Classic Motorcycle Build

Harley 45 Cylinders

Text and Pictures by Mark Trotta

After the two oil pumps were rebuilt and installed, cylinder assembly was up next on the Harley 45 engine build.

assemble Harley-Davidson 45 flathead cylinders

Valve Guides

Valve guide wear refers to clearance between the outside diameter of the valve stems and the inside diameter of the valve guides.

As the guide wears from mileage, the valves will gradually get play side to side as they open and close. This side to side movement can cause valves to seat improperly. For this reason, valve guides must be checked, and replaced or repaired if beyond manufacturer's specifications.

assemble Harley-Davidson 45 flathead cylinders

If you need valve guides, aftermarket ones are still available for most classic bikes. Worn guides are usually pressed out and pressed in.

Since the inside diameter of guide will change when pressed in, replacement guides are made with inside diameters slightly smaller than required. After installing, the guide needs to be reamed out to increase inside diameter until the correct size is obtained.


Measuring Valve Guide Wear

Valve guide wear can be measured several different ways. The easiest way to tell if your guides are worn is, after you compress the valve spring and take off the keepers, pull the valve out of its guide and jiggle the valve back and forth, or up and down. Actual movement can be measured with dial indicator or other precision instrument and compared with specifications in a service manual.

Checking Valve Seats

When closed, valves need to be air and liquid tight. If your heads were rebuilt at an engine shop, the valves will have a precise bevel, made by a machine, on the valve and seat surfaces. However, a good seal is not guaranteed.

Harley-Davidson 45 valve assembly

The purpose of grinding is to have the valve and valve seat make an air-tight fit. The purpose of lapping valves is to verify that the grinding was done correctly.


How To Lap Valves

If the valve seat and face were ground correctly, the lapping process should take a minute or less for each valve. It actually takes longer to clean, prepare, and round up the supplies than to actually lap the valves. You'll need a tube of valve-grinding compound and a valve lapping tool, which is basically a wooden dowel with a suction-cup on the end.

Harley-Davidson flathead cylinders

Read: How To Lap Valves


Harley 45 Valves

The intake valves, exhaust valves, and valve guides for Harley 45 cylinders are same from 1930 through 1973, as are the retainers, keepers, and bases. Valve size is 1.625" on both intake and exhaust, but they are not interchangeable. Exhaust valves are different in that they are heat-treated.

Harley 45 cylinders

Install Valves

Although bigger than needed, my automotive valve spring compressor worked OK on the Harley 45 cylinders.

Harley flathead cylinder assembly

Before slipping the valves into the guides, the stems were lubricated with a dab of engine oil. I used 5/30W, but it shouldn't matter.


Harley 45 Cylinder Assembly

When purchased, the cylinders were a fresh .030" over, so after cleaning the bores with brake parts cleaner, a light honing was done.

Read: DIY Motorcycle Cylinder Honing

Prior to re-assembling, the outside of the cylinders were cleaned and painted semi-gloss engine black.

Install Harley 45 cylinders


Harley 45 Pistons And Pins

There are two styles of piston pins found on Harley 45 flatheads. The early-style pin used an L-clip and was seen until the mid 1950s. The later style was the more common E-clip seen from the mid 50's until 1973. Pictured is the early style.

Harley 45 Flathead pistons

Piston Lock-Ring Tool

The factory part number for this lock-ring tool is 12052-32. It's primary use is 1932-1956 Harley-Davidson 45 models.

piston lock ring installation tool for Harley 45 motorcycle engine


Harley 45 Cylinder Heads

Most Harley 45 cylinder heads are cast-iron. Finding good used cast iron heads is cheap and easy.

Harley-Davidson flathead 45 cylinder heads

Original Harley aluminum heads are rare and expensive, which opened up a demand for aftermarket replacements. Several manufacturers offer these. A set of aluminium heads will give a slight bump in compression ratio, and are lighter than cast-iron heads.

There is usually a number stamped into each head head to indicate compression ratio. Heads marked 5.0 are low compression (5.0:1). If it reads 6.0 it is considered high compression (5.6:1).


Related Articles:

Harley 45 Engine Teardown and Inspection
Harley 45 Install Cams
Harley 45 Drivetrain
Harley 45 Scavenger Oil Pump Repair
How To Install Valve Guides