But then, leaning into the first decent corner, it felt like I was gonna end up in the ditch. And it got progressively worse, like I was snowboarding on marbles. I ended up fighting that 900-lb. bitch all the way to Interstate 10. Once I hit that straight-as-a-board chunk of dull concrete and billboards, she started behaving correctly and didn’t give me another signal of impending doom all the way home—even at speeds up to 90 mph.
After getting back to home turf safely and assessing the possibilities, I decided to consult with the professionals at American Road Hog Cycles. I’d met shop owner Max Key and his head wrench Jay Antonelli during the V-Twin Expo in Cincy earlier this year. They both agreed a swingarm rebuild was in order, so I did some research and settled on the Sta-Bo line of stabilizers for Harley Touring models. As it turns out, although American Road Hog is located a mere 12 miles from the Houston office, I was totally unaware of their existence. Seems they’ve been around for about four years, but up until just a few months ago, hadn’t even installed a sign in front of the shop; relying instead on word-of-mouth referrals. And apparently that seems to be working well, since when I arrived, all 10 bike lifts were occupied. Jay had to pull one bike off just to put mine in the air.
Grabbing hold of the rear tire assembly, Jay gave it a twist and you could actually see the swingarm flex almost a quarter-inch. Astonished, he turned to me and asked, “You actually rode this here?” Considering that it’s highly recommended to replace swingarm bearings at 40,000-50,000 miles, and my 2003 Road King was pushing 100K real hard at the time, I’m mighty grateful that God still watches over ignorant bikers.
After pulling the wheel and removing the swingarm and pivot shaft assembly, Jay gathered an assortment of sockets, extensions and wood until he came up with a suitable configuration to press out the OEM bearings, which are not bearings in the true sense, but consist of a pair of spherical heim joints with brass bushing inserts. Both were totally wore out. They were to be replaced with Sta-Bo’s ED 16 bearing assembly that is comprised of two actual bearings and one flat washer on each side.
Paying attention to the Sta-Bo installation instructions, Jay deburred the inside lip of the swingarm tube, removing just enough powdercoat finish to allow for the flat washer to pass cleanly through. Jay then built a stack arrangement that incorporated the stock inner spacer, the Sta-Bo flat washer and the two ED-16 bearings and, using a small handpress, installed all the pieces at the same time to ensure no canting or misalignment inside the swingarm tube. Just be certain to go slow on the installation (they shouldn’t bind or be excessively tight—if they are something is twisted) and be sure the new bearings bottom out completely. The replacement parts are very user friendly and should last at least twice as long as the stock units, according to Jay (Sta-Bo claims they are 16 times stronger than the OEM bearings).
After demonstrating his finesse with an 18” pry bar and jacking the motor into position in the frame, Jay proceeded to install the rebuilt swingarm. Next came the Sta-Bo-Lizers, a pair of blue polyurethane bushings that the company is most famous for. These items plug into the opening of the isolator mounts on both the left and right side, removing lateral swingarm movement, offering improved handling and damping, and aiding with alignment of the engine/transmission. They are most often installed even when the internal bearings are not being replaced, upgrading and reinforcing the stock unit. A light coating of grease before slipping them into place is recommended. The original isolator mounts (those large rubber doughnuts with the offset center hole) weren’t in terrible shape, but since we were this far into the project, it seemed only appropriate they also be replaced. Jay happened to have a set from Drag Specialties on the shelf.
After buttoning everything back together, he took the bike out for a test ride; first on the dirt road in front of the shop and then out for a severe trashing on the tarmac. Rolling back in with a big grin, he stated, “Nice. I think you’re really gonna like that, especially after seeing firsthand the mess you rode in on.”
And damned if he wasn’t right. Although a little tight for the first 200 miles or so, as everything got seated and found its place, the tracking and handling make the finished product perform better than when it rolled off the showroom floor 10 years ago. I couldn’t be happier. Although the ED 16 bearings only fit FLT, FLHT, FLHR and FLHX models 2002 and newer, the Sta-Bo-Lizer polyurethane bushing inserts come in three different styles going back to 1986 (the other varieties are multi-piece, varying in price and installation procedures).
Sta-Bo II for 2002-2008 $102.03
ED 16 Swingarm Bearing for 2002-Present $106.15
American Road Hog Cycles
11829 Dula Lane
Swingarm Isolator Mount