Best Air Intake for Harley Davidson: How to Choose Your Update
The quality of inflow air is known to have a vast impact on how your bike performs on the road. As a rule of thumb, the purer it is, the better. Extra clean air will give you more efficient combustion, which translates into increased horsepower while also prolonging the engine’s life.
In this article, we’ll tell you about the best air intake for Harley Davidson bikes, in our opinion, along with decent alternatives for those with other priorities. A Buyer’s Guide section is included to help you make an informed decision.
Harley Davidson Compatible Air Cleaners
The models featured below all stand out due to better-than-par performance. However, they differ in other parameters, so feel free to choose the one that best fits your needs and budget.
1. Arlen Ness 18-803 Big Sucker: The Best Harley Stage 2 Air Cleaner
The Big Sucker is probably one of the most popular high-performance air cleaners for Harley Davidson, which we are inclined to attribute to its performance-boosting capacity, promising a gain in horsepower of up to 21%.
This model comes in two varieties, namely Stage 1 and Stage 2. The difference is mainly due to the size of the filtering element, which is 20% larger in the Stage 2 kit.
The filtering element consists of 4 layers of surgical-grade cotton. It is made by pouring the material manually over a urethane body, which means a cleaner filtering medium. The Big Sucker comes pre-oiled.
This filter pairs well with the stock air cleaner cover. It’s also famous for its unique backing plate that eliminates the need for hoses or banjo fittings. The way the breather is positioned makes it virtually a closed-loop design.
The filter will fit a wide range of Harley models, including some made as long back as in the 90s. Some people find the way it looks obnoxious, but it’s surely a matter of taste.
It is noteworthy that an exemption from the general prohibition in California has been granted to this model provided that factory tunings are used.
- Feature a one-piece aluminum backing plate/carb support bracket
- Eliminate the need for banjo Fittings, Hoses and filter
- Breather passages exit at the mouth of the carburetor/throttle body, creating a virtually closed-loop system
- Stage I kit Includes a high-flow filter and accepts 93-15 oval or round OEM outer cover (unless noted)
- Stage II kit Includes a 20% larger high-flow filter and accepts an 8" round ness or 8" round OEM outer cover
- Unobstructed air inflow;
- Provides a noticeable increase in power;
- Smart breather technology (no hoses);
- Extra clean filtering medium.
- Not the sleekest design ever.
2. K&N Engine Air Filter HD-1508: An OEM Replacement High Flow Air Cleaner for Harley Davidson
Designed to fit Harley motorcycles made from 2008 to 2014, namely FLTRX Road Glide Custom, FLHR Road King, FLHRC, FLHTC Electra Glide, and a number of other models, this K&N air filter can be a cost-effective replacement for the stock cleaner on your bike.
The filter is fairly DIY-friendly, with an estimated installation time of 5 to 10 minutes and no specialized tools required. Just like our top pick above, it comes pre-oiled. The pleated design increases the filtering surface and thus capacity, combined with special layered cotton fabric that traps oil and hard particles.
K&N offers a limited warranty of over a million miles, which also brings about environmental benefits. The model is also a good choice for driving in dirty conditions. Depending on the exact setting, the average mileage before cleaning is approximately 50,000 miles.
HD-1508 does a good job of improving the inflow of air to the engine, also increasing torque. Since torque, as a raw measurement of the rotational force inside the motor, translated to horsepower, this brings about considerable performance improvement.
- ULTIMATE LONGEVITY: 10-Year/Million Mile Limited Warranty protects for the life of your vehicle.
- ENGINEERED POWER: State-of-the-art filtration media provides up to 50% more airflow than disposable paper filters to increase power and acceleration. Clogged or dirty air filters can reduce your vehicle’s acceleration by up to 10%.
- EASY INSTALLATION: Pre-oiled and ready to install. One of the easiest and most cost-effective upgrades for your motorcycle or ATV for quick performance gains.
