The first step in getting more performance out of an engine is to let it breathe easier, and if there’s one thing Harley-Davidson owners like, it’s the distinctive sound of their V-Twin rumbling beneath them. Achieving that sound and performance requires replacing a combination of parts, mainly the stock air cleaner and exhaust.
Here, we’re going to focus on the first part of that equation: a Stage 1 air cleaner (also known as an air intake). A Stage 1 air cleaner typically is best for an otherwise stock Harley with no internal modifications done to the engine. Once you start modifying your engine in search of maximum power, then moving to higher stage components might be in order – but that’s beyond the scope of this list.
Below, we’ve listed some top air cleaners for Harley-Davidsons. Since there are so many types of Harley engines spanning back through the years, it’s best to take advantage of the model finder in the links below to see if there is something applicable for your bike. The selection below is far from exhaustive, as there are tons of models that aren’t on this list. This is more of a representation of what’s available on the market. From round elements to conical, there are a plethora of different designs to suit nearly everyone’s tastes.
This Made-in-America Performance Machine FastAir Air Cleaner looks aggressive with its forward-facing conical filter element. It features an internal crankcase breather system and the well-known K&N air filter. All mounting hardware is included, and so is a rain sock. It’s available in Contrast Cut or Chrome finishes.
Roland Sands’ contribution to this list is the Venturi Domino Air Cleaner. The round shape is iconic, but also slim, so your legs won’t hit it if you have forward controls. Again we see a K&N filter for great airflow – but also enhancing airflow is the backing plate that helps smooth the air as it enters the carb or throttle body. It also has a hidden internal crankcase breather and a new tight seal oil separator. Made in the USA and available in a Contrast Cut finish, the faceplate can be changed out to any number of RSD plates for complete customization.
Another slim and round option, the Joker Machine Finned Air Cleaner is a particularly compact air cleaner for those who want a performance gain but want to keep their Harley trim and neat. Case in point: the filter element (another K&N piece) has a 4-inch diameter. Joker’s exclusive baffle plate crankcase breathing system is included, along with all the hardware you’ll need for installation. Made in the USA from CNC machined billet aluminum, you’ll need a rain sock (sold separately) if you plan on riding on wet roads.
If K&N is providing air filters for virtually every air cleaner assembly in existence, it might as well get in the business of making entire air cleaner assemblies, too. The RK Series is built specifically around the company’s hi-flow filters and includes a powder coated, billet aluminum backing plate that does away with the need for external breathers. It also features a built-in, dyno-tuned velocity stack. What you’ll feel is more power, but also a discreet look – the RK series keeps the stock air cleaner cover so you can maintain that sleeper status.
S&S is well known for its teardrop-shaped air cleaners, but for those who want a smaller version so their knees don’t get banged up, there’s now a miniature version. You’re responsible for the air filter itself (which S&S will be happy to sell you separately), as the kit includes the backing plate, hardware, and the teardrop cover. As for the cover, it’s die-cast and has vents all around to take in as much air as possible. The built-in stinger core directs air straight to the throttle body and reduces turbulence and increases flow in the process. Made in the USA, the kit is also CARB approved.
If the S&S air cleaner above is for those who value their knees, then the Arlen Ness Velocity 65 speaks to those who want to throw caution to the wind. The 65 in the name is in reference to the degrees in which the conical filter is angled away from the bike. This puts the filter out in clean, cool air for high airflow. Arlen Ness says the forward facing design means your knees are still safe from accidental head butts, but we have our doubts. The synthetic stainless jacketed filter never needs oiling and the patented Big Sucker hidden breather technology ensures peak performance.
Rinehart says its inverted air intake for Harleys is packed with patented technology. Exactly what those are we don’t know, but what we do know is that this round air intake is likely a bit more sensible to most than the Arlen Ness piece. The inverted pleated top and sides maximize airflow from all angles. The forged aluminum machined cover is lightweight and also adds protection. Best of all, the synthetic filter is water-resistant and washable, meaning you don’t need to worry about rain socks or re-oiling.
One of the most trusted names in the motorcycle aftermarket Vance & Hines contributes this – the VO2 Blade. Slim, round, and compact, this is another option for those who don’t want a huge air intake to possibly bang their knees into. The VO2 Blade is made in the USA and includes a high-flow filter that’s washable and reusable, as well as a large inlet backing plate.
Another well-known name in the exhaust world, Cobra also has an array of air intakes to let your Harley breathe in, too. The Cobra Cone intake has an internal venturi design that speeds up the air getting into your engine, resulting in more power. As you can see, this one has the conical shape, but it’s tucked close to the engine and pointed forward, making it pretty difficult to smash your knee into it.
Of course, we couldn’t finish this list without mentioning air cleaners from the folks who built the bike in the first place. The Screamin’ Eagle catalog is full of air intakes for a wide variety of Harley models – round or conical, slim or not. If you have a (relatively) recent Harley, there’s a good chance there’s a Screamin’ Eagle air cleaner built just for that bike. The beauty of going with a Screamin’ Eagle kit is you know it works, integrates with existing software, and is supported by your local dealer.
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