The Harley-Davidson Sportster is a versatile line of cruiser motorcycles that offers a blend of agility, power, and comfort.
The Sportster may be one of the most popular bikes in the world, but it’s not immune to problems affecting its performance and safety.
This article will provide troubleshooting solutions to the basic issues that Sportster owners encounter.
Table of Contents
1. Harley-Davidson Sportster Won’t Start
If your Harley-Davidson Sportster doesn’t start or turn over, you may have a drained or dead battery, a bad connection, a broken ignition switch, a blocked fuel filter, or a malfunctioning starter.
Check the Battery
The battery is the first thing to check when your Sportster won’t start. Loose or corroded cables or a drained or dead battery can prevent the starter from getting enough power to start the engine.
- Examine the battery cables and terminals for any signs of corrosion, damage, or looseness.
- If you find any corrosion, clean it with a wire brush or a mixture of baking soda and water.
- If you encounter damage, replace the cable or the terminal.
- If the cables or terminals are loose, tighten the bolts or nuts with a wrench.
- To check the battery’s condition, you’ll need a voltmeter or a multimeter.
- Connect the positive (+) lead of the voltmeter to the positive (+) terminal of the battery and the negative (-) lead to the negative (-) terminal.
- The ideal battery voltage is around 12.6 volts. If the voltage is lower than 12 volts, the battery is low and needs to be revived or replaced.
Examine the Ignition Switch
The ignition switch allows you to turn on and off the motorcycle. If the ignition switch is defective, it can prevent the bike from starting.
- To test your Sportster’s ignition switch, you’ll need a test light or a multimeter.
- Connect the test light or the multimeter to the battery and probe the wires that run to the ignition switch.
- Flip the ignition switch to the ON position and see if the test light or the multimeter shows any power.
- If there is no power, the ignition switch is faulty and needs to be replaced.
Check the Starter
The starter cranks the engine when you push your Sportster’s start button. If the starter is defective, it can fail to turn the engine and cause starting issues.
- Locate your Sporter’s starter under the oil tank.
- Unhook the battery cable from the starter and connect a jumper cable from the battery to the starter terminal.
- Push the start button and see if the starter rotates. If the starter won’t spin, the starter is worn or defective and needs to be replaced.
2. Harley-Davidson Sportster Keeps Cutting Out
Harley Sportster owners may experience sudden power loss, stalling, sputtering, or backfires. Causes might include damaged ignition switches, faulty crank sensors, blocked fuel filters, dirty throttle bodies, or wiring issues.
Check the Ignition Switch
A worn or damaged ignition switch can cause the motorcycle to cut out randomly or not start at all. Examine your Sportster’s Ignition Switch using the directions in the previous section.
Examine the Crank Sensor
The crank sensor detects the position and speed of the crankshaft and sends a signal to the engine computer. A faulty crank sensor can cause the motorcycle to cut out, sputter, or misfire.
- You’ll need a multimeter and a T-pin to test the crank sensor.
- Locate the crank sensor behind the oil filter and disconnect the connector.
- Probe the sensor wires with a T-pin and a multimeter.
- The sensor should have a resistance of 0.8 to 1.6 kilo-ohms. If the resistance is out of range, replace the sensor.
Check the Fuel Filter
Your Sportster’s fuel filter filters out any dirt or debris from the fuel before it causes corrosion. If the fuel filter is blocked, it can limit the fuel flow, causing the motorcycle to cut out or run lean.
- To check the fuel filter, remove the fuel tank and access the fuel pump assembly.
- The fuel filter is located inside the fuel pump assembly, along with the fuel level sensor and the strainer.
- To remove the fuel tank, disconnect the battery, remove the seat, disconnect the electrical and fuel lines, and unscrew the bolts holding the tank.
- Remove the retaining ring that secures it to the tank To access the fuel pump assembly. You can use a special tool, screwdriver, or hammer to loosen the ring.
- To remove the fuel filter, remove the clip that holds it in place and separate it from the pump body. You’ll also need to replace the O-ring that seals the filter housing.
- Reverse the steps above. Make sure to align the filter with the correct direction of fuel flow and secure it with a new clip
Check the Throttle Body
The throttle body regulates how much air enters the engine. If the throttle body is dirty or has a defective idle air control (IAC) valve, it can cause the motorcycle to cut out or idle poorly.
- To check the throttle body, remove the air cleaner cover and look at the throttle body.
- See if the throttle plate moves freely when the engine is not running. If not, clean the throttle body with some carburetor cleaner and a soft brush.
