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TECHLINE Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Transmissions

Harley Magazine Blog Tech & How-to Techline - Donny Petersen

TECHLINE Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Transmissions


Part III: Shifter springs, shifter forks & other shifty things – by Donny Petersen

This month in American Iron Harley magazine we continue with an excerpt from Chapter IX of Donny’s Unauthorized Technical Guide to Harley-Davidson 1936-Present, Volume III.  (Some content has been altered to fit AIM’s style and format.)

The five-speed transmission shifter shaft lever (#34084-86; #34084-86A) is located outside the transmission case, near the top and front of the left side. This lever is connected to the external shifter linkage, which is activated by the shifter lever near the rider’s left foot. This shifter lever’s shaft extends through the transmission case and its appendage is part of the shifter cam pawl (#34086-79) assembly. In between the case and pawl sits a plate (#35068-79) and the shifter shaft return spring (1979-92: #34087-79; 1993-2000: #34087-79A). The function of the spring is to return the foot shifter to the center position between the upshift and the downshift positions. This spring is the reason the shifter does not stay down after downshifting. The shifter may stay up after upshifting, but gravity will probably bring it down even if the spring is broken.

The function of the shifter shaft return spring (arrow) is to return the foot shifter to the center position between the upshift and downshift positions. This spring is the reason the shifter does not stay down after downshifting.

Shifter Shaft Return Spring
The shifter shaft return spring sits above the churning gear clusters beneath. Unfortunately, the early version of this spring has a nasty habit of breaking. When the spring breaks, it has nowhere to go but down into the meshing gears. Pieces of the spring may make their way down past the gears and lie harmlessly in the oil bath underneath. However, sections may lodge between the gear teeth, severely damaging or knocking them off their gear. It’s possible that nothing will give way until the five-speed transmission case cracks, but, in my experience, something else will smash up first. It’s a different story with four-speed transmission cases, as they can crack when debris falls between gear clusters.

You’ll know you have a problem if the foot shifter will not automatically return to its center position after up- or downshifting. Furthermore, if the spring’s broken pieces fall into the gears, the rear wheel may suddenly lock up for an instant and then break loose again when parts break, dent, or bend inside the transmission.

The problem is that the early springs on the shifter cam support have a sharp turn or bend, which creates a stress point and allows pressure to concentrate there. The constant back-and-forth, up-and-down movement as the gear shifter is shifted eventually breaks the spring at the sharp bend. This problem was corrected in 1993 with a stronger and more durable shifter shaft return spring. A rounded bend replaced the former sharp bend, which distributes the pressure more evenly throughout the metal, eliminating the weak spot. The newer version spring serves the five-speed well up until the demise of the Evolution in 2000 and through the Twin Cam years until the introduction of the Cruise Drive six-speed transmission introduced on the 2006 Dyna models and all Big Twins in 2007.

To get the rest of this story visit GreaseRag.com and pickup the March 2011 issue of American Iron Harley magazine.



  1. victor February 10, 2015

    Hi, i have this broken spring problem in my 2012 FXDB….i replace it already for a new spring, but still…the shifter does not return to it`s center position, even with the new spring…what could it be?

  2. humb November 23, 2014

    Hi Alain, I have this issue with my 92 flstc, I would beneifit from any advice you have….. I am in the transmission already…hb33@rocketmail.com. ..thanks

  3. Alain Holloway March 8, 2014

    It happen to me last season on my 91 softail, I did fixed it by my self but let me tell you it is a HUGGGGGEEEEE job. If any of you need some advice, I’ll be glad to help them!


  4. griz rozanc January 16, 2014

    Read your article on shifter shaft return spring,happend on my 92 eletragilde sport,lost 1&2 gears.Since this happend in nov 2013 bike has been put away for winter.Sill goes in 3,4,5 any idea what i be getting into when i tear down bike has 24,000 on it.

  5. Dom Lacava June 29, 2013

    I read your article on the 5th gear transmission noise in the 2007 Harleys.
    I own a 2007 FLSTC and I have the same whirlling sound in my 5th gear, I love the bike but the sound is annoying and I’m either down shifting to 4th or just going into 6th to stop hearing it.
    is there a trans fluid I can use to stop or calm down this noise?
    Thanks, Dom Lacava

  6. Ricahard McAllister September 9, 2012

    have a 2011 deluxe and am hearing a rattle noise in trans i guess when in 3rd or 4th or 5th or 6th at lower rpm’s crazy i know

  7. John Falk May 10, 2012

    Bought a 2002 FatBoy with Custom Valley wide tire kit. Trying toi convert to a H-D 6-speed but need a transmission main shaft that is 1″ longer then standard. Custom Valley cannot supply.
    Any ideas where to look? Thanks.