Sunday, April 27, 2008

Broken Harley Shift Linkage

Yesterday, the shift linkage on my Electra Glide broke. I was lucky to have discovered this in my garage.

The best I could figure is that it actually failed somewhere on a ride last Thursday, but managed to stay on until I got home.

The linkage itself didn't break, it was the piece that connects the linkage to the front shift lever. This piece uses a "ball and cuff" joint, allowing the linkage to move forward and backward as you operate the heel-toe shifter. After so much usage, the ball wears down, and eventually slips out of the cuff.

Shift Linkage Harley Davidson Broken

Harley Shift Linkage

I've read from others on various Harley-Davidson forums that this happens all the time. My shift linkage was the original linkage on the bike, and lasted for 47,000 miles. That's pretty good actually. Many others have reported a broken shift linkage in the 15K to 20K mile range.

So I went to Quaid Harley-Davidson in Temecula to see what I could do to repair it. I thought all I needed is a new "ball" to replace the old one. Turns out they don't sell that. They can only sell you a whole new shift linkage, with all new hardware.

It wasn't too bad, it only cost me $20.00.

Harley custom shift linkageI also looked at the "custom" shift linkages they sell. These attach to the shift-levers using a "heim joint", which appears to me as being more reliable and less likely to fail. Except the basic model was priced at $87.00. Screw that.

I figure I'll try to get myself another 47,000 miles on this stock replacement.

So I took it home, and put it on.

As I looked at the old broken linkage in my hands, all I could think about was how Harley designed this linkage to fail. In their parts department, the custom shift linkages are highly visible to any customer walking in. If you didn't know better, you'd think that those were the stock pieces. They were hoping suckers Harley owners would see those instead and pay more than four-times higher than what they needed to pay.

As far as the Motor Company is concerned, each motorcycle they sell is a piggy bank, their piggy bank that is. That motorcycle is designed to collect money for them. It might make only a few hundred dollars a year, or it might make tens of thousands. But it will make money guaranteed.

It's like how they say about video game consoles. The companies that make them lose money on the consoles themselves, but earn all the profits on game cartridges, and accessories.

But perhaps maybe I screwed myself over for having bought another stock shift linkage that will eventually fail. If this new shift linkage fails on me in only 20K miles or less, I'll figure out a way jury-rig the thing to stay on.


  1. I am having trouble with the shifter on my o6 Harley deluxe. gears do not want to go in at times and I need to push down on shifter and then back up to catch the next gear.

  2. Thanks for writing up this post. I was in my garage ready to head over to Daytona for Biketoberfest when I discovered that my linkage failed. I'd actually been riding around town all day, so I was lucky that it failed at home.

    At least now I know it's not too expensive to get a replacement that will fail, too. Mine lasted about 28,500 miles.

    1. your shifter forks are bad. about a $500 fix. must be a shit design, mine went after only 16000 miles

  3. My ball joint / cuff linkage at the front end of the shift linkage broke at 14000 miles. Looking at the wear pattern and the installed arrangement, it is clear that since the shift rod is not parallel to the centerline of the bike, this linkage will always fail. I replaced the OE with the "fancier" but different connection design of a Harley add-on design.

  4. I've got an '05 Roadking Custom and mine failed (in front) at 23k miles. Although more expensive, I'm going to replace mine with a fancier POW/MIA link -- but NOT from HD. This reminds me of all the chatter I hear about shift shaft seals failing. HD won't acknowledge there's a problem but the replacement seal is different from the original. Hmmm....

  5. My shifter just 'failed' on the way home from work last night. The break was exactly how the original article described. Have a 2003 FLHRCI with 17K miles.
    Pulled over, tie-wrapped and worked fine all the way to stealership.
    Yep, prices are outrageous to replace with a custom linkage rod.
    And yes, I have heard that they fail (stock linkage rod) anywhere from 15K to 20K miles. Depends on how hard you ride the bike. Meaning how hard you shift.

  6. Thanks for this informative post. Part Failure recorded at 16,200 miles. (Toronto, Canada)

  7. Here's a quick fix using half-foot bungee cord:

    A description can be found at:

  8. I really enjoyed your post "Broken Harley Shift Linkage", as a businessman, rider and designer, I can see the subject from several perspectives. You might find it a bit funny but a Harley Shift linkage is also what I happen to design. I got fed up with the lame, easy options that other companies were doing and decided to have a go myself.

    The Harley Davidson's business model is an old one that I'm not sure is healthy. It revolves around selling one thing but making a lot of money from subsequent maintenance costs. Their one saving grace is that by a serendipitious miracle, the formula that comprises their bikes is absolutely brilliant. If Harley Bikes were just bikes, then they'd go the way of British cars did when the Japanese moved in, and you realised you could buy a car that would probably never break down for the first 5 years of its life.