- Also, check the IAC valve, which is located on the side of the throttle body. The IAC valve controls the idle speed by adjusting how much air bypasses the throttle plate.
- If the IAC valve is dirty or stuck, it can cause the motorcycle to cut out or idle erratically.
Check the Wiring
Examine the wiring harnesses and connectors for any signs of damage or looseness. Pay special attention to the wiring that goes to the ignition switch, the crank sensor, the fuel injector, and the throttle-by-wire system.
3. Harley-Davidson Sportster Throttle Not Working
If your Harley-Davidson Sportster‘s throttle doesn’t respond to your input, the motorcycle won’t speed up or slow down. No throttle response can be caused by air or fuel system blockages or by a faulty throttle-by-wire system.
Check the Throttle-by-Wire System
Newer Sportster models use a throttle-by-wire system designed to eliminate the throttle cable. The system includes an electronic sensor, a throttle body, and an engine computer to control the throttle.
If any of these components are defective or have a poor connection, the throttle-by-wire system can fail and cause a no-throttle response issue.
- To check the throttle by wire system, use a multimeter.
- Check for diagnostic codes.
- Reset your ECM.
- Check the wiring between the fuel tank and the fairing.
- Examine the throttle grip sensor.
- Check the throttle control actuator (TCA).
Inspect the Throttle Cable
If your Harley Sportster has a throttle cable instead of a throttle-by-wire system, look at the throttle cable for any fraying or pinching that may prevent the throttle from working correctly.
- To check the throttle cable, locate it under the tank and follow it to the throttle body.
- Examine the cable for wear, fraying, kinking, or stretching. If you find any damage, replace the cable.
- Check the cable for any pinching or binding that may limit its movement.
- If you find any pinching, loosen the cable and reroute it to avoid interference.
Check the Ignition Switch
The ignition switch is the component that allows you to turn on and off the motorcycle. A faulty ignition switch can prevent the bike from starting or responding to the throttle.
- Test the ignition switch with a test light or a multimeter.
- If there is no power, the ignition switch is bad and needs to be replaced.
Check the Throttle Plate
The throttle plate regulates how much air enters the engine. If the throttle plate is stuck or dirty, it can prevent the throttle from working correctly.
- To check the throttle plate, remove the air cleaner cover and look at the throttle body.
- See if the throttle plate moves freely when the engine is not running.
- If not, clean the throttle body with some carburetor cleaner and a soft brush.
- If the throttle plate still doesn’t move, you need to replace the throttle body.
4. Harley-Davidson Sportster Battery Not Charging
If your HD Sportster’s battery drains power faster than the charging system replenishes, it can result in a dead battery that won’t charge. Check the Battery If the battery is old, weak, or damaged, it might not hold a charge.
Check the Battery
Use the instructions above to check the battery with a voltmeter or a multimeter, or take it to an auto parts store to confirm it can hold a charge.
Check the Stator
The stator is the part responsible for charging the battery while you ride. It’s located inside your Sportster’s primary case. A faulty stator can fail to produce enough power to recharge the battery.
- Check the stator with a multimeter and a T-pin.
- Locate the stator connector behind the oil filter and disconnect it.
- Probe the wires of the stator with a T-pin and a multimeter.
- The stator should have a resistance of 0.1 to 0.2 ohms and an output voltage of 19 to 26 volts AC at 2000 RPM.
- If the resistance or the voltage is out of range, replace the stator.
Check the Regulator/Rectifier
Your Sportster’s regulator/rectifier regulates the electrical energy that charges the battery. If the voltage regulator is defective, it can overcharge or undercharge the battery.
- You’ll need a multimeter and a T-pin to check the voltage regulator. Locate the regulator/rectifier connector and disconnect it.
- Probe the regulator wires (R/R) with a T-pin and a multimeter.
- The R/R should have a 14 to 15-volt DC voltage at the battery terminals at 2000 RPM.
- Replace the R/R if the voltage is not as expected.
5. Harley-Davidson Sportster Throttle Sticking
Harley-Davidson Sportster owners may experience problems when the throttle sticks or does not return to the idle position smoothly. This can be a severe issue, affecting the motorcycle’s performance, safety, and the rider’s control, especially if the bike gets stuck in acceleration.
If your throttle gets stuck, DO NOT attempt to ride; pull over immediately and kill your Sportster’s engine.
Inspect the Throttle-by-Wire System
If the electronic sensor, the throttle body, or the engine computer that controls the throttle are defective or have a poor connection, the throttle-by-wire system can fail and cause the throttle to stick.
