Nothing like a new set of wheels

The wheels on our 2004 Sportster XL1200C project bike had seen better days. The chrome on the slotted disc rear wheel was peeling, and the cast aluminum underneath was pitted. The spoked 21-inch front was in better shape but left us wanting in the performance department. Turn-in wasn’t particularly sharp, and at higher speeds the front got a bit squirmy, so we opted to drop it down to a 19-incher. While we perused plenty of available options, we kept gravitating to the Slotted 6-Spoke Wheels from Harley’s P&A catalog. The cast aluminum wheels have a textured black finish highlighting the spokes and rim, and the combination is right in line with the blend of black and chrome we’ve got on the bike. The design fits the mold of the hot-rodded lines we’ve been trying to establish, too, at half the cost of some of the other companies we checked out. While we were at it, we also had a fresh set of Metzeler ME888 Marathon Ultras spooned on, as new wheels deserve new rubber.

The Harley Slotted 6-Spoke Wheels came from the factory without the bearings installed because the wheels fit a few different fork sizes. 

Helping out with the wheel swap was our buddy Bob of Redwood Cycles in Grants Pass, Oregon. Bob is our go-to guy when we have issues and has come through on more than one occasion, from tapping out stripped bolts to figuring out wiring issues. He’s even made house calls! Drives home the point that it’s important to have a good relationship with your resident bike shop owner and to support locally. Not only do we lean on his expertise, he’s got the mounting and balancing tools to do the job a lot quicker and more efficiently than we could.

To install the Harley Slotted 6-Spoke 19-inch front wheel (Part #44057-07) and Slotted 6-Spoke 16-inch rear (Part #43929-08), you’ll need a ¾-inch Axle Wheel Installation Kit for the front (Part #43833-07A) and back (#43854-08A), too. The kit includes new bearings and axle sleeves of different lengths depending on the fork size because the wheels fit 2000-2005 Dynas as well as XL models, so the new wheels come without the guts installed.

With the bike on the lift, Bob removed the front caliper then took off the front wheel. The brake disc was also removed so it could be reinstalled on the new Slotted 6-Spoke wheel. The axle, axle nut and wheel spacers were saved for reuse as well. He then set about the task of inserting the new bearings and axle sleeve. After those were in place, he mounted and balanced the new front Metzeler ME888 Marathon Ultra tire. A groove is machined on the left-side hub to indicate the primary bearing side. Then the hub cap and disc were reattached, each held in place by five bolts. Feeding the axle through the new hub and spacers followed, the axle nut was tightened to spec and the caliper bolted back into place.

Swapping out the rear wheel follows much of the same procedure but does require a little extra effort. Once the spring clip, axle nut and washer are removed, the drive belt adjusting nuts need to be loosened and the rear wheel slid forward before the axle can be tapped out. Like the front, the brake disc needs to be removed, as does the drive sprocket. Once again, the axle, axle nut, and spacers are saved for reinstallation. Bob then inserted the new bearings and axle sleeve and reattached the disc and sprocket, each held in place by five bolts. The wheel was placed on the tire mounter as Bob helped the seating process with a few perfectly timed pushes until the final bead was set with a pop. Feeding the rear axle back through proved more challenging than the front because you have to align the left-side belt adjuster and spacer just right. With it all lined up, everything was tightened down and good to go.

Pulling out of Redwood Cycles, the new Metzeler ME888 Marathon Ultras are slick as all get out and the rear wiggled a bit under moderate acceleration, reminding us to take it easy until we get the fresh oils off and scuff the treads up a bit. Before putting them on we were running a set of Metzeler ME880s, which should give us a good barometer to judge the new 888s by. Metzeler states the Marathon Ultras sport a new profile featuring a wider and shorter footprint area that’s supposed to reduce wear while increasing mileage and stability. The new tread design is also claimed to provide better traction on wet roads, something we can appreciate with fall coming in Oregon.

So far we’ve logged almost a 1,000 miles on the new wheels and tires. The front is dramatically improved, as the Sportster tracks truer in turns and sticks to its line better. The motorcycle is much more stable on fast sweepers and at higher speeds. Now that we’ve got the tires broken in we haven’t had any issues with grip and traction. The Harley Slotted 6-Spoke Wheels spices up the look, too. Now we can’t wait to get the RSD brake caliper and radial brake master cylinder on to shore up our squishy stock front brakes as our 2004 Sportster project bike continues to evolve.