Are you tired of having neck/shoulder pain on long rides? Are you a taller rider that’s sick of seeing nothing but your own shoulders in your mirrors? Just wanting to update the styling of your bike? If your answer is yes, it might be time to look into some taller bars for your Harley Davidson.
The thing is, some of us don’t actually want “different” handlebars on our bike. We just want the same ones to sit higher up. In my case, the narrow, flat drag bars that came stock on my Harley Night Train were one of the things that drew me to that model to begin with. I love the way they look and the way they make the steering feel.
My problem is that I’m 6’3″ tall. The stock 6″ risers position the handlebars too low for me and my right shoulder starts to cramp during any stretch of riding longer than 1.5 hours. Plus, my mirrors were completely useless at that height.
So what’s a gearhead to do? New handlebars are expensive and require more work to install. I already like the grips I’m using and the placement of all the controls. I’m not that big of a fan of ape hangers or T-bars. I do like the look of the Protaper bars some people are running on their dynas, but they typically require some custom work to make Harley’s controls fit them.
The solution to my dilemma became pretty clear: I like my bars, I just wish they were taller. A pair of new risers mounted to my original handlebars would be the perfect fix.
Choosing Risers For Your Harley:
There’s a lot of aftermarket handlebar risers out there. You’ll need to choose which direction you want to go in terms of adjustment. You can get taller ones or shorter ones, as well as “pull back” risers that will reduce your reach if that’s your problem. Most risers are available in either chrome or black which helps you to find the look you desire.
It’s worth noting that upgrading your risers might not be possible on all Harley Davidson models (mainly touring bikes). Softails, Dynas, and Sportsters are all great candidates for this modification though. Websites like jpcycles.com will usually tell you whether a part will fit your specific model of bike.
You’ll also need to figure out the diameter of your stock risers and bars. In general, older model Harleys used 1″ bars while newer ones switched to 1 and 1/4″. You’ll want to double check the mounting pattern of your top clamp too.
I chose to go with a pair of 8″ straight risers from Drag Specialties. My original risers were 6″ tall, so an extra 2″ was just what I needed. I also went with black instead of my original chrome ones and I’m really glad I did. It adds just enough black to the front end of the bike to break up all the chrome.
Any time you’re going to be switching to taller bars, it’s a good idea to upgrade the stock rubber bushings that the risers mount to as well. Taller bars add more leverage to your steering, and any amount of flex you might experience with the stock ones will be multiplied once you go taller.
My bushings appeared to be the original ones from 16 years ago, so they were due to be replaced anyway. I picked up some generic Polyurethane bushings from JP Cycle.
Most poly riser bushings are the same regardless of what brand you choose and the best part is that they’re cheap! Not only are they a great way to tighten up your front end, but you’ll already have everything apart which makes installation a breeze. I highly recommend doing this extra step.
All we’re going to be changing is the risers themselves and the bushings. That means this is a quick and easy install for anyone with basic hand tools. If you can turn a wrench, you can install these in 10 simple steps.
- 1/4″ Allen wrench
- 3/4″ Socket or wrench (you may need to play with different length extensions depending on how much your headlight is in the way)
- Slot screwdriver
- A soft towel
- Blue Loctite
If your bike is dirty and you care about scratches, it’s always a good idea to clean it up real quick before working on it. If you’re a regular on this site, you’ll already know how easy it is to scratch your paint. You certainly don’t want to be rubbing dirt across your tank or chrome.
You’ll want to lay a soft towel or rag over your headlight or gas tank (or both) depending on which way you plan to have the loose handlebars hang. If you have a buddy nearby, an extra set of hands to hold the bars out of the way is even better. Just do whatever you can to keep them from swinging and hitting your tank.
Break all of the bolts loose while everything is still attached. This includes the 4 bolts on the top clamp and the big bolts under the risers. Doing this with everything still together will keep the risers from spinning while you’re trying to loosen the bolts.
