Motorcycle Forum banner

1 - 20 of 52 Posts

·
Gone.
Joined
·
17,857 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
We've all heard the jokes about Harley's leaking oil. Usually the person hoofing the jokes has no idea what he's talking about and even less of an idea of why an older Harley will leave an oil spot behind. The jokes have been passed around for so long that over time they have come to be a belief and are known as a "truth" among many, many people, not one of whom knows enough about the brand to not look foolish to anyone who does.

A couple of weeks ago I was still on crutches and couldn't bend my knee to be able to repair my wife's truck, so I called a wrecker to come take it to the radiator shop. The wrecker guy arrived and he was a big ole fellow with a long beard and a ponytail down to here. I thought, "Biker."

As he stood in the driveway looking into my garage, which happened to have six bikes in it that day, he said, "Nice collection of iron." He then added with a mischievous smile, "Say, did you know 85% of all Harley's are still on the road?"

I gave him one finger right in front of his face and said, "[email protected]& you, a$$hole."

"You've heard that one before?" He asked, kind of surprised.

"Yeah, and it was funny the first time I heard it, like thirty years ago." We both had a chuckle.

I then asked him what he rode. "I've got an '85 Gold Wing," he said, and then proceeded to tell me how he bought the bike from the original owner in 1998 with 5,000 miles on it. He's been riding it ever since, loves it, has done Iron Butt rides on it, and has never had a single problem with it.

He then tells me that he also once owned a Harley. About 5-6 years ago a friend of his got in some trouble and had to unload his '72 Shovelhead which he bought for $2,500. (I got a little green with envy at this point.) He took the engine out , he said, had someone completely rebuild it, put it back in, and went for a 400 mile ride. Everything was great, but when he got up the next day and went to is garage he found an oil spot beneath the bike.

"I'll fix this," he decided and he, "took off a cover and replaced a gasket." He went for a ride of about 600 miles. Everything was fine and the bike ran great, but after returning home and getting up the next morning he found another oil spot on his garage floor. "Okay," he thought, "I'll fix this biotch permanently." He put the bike up for sale and the very first day was able to sell that "leaking piece of $hit" for $3,500, which was about what he said he had in it. He was glad to get rid of the bike, happy he had at least recovered most of his investment, and couldn't understand why anyone would want such a poorly made motorcycle.

At this point I said, "C'mere, let me show you something," and lead him towards the side of my Panhead which was in the garage with the primary cover off. "See this?" I asked, pointing to a small tube that was sticking through the inner primary directly above the chain. "That's a chain oiler. It uses the positive pressure from the crankcase, routes it past the oil pump where it picks up some more oil and pushes it down this tube and drips it out over the primary chain. There's a metering screw on the oil pump so you can regulate how much lubrication the chain gets." He was nodding his head to show he understood.

"This one's a '56." I continued, " but your '72 used pretty much the same system. Modern Harley's use an enclosed, wet primary, but back then an automatic chain oiler was state of the art. And there's more..." I directed him to kneel down and pointed to a small hole below the clutch, "See the little hole there?" He nodded. "Once the primary chain is lubricated, the excess oil gets slung off and collects in the bottom of the primary case. It then drips out this little hole and falls onto the drive chain and lubricates it. You have to lube the chain on most bikes as a part of important routine maintenance, but Harley's have been doing it automatically for like, 80 years or so."

"Ohhh...." he said, and I could see the light bulb coming on. "So they were designed this way!"

"Yeap," I replied, "so that little puddle of oil you found wasn't a leak at all, it was just the excess oil dripping off the chain or out the hole in the primary. Like I said, automatic chain lubrication."

"I'll be dammed," he smiled, "now that's pretty slick right there!"

I was glad I was able to actually show him why old Harley's "leaked oil" and he seemed happy to have learned something about old bikes. But suddenly I saw a look of doubt come over his face. He stood up and looked down thoughtfully at my bike.

"So that means..." he said slowly, "that means the oil I found under my bike...."

"...Was completely normal," I finished the sentence for him. "It was supposed to be doing that. The bike you sold for $3,500 was probably worth at least $10,00. No wonder it sold the first day." The poor guy looked like he was going to puke right then and there.

So now he, and you, know why Harley's have a reputation for "leaking" oil.

Here's a pic of the primary chain oil tube on my '56. It should have a little fitting on the end, but I haven't found a replacement yet. I took a picture of the primary drain hole and tube too, but it didn't come out good enough to post. (I couldn't kneel down far enough yet to get a good picture.)
 

·
Retired twice: Navy and as a govt contractor
Joined
·
14,300 Posts
Even I knew that :) But I didn't know you were on crutches, you okay?
 

·
Super Moderator
Joined
·
565 Posts
I'm glad you were able to educate someone.

It's too bad there's more like him out there, some of whom you'd never be able to get the message through to.

If it's not "They leak oil all over the place", then it's "they're unreliable". After that it goes to "they're underpowered and can't canyon carve".

