Sportster Digital Gauge
By Steve Lita
We are back on our Sportster project bike and continuing where we left off in the last issue. In Issue 118 we installed a bracket to reposition the factory gauge from the upper handlebar clamp to the front edge of the upper triple clamp. It’s a tidy little mod that cleaned up the cockpit of this 2003 Harley Sportster 883R. Once I had the gauge and bracket relocated, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I ordered up a cool Dakota Digital replacement instrument. The correct part number for this bike is MCL-3200, and it is designed to fit 1994-2003 Sportster and Dyna models with 3-3/8″ gauge; it slides right into the stock bracket. It’s available with either red or blue digits. When not lit up, the instrument has a completely blank black face. But turn on the ignition key and things light up.
There are many great things about this Dakota Digital replacement that make it superior to the stocker. It has added features like fully adjustable 0-255 MPH or KM/h speedometer with an arching tachometer with adjustable shift point. The tach can also be displayed as a digital numeric readout. There’s a gear shift position indicator (which can accommodate bikes that range from three- to seven-speed transmissions), a one-time programmable odometer with dual-trip odometers, voltmeter with low voltage alert and clock. For maintenance-minded folks there’s a resettable miles-to-service indicator with warning (user-settable countdown) and a hourmeter. I like the built-in performance calculation features like 0- 60 time, high-speed and high-rpm recall, 1/4-mile time, and speed recorders. The somewhat universal nature of this gauge even accommodates check engine, cruise control, and security system indicators if your bike is equipped with those (mine is not).
This part number gauge includes several bundles of wire harnesses so different systems can be tapped into wiring on the bike. So, this particular gauge is not exactly a plug-and-play replacement. Bear in mind, Dakota Digital does make plug-and-play drop-in gauges for 2004-13 Sporty and 2014 and up Sporty. Those two are much easier to install, maybe a ten-minute job. However, the MCL-3200 does require some wire tracing, soldering of wires, and, on older bikes, you may need a speedo cable converter to send an electrical impulse to the new digital gauge. But for this story I am going to concentrate on just the 2003 model Sportster.
It’s not a bad idea to have a shop manual handy for this job. Luckily, I have one with color pages indicating factory wiring harness wire colors and tracer color patterns. The Dakota instruction sheet is quite thorough, and the very first page of the instructions has a wiring diagram of the gauge and spells out what color wire controls which function of the gauge. That’s great info, but it doesn’t tell me where every Dakota wire goes on the bike. Then you thumb through five more pages of calibrating, synchronizing, and setting steps, but still there’s confusion about how to hook it up. Then, finally, on the last page is the most valuable chart of all: a wiring color code conversion table from Dakota to factory Harley-Davidson colors. Yay! That’s what I was looking for.
After using my shop manual wiring harness chart to confirm some colors, I found the chart listed in the Dakota instructions was spot-on. But bear in mind that older bikes might have different color wires. A couple of final notes on the gauge: it is available with a chrome or black front bezel and has a machined aluminum gauge body. For applications that have a pair of stock instruments, a replacement or modified dash panel bracket is necessary to consolidate everything into this single instrument.
Initially, the most time-consuming issue with this gauge was having to carefully separate and identify wires, solder all the connections together, and seal them in heat-shrink tubing. Once that’s done just enclose it in the factory bracket, and you’re ready to start calibrating. Calibrating and programming all the functions takes a little while, but when you’re done, you have ten times what the factory gauge offered for information. Well, let’s admit it, the factory gauge leaves much to be desired.
• 3/32″ Allen wrench
• Soldering iron
Parts: The Dakota gauge looks blank, because, well, it is. It has a smooth, dark, flat appearance at rest. The wire harness at lower right will not be used. It is optional for use with some add-on readings on aftermarket installations.
1 – The stock gauge is bare-bones basic. I will light it up one last time to record the correct odometer reading, then I can program the new gauge correctly.
2 – Remove the two flathead Allenhead screws with a 3/32″ Allen wrench. I used a small offset ratchet and bit because of tight clearance.
3 – Remove the rubber boot that covers the gauge function switch with your fingers. It’s threaded onto the switch.
4 – Pull the gauge backing plate down and remove the stock gauge. Retain the two large round gauge gaskets.
5 – Install the two rubber gaskets on the new Dakota gauge and set it in place.
6 – Cut off the factory gauge wire connector and solder the Dakota wires to the Sportster wire harness.
7 – The Dakota gauge even comes with a new Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS) wire loom. Run it under the tank, and it connects to the factory Harley VSS connector located under the seat or tap into the three wires of the stock loom inside the gauge cup.
8 – Bundle wires and stow inside the gauge cup. Install the backing plate with the stock flathead Allenhead screws using a 3/32″ Allen wrench.
9 – Hook up the battery and test the gauge. Now it’s time to calibrate it.
10 – First step for me was to program to correct odometer mileage. Now there won’t be any discrepancies on paperwork should I sell the bike.