Shovelhead Years to Avoid

For those seeking a shovelhead motorcycle, it is best to avoid the years 1978 to 1984 due to quality and reliability issues. These particular models are notorious for their mechanical problems and are often costly to maintain.

A common issue found in shovelheads from this time period is the weakening of the engine’s bottom end, resulting in frequent and expensive repairs. It is advisable to consider other years or models for a more reliable and headache-free riding experience.

Common Issues And Challenges

Motor Oil Leaks: One of the common issues faced by Shovelhead owners is motor oil leaks. These leaks can occur due to worn-out gaskets or seals. Regular inspection and maintenance of the gaskets and seals can help prevent oil leaks and potential engine damage.

Charging System Problems: Another challenge often encountered with Shovelhead motorcycles is charging system problems. This can result in a dead battery or insufficient power supply to the electrical components. Regular testing of the charging system and ensuring proper connections can help avoid such issues.

Faulty Ignition System: Shovelhead bikes may also face issues with the ignition system. Faulty ignition coils or spark plugs can lead to poor performance and difficulty in starting the engine. Regular checking and replacement of these components can help maintain optimal performance.

Overheating Concerns: Overheating is another issue that Shovelhead owners should be aware of. Inadequate cooling or malfunctioning cooling fans can cause the engine to overheat, potentially leading to severe damage. Proper maintenance of the cooling system and checking for any obstructions can prevent overheating problems.

1966 – 1969 Shovelhead Models

The 1966-1969 Shovelhead models are known for their intricate designs and innovative features. However, it is advisable to avoid these years due to recurring mechanical issues and high maintenance costs.


Engine Evolution And Red Flags

  • Starting from 1966 to 1969, the Shovelhead models went through a significant engine evolution.
  • During these years, several red flags were raised concerning their reliability.
  • Owners reported issues with oil leaks, overheating, and excessive vibration.
  • These problems were mainly attributed to design flaws and inadequate heat dissipation.
  • In addition, the early Shovelhead models had inadequate oiling, leading to premature engine wear.

Despite these reliability concerns, the 1966 – 1969 Shovelhead models also had their positive aspects:

  • They marked the introduction of electric start options, improving convenience for riders.
  • These years saw the refinement of the Shovelhead engine, which paved the way for later, more reliable models.
  • With proper maintenance and upgrades, these vintage bikes can still provide an enjoyable riding experience.

1970 – 1978 Shovelhead Models

The Shovelhead engine, produced by Harley-Davidson from 1966 to 1984, went through several design changes during its production years. The 1970 – 1978 Shovelhead models specifically had their fair share of design alterations, which had notable implications.

One of the notable changes was the introduction of a five-fin cylinder head design in 1970, replacing the previous seven-fin design. This modification aimed to enhance cooling efficiency but came with its own set of challenges. The reduced number of fins led to increased heat retention, resulting in potential overheating issues.

Moreover, the 1978 models saw the implementation of a different cylinder base design, featuring a two-bolt flange instead of the previous four-bolt flange. This change made servicing the engine more complicated and less efficient.

The consequences of these design changes include increased maintenance requirements and potential overheating problems for owners of these particular Shovelhead models. It is essential for prospective buyers and enthusiasts to be aware of these notorious faults before considering these model years.

1979 – 1984 Shovelhead Models

The years 1979-1984 marked the final years of the Shovelhead era before the introduction of the Evolution engine. It’s important for potential buyers and enthusiasts to be aware of some key issues associated with these models.

During this period, Shovelheads were known for their iconic design and aesthetics, but they also had their fair share of challenges. One major issue was the reliability of the engines. Due to the design and manufacturing techniques of the time, Shovelheads were prone to leakages, overheating, and general mechanical problems.

Furthermore, these models were equipped with a carburetor rather than fuel injection, which could lead to tuning and performance issues. The carburetor’s sensitivity to changes in altitude and temperature could cause difficulties in starting and inconsistent running.

Additionally, the electrical systems in these models were less advanced compared to later models, which meant they were more susceptible to faults and failures.

