Editor’s Note: This blog was co-authored by J&P Cycles bloggers' Scott Holton and Brett Koranda.

It’s always a feather in your cap as a writer to know that your submissions are read and taken seriously. As a technical writer, it is very gratifying to know that you helped others out. In the past few months, I’ve written a couple of articles detailing issues that are possible with the cam chain tensioners in our beloved Harley Twin Cam engines. These articles have been some of the most viewed posts in the history of the J&P Cycles blog. That in itself is very humbling, and I would like to thank all the people who took the time to read each one. As a direct result of these articles J&P Cycles' Product Merchant and blogger Brett Koranda took his 2001 Road King Classic into his favorite bike shop, High RPM Speed Shop in Dubuque, Iowa, to have these inspected. To his horror, Brett himself was bitten by chain tensioner failure. We’d like to share some photos of this type of failure and get some information straight from Brett about what he saw and heard leading up to taking his motorcycle to the shop.

Scott: Brett, what led you to bring your bike in to have the cam chain tensioners looked at?

Brett: It was time for my seasonal service anyway. I can handle the standard owner’s manual maintenance, but I also know my limitations. Since my bike was sitting around 25,000, I thought it would be best to have my guy, James, go through it more thoroughly. Based on your post regarding the cam chain tensioners, I asked James to check those as well. He said he’d be glad to, but suggested that I go ahead and change them out since I bought the bike used and couldn’t say for sure when they were last examined or replaced. He said that the parts aren’t that expensive, but it does take time to get to them, so we may as well be safe. Dang good advice as it turns out!

Scott: Did you see any symptoms that led you to believe you had something wrong?

Brett: None – not one! I don’t have an oil pressure gauge so the “dummy light” would have been my only clue and by that time, it would have likely been too late. Luckily it was a lousy cold and rainy day when I took her in, so I trailered her to his shop. That fact probably saved me from a complete catastrophe. If I had ridden her, I wouldn’t have made it to his shop.

Scott: Were you surprised that your tensioners were so far gone?

Brett: Yes, I was. I’m not a trained technician, so as a layman I was really in the dark on this issue and the potential fallout. When you see how bad they were, it’s dumb luck that something didn’t happen resulting in a destroyed engine.

Scott: What have you and your mechanic decided to do to fix the issue?

Brett: The cam chain tensioners have been replaced. There has been an ongoing issue with maintaining oil flow due to some minute debris plugging some of the paths in the cam chest. James is getting that squared away now.

Scott: Did you consider gear drive cams as an option?

Brett: I considered it, but am a little concerned about the upfront cost involved. I know that I have to have the tensioners checked more often now and in the long run won’t be saving that much, right now cash is king! I have to take a calculated risk for now.

Scott: While I do not want to pin you down here, how much is this issue costing you?

Brett: All told, we’re hanging around the $1,500 range. I want your readers to take this seriously. Listen – I baby that old girl. I run high-end synthetic oil, premium gasoline and keep up on maintenance. She’s not a bar-hopper that I just ignore then fire-up and run a mile or two. I flat-out was unaware of this crucial matter.

Failed Cam Chain Tensioner
Cam Chain Tensioners from Brett’s bike
Debris from tensioner failure..ouch

Our intention here is to educate you, the riders, about these engines and encourage regular inspections to keep this from ruining your day, and not to bash one company in favor of another.