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Selecting A Cam for your Harley;


Trying to select a cam can be frustrating and down right confusing. So, let's see if I can shine some light on the frequently asked question, "What cam is right for me?" Hopefully I can answer this question and at the same time give you the knowledge to know what you are talking about when it comes time to select and buy your cam.

Obviously there are several factors that need to be looked at when talking about power. Head design, valve size, stroke, compression ratio, carburetor, ignition and exhaust all add up to create horsepower and torque in addition to the cam. But for now, we will just talk some cam tech.

A lot of the more popular cams you hear about out there may not be the right cam for the kind of bike you have, or the style of riding you do. For instance, if you ride a bagger and tote the old lady with you, or if you ride your bike in town and do a lot of stop and go riding, you want a cam that will give you more low-end torque (Meaning in the lower RPM range). If you have a light bike, like a Dyna or FXR, a mid-range power cam will give you a lot of top end power.

If sending your ride to a machine shop, buying all the special tools, or one of the many other engine modifications that it takes to run some cams isn't in your budget and or knowhow, there are some bolt in cams that you can go with. Crane Cams and Andrews Cams are a few that come to mind. Keep in mind that I say the words "bolt in" loosely. Just because it says bolt in doesn't mean you can pop the cam cover off and stand in your shop/garage and just throw it in. There are some minor checks you need to do and your service manual can walk you through them. Also remember that if you decide to go with a bolt in, it would not be a bad idea (but not necessary) to add a set of less restrictive exhaust pipes. Do a little re-jet on the carb and give the 'old gal a high flow air cleaner. All that being said, let's look at a couple of factors you will need to know when looking for your cam.

Camshafts with duration under 250 degrees and lift below .500 inches of lift can be considered bolt in cams. Cams with over .500 inches of lift and over 250 degrees of duration require hop up compression and heads to work best.

By installing a cam, you can expect certain power gains in certain areas such as low end, mid range and top end. To achieve that, we use the cam to manipulate or tell the valves what to do. The cam tells the valves what to do through the "valve train". (Cam to lifter, lifter to pushrod, pushrod to rocker, and rocker to valve.)

The amount of time the valve is told stay open is the duration we talked about. The higher the duration, the more air/fuel mixture is allowed into the combustion charger. The cam also tells the valves how far to open, off its valve seat on the head, to achieve the same effect. This is the degree of lift we talked about.

As a general rule cams that have 220-235 degrees of duration produce good low-end torque. 235-250 degrees of duration work well for mid-range and cams with over 260 degrees work best for top end power. 

Remember that there are many other ways and combinations of things you can add to achieve power gains. The cam is but one part of the vast power spectrum. Don't think that by throwing in a bolt in cam, adding a carb and a set of pipes that you are going to turn your bike into a pavement eating 100 HP monster. Getting that stock 80 to throw 100 HP at the rear wheel takes a lot of time and money. But a well-tuned engine combination of a bolt in cam, a decent exhaust, and a little carb ticklin' is very capable of smokin' your buddy's off the line.

I hope I have shed a little light on the shady area of cam selection when it comes to your scooter and riding style. 

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