classic-motorcycle-build.com

Wiring A Motorcycle From Scratch

Because I was upgrading from 6 volts to 12 volts and also running a different front-end, I needed to custom-wire my 1961 Servi-car. The following procedures should work for any pre-Evo Harley-Davidson that is kick-start only and has a battery.

wiring a motorcycle from scratch

Before wiring a motorcycle from scratch, have all the electrical components on hand - battery, generator, voltage regulator, ignition switch, headlight, taillights, and horn.

Draw Out A Basic Diagram

Drawing out a diagram in a notebook lets you visualize what needs to go where. Start with the ignition switch in the middle of the page. One at a time, add each electrical component to the diagram. Use as many pages as you like.

wiring a motorcycle from scratch

Mark down where each wire is starting, where it will end up, and what color it will be. I usually reference the factory manual for this.

Primary Wire

Most classic motorcycle wiring is 16-gauge or 18-gauge copper wire insulated with plastic. Heavier 12-gauge or 14-gauge wire is required when you need something that can handle a bit more load, like starter and generator wires. You can use standard automotive-type wire found in auto part stores, but there is a difference between SAE-rated wire and AWG (American Wire Gauge) sizing.

wiring a motorcycle

read Electrical Wiring For Motorcycles

Abbreviations for wire colors are usually "BK" for black and "BL" for blue, "R" for red, etc. If the wire colors cannot be duplicated from original colors, make a note for future reference.

Best Place To Start Wiring

When you're wiring a motorcycle from scratch, you can start pretty much anywhere you like. For the Servi-car project, I started with the battery, which was being mounted inside the cargo box. I had no restrictions on physical size, so I looked for a semi-popular battery to keep the price down.

Battery

After doing a little homework, I bought a 12N7-4A battery, which is the original equipment size for 1970-1978 Sportster XLCH models (kickstart only). It's a fairly small battery, dimensions are 5-5/16" length x 3" width x 5-1/4" height, and has the vent tube on the positive side.

The 12N7-4A battery is rated at 7 amp-hours and 74 cold cranking amps. The output of the generator dictates what the battery amperage should be.

Installing a 15-amp or higher fuse from the battery will protect your electrical system in event of an electrical surge. I opted for a 20-amp circuit breaker, which allowed me to easily connect a cargo-box lamp directly from the circuit breaker's output.

custom wire a Harley Servi-car

6-Volt to 12-Volt Conversion

Harley-Davidson used 6-volt electrical systems on trikes until 1963 and motorcycles until 1964. If you're converting from 6v to 12v, make sure the new battery will fit. You may also need to replace the battery cables.

Cycle Electric Generator

The single biggest expense of my electrical system was the Cycle-Electric generator. The voltage regulator is built onto the generator, making it attractive and less cluttered.

wiring a motorcycle from scratch

shop Cycle Electric 12V Generator with Regulator

With the built-in regulator, the Cycle Electric generator is a complete 12-volt charging system. It's a simple, two-wire hookup, and gives you higher output and longer service life. It's the last generator you will have to buy for your bike.

Wiring Harness

Although wiring harnesses are available for most classic Harleys, if you're wiring a custom bike from scratch, you'll probably need to make a wiring harness or two. That 50-year old wiring is probably cracked and frayed anyway, and could use replacing.

wiring harness for custom motorcycle

There are several styles of wire loom you can use, including black plastic, black cloth, and original-style cloth with patterns. Seems like the original-style cloth looms are all Taiwan-made, so I went with U.S. made black cloth. Many sizes are available. I ordered lengths of 3/16", 1/4", 5/16", and 3/8".

Primary Wire

Use quality connectors or solder joints to connect wires to terminals. If you choose crimp connectors, take off the colored plastic caps and throw them away. Seal the terminal butts with shrink tubing instead.

wiring a motorcycle from scratch

Headlight Wiring

Panheads, Shovelheads, and 1959-up Servi-cars had a large headlamp nacelle which housed the front wiring panel and wires. Since I was using a Wide Glide front end I had to find another way to wire up the headlight. This involved wiring the headlight switch inside the handlebars.

read How To Wire Handlebars Internally

wiring handlebars internally

Tail-light Wiring

The Servi-car tail-lights were upgraded to 12-volt units and followed the stock wiring diagram. Tail-lights draw three amps or less so 16-gauge wire is fine.

custom wiring a Harley-Davidson Servi-car

Wiring a motorcycle from scratch is always a challenge, but by breaking it down into smaller steps you will get it done. Don't rush, focus on one thing at a time, then move on to the next.

Vintage Harley Dash

Since original 50 year old Harley electrical components are, well, 50 years old, I decided to buy a new aftermarket dash kit. This kit is from V-Twin and included a speedometer/tachometer, ignition switch, dash lamps, sockets, and hardware.

wiring a motorcycle from scratch

The two-light dash panel is correct for 1947 to 1961 Knuckleheads, Panheads, Flatheads, and Servi-cars.

Five-Post Ignition Switch

Early Harley Big-Twins and Trikes had a five-post switch, which was replaced with a six-post switch sometime in the seventies. If you have the later six-post and don't need the extra terminal, two of them can be "tied" together with a small jumper wire.

vintage Harley dash

Generator Wiring

There are two wires that run from the Cycle-Electric generator, the larger wire goes to the ignition switch. Use a heavy grade wire here. The smaller wire from the A terminal goes to the generator signal light.

After the battery and switch are hooked up, the gen light comes on when you click the key switch to "on" but have not yet started the bike. The light should then go out when the bike starts up. If the light stays on after starting, it's telling you the generator is not charging.

Vintage Harley Speedometers

A 2:1 speedometer ratio is found on Harley models from 1936 to 1961, including 1947 to mid-1961 Servi-cars. From late-1961 to 1983, Harley Servi-car and Big-Twins had a 1:1 speedometer ratio. You can use either one for any year Harley, provided you use the correct speedometer gear along with it.

The speedometer/tach that came with the kit has a diameter of 4-11/16". The bottom nut for the speedo cable is 5/8" female thread.

Distributor and Ignition

I like points ignition for their simplicity and ease of diagnosing. Seems like a lot of modern mechanics don't like points because they don't understand them, and incorrectly assume they are unreliable. Once properly set, a points ignition will run fine for 10,000 miles or more, without needing to be "fiddled" with. So unless your classic bike is your daily driver, points ignition is fine.

ignition points

Ignition points will work with either 6-volts or 12-volts, but the points condenser should be changed. If converting, buy a 12-volt ignition coil. They have more windings and will work much longer.

wiring a motorcycle from scratch

Final Thoughts

Make sure that your battery and your motor are well grounded to the frame.

While rewiring your motorcycle, take pictures of everything for future reference.

Once everything is correct and working as it should, use plastic ties or clamps to secure wiring and harnesses.