Top 9 Harley Davidson Upgrades to Customise Your Ride

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Nothing comes close to the iconic status that Harley Davidson revels in. Their bikes are instantaneously recognizable, even by non-riders, and many have been immortalised in pop culture. What is central to the brand is the infinite options for customisation. Hundreds of companies stateside, and dozens in the UK produce custom aftermarket parts and items for all things Harley. And we’re not just talking about the bikes themselves, but the sheer amount of merchandise bearing the Harley Davidson logo. Upgrading your bike gives a personal touch, be it any of the Softails, Tourers, Dynas, V-Rods, Sportsters or Trikes. What you choose to change is totally up to you. A huge list of Harley Davidson parts is available.

Performance Upgrades

Harleys are more about street presence than speed or agility. The classic V-twin air-cooled engine design has carried on for decades with minor adjustments. Even the smaller displacement engines are large by European or Japanese standards. But these are different bikes, built for different roads. With big engines, big transmissions, and a lot of chrome steel, the bikes are geared for cruising along straight highways. There’s a lot of low-down torque, but not much in the way of horsepower. If you want a little more thrust when turning the throttle, go for these upgrades:

Exhausts and Exhaust Modifications

There’s a huge variety here, depending on the bike, the look you like, and the performance gains you want. Most riders swap out the exhaust even before leaving the store. For the best performance figures, complete exhausts from the headers to the tips are the way to go. These are the ‘2 in 2’ exhausts with separate pipes from each header. Pipes can be straight or sweep upwards towards the end. 2 in 1 exhaust systems collect the separate header tubes into a collector and wider end tubes. Better airflow and exhaust scavenging is achieved with wider tubes that cancel the stock catalytic converter. To calibrate the pipes, do a tune after fitting.

Slip-on mufflers add a few horses, but not as much as a full exhaust. There are different models to fine-tune the characteristic Harley V-twin rumble. Either your neighbours will hate you, or you’ll need to add quiet baffles. Slip-ons come in different diameters, with the larger ones being better for performance and deeper sound.

Materials and workmanship, as well as the brand, determine the price. Standard or satin chrome finishes are good for a classic look. You can also get black coated steel exhausts, or ceramic variants to cut down on weight. All kits are sold with the required parts for the best fit.

Air Intakes

What goes out, must first come in. Getting cleaner air, and more of it will give a better air and fuel mix. Air intakes and cleaners are available for all Harley engines. For the best results, they’re paired with a modified exhaust.

Cams and Camshafts

New cams can have a great impact on performance, adding more torque and horsepower at low to mid revs, or better acceleration from a standstill. The rotation of the cams activates pushrods, which open or close intake and exhaust valves. Basically, more air is taken in, combusted and pushed out. The whole system is driven by gears and the rotation of the crank. Slot-in cams require the least work, but you’ll need a basic understanding of intake cycles and timing.

Brands to go for when changing exhausts and mufflers are Vance and Hines, Bassani, Rinehart, Cobra and others. For cams look to Andrews, S&S Cycle and Jims. Kuryakyn and KN make some good air intakes.

Handling and Safety


Disc brakes feature on most new Harleys, both at the front and rear. You can change stock discs, callipers and pads with something bigger and a bit more bite. Look for low wear composite materials in groove pads, for even braking distribution and callipers with 4 or more pistons for shorter stopping distances. If you want a distinct look, discs in different designs and also finishes, including gold, platinum and titanium are sold. Disc diameters vary depending on the bike. Looks can also be enhanced with steel brake fluid lines. Brands to look for in brake parts include EBC, Arlen Ness, Harrison Billet, Free Spirit, etc.


Harleys are big, heavy touring bikes with plush suspension. If you feel you need more control at the front a simple and cheap fix is to change to higher viscosity fork oil. Similarly, you can replace the front fork spring, or install fork damping cartridges. The costliest upgrade is fitting an entire stiffer front fork. New shocks at the back can improve pillion comfort. Brands here are Ohlins, Legend Suspensions, Progressive Suspension, DOSS and others.

Comfort, Convenience and Style


Handlebars are some of the most overlooked Harley Davidson parts, until your hands, arms and shoulders start to ache. Changing to a more comfortable riding position means longer and safer rides. You can swap out the stock bars with different handlebar types like Ape hangers, T bars or Drag Bars, in straight or sweeping designs. Different materials and finishes will up the look of your bike. Brands to look for are LA Choppers, Biltwell, Burly Brand and Drag Specialties.

Seats and Sissy Bars

Seats come in all shapes and sizes. From solo seats with or without backrests, 2 up seats for passengers, seats with adjustable height and sissy bars to fit higher pillion backrests. A whole range of materials, designs, stitching, padding and colours is available. Try out before you buy. More popular brands are Saddlemen and Mustang.

Fairings and Windshields

Buffeting wind directly in your head can be a nuisance or outright painful. A windshield in the right height for you will block out wind and provide for a comfier ride. Most have adjustable height settings. Also, you can modify fairings in the bigger bikes like the Road King. You get cool names too. Batwing, gauntlet, viper fairings all describe different styles that completely shield from oncoming air, enhance aerodynamics, and give your bike a distinctive look. Memphis Shades is one of the more popular brands.

Any Part You (Don’t) Like

You can change out any Harley Davidson parts that you just don’t like. There are literally thousands of things that you can add, remove, repaint, redo, polish…Bigger body parts like fenders and petrol tanks can be detailed in the design, shape and colour you like. Spoked or forged wheels in the materials and colours of your choice. Improved electronics, lighting, ABS units, high-end stereos, comfier footpegs, hand rests.

There’s an endless list and so many choices to make. What’s important is to decide on what you want, how much you can afford, and then find a decent store that caters to all your Harley Davidson parts.

Just A Guy Thing is a men's lifestyle magazine focused primarily at guys wanting to better themselves.

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