Harley Davidson High-Flow Air Cleaner Kit – Install on a Softail

I wanted to replace the stock air cleaner cover for my 2016 Softail Deluxe with a plain, flat chrome cover.  Unfortunately, the stock air cleaner does not support this cover.  In order to put this $40 cover on my bike, I had to buy the high-flow air cleaner kit.  Interesting design by Harley.  To use a $40 part, you have to spend $160 for a new cleaner kit in order to spend $40 on the desired part.  So…$200 later.  🙂

Here are before and after images of the air cleaners.





I like to think the newer air cleaner cover is much cleaner, better representation of the vintage, nostalgic look of my bike.

Now…let’s talk install.  When you look at the install instructions it can appear a bit overwhelming for something as simple as an air-cleaner, but don’t fret.  For me, anything but a mechanic, I was able to complete the entire process in about 1.5 hours.

First.  You’re going to need to remove the stock air cleaner.  This is broken down in to 4 steps.  I know, you want to get straight to the install, but you’re still going to have to remove the stock air cleaner.  🙂  There is a lot I have to say below, but don’t be overwhelmed.  I’m just trying to be as thorough as I can, so that you aren’t confused as you move along.

  1. Remove the stock cover.  This is one bolt in the middle of the cover.  My cover said “103” on it.  This is probably going to be the easiest part of the entire installation.  So…if you have trouble here, you may just want to give up and take your bike to a shop.
  2. Remove the stock air filter.  In my case there were 3 bolts that had to be removed.  Depending on your specific model, this could be less or the same.  Maybe even more.  Regardless, it should be fairly obvious.  Once you have removed these small bolts, there are probably going to be 2 big rubber pieces pushed in to where you’d assume larger bolts are located.  You are right!  There are bolts in these 2 locations…1 underneath each piece of rubber.  In my case, the rubber was one big piece that covered the aforementioned bolts, and connected to the back of the stock air filter.  So, before I was able to physically “remove” the stock air filter, I had to pull the rubber out of their current location.  Do not worry, you aren’t going to break anything underneath them since there are only bolts underneath.  And, you aren’t going to use the stock air filter again anyway, so any damage you potentially do to the rubber piece isn’t going to matter.  If it does matter, just pull normal and don’t try to man-handle it too much.  I had to give it a fairly firm pull, and still didn’t damage it, so I’m sure you can do this too.
  3. Remove the bolts that are left in the 2 holes.  Here, you should be careful.  These 2 bolts screw directly into the header assembly on your engine.  They are HARD to unscrew.  Believe me, the guy who put them in at the factory really thought that some seriously strong Loctite was necessary.  So, you’re going to have to really break out the muscle mass to get these little bad boys out.  Just be cognoscente of the fact that they DO screw directly into the side of the engine.  So…gently man-handle these.  The bolts are actually serving 2 purposes.
    1. First, they are holding the stock air cleaner support bracket in place.  Look at my 2nd image up above of the stock air cleaner.  Directly above the cleaner there is a black strip of metal, sort of shaped like a half moon.  That is the bracket I’m talking about.
    2. Next, these bolts are actually hollow.  This allows air to flow from the engine headers directly in to the stock air cleaner.  Just a side note.  Later on in the installation you WILL NOT be replacing these with the same kind of part.  The new one will be ‘similar’, but won’t be hollow all the way through.
  4. Remove the 2 bolts on the top of the support bracket.  The installation procedures actually call for removing the gas tank.  I say forget that.  The reason for removing the gas tank would be specifically for this step.  These bolts on the top of the bracket are fairly difficult to remove.  This step was single-handedly the most time consuming single step of the whole installation process.  I spent at least 10 minutes removing these.  The reason is that they are hard to get to.  They require a hex wrench (Allen wrench), and it’s a really tight fit.  You’re dealing with a real small space between the bottom of the gas tank and the bolts.  They’re tough to get started as well.  It takes a decent amount of effort to get these out too.  Take your time, move slowly.  You don’t want to accidently scratch the bottom of your tank or the rocker box covers (the pretty chrome section on the top of the engine).  Again, if you reference my 2nd photo in this post, you can see how these two bolts are attached to the top of the half-moon shaped support bracket.  Until these 2 bolts are removed your bracket isn’t going anywhere.  Once you are done removing these bolts, the support bracket is not connected anymore, and you are DONE!


Now, let’s move on to the actual installation of your new air-cleaner.  At this point the entire stock air-cleaner should be gone.  The only thing you should see are bolt openings, and of course the big hole with the flap in the middle.  It may be oily or dirty.  I just wiped mine off, but it isn’t going to matter.  It’s going to get dirty again.  🙂