Loosen the bolts on the top clamp the rest of the way, and remove it. With the top clamp gone, you should be able to pull the handlebars out of the risers and flip them out of the way. Again, make sure you use a towel to keep them from hitting anything.
Next up, it’s time to remove the old risers. Loosen the bottom bolts the rest of the way and remove them. Take note of the arrangement of any washers, lock washers and the ground wire. You’ll want to assemble this the same way when you put it back together.
Now that the old risers are out of the way, it’s time to remove the bushings. To be honest, I was ready for a fight here. It ended up being a piece of cake. Unlike cars or even other areas of the bike, these don’t see any heat (or movement).
Take the metal washers off the top and bottom if they haven’t fallen off already. Press the metal sleeve out from the middle of the bushing. I was able to do this with just a slot screwdriver but if yours are stubborn, you might need to use a punch (or appropriately sized socket) and hammer them out. Once these are gone, you can push the rubber bushings out of the top and bottom on each side.
Tip: Always keep a hand underneath when you’re pushing these out to avoid them falling on your tank or fender.
Reverse what you just did to remove the old bushings and install the new ones. You should have no problem pressing them in by hand.
Time to put the new risers on. You can reuse the original bolts here, just make sure you’ve got all the washers in the right place. Throw some blue Loctite on them if you want the piece of mind. Just leave these hand tight so you can line everything up easier when it’s all back together.
Flip the handlebars back up into their new home in the risers and reinstall the top clamp. It might take some tinkering to get all the holes to line up. This is why we left the risers hand tight so you can turn them as needed.
Once you have everything back together, you can torque down all the bolts properly. Keep an eye on the gap between the risers and top clamp and make sure it’s equal front and back. If you want to use a torque wrench, the specs are 30-40 ft lbs for the riser bolts and 12-15 ft lbs for the top clamp. I chose to go with the “Be human, but don’t be an animal” torque spec (also commonly known as “Good n tight”.
Wipe up any fingerprints on your chrome, readjust your hand controls and mirrors, then go for a rip. After your ride, go back and double check that all of your bolts are still tight.
That’s it! 10 easy steps will make your stock bars taller and improve your steering feel. I love simple mods like this because you get a great result from a small investment.
Dealing With Cables and Lines
The general consensus online is that you’re safe to raise your bars up 2″ from stock without needing longer cables or lines. Every model of bike is different though. I had plenty of length in mine with the 2″ increase, although I didn’t like the way the throttle cables were binding against the fork leg at full lock.
It was a simple fix; I just reran the cables through the triple tree instead of around the outside. Now the throttle cables, clutch cable, wiring and brake line all have just the right amount of slack. I also took the time to adjust some of the play out of the throttle and clutch cables. This added to my “new bike” feel.
Switching to the 8″ risers did exactly what I needed it to. My riding position is improved and it took a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I was also able to adjust my mirrors so I can actually see out of them.
The poly bushings made a bigger difference than I expected. They really tightened up the feel of the front end and did so without adding hardly any vibration.
Once I removed the old bushings, I saw how old and cracked they were. I would say this upgrade is worth doing alone even if you have no plans to change your risers or bars. This is an especially great mod for older bikes that might have worn out bushings like mine.
All in all, my bike rides like I took 10 years off its age. The appearance of the new risers is awesome too. I’d say they look slightly more “outlaw” without being silly. They look close enough to stock that I’m not worried about Johnny Law giving me a hard time.
In the end, I think this is one of my favorite things I’ve done to my bike. Great looks and a much more functional riding position, all for a bargain compared to the price of new handlebars. If you’re having a hard time biting the bullet for new handlebars, give this a shot.
Logan liedtkeApril 12, 2023 at 10:47 pm
I just did this on my night train. My factory riser bolts were about a 1/4″ too long. Since the new risers don’t have a thread all the way through. You did a great install and documenting it. Thank you