want something that is built to a standard and in the right materials. The aim is to get a shock that performs under different road conditions and one that will last. Durability is also complemented with a range of finishes, often the chrome or black matte seen in other Harley accessories.
LED Turn Signals
Most new Harleys come with LED lights and turn signals as standard. For anyone with an older bike, the same option can make your bike safer, by significantly upping visibility. Not only do LEDS get brighter, but they're an instantly-on option, and handle vibrations better that standard bulbs. And the advanced tech means they draw less power, cope with more heat and last much longer,. Fitted to the standard bullet-shaped turn signals, they're also more effective.
Besides the upgraded lighting tech in newer aftermarket turn signals, riders also get to experiment with different designs. Bullet signals hark back to the classic Harley look, but you can also get flat signals, block bars, oval, teardrop, winglet and signals in just about any shape. All are provided with the right mounting gear and simple plug-and-play wiring for quick and easy installation. Again, look for respected brands to get a product that performs and lasts as advertised.
While most riders will be saving cash for performance upgrades that up engine power, its the smaller details that often get overlooked but still have a big say in comfort and how your Harley rides. Seats are the main game changer here, and paired with the right rear shocks and bars that are more forgiving will also mean a more relaxed and safer journey. LED turn signals are inexpensive and allow you to see and been seen, while exhausts in any configuration add some character. All parts come in different price brackets, but all also contribute to improved styling in line with your bike and personal taste.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Senior Content Creator
Aleksandra Djurdjevic is a senior writer and editor, covering motorcycle adventures, biker tips and tricks and general exploring on two wheels. She has previously worked as ESL teacher for English Tochka. Aleksandra graduated from the Comparative Literature department at the Faculty of Philosophy in Serbia. Aleksandra’s love for the biking and adventure, getting out on the open road, year after year across the planet helps her continue to be a top expert at RMJ.