Sportster Bendix Gear (Remove and Install)
Text and Pictures by Mark Trotta
The bendix gear is also referred to as the starter drive, and is located in the starter housing between the starter motor and clutch ring gear. Sportster bendix gear replacement requires removal of the starter motor on the right side of the bike and the primary cover on the left side.
Read: Electric Start Ironheads
Think of a bendix gear as a hand-tool ratchet. It can rotate freely in one direction and lock itself in other. This allows it to rotate one way to start the engine when engaged, and then free itself once the engine starts.
There are springs and ball bearings inside the bendix gear. With age and usage, the springs break, which will allow the gear to turn both ways, making it inoperable. When this happens, it will "whine" when trying to start.
The bendix gear installed on my 1976 Sportster is an aftermarket replacement. It has two primary motorcycle applications:
- Fits 1967-1980 Harley Davidson XL Sportsters
- Fits 1965-1988 Harley Davidson Big-Twins
Shop: Bendix Starter Gear
Replacing Sportster Bendix Gear
On several-year Sportsters, including my old 1976 XLH, the primary chain and clutch assembly need to be removed to replace the bendix gear drive. There are many more steps necessary for this, and specialty tools are required. A service manual is very helpful.
If your primary cover and clutch assembly need to be removed, see Ironhead Clutch Removal.
If the primary chain, compensating sprocket, and clutch shell need to be removed, see primary chain removal page.
Sportster Bendix Gear Removal
On the right side of the bike, remove the sprocket cover. Remove the cable from the starter motor terminal. The starter motor is removed with two long bolts.
The pinion drive assembly is on the inside top of the left engine case. Depress the retainer cup, remove pin from hole in plunger shaft. Remove the spring. Remove attaching bolts.
The fork that holds the pinion gear assembly in place is called the starter pinion lever. Rotate this until the fingers clear the pinion gear shifting collar, then remove.
After you have the pinion gear assembly off the bike, place it between copper jaws in a vise. Tighten only until its snug.
The pinion shaft is left-hand thread. Unscrew the nut from the shaft.
The pinion gear assembly in order of disassembly is the nut, bearing race, pinion and shifter collar. Remove the lock ring to separate gear and shifter collar. Disassembled, the pinion gear assembly looks like the picture below.
Put a dot of thread-locking sealant on the shaft nut when reassembling the bendix gear assembly. Spin the assembled shaft in the bearings to check for free movement. Stake the starter shaft housing washer.
The aftermarket replacement was a little different looking than the factory original but it fit and worked fine.
Assembly is the reverse order of disassembly. Before you button up the motor, this would be a good time to replace your oil hoses.
The bendix-style starter drive on your old Harley has several drawbacks. The starter can still spin without engaging the flywheel, or it can jam during engagement. And if the engine kicks back while you try to start, it forces the gear to turn backward, damaging it.