- SAVES MONEY: K&N high-flow replacement air filters will save you $250 over 10 years by avoiding disposable filters.
- ECO-FRIENDLY: Using a washable, reusable product helps reduce replacement waste. A K&N filter will last longer than 10 disposable filters.
- Improves air inflow considerably;
- Easy installation procedure with no specialized tools needed;
- Efficient filtering element design;
- Extra-long warranty.
- Not the best power gain available.
3. K&N 63-1126 Air Cleaner Kit: The Best of Harley Davidson Air Cleaner Kits on a Budget
Another product by the K&N brand, 63-1126, is not just an air filter but a whole air cleaner kit that consists of a conical AirCharger red layered cotton filter using the traditional pleated design, a mandrel-bent intake tube made of aluminum, and a billet-designed plate for mounting the kit on the throttle body. Mounting hardware is included as well.
Again, the filtering element comes with some oil added to it to spare your time. Since this is a system rather than an individual part, however, the estimated installation time is increased to approximately 90 minutes.
Designed with improved throttle response in mind, the kit will also benefit how your engine sounds. Its estimated gain in horsepower is 8.57 HP at 5533 RPM.
The air filter used in this kit is washable. According to the manufacturer, it will last you about 100,000 miles before you have to clean it, which is an impressive mileage. The famous K&N million-mile limited warranty applies, with a guarantee of increased power.
- Estimated horsepower gain of 8.57 HP at 5533 RPM
- Designed to improve throttle response and engine sound
- Easy to install, usually in 90 minutes or less
- Washable and reusable lifetime air filter
- Not legal for highway use in states adopting California emission regulations
- Considerable horsepower gain;
- A cost-effective option;
- Comes with a million-mile warranty;
- Provides for long intervals between cleanings.
- Might take time and skill to mount.
4. Vance & Hines VO2 Naked Air Cleaner Kit: High Flow Air Intake for Harley Davidson
This kit will fit a wide range of Harley bikes, including some older ones from the late 90s, as well as Street 500 XG500 2015-2020 and Street 750 XG750 2015-2020. It is a kit based on a high-flow washable cotton filter.
The product can be attached directly to the factory-made throttle body. Mounting hardware is included in the kit.
While not as efficient per se as our No. 1 favorite, this kit will make a difference in power when paired with a proper fuel management system. The combination gives you great performance across the power curve.
The word “naked” in the model’s name refers to the fact that it is sold without a cover. You can choose to keep the stock one purchase one of the many custom air filters covers available.
- For those wanting to keep the stock look, but not necessarily the stock performance
- Vance & Hines now offers its VO2 Air Intake as a high-flow replacement kit
- Designed and manufactured entirely in-house, the VO2 Naked includes a high-flow washable filter element, larger inlet backing plate and billet venturi to get more air in riders motor for more power
- Made in the USA
- Must use Vance & Hines VO2 air cleaner covers
- Good performance gain with a fuel management system;
- Made to last with a million-mile warranty;
- Provides for long intervals between cleanings.
- Needs to be paired with an effective fuel management system.
5. Kuryakyn 9439 Alley Cat Air Cleaner Cover: One of the Best Harley Air Cleaner Covers (Bonus)
Designed specifically to fit air filters on 1999-2017 Harley Davidson motorcycles, this cover will add style to your bike while also protecting the cleaner inside. Apart from the chrome cover, the kit includes the necessary mounting hardware.
The cover features unique stainless-steel mesh inlays between chrome parts for a retro-ish look, supported by the knock-off end cap. It will pair with a number of round filters, including Arlen Ness Big Sucker Stage 1 (but not stage 2).