Despite these challenges, Shovelhead models from the years 1979-1984 can still be enjoyed and appreciated by enthusiasts with the right level of care and maintenance. It’s important to address any mechanical issues and invest in regular maintenance to ensure a smooth riding experience.

Maintenance Tips And Best Practices

Regular inspection and maintenance are essential for keeping your Shovelhead motorcycle in optimal condition. By following a few best practices, you can avoid potential issues and ensure a smooth riding experience.

Regular Inspection And Maintenance

Regularly inspecting your Shovelhead motorcycle is crucial to catching any potential problems early on. Make sure to:

  • Check the tires for wear and tear, and maintain proper tire pressure
  • Inspect the brake system, including pads, rotors, and fluid levels
  • Regularly change the oil and filter, ensuring proper lubrication of the engine
  • Inspect the electrical system, including the battery, wiring, and lights

Upgrading Critical Components

Upgrading critical components on your Shovelhead can enhance its performance and reliability. Consider:

  • Upgrading to an electronic ignition system for improved starting and performance
  • Replacing the stock carburetor with a modern, more efficient one
  • Installing a high-performance exhaust system for improved power and sound

Overcoming Common Problems

Many Shovelhead owners encounter common problems that can be resolved with proper maintenance. Some common issues include:

  • Oil leaks, which can be addressed by checking gaskets and seals
  • Electrical problems, which may require troubleshooting and potentially upgrading components
  • Transmission issues, such as slipping or difficulty shifting, which may need professional attention

By following these maintenance tips and addressing common problems, you can ensure a reliable and well-maintained Shovelhead motorcycle.

Exploring More Reliable Alternatives

Shovelhead engines were produced by Harley-Davidson from 1966 to 1984. While they have a loyal fan base, certain years are known for their reliability issues. It’s important to note that the performance and dependability of a motorcycle can vary depending on various factors.

That being said, if you are considering purchasing a used Shovelhead, it’s recommended to be cautious with models from 1978 to 1981. These years are notorious for problems such as oil leaks, weak engine cases, and electrical issues. However, it’s always wise to thoroughly inspect any used motorcycle before making a purchase, regardless of the model year.

If you’re looking for more reliable alternatives to the Shovelhead, Harley-Davidson offers several options. One popular choice is the Evolution engine (also known as the Evo). Introduced in 1984, this engine brought significant improvements in oiling and cooling, resulting in better reliability.

The Evolution engine models, such as the Sportster and Big Twin, are generally considered more dependable than the Shovelhead. Another option is the Twin Cam engine, introduced in 1999, which further enhanced performance and durability.

The Twin Cam engine models, including the Softail and Touring series, have gained a strong reputation for their reliability and power. Ultimately, it’s essential to do thorough research and consider your specific needs and preferences when choosing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Which Years Of Shovelhead Motorcycles Should I Avoid?

A: The Shovelhead motorcycles produced between 1978 to 1981 had various issues, making them less reliable compared to other years.

Q: What Are The Common Problems With Shovelhead Bikes From Those Years?

A: The common problems with Shovelhead motorcycles from 1978-1981 include leaky base gaskets, electrical issues, and weak stock clutches.

Q: Were There Any Improvements Made In Later Years To Address These Issues?

A: Yes, improvements were made in the later years, such as fixing oil leaks, upgrading the electrical system, and enhancing the clutch system.

Q: Can I Still Find Parts For Shovelhead Motorcycles From The Avoided Years?

A: Although it can be more challenging to find parts for older Shovelhead motorcycles, there are still aftermarket options available from reputable suppliers.

Q: How Can I Ensure That I Buy A Reliable Shovelhead If I Am Interested In One?

A: To ensure reliability, consider purchasing a Shovelhead motorcycle from years other than 1978-1981 or investing in one that has been properly maintained and restored.


To maximize the value of your Shovelhead purchase, it is crucial to be aware of the years to avoid. Avoiding the problematic years will save you from potential headaches and expenses in the long run. By doing thorough research and consulting with experts, you can make an informed decision and find a Shovelhead that meets your needs.

Make sure you understand the common issues associated with each year and prioritize reliability and performance. Happy riding!


Spread the love

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *