Steed: Built to Ride

Internalize this: Your Harley has something to hide.

Tech Tip Index

Your stock Harley has something exposed that you may want to cover up to keep it clean. There's some ugly issue on your new bike that is screaming for your attention, and if you are a little crafty, you can work through this problem. What's this nasty problem? Your handle bar controls wiring problem, that's what. You know those heinous wires that come clipped to the outside of your handlebars for all to see. Internalize those wires, and then they will be out of the picture for good. Read on and I'll explain the basics of hiding those unsightly wires.

You are about to make a commitment that won't be impossible to reverse, but before you decide to wire your handlebars internally, make sure that you have chosen the correct bar for you and your bike. The stock bars on a Harley are polished stainless steel. They look good right when your new bike rolls off the showroom floor, but in about a year they'll look duller than a board meeting in Duluth. So you might consider swapping out the stock bars for chrome ones. There are literally a million choices and styles for handle bars, and prices can range from $35 to $300 for something exotic. Make sure that you are comfortable with how the bars feel and look on your bike before you commit to running the electrical wires inside the reigns. Nothing is more frustrating than riding all day in the saddle of uncomfortable bike, especially if it belongs to you.

There is still one other consideration to be addressed before you swap handlebars. Make sure that your clutch cable, brake hose and throttle cables will still reach if you decide to change out your bars. There is a fairly large 'zone' where all of your stock hoses and cables will reach when you change your bars. If you choose a significantly taller or wider handlebar, you'll be swapping out all of those cables too. If the bars of your dreams are going to involve a full cable swap too, I'd suggest taking your bike to a qualified mechanic because of the safety issues associated with that type of undertaking.

OK, now you're ready to tackle the issue at hand, hiding the wires. On a '96 or older Harley, there are 14 different color-coded wires in the bars, 7 on each side. On the '96 or newer bikes there's only 12 wires to deal with, 6 on each side. Regardless of the year, the wires are inside a vinyl loom that has been clipped to your stock handlebars. On one end of the loom are your switches and controls by the grips and at the other end is a connector that plugs into the rest of your wiring harness.

There are two types of wire loom connectors, '96 and newer bikes have a 'water-tight' Deutsche style connector, the earlier bikes have a 'Mate 'n Lock' connector. You'll need to remove the dash and fuel tank to get to the connector, which is probably located near the top frame tube. Be careful to drain your tanks before you remove them, and yes, gasoline is flammable. Don't mess with gas in your garage if you don't have proper ventilation, and certainly never mess with fuel if you have a gas water heater in your garage. Can you say 'Boom'?

Once you've found the connectors location and before you un-plug them, grab a sheet of paper and take some notes. There are two separate connectors, one for each side of controls on each bar. Make sure you note which plug went where, and all of the color-coded wires have a specific location too. Make a diagram of the plug with each color-coded wire tied into their appropriate location in the plug. This step will save you a ton of cussing later on when you don't remember what went where.

The Deutsche connectors have an orange cap on the end, which you can pry off with a small screwdriver. Once that cap is removed, you'll see a plastic clip, which holds the wire terminal. Gently pry the tab away from the connector and pull each wire from the connector. The earlier 'Mate 'N Lock' connectors have a metal barb built into the wire terminal. You'll need a small pick to bend the tab back inside the connector, to pull each wire out of the connector. Bend the tab back to it's original position and you can reuse the same terminal.

Now it's almost time to remove your handlebars from the bike. Remove the clutch lever and the brake master cylinder at the clamps located on each control. Don't remove the clutch cable or the brake hose from the levers unless you want to trade them out for chrome pieces, or just feel like making this a much bigger project for no apparent reason. The switch housing bolts on the right control hold the throttle housing and cables. Loosen the cable adjusters on each cable, and then you can remove the throttle grip. The handlebars can now be removed along with the switch housings. Remove all the rest of the switch housing away from the bike to save your aching back.

Lets get to drillin'. Your new bars may be pre-drilled so you can skip this step. If you need to drill the bars, center punch the appropriate locations under the switch housing locations for the wires to enter and at the center of the bar under the riser for the wires to exit. Start drilling with a smaller bit (Approximately " diameter) to make a pilot hole, and then drill at least a " finish diameter hole. Make sure to 'de-burr' the edges inside and outside of each hole with a file or sand paper so they don't later cut into the wire insulation. That would be very bad, and you might not know it until you are stranded at the furthest point from home or a cell tower.

Find a piece of stiff wire and run it through the inside of the bars to use as a 'trail-blazer' guide for the rest of the wire loom. Take the end of the single wire and wrap it around the connectors as streamlined as possible. Get some of that 'Strapping' tape you had left over from mailing a package last Christmas and wrap it around the bundle of wire you are about to pull through the bars. Electrical tape will make do, but I've found that the strapping style of tape does not get snagged inside the bars as easily as the rubber type tape, and it seems to grip a little better when you are tugging on it.

Gently pull the wire loom through the bars. At this point you may want to double check to make sure that you are pulling the right side switch wires through the right side of the handle bar. You won't be the first to pull them on the wrong side. A simple way to remember which bundle is appropriate for each side is that the bundle with the Violet wire (Vio-LEFT) is on the left side and the bundle with the brown wire is on the right side.

Mount the bars in the reverse order described above back on your machine. Replace all the wire terminals and the connectors in the same place that you removed them from (this is where those notes you took come in handy). Then turn on your ignition switch and make sure that everything functions correctly before you re-assemble the switch housings. Adjust your throttle cables to allow for maximum throttle without binding. When you release the throttle grip, it should return all the way and not bind if you adjusted it correctly.

Securely mount your fuel tank and dash. Don't forget the Loctite. Wipe all of your fingerprints off your masterpiece with a soft cotton cloth while you bask in the afterglow of pride and accomplishment. Mission Accomplished.

On the other hand, if you've read this far, you might feel like this is a project for a professional. Hopefully you can now better appreciate and understand the skills involved. Internal handlebar wiring is not as simple as it sounds at first glance. As with most anything you modify on your bike, craftsmanship is king, and if you are not confident in your craftsmanship, take your bike to a qualified technician. Otherwise you might make a disaster out of what could have been a fun project.

Keep the rubber side down.
- John at Steeds

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