- Specifically designed for Harley-Davidson's and Kuryakyn Street Sleeper II/III as well as many other aftermarket high flow air cleaners
- Features a unique chrome mesh insert and knock off styled end cap, giving that retro look
- Has a fantastic chrome finish, sporting aluminum construction with stainless steel mesh
- Includes (1) Chrome alley cat air cleaner cover, (1) stay ring, (1) hardware kit; suggested tools for installation (not Included): set of hex wrenches, set of combination wrenches, torque wrench IN/LBS, socket set and Blue Thread Locker
- Compatible with Harley-Davidson models: Screamin' Eagle Stage 1 Air Cleaner kits for '99-'16 Touring, '00-'17 Softail, '99-'07 Dyna; Kuryakyn Street Sleeper II and III and All Arlen Ness Stage 1 Big Sucker Kits
- Protects the filter;
- Stylish vintage look;
- Fits a wide range of models.
Finding the very best Harley Davidson air filter for superb performance and motor longevity can be a challenge unless you have a solid understanding of what you are looking for. Let’s delve into the topic so you can decide smartly.
The Purpose of an Air Filter
The air that we and our motors breathe is full of dirt and particles that are hard to see with the naked eye. When injected into the engine, however, they can cause violent damage to the pistons and cylinders, causing the unit to wear sooner than it should.
An air filter is an object that is placed at the inlet to capture such unwelcome impurities and prevent them from getting inside.
Air Filter Classification
Most disposable OEM filters are made of cellulose (these are referred to as paper filters) and remind of those used to brew coffee. Their key advantage is low price and high filtering capacity. However, such filters restrict airflow to a bare minimum, which is why many riders replace them with aftermarket options.
Harley Davidson air filters are mostly made of oiled multilayer cotton gauze. While having more pores than their paper counterparts, these can hold an impressive amount of dirt. Besides, they are usually washable and reusable and thus more cost-effective than cellulose.
Oiled foam filters are a more specialized option that is good in extremely dirty settings but also messy and demanding when it comes to maintenance. They aren’t really popular with street riders for this reason.
Riders in California should be aware that the California Air Resources Board restricts the use of certain aftermarket parts, including air cleaners unless exempted.
What Aftermarket Air Filter Should I Get for my Harley?
Every filter style has its pros and cons, and a lot depends on other parts of your bike. If you are a road rider with a stock air exhaust and no significant modifications, you shouldn’t expect a striking gain in power due to a new filter alone. Combined with tuned exhaust and fuel management systems, however, oiled gauzed filters can really boost performance.
Casual users will be 100% with the best Stage 1 air cleaner for Harley Davidson, while those for whom the sky is the limit should look into a Stage 2 option. We recommend Arlen Ness Big Sucker as the best product for either application due to its high filtering capacity and the power gain it provides without being a pain to install.
How to Clean Harley Air Filters
Since paper filters are disposable and foam ones pretty uncommon, we’ll focus on the oiled cotton/gauze variety.
- Pull the filter from its housing and remove a coarse degree.
- Soak in an appropriate filter cleaner according to the instructions.
- Rinse well.
- Swish in a bucket of warm soapy water and rinse. Repeat until clean.
- Let dry completely (don’t use compressed air!)
- Apply fresh filter oil, wiping off any excess.
- Put the filter back in its housing.
Here are the answers to common air filter questions.
How much horsepower does a K&N air filter add to a motorcycle?
This depends on the model, but 63-1126 is estimated to give you an extra 8.57 HP at 5533 RPM.
What is the difference between a Stage 1 and Stage 2 air filter?
The main difference is the size of the filtering element and its capacity. Stage 1 is enough if you aren’t planning any major engine work such as lugs, high-flow heads, or forced induction. More considerable changes mean you should consider the more effective Stage 2.
Do air intakes increase horsepower?
They do, but not considerably unless paired with exhaust and/or fuel management tuning.
Whether it’s their reusability or potential power gain that makes aftermarket filters appeal to you, quality oiled gauze/cotton models will cover the needs of most road riders.
If you don’t want to spend time choosing, get Arlen Ness 18-803 Big Sucker as it combines considerable air inflow improvement with ease of use and installation. However, feel free to choose a more budget-friendly or specialized alternative for your Harley as needed.
What type of air filter are you using now? What are the challenges? Please share in the comments section!