Harley Wheel Bearings: Was Old Better?
Up until 1999, the motor company used conventional, serviceable Harley wheel bearings. These were high quality bearings made by Timken. They were packed with grease and set against a bearing race with a wheel bearing seal on the outside end of the wheel hub to block out the elements and seal in grease.
Typically, at a 10,000 mile service, or when replacing a tire, the Harley wheel bearings would be serviced. This meant, removing the wheel bearing seals, removing and thoroughly cleaning the bearings, checking bearing end play, repacking the bearings, and replacing the wheel bearing seals. This was a little more work, but with properly set wheel end play and with regular maintenance, this style wheel bearing could last indefinitely under normal riding conditions.
Newer was OK
Around 2000, Harley introduced the Twin Cam bikes with front and rear sealed Harley wheel bearings. Most of us mechanics and do-it-yourselfers were cool with this change as it, not only, meant less work; but it also meant not having to handle those greasy wheel bearings! In the early 2000s, the axle and bearing diameters were 3/4″. Rear tires were not all that large in width or overall size yet. Bearings would sometimes fail but it was not a common occurrence. Failure was often related to either, high mileage or wheels that were subject to excessive moisture for prolonged periods of time.
Bigger But Smaller
Axle diameters have now increased to 1 inch or 25mm, depending on year and model. Tire sizes, especially rear tire dimensions, have grown dramatically. However, for some reason Harley Davidson has begun using sealed Harley wheel bearings that are smaller; not as thick. This has made wheel bearing failure an all too common occurrence. For 2008 and later models with this type of bearing, it is not uncommon to experience failure before 20,000 miles.
For this reason, it is highly recommended, pretty much necessary, that Harley wheel bearings be inspected at every tire replacement or anytime a wheel is pulled. It is good, proactive maintenance to replace sealed wheel bearings at every, or every-other tire replacement rather than wait for the inevitable.
In this video, Mike demonstrates bearing replacement on an ABS wheel and make sure to watch Bob and Mark’s video using a less expensive tool.