"Overweight"

"Overpriced"

"I don't want to be associated with RUBs"

"Harley Davidson doesn't sell motorcycles, they sell a lifestyle"

"They make more money on merchandise sales than bikes"

The list goes on and on and my god is it tedious.
 

·
Gone.
Joined
·
17,857 Posts
Discussion Starter #8
I'm glad you were able to educate someone.

It's too bad there's more like him out there, some of whom you'd never be able to get the message through to.

If it's not "They leak oil all over the place", then it's "they're unreliable". After that it goes to "they're underpowered and can't canyon carve".

"Overweight"

"Overpriced"

"I don't want to be associated with RUBs"

"Harley Davidson doesn't sell motorcycles, they sell a lifestyle"

"They make more money on merchandise sales than bikes"

The list goes on and on and my god is it tedious.
Yeah, it does get tedious, doesn't it?

The amazing thing is I very seldom get told these things in person. This guy was actually one of the first.
 

·
Save them all!
Joined
·
4,278 Posts
Very cool!

I had an old Triumph with a similar system for the rear chain. The breather went into a pipe, which fed the oily gas to the drive chain. It was messy, but I never had to worry about the chain drive.
 

·
MODERATOR
Joined
·
8,572 Posts
Ah, fond memories of the past:)

About half of my LEO buds, from the "City of Industry," CA Sheriff's station had Honda and Yamaha cruisers at one time and the rest had Harley's. One detective, ex-military Sergeant, who of course planned very second of our rides, just couldn't stand Harley's, for the reasons spelled out above. Probably 90% of the rides and Rally's we attended were "Harley" sponsored events and slowly but surely, his bias against Harley's faded away and he bought a new Heritage Soft tail classic and became the Biggest ZEALOT around, deriding others about the JAP crap.:) His words, not mine.

This behavior is so typical with these so called anti-Harley folks. Most can't afford a Harley in the first place so they bad mouth the brand as they jump on their little 500cc Japanese cruisers and try very hard and at some expense to make it look like a Harley.:confused:

When they join the local dealers chapter of the Harley owners group (HOG) and if it's a good one, friendly and active, as most are, they are devout forever.

Sam:71baldboy:
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
886 Posts
Not trying to start another Harley argument but I have found another reason a Harley(at least my XR1200) leaks oil. When checking the oil in the tank I used to just fill it up near the top when cold disregarding the manual which tells you to get the engine up to operating temperature(hot) then check using the dipstick. It is a dry sump but some oil stays in the crankcase, when filled cold there is excess oil(too much) that has to go somewhere as told to me by a Harley mechanic. That place is out the breather lines on top of the cylinder heads, you will not get oil in a puddle underneath the bike on the floor but in a puddle on top of the cylinder heads. Just a reiteration that you should follow how the manual says to do things. if checked cold the proper amount of oil will show as borderline one quart low on the dipstick.
 

·
Gone
Joined
·
23,907 Posts
Not trying to start another Harley argument but I have found another reason a Harley(at least my XR1200) leaks oil. When checking the oil in the tank I used to just fill it up near the top when cold disregarding the manual which tells you to get the engine up to operating temperature(hot) then check using the dipstick. It is a dry sump but some oil stays in the crankcase, when filled cold there is excess oil(too much) that has to go somewhere as told to me by a Harley mechanic. That place is out the breather lines on top of the cylinder heads, you will not get oil in a puddle underneath the bike on the floor but in a puddle on top of the cylinder heads. Just a reiteration that you should follow how the manual says to do things. if checked cold the proper amount of oil will show as borderline one quart low on the dipstick.
Even a little too much oil in the tank could end up outside the motorcycle. Mine has a hot and cold mark on the dipstick, which is pretty accurate.
 

·
American Legion Rider
Joined
·
23,527 Posts
Guess my Twinstar really was a baby Harley wonna be. It maked territory too. First bike, first chain, I oiled the heck out of that thing. It slung oil all over everything until I learned just how much and how to oil one. Fact is that's what got me calling it my baby Harley was the spots it left behind. Even though I was the cause.:D
 

·
Shaper Of All Things Metal
Joined
·
2,799 Posts
First bike, first chain, I oiled the heck out of that thing. It slung oil all over everything until I learned just how much and how to oil one.
Ha! Growing up as a farm boy where we literally soaked the roller chains from farm equipment in oil, my first bike was treated the same way with oil slobbering all over the place. :p

Thankfully, those were also the years when chain oil that was clingy began to be developed.
 

·
American Legion Rider
Joined
·
23,527 Posts
Yep, I'm an old farm boy too. We had plenty of oil and you're right, the sticky stuff was being developed about the time I got my first belt.
 

·
Visionary
Joined
·
4,614 Posts
Thanks for the interesting information, I'm not a Harley basher but I know plenty of people who are, this will be filed away in my memory bank for future use. Every bike has good and bad points, it's funny how the evangelists for any given brand or model will always explain just why theirs is best and the others are worthless and not worth the paint on their tanks.

Personally I think everyone should ride whatever suits them, ride a lot, have fun, and be safe. How's that?
:71baldboy:
 
1 - 20 of 52 Posts
Top