How To Check A Harley Compensator

When you’re riding your motorcycle, you want to ensure that you have a smooth, enjoyable ride. If your compensator is bad, damaged, or not working properly, you’re in for a bumpier ride than usual. 

You might be asking yourself a few questions, such as “What is a compensator? Why is it important? How does a compensator work? And how can I check my Harley compensator?” These are all reasonable questions, because the compensator is a small and relatively unknown element to a motorcycle. Even some of the most serious and avid bikers don’t have a strong understanding of the compensator and its essential role in a fun ride. Gear Sustain will take you through all of these questions, so you have the fundamental knowledge needed to check, fix, or replace your Harley Compensator. 

What Is A Compensator And Why Is It Important? 

A compensator, located within the primary chain, is a shock absorber in the starting mechanism. When a motorcycle is in certain load situations, the compensator smoothes out the rough pulses from the engine to stop the pulses being channeled to the drivetrain. Additionally, a compensator will protect the gears from being damaged if the engine rotates backwards or during severe race launches. Harley explains that the compensator is engineered with springs to support high torque, particularly for high compression race and large displacement engines. 

How Does A Compensator Work? 

As a shock absorber, the compensator is built of a few different parts, including: a nut on the front side of it, a spring pack, ramps that extend the compensator out, and sprockets. The spring pack with 4 sets of springs clamped in place allows it to absorb the energy and movement. Additionally, scoops on the outside ramp, which faces the motorcycle, of the compensator collect lubricant from the lowest point of the primary chain case as it moves in rotation. So, the reverse ramp inside is always lubricated, which reduces any wear or destruction of the springs. With all of these parts in sync, the compensator works effectively and lasts for a longer period of time.   

How Can I Check My Compensator? 

If you suspect that your compensator isn’t working as well as you’d like, it’s not a difficult task to check it, but you should practice patience and caution when checking to ensure nothing gets damaged from your primary mechanism. 

To prepare, you’ll first want to drain the primary drive oil and remove the cover to the primary mechanism. It’s smart to put down a tray or piece of cardboard to catch oil dripping. You can then heat the compensator bolt before removing it, because it is machined in and can be tough to take out. Worse, you could damage the Loctite patch without proper heat, and this can damage bolt threads. 

You can lock the drive so it doesn’t turn when you release the compensator sprocket bolt with either a drive locker or a piece of metal that will hold the drive. Once you do this, a breaker bar can remove the bolt. 

This is when you can thoroughly inspect the compensator. When the nut and spring pack are removed, the inside is visible for inspection. You’ll know right away whether your compensator is good or bad, depending on how torn, frayed, or damaged it is. A compensator will wear if there isn’t proper lubricant, which is bound to occur after a long period of time. Be sure to check other parts of the primary mechanism to see if they require fixing or replacement. For example, the rotor between the spring pack and the interior plate, often will need to be removed once it is time to replace a compensator. 

While you have cover off and the compensator disassembled, it’s best practice to clean parts of the primary mechanism as part of routine upkeep and proactive measures for your motorcycle’s safety.

Final Thoughts 

The compensator, as you now know, is a vital part to your motorcycle’s smooth ride. With proper care and inspection, it will last you a long time. But if you ever need to check your compensator, use this guide to ensure you’re properly replacing and moving parts while being absolutely sure what you’re looking out for.