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  1. #1
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    Default educate me about the ironhead motors

    I read all of the time that the ironhead is an unreliable motor


    they can be had all over around here for mega cheap.


    What exactly am i getting into if i get an ironhead and want to pretty much DD it?

  2. #2
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    unreliable..no occassionally tempermental,possibly.dialed in and properly maintained pure pleasure.people crybaby all the time but an unreliable design could not have been around so long.someone who has no business owning tools can fine tune anything to death.there are no bad motors,only bad owners

  3. #3

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    I've been running my 81 Iron Head for three years now and other than when I run out of fuel it's never let me down. I've had to limp home on one cylinder a few times but now I carry a spare plug and it hasnt missed again.

    I've put some miles on it and it's always running really good. She'll get really tempermental in 20 plus celcius city traffic but it's never let me down. As long as I got a spare plug and a place to get fuel I'll jump on and go.

    Now after saying all that I'll be taking a real close look at the motor this winter and looking at an oil leak and possibly rings in the rear cylinder but I'd buy it again tomorow. If you maintain the motor and watch the parts then it lowers your chance of failure.

  4. #4
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    My experience has been that everything i personnaly worked on, from the clutch, motor, carb, ect, has been as reliable as can be. The things that i was to lazy to learn and work on myself or cut corners have caused more frustration and money then needed. When dealing with an Ironhead, your usually fixing the short cuts of the previous owners.

  5. #5
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    I remember hearing something about either the heads of the valves are inherently bad

  6. #6
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    Ironheads are as reliable as their previous owners make them. The reason a lot of them have so many problems is because over the years they have had so many different owners that may have boughten it as a first bike (because they are obviously cheaper than a bigtwin), thus a ton of the work done on them is done poorly.

  7. #7
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    Ethenol is hard on any motor.. Yes a valve upgrade is not a step backwards

  8. #8
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    As everyone said they often come from 3-8 previous owners who fucked with the thing or rigged it to work. I have had a 72 and currently have an 80. Like any other motor it needs to be gone through and made your own. It most likely will have an assload of problems if you get it from some guys garage hibernation and you ride the thing often. Just expect that and fix what breaks when it breaks. Learn the motor.

    Major problem areas that I and some friends have had were primary gaskets. (And change that primary oil. No one ever does), generators or brushes going to shit, regulators, bendex carbs (not a terrible carb with a rebuild kit and a little love), general wiring messes, and clutch adjustment. Mine likes to foul plugs now and then so as the previous post said carry a plug. My biggest problem with my iron is getting on it after riding my Panhead

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    I agree with a lot of previous posts. My 73 had issues that were basically neglect by previous owner(s). I fought charging issues (until I broke down and shelled out for Cycle Electric generator/regulator), have had some advance unit issues but I also ride the shit out of mine. When it's right, it's golden. It does keep me on my toes and it was just what I needed because it forced me to learn by doing vs. paying a shop every time something went wrong. I love mine!

  10. #10
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    There's a reason they call em ironheads. not only the casting, but in their hay day they were flattrack, dragstrip monsters.. getting in the 200hp was not uncommon all due to being iron. hey they wouldn't use them for so long if they were inherently bad as dude said.

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    I'm going to second what most have said here. They are cheap because they are not big twins, and therefore "girls bikes" ha ha. (mine has made more of a man out of me then anything else) their biggest issue is previous owners. The guy I got my 73 from didn't know squat about it, and at the time I didn't ether. He told me it was a 1974 and punched out to 1340cc. After a little work I got it running, but not right. I used it as a way to learn how to work on bikes, there is lots of info out there, and parts are still easy to find. It took a few years, and a few set backs, (bike got run over by a truck) but I now have a great running bike that I know inside and out, and starts with one kick. If you buy one you will get frustrated, but when it's right it's awesome. I've never put as much work into any bike as I've put into this one, but at the end of the day no bike I've owned made me feel so good when I've ridden it.


    http://s146.photobucket.com/albums/r...009_105200.mp4

  12. #12
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    Engines borne from a racing legacy that were crammed into the square hole of production. They became a precision instrument reduced to a machine built from a bunch of parts that almost fit together. A design that was ahead of it's technology so they had great potential but held back to a corporate timeline that struggled through a boom of popular culture, economic termoil, corporate takeover, buyouts and public stock offerings. All the while they were the moco's best seller due to their affordability as an entry level American icon. It has become the nasty little punk rock kid of biker culture.