    Brian Barghout

  9. if you pinch the socket end with vise grips with the ball end inside but be careful not to hard you need to maintajn the play little atta time

  10. The shift rod/linkage on my 01 Road King didn't fail but I wanted to replace it with something that wouldn't corode and lined up better. I'm a machinist and fabricated one from 3/8" 304/18-8 stainless that I turned and threaded on both ends to 5/16-24. I used 304/18-8 stainless rod ends with stainless lock nuts and chromed stainless button head bolts to attach the assembly to the shift arms front and back. It will probably last long after I'm gone and looks sweet too. If anyone wants more information such as dimensions or images of my completed linkage just e-mail me.

  11. '05 Ultra,64682 mi on my original
    linkage, still hasn't broke. I am going to change it to the other style as I don't want it to break on the way to Sturgis this year.

  12. Thanks for the post. I had same failure out in the middle of the desert, 40 miles south of Las Vegas. Fortunately, I carry a roll of electricians tape. patched it and it took me the rest of a 2000 mile trip. Have heard that you can buy just the heim joints (5/16") at a good hardware store and use them as permanent replacements.

  13. My 1990 Heritage has the original linkage. My 2004 Electra Glide broke for the second time today with 42,000 miles.

    I cut some cloth, to tie the linkage back together to get me home. It worked.


  14. Yes I just had the same problem at 25,000 miles. Keep at least 1 tie wrap handy for when that sucker comes off. Luckly I found a piece of wire on the side of the road. Shame on you Harley , you know you made this part to fail and American made by Harley is also a bunch of crap, this part is probably made in China like everything else we bye at the Harley Shop !

  15. I added a post to the "Broken Harley Shift Linkage" thread some time ago about making my own linkage and thought some of the other machinist / biker / gear head types might benefit from more details. No flames, sculls, bones, frills or logos!

    Here are a couple images you might find helpful. I use all USA made components and steel. I use 304 / 18-8 rod ends that are aircraft quality and have Teflon seals. I machine 3/8" diameter 304 / 18-8 bar stock for the rod and use stainless, chrome plated nuts and button head bolts for the attaching hardware. I ride a Road King and the center to center distance for the rod ends is 12-1/4". Harleys with different center to center distance simply require that you change the dimension of the rod. My source for rod ends is Kaman Industrial Technologies in Savannah, Georgia. The part number is GRF5T and be to certain specify 304 / 18-8. (They may have 316 grade but it isn’t as easy to machine.) Also; the part number should be consistent for any source since rod ends comply with industry standards.

    (1) Obtain a piece of 3/8" diameter 304 / 18-8 bar stock and face to 10-½" long. (I use a collet to avoid chuck jaw marks on the material.)

    (2) Turn the ends to 5/16", (.3125) for about 1.200" long. Cut a 45 degree chamfer

    about .040" wide on the ends.

    (3) Cut the 5/16"-24 threads on each end with a die aligned with the tailstock. (Or single point them using the lead screw.) Better still; write a simple program for your Mazak, Okuma or many other user friendly CNC lathes.

    (4) Cut another .020 - .030" wide 45 degree chamfer where the threads (major diameter) joins the 3/8" rod to get rid of the sharp corner and improve appearance

    (5) Polish the rod with your choice of metal polish.


    Install a 5/16"- 24 nut on each thread and screw on the rod ends.

    Make your desired center to center distance adjustment at this time and lock the nuts to the rod ends. Try to keep the rod ends closely aligned with each other. After assembly, polish the entire assembly one last time.


    I use a 1" 5/16"-24 button head screw for the front with the rod end on the inside of the shifter arm. Secure it with an acorn nut on the outside of the shifter arm. At the rear I use a 1-1/4 " 5/16"-24 button head screw with a nut tightened securely to the rod end. Thread the screw into the threads on the shift arm until the nut bottoms out and torque the nut to the arm. I use a drop of blue Loctight on all the threads. The nut on the rear attachment point serves as a spacer as well as a lock nut and this arrangement removes all the severe angle of the stock assembly.

  16. Oldav8r's comment on the 6th of April, really put a smile on my face and I just had to respond. He's a man after my heart, I just hate to do the same job twice. I'm an engineer too and I design my own Harley Shift Linkages, but when I read how he went about fabricating a new shift linkage for his 01 Road king, I figured out even befeore I got to the end of his post that this particular harley Shift Linkage will be around long after we're both gone. Good for you.

