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Enclosed rear chain? FXRT Eight hours shop charge to change a tire? Bull!

Once upon a time on a ride back east I stopped at a shop in Tennessee for a new rear tire. They told me that since my '84 FXRT had an enclosed chain they would have to charge eight hours of shop time to take the chain housing off, change the tire, and reassemble everything. I've heard the same sad story from other riders since. Keeping in mind that Harley quit using that enclosed chain in 1985 I can understand why a lot of the modern parts-swappers they call teechnicians don't know how to do it, but darn it, there are still a lot of those bikes out there. Somebody in a shop oughta know how.


After I got done gently calling them dumbbells(they knew what that meant, even in Tennessee), I agreed to show them how to cut the time to about 90 minutes (if you're all thumbs and only have a Crescent wrench) if they'd sell me the tire at cost. They did, and I showed 'em. Now, I can't show you how, but I can tell you. Wish I had some pictures, but right now, I don't. This is how it works for FLTs as well.


Here's what you do.  It ain't necessarily quick and easy, but it ain't an 8-hour job, either.  First time through you'll prob'ly cuss some, but it gets easier. 

You're gonna need an Allen wrench.  I can't recall what size and I'm a couple miles from my shop right now, but it's a pretty big one, bigger than comes with a typical Craftsman set.  At a guessing recollection, I'd say 3/8ths, but don't run out and buy one that size based on what I just said - check out the actual wheel stud when you get to that point, then go to NAPA and get a couple that look close.  You can take back the ones you don't use.


TIPWhen you have the right one, cut off the short leg off of it so you have a long, straight piece and then use a socket to turn it. Reason being, when you put your wheel back on you'll want to use a torque wrench on the lug bolts.


Get the rear wheel off the ground.Eventually, you'll want to pull the wheel out from under that fender so it will need to be high, or have a drop panel on an air lift, or something. But right at first it doesn't need to be high, just off the ground enough to be rotatable while you move from one lug nut to the next to loosen them.

On the chain housing, below the axle, you'll find an aluminum plug with a slotted head. You reach the lug bolts through the hole the plug fills.


TIP: Guaranteed,you don't have a screwdriver big enough, so make yourself a special tool. I cut off a 4" piece of the metal ruler out of a junk combination square I had laying around. It works perfectly. Lay it crossways in the slot and use the leverage rather than try to use the end of it - try to use the end and you'll just twist the tool into a weird shape. The new tool and the cut-off Allen wrench fit easily in a tool roll. There'll be more of this tip at the end of the article.


Once you have the plug out take a flashlight and look through the hole. You'll see the heads of the wheel studs. If you don't, just rotate the wheel a bit. There are five of them.


Use your Allen wrench to loosen each one, just like you would on a car - don't take 'em all the way out until you have loosened them all first. Now you're thinking, "Well,shoot! How do I get them out of the housing?" Or at least I did.


Use the wrench to back them all the way out of their threads, then with the stud riding on the end of the wrench, gently bring it out through the hole in the housing. What you'll find is that the web on the hub is deep enough that you can't drop the stud down into the housing if it comes off the end of the wrench. I still do it carefully, though, because sure as heck if there's a possible way to drop it I'll find it. But so far, in 23 years with the bike, I haven't. I think you'd have to let it fall off the wrench and then turn the wheel to lose it.


Anyway, do that five times and all the lugs are finally in your hand.


NOTE: The sprocket on these bikes is a part of the housing assembly. It stays in the housing when the wheel is removed. They are not the flat sprocket you are accustomed to seeing, but have a hub of their own. It's a flat, round boss, maybe 3" across, where the axle goes through. That boss extends through the housing, sticking out about a 1/4" into the inside of the swingarm. The wheel has a narrow circular lip on the hub that fits over the sprocket boss. The lug bolts extend through the sprocket into the wheel, just as with any sprocket.


At this point the wheel and the sprocket are no longer attached to each other, but both still have the axle running through them and the lip on the wheel is still engaged with the boss, so they stay in alignment despite not being attached.


NOTE:You are about to take the axle out, but first, get some support under the wheel. When you pull the axle the wheel will be free, except for where the lip on the wheel is still on the sprocket boss. I've never broken that lip by having a wheel sag as the axle comes off, but then I wouldn't want to, either. so I've always supported the wheel to hold it when the axle is pulled out.


Now, loosen the adjusters on each side and then remove the axle.Don't lose the right-side spacer or you're screwed.Pay attention to how things are assembled over there. (If God is really annoyed with you the last guy that put the wheel on had the mufflers off and shoved the axle through from right to left, so that the nut is on the wrong side and you'll have to take at least one muffler off to get it out. I saw a guy once when he was was replacing rear tire and mufflers at the same time.)


Get the wheel loose from the hub. It should come off easily and wind up sitting on the support you put under the wheel. Remove the support and let the wheel down to the ground, or whatever.


If you're gonna have a problem, it's gonna be here. The chain housing gets in the way of taking the wheel out from under the fender unless you have lots of vertical clearance. Worst case, you might have to undo the lower shock mounts and let the swingarm down or take a muffler off, but I've never had to get that drastic. Make sure the front end of the bike is securely tied down somehow and that it is REAL stable side-to-side. You hear me, you hillbilly?? Tie the sucker down or you can dump it on its side! If you do, it'll be REAL loud , you'll say many bad words, and you won't be riding for a while. You're about to be yanking and pulling on the wheel - trust me; you will.


Now, get a jack under the frame crossmemember that's under the tranny. Jack it up until you have enough clearance to wiggle the wheel out.


Change the tire and reassemble in reverse order. And dang it, torque the lug bolts properly. Clean the threads on the bolts and in the wheel. Assemble dry. With a torque wrench. It can be worth your life, literally, to get it wrong.


NOTE: Yes,assemble dry. That's what the torque values are based on, that, and clean threads, and it matters a LOT. You won't get a proper torque value if you use anti-seize goop. The lugs won't get stuck unless you're one of those guys that winds up changing the tire only every three years or so. In that case, still assemble dry, but loosen and retighten the lug bolts once a year.


NOTE: If you are using something like a bottle jack with just a ram sticking up, put a strong piece of wood between it and the crossmember or you run the risk of bending the crossmember, which can screw up the frame alignment, so I'm told. It makes sense.


NEXT TO FINAL TIP: Regarding the hole in the chain housing that you reach the bolts through. In the nature of things, when you go to twisting on an Allen wrench through that hole it is going to contact the threads in the soft aluminum housing. Eventually (or maybe immediately) you will bugger them up. You want to not do that; it's expensive. So, take your threaded aluminum plug to someone with a drill press and have him drill a hole though it big enough for the wrench to fit through, and no bigger. Make sure the hole is exactly centered in the plug! You don't have much lateral room to play with. From now on you'll loosen the lug nuts through that new hole and then take the perforated plug out to remove them.


But what, you ask, keeps the oil in the housing, what with that new hole? The answer is "You're going to put a plug in it, dummy." Go buy a well nut that fits the new hole and use it to keep the oil in. (In case you don't know what a "well nut" is, it's one of those rubber plugs with a flange on it. You run a small screw through the plug, and when you tighten it with a screwdrive it expands the rubber part.)

Housing plug assy.

FINAL TIP: I haven't used oil in my chain housing for many years. Instead, I squirt a full tube of white lithium grease in there. When it gets warm it flows around and through the chain and when it cools off it gets more solid and doesn't leak - at least not much. Yeah, when you take the housing apart it's kind of a mess but worth it considering I've only taken the housing apart maybe three times in 185,000 miles.


So there you are. Now you know something that I'll bet 95% of the Harley "technicians" in the country don't know. Use it to your advantage.


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