  13. #13
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    A lot of IHs were plain dog-ass abused by previous owners, so assume the worst & maybe you'll get lucky.
    The good news is that, armed with a manual and a willingness to ask questions, almost anyone who can work on a lawnmower can figure out the ins & outs of ironhead Sportster repair.

    SOME PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS:

    The majority of them have cracked rear motor mounts which exacerbates vibration from the motor, so be prepared to replace it with the much-improved Pingel unit --- unless you plan on having all of your dental fillings re-fused in place on a regular basis.

    The generators are all shit 1930s technology, but the concept of a generator is a solid one & they just plain look right on an IH.
    Go with a Cycle Electric unit that has the electronic regulator built into the end cap & you'll never have even a single charging system hiccup.
    Rebuilding the stockers is an exercise in mindless futility.

    Tech Cycle makes a compact, modern Tornado starter that's heads and shoulders above the ratty Prestolite & Hitachis that Harley saddled the ironheads with.
    ( http://www.techcycle.com/sportster.html )
    The Tornado is basically a scaled-down version of what H-D uses on new bikes, needs no starter relay & can have a button mounted directly on the solenoid end.
    That cuts down on a WHOLE lot of wiring (relay, starter button, etc.)

    Be prepared to re-wire the ENTIRE bike.
    The wiring harnesses are all 30-plus years old & just waiting to drive you insane with every sort of electrical gremlin that you can possibly imagine.
    I used some EXCELLENT cloth-covered wire scored from Bill at Magneto Parts ( http://www.magnetoparts.com/wire.htm ) and ran it inside the frame, where wiring belongs.
    It's tough-as-nails but pliable enough to work into the tight spaces of a Sportster frame.

    All of the issues I've listed above are ones that I've actually dealt with & the products recommended are those that I use on my own '74 --- none of it is hearsay, Internet rumor, or shit that I heard second-hand.

  14. #14
    dazegoneby
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    yeah when you do what i did ,(get a 40 year old h/d sportster)you question everything on the bike, until you go thru the whole thing,,front to back.top to bottom,these bikes are good as the mechanic who put it together last.but when they are built right, nothing runs like the h/ds ,,imo

  15. #15
    blackchop
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    wiring belongs in the frame?

    well gee i guess ive been doing this all wrong after 35 years.

  16. #16
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    shit.. thanks Ivan.. that is pretty much what i was looking for, as for the weak points and what not.


    i am either going to try and get an ironhead or a FXR, lets see what breaks this winter and how much money i can save away from the old lady

  17. #17
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    Ironheads are the most tempermental fucking motors. Fighting everything you do...And i love both of mine to death.

  18. #18
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    Yes, blackchop, wiring DOES belong inside the frame.
    It has no business running out in the open where it's exposed to the elements (wind, rain, sun, etc.), snagging on stuff, or possibly being chewed through by rodents living in your garage or storage area.

    The factory ran it outside because it was more cost-effective & easier to do --- less chance of a disgruntled I-don't-give-a-fuck assembly line worker kinking the harness because they're feeling lazy or being sloppy.

    There's NO downside to doing it the right way.
    I can sense the arguement about accessability coming, so let's get it out in the open & dispel it:
    Want to check if a wire is frayed & causing a short?
    Disconnect it at one end, tie a pull-wire to that end as a return & pull it through & out of the frame from the other end.
    When you're done simply use the attached pull-wire to pull it back to the point where you disconnected it & you're done.

    Don't worry about how Harley did things, but rather, consider how YOU would like to have it done if the bike were being built to your specs.
    (H-D doesn't exactly have the greatest quality-control reputation as far as fit & finish are concerned, you know)
    After all, isn't that what customization is all about?

  19. #19
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    so its looking like i am going to end up with a 75 ironhead kick start

  20. #20
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    I have a 75 1000, electric start-

    only issues I have had that were not caused by my own lack of attention : crappy electric starter solenoid design and shitty after market el-cheopo electronic ignition module (the type that requires advance weights - american twin I think): ...

    Issues created by me: burned ring caused by low oil, failed generator caused by not knowing how to field it properly, which then drained the battery these things left me stranded because I lacked knowledge, awareness and was not prepared.

    My current build will have an alternator, a larger capacity oil tank, a kicker and a magneto.

    I love my IH, it will be mine til the day I die.

    I have ridden all over the US on this bike (in my early 20's) and like I said, most issues were caused by me.

    If you aren't willing to learn and do it yourself, it will fail you, eventually, it's just physics, or you will have to pay someone you trust to run through everything a few times a year for you and what's the fun in that?

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