    Brian Barghout

  17. 95 Super Glide. Unknown miles. Bought bike used with no speedo on it. This linkage fell off today right in the middle of an intersection with 4 lanes every direction. Scary moment. I was stuck in 2nd gear for about 6 miles. Which is a pretty good gear to be stuck in if you think about it. Although my arm was cramping up for holding in the clutch contstantly, because i had to run it up to speed and coast a while with clutch in and then run it up to speed again. Anyways, i finally found a supermarket, went in and bought a small bungee cord. Hooked it on the arm and ran it through the other side and hooked on the bottom of the transmission bracket. Holds it on fine and would probably work like that for 10k miles if i wanted to. However, I will start tomorrow looking for some heim joints on the cheap. I am thinking I might try some all thread for the bar and then run a piece of copper tubing over the all thread in between the heim joints. I love the look of copper and have been wanting to redo all fuel and oil lines with it anyways, so this might be the first peice of copper on the bike. Anyways - agreed - peice of crap joint and Harley clearly planned it to fail.

    Just needed to chirp my ten cents worth . Nice blog :-)

  18. My 07 Dyna Super Glide shifter linkage broke as I down shifted at a stop light on my way home from work. I have a little more than 61,000 miles in my bike. At least I was in 2nd gear. The rod has no replaceable "rod ends" and the ball fits into a hole in the rod itself. I am an aircraft mechanic and I just happened to have a spool of stainless .032 inch safety wire in my saddle bag. I wrapped it ( temporarily) and rode on with no further problems. I imediately started searching the HD online parts catalog where I could not find the original linkage. A number of very high priced custom linkage's were offered however. I have a 3 year unlimited milage warranty, but I'm betting this part won't be covered ( normal wear and tare). I will probably make my own more reliable replacement.

  19. Here's a link to a another forum I'm a member of that details the fabrication of a replacement that will last a long time.

    Best regards
    Mike (

  20. Like a lot of you guys mine broke in the driveway putting in neutral to open garage door.. thanks for your posts already wired to make it to work tomorrow, then Hundred Dollor store. Should be cheaper than replacing garage door opener. 2005 ultra glide

  21. When my several broke over the years. I was always able to get her home by tearing two small peices of cigarette foil out of my pack, and placing it in the socket, pop the thing back together and ride on home. It should last a week or so unless you get caught in the rain.

  22. with 130,000 miles on my 03 geezer glide, guess I've been one of the lucky ones. Still have the original linkage, but now I'm interested in making my own.

  23. Without having to get proper bolts I found the
    following as designed by a plumber. For a little over $11 dollars and reusing the washers and nuts you already have and the shaft VIOLA!

    COPY AND PASTE ALL the Following Link into your browser's URL slot and behold...

  24. 've got an '05 Electra Glide Classic and mine failed (in front) at 24k miles, tonight while riding in light rain. The ball was well worn, I put it back on and held it together with wire ties, till I got home. Thanx for the info, gonna try making my own.

  25. You are soooo right about HD incorporating "intentional design flaws"! My Harley Davidson Deuce at 16,000 miles had to have cam change tensioners replaced because they were CRAP! Go Figure new kit screaming eagle cost $500. Upon reassembly of the bike, reinstalled the stater after inspecting primary change ramp only to find that HD intentionally did not install a .60" shim behind stater hub to prevent it from chattering. This part is actually available to purchase for $5, but upon initial assembly from the factory they didn't install it. Be aware Harley Owners one more issue to consider if you are burning through primary chain ramps. If I didn't have such an attachment to my Harley that piggy bank would be long gone! Batman

  26. My linkage was soo loose at 10,000 miles I replaced the whole assembly, not bad at $26.00 shipped.
    I have an extended warranty but it is a pain to go and take the time and I don't trust anyone working on it.
    Being a machinist I can thread the ends of the old shaft and install new ends.
    At $6.95 each end.

  27. For $45, I purchased a drag specialties heim joint shift rod/ linkage kit. 2008 road king classic. Installed it and noticed I wasn't able to shift back down to 1st at stop lights. Pulled over and did not observe any binding. Rode another mile or two and same shifting issue. Took it back off and reinstalled the stock shift rod just to see if it's not something else in the tranny. No shifting problems occurred with stock rod. Then I figured out the heim joints needed to be spaced away from the front and rear shift levers. There was two chromed washers in the kit, and I realized they aren't washers. They are the spacers I needed to install between the heim joint and levers. I read earlier posts talking about binding shift levers and cannot down shift. This is what I discovered. I just failed to install the shift rod correctly. I did ad a couple of nylon spacers to help align the shift rod straighter. Works like a charm. Got some hardware at local Ace Hardware store. Also noticed they sell the stock ball/cup type linkage ends too for about $5-$10 bucks each (pending on the sizes).

    Mark- Omaha NE

  28. 06 Road King Police Bike--failed yesterday on the way home from work. 23K. Sounds right on time after reading these posts. Thanks for the situational awareness. Now I know.


About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)