Follow the instructions in the article for a thorough throttle system inspection.
Check the Throttle Cable
If your Harley Sportster has a throttle cable instead of a throttle-by-wire system, inspect the cable for any signs of corrosion, impairment, or binding that may interfere with the throttle’s operation.
We have covered this process in detail in previous sections.
Check the Throttle Grip
The throttle grip is the part that you twist to control your HD Sportster’s speed, acceleration, and deceleration. If the throttle grip is loose or corroded, it can cause the throttle to stick or slip.
- To check the throttle grip, remove it from your handlebar and inspect it for any signs of damage or corrosion.
- If you see any damage or corrosion, replace your throttle grip.
- If your throttle grip is OK, ensure it’s properly installed on your handlebar and secured with screws.
6. Harley-Davidson Sportster Keeps Stalling
If your Harley-Davidson Sportster stalls or dies while riding or idling, you may have a dirty or faulty carburetor, a clogged or leaking fuel system, a flawed ignition system, a weak or dead battery, or a loose or damaged electrical connection.
Check the Carburetor
The carburetor is the chamber that mixes air and fuel to create a combustible mixture for the engine. If the carburetor is dirty or faulty, it can cause the motorcycle to stall or run poorly.
- To check the carburetor, remove it from the motorcycle and inspect it for any signs of dirt, corrosion, wear, or damage.
- Clean the carburetor with some carburetor cleaner and a soft brush. Pay special attention to the jets, the needle, and the float bowl.
- Check the settings of the idle speed screw and the mixture screw. The idle speed screw controls how fast the engine idles, while the mixture screw controls how rich or lean the fuel-air mixture is at idle.
- Adjust the screws according to your owner’s manual or service manual specifications.
- If the carburetor is still not working correctly, you may need to replace it with a new one.
Check the Fuel System
The fuel system is the part that delivers fuel from the tank to the engine. If the fuel system is clogged or leaking, it can prevent the motorcycle from getting enough or too much fuel, causing it to stall or run rich.
Check the Ignition System
The ignition system is the part that creates a spark to ignite the fuel-air mixture in the engine. If the ignition system is bad, it can cause the motorcycle to stall or misfire.
7. Harley-Davidson Sportster Fork Leaking
If fork oil leaks from your Sporster’s fork seals or the fork caps. This can affect the motorcycle’s suspension, handling, and the rider’s comfort and safety.
Check the Fork Seal and Caps
The fork seal is the part that prevents the fork oil from leaking out of the fork tube. If the fork seal is dirty or damaged, the oil can leak past it onto the fork leg or the brake rotor.
- Remove the front wheel and the brake caliper from the motorcycle and inspect the fork seal for any signs of dirt, debris, wear, tear, or damage.
- If you see any wear, tear, or damage, replace your fork seal.
- Remove your fork cap from the Sportster and inspect it for any signs of cracking, damage, or looseness.
- If you see any cracking, damage, or looseness, replace your fork cap.
8. Harley-Davidson Sportster Glide Death Wobble
There are several possible causes for death or speed wobbles on an HD Sportster, such as poor front-end geometry, a worn or damaged tire, a bent or cracked wheel, a faulty or misaligned steering damper, or a loose or corroded handlebar.
Check the Front-End Geometry
The front-end geometry of a motorcycle, including rake angle, trail, and wheelbase, significantly influences its stability. An incorrect setup or worn suspension components can contribute to death wobble.
Check the Tire/Wheel
A tire with uneven wear or out-of-round profile can create an imbalance, which may initiate a wobble at high speeds. An imbalanced, bent, or cracked wheel can lead to instability and speed wobbling.
Check the Steering Damper/Handlebars
A faulty or misaligned steering damper can cause death wobble by interfering with the natural steering feedback. If the handlebar is loose or corroded, it can cause speed wobbles by affecting your steering input and feedback.
9. Harley-Davidson Sportster Glide Rough Idle
There are several possible causes for a rough idle problem on a Sportster, such as a dirty or faulty carburetor, a clogged or leaking fuel system, a flawed ignition system, a weak or dead battery, or an improper idle speed adjustment.
Check the Fuel System
If the fuel system is clogged or leaking, it can prevent your Sportster from getting adequate fuel, causing it to idle roughly or run rich.
Check the Ignition System
A faulty ignition system can cause a rough idle or misfire.
Check the Idle Speed Adjustment
The idle speed adjustment allows you to fine-tune how fast your engine idles. An Improper idle speed causes the motorcycle to idle too high or too low, causing idle problems.