Softail Belt Tension & Wheel Alignment

AW 01AHow to check and adjust rear wheel alignment and belt tension

By Tyler Greenblatt

It’s said that good things happen when the stars, planets, or whatever else is out there are aligned. Many believe that symmetrical perfection in the universe has some bearing on our everyday lives. Whether or not it does is debatable. There is an alignment, however, that can provide you with never-ending happiness. There is a source of symmetrical perfection that can lead to countless hours of enjoyment, enlightenment, and euphoria. Don’t sprint for your Brookstone telescope just yet! The wisdom thou seeketh lieth in thy garage. And in the holy rag clutched within thy grasp.

When your Harley-Davidson’s rear wheel is out of alignment, the world might as well have hopped over a couple degrees on its rotational axis. But when the rear wheel is straight and true and the belt tension is set just right, the true meaning of life is just a few miles down the road.

Checking and setting alignment and rear belt tension require a little less work than getting the planets to align. And it’s certainly faster than waiting for that phenomenon to occur. Our 2003 Heritage Softail started feeling a bit out of character on the road, so we figured it was probably about time to check the rear end.

There are two steps to aligning the rear wheel once you’ve determined it’s required: checking the rear belt tension and then adjusting the axle adjusters. To check the belt tension, you need to find the tightest section of the belt while the bike’s owner (or someone of similar weight) is on it. Use a belt tension tool, like ours from Motion Pro, to apply 10 pounds of upward pressure to the bottom of the top run of the belt about halfway between the transmission and rear pulleys. Look for 5/16″-3/8″ of total deflection. If belt tension falls within that parameter, you only need to adjust the right (nonbelt) side of your motorcycle to get the wheel in alignment. If the belt needs to be adjusted, start on the left (belt) side and adjust the axle forward or back depending on whether the belt needs to be looser or tighter. Then set the right axle adjuster to match. The step-by-step procedure of how to do this is included in this article (*).

After changing the tire or rear wheel, always check that the rear wheel is aligned to the frame and the belt tension is correct. You should first check belt tension and then do the alignment in case you have to move the wheel to realign it. Follow along with the accompanying photos and captions to see how it’s all done, and, while your lucky stars may never be in alignment, at least your Harley will be. And, really, what more do you need? AIM

*This article appeared with step-by-step instructions and photos, in issue #313 of American Iron Magazine, published September 2014. To order a back issue of this or any other issue of AIM, visit

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