  1. Install the new retention clip.  During that last step of the removal of the stock support bracket, you may remember the 2 bolts you had to remove?  Here you are going to place a new piece there instead.  The new piece is a small piece of hard plastic.  From what I can tell, it’s just a placeholder to keep the wiring behind the air cleaner from making contact.  Also, it puts something back in to the bolt holes.  Aside from that, it will never be mentioned again, as it’s purpose is now served.
  2. Place the gasket on to the throttle body opening.  The instructions don’t mention cleaning anything, but I took a rag and gave this little circle a decent wipe or two.  It can’t hurt!  The new gasket has removable tape on one side of it.  Remove the tape and then line it up over the 3 screw holes.  Get a good alignment and then push it down nice and firmly.  It’s important to get this lined up right.
  3. Get the back plate ready to go.  The back plate is eventually going to be held in place with 5 bolts.  2 large ones, and 3 smaller ones.  The 2 large bolts are going to screw into the largest holes (the cylinder head).  I’ll discuss the other 3 later below.  The back plate, in case you haven’t guessed is the big round flat thing with 2 large holes one the top.
    1. Place a rubber O-ring on the back side (the side that will face the engine) of each hole.  They should fit nice and tight.
    2. On the opposing side you’re going to screw the largest bolts (referred to as breather screws) that came in the kit throw the back plate in to the cylinder head.  Don’t do that yet.  Before even getting started, place the other 2 O-rings on to the big bolts that you are going to run through the back plate.  Here’s a little pain in the ass step.  Yes, the O-rings will go there, but NO they don’t sit tight.  They will move around on you, so when it does come time to really tighten them down you are going to need to stick something small, like a tooth-pick, as a wedge to ensure the O-rings stay directly behind the bolts.  Otherwise, they are just going to get partially shoved out of position instead of maintaining an equally tight fit on the outside of the back plate.  That’s a lot to swallow, so take the 4 O-rings, the 2 bolts and the back plate and experiment a bit to get the feel of it before moving on to the next step.
  4. Partially install the back plate.  You’re going to want to start screwing the back-plate bolts in to the cylinder head nice and slowly.  Also, you want to BARELY screw it in.  You’ll fully screw it in later, but for now you just want it to grab ahold so it’ll stay in place for the next step.  Be sure to put Blue Locktite on the bolts and where the bolts will be installed.  I’m not sure that the 2nd part is necessary, but the instructions called for it, so I did it.
  5. Partially screw in back plate bolts.  This is  a multi-step process.
    1. You need to run the 3 bolts threw the back plate aligning with the holes that the gasket is surrounding.  The bolts to use here are the mid-length plain bolts.  Don’t use the strange looking bolts with the thick free-moving metal pieces on them.  The goal here will be to eventually screw these bolts down tight to the gasket.
    2. Once they’re through put some blue Locktite on them.  Just a little goes a long way.
    3. Screw them in most of the way, but keep them from being tight.  You want it to be able to move a little freely still.  There are 6 screw holes, so which ones do you use?  Be sure to use the small ones that DO NOT look like they’re raised up a bit.  You’re aiming for the ones that are set back or basically flush with the back plate.
    4. Screw the larger, strange looking bolts in to the remaining 3 holes.  These will eventually be little “towers” or “posts” that the actual air-cleaner element attaches to.  When I screwed these in, I just screwed them nice and tight.  They’re also referred to as “mounting studs”.
  6. Tighten everything up.  Here you are going to get everything nice and tight.  The instructions talk about foot pounds of this or inch pounds of that.  I use the screw in nice and tight method.  If you are straining, you are applying too much pressure.
    1. Start screwing the really big bolts in from step 4 above, one, then the other.  These are called the “air-cleaner element mounting studs”.  Recall what I said earlier.  The O-rings facing you (between the big bolts and the back plate are not likely to stay in place.  I used a ting little Allen wrench (it was REALLY tiny) to sort of ensure that the O-rings would stay put while tightening down the bolts.  It took a little wiggling, but finally they stayed in place, and I was able to tighten the bolts down confidently.  Use whatever you feel comfortable with here.  A toothpick would probably do the job.  A really small flathead screwdriver, etc.  I’d just keep in mind that you may be dealing with chrome (as I was) and don’t want to scratch it.  So, be gentle.
    2. Continue screwing the 3 back plate bolts that are covering the gasket.
    3. The general idea is to bring down all 5 bolts nice and snug at the same time.  You don’t want to pile drive one bolt down before the others.  It’s best to just take a little extra time to get them all in nice and tight.  No rush on one bolt over the other.
    4. At this point you should have 5 bolts screwed in nice and tight.  That means the back plate is installed and the only thing left are the 3 posts.  Go ahead and make sure the posts are screwed in nice and tight as well.
  7. Attach the air-cleaner filter element.  I doesn’t get much simpler than this step.  Just align the 3 remaining screws through the air filter element on to the posts.  Tighten them up good and you are DONE!  Here’s what it should look like when you are finished.

Okay.  For me I wasn’t completely done.  I also installed a new air cleaner cover (remember that $40 item that started this whole process?)  If you care, that was as simple as lining it up over the middle hole and bolting it in to place.  Luckily my air-flow kit from above came with a nice chrome bolt for this purpose.  In your case it may not.  If not, you are going to need to use the one that came from the stock air-cleaner cover.

It’s up to you what to do next.  Put your own air cover on.  Just put a sock on the air cleaner, or just leave it naked.  All these work just fine.

Lastly, and this has nothing directly to do with installation, but I re-flashed my ECM using a FuelPak 3 from Vance & Hines.  After installing a new air cleaner your bike WILL be out of desirable tune.  Do what you want here.  Put it on a dyno.  Give your local HD dealership all your money to do it for you (yuck!) or just do what I did.

Anyway.  I hope this was helpful.






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