Speed’s Performance tips to make the newest Harleys better…

“There’s nothing to be afraid about with those 2007 and 2008 Harley-Davidsons, the 96-inchers,” says Wayne Hanson of Speed’s Performance Plus. “Even the ride-by-wire Electronic Throttle Control touring models. They all can be performance-modified and tuned just like any other Harley. Sure, the displacement’s been upped—the new bikes start out as 96-inchers—and that’s a good thing. But they can be made lots better.”

That’s good news for owners of late-model Harleys. Speed’s has found that too many of these riders don’t realize that their new bikes—even those ‘08 Electronic Throttle Control models—aren’t off-limits when it comes to modifications to make them better. The bottom line is that all the normal performance upgrades—replacement cams, pistons, a Power Commander, pipes and throttle bodies—work just as well on the newer Harleys as they have on the earlier models. And the result will be the same, too: a fast, smooth-running and ultra-reliable street motorcycle.

One of those time-tested modifications is particularly beneficial to the new 96-inchers. That’s the cam swap. Coupled with Speed’s new Cam Support Plates, this little bolt-in upgrade not only bumps horsepower up by 10 ponies or so, it addresses and neatly fixes what many consider a factory oversight with these new engines: It puts bearings where there were none (see Speed’s Secrets, March 2008).

For those who don’t yet know, Harley-Davidson has seen fit to eliminate the outer cam bearings in its newest engines. The inner bearings are still in place but the outer camshaft journals, now larger in diameter, spin right in the aluminum cam-support plate without the benefit of bearings. “We just believe you’re lots better off running those camshafts in bearings, as has always been done, instead of just plain aluminum, whether it’s hardened or not,” Wayne figures. “It would seem there’s a real tendency here for the fit to get pretty sloppy pretty fast.” Speed’s new Cam Plate Kit was specially designed to add those missing bearings, to run the camshafts in bearings on both journals, inner and outer. The custom-designed Cam Plate is thicker than the factory piece as well, so it’s more stable, allowing no flexing whatsoever. There’s also an improved oil passage system and an improved relief system that includes bottom venting to let the engine vent and breathe from both the top and the bottom. It’s a smart upgrade for a new bike.

To go along with those Cam Plates, Speed’s offers a 525 Cam Kit and a new Gear Drive system. This modification replaces the mild factory cams with a slightly more aggressive set that’s great on the street and replaces the factory chain drive with a much more precise gear drive. It’s a win/win conversion. The new ‘07 and ‘08 engines, with their long-stroke crankshafts, often have as much as .010-inch run-out on the crank snout. That’s the reason for the hydraulically operated chain tensioners. The gear drive, in conjunction with Speed’s Cam Support Plate and bearings, puts the fix to all of this. More than just a performance upgrade, it’s actually a considerable mechanical improvement, netting about a 10-horsepower boost.

From there you can take the 96-inch engine as far as you want. It already has a 43/8” stroker crankshaft so it’s a simple matter to remove the stock barrels and pistons, which have the same dimension as the earlier 88-inch engines, and replace them with the same big-bore cylinders and pistons that turn an 88-inch engine into a 95. But for the 96-inch engine the result is 103 cubic inches. This simple bolt-in conversion plus the camshafts, the Cam Support Plate, the new cylinders and pistons and a set of reworked heads—which Speed’s also installs as a direct replacement in the 2007 and 2008 bikes—results in a street-friendly motorcycle producing anywhere from 110 to 120 horsepower. Quite a gain from the stock 70-horsepower. How’s that for an upgrade?

Speed’s can take care of all of this at a bike show, too. Cam and Cam Plate conversions can happen in a day, and in about a day-and-a-half they can convert a 96-incher into a 103-incher capable of 110 to 120 horsepower. All of this uses the stock-dimension throttle body, too; even more performance is available by upping throttle body (including those with Electronic Throttle Control) size.

There’s more that’s possible, too. Speed’s can stretch late-model 96-inch engines to 114, 117, even 124 cubic inches. This, of course, gets a little more mechanically involved and requires that the engine come out of the frame and be completely torn apart to re-bore the cases, realign and straighten the crankshaft and convert that bottom end to Timken bearings. But that’s a subject for another time. Meanwhile, start making plans to upgrade your ‘08.