Front 21″ Wheel On A Harley-Davidson Bagger. The Right Way.

Installing a 21″ front wheel is one of the most popular conversions to greatly improve the look of of a Bagger. This post is not about the wheel design choice – all manufacturers offer a wide selection – but about preventing any handling side effects  due to a taller size than stock.

First, you should know that the Bagger chassis don’t like very much extra rake. Experience shows that a 21″ wheel may make your front end feel heavy at low speed while turning, with some reporting a very slight wobble at high speed (tell me if it’s your experience.)

It is interesting to know that Progressive Suspension, the leader in suspensions for all bikes of all types, recommends lowering your forks by 1″ (two if you are riding a Street Glide or have installed lowered rear shocks) to level the bike out. The cost is nominal ($129), the process is not labor intensive (about 30 minutes with basic tools and without having to change forks oil ) and their testing shows that your touring bike will handle better than stock. (wheel shown by Pickard Wheels)

19 Responses to “Front 21″ Wheel On A Harley-Davidson Bagger. The Right Way.”

  1. 1 Jester Jun 25th, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Thanks for the tip, I was wondering. 21″ looks the best on a bagger, not 23″ or 26″.

  2. 2 Jun 25th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Progressive Suspension Rules! Used them for years. All my bikes end up wearing PS components for a good reason – they work!

  3. 3 Jun 25th, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    do you know I put a 21″ wheel on my streetglide a year ago and have been moaning about the handling ever since – I am going to lower that front suspension straight away!

  4. 4 bilbo Jun 26th, 2011 at 9:11 am

    One extremely important factor you failed to mention is the load capacity of the front tire. Most manufactures do NOT recommend running a 21″ on a bike as heavy as a dresser. Be sure you find the tire with the highest load capicity you can find to be as safe as you can. Tough to prove liability if the tire is not recommended for this fitment and a rider goes down due to catistrofic tire failure.

  5. 5 Jun 26th, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Also key is going with a 120 width or wider and at least a 3.5″ wide wheel. The Dunlop E3 120/70/21 is an ideal tire for this application IMHO.

    Most everyone knows the more rake the less light the front end feels at slow speeds which is probably why the early chopper builders went with the skinny front tire and wheel combination to compensate.

    Raking baggers is getting to be very popular these days so I’m always curious to hear what the rider has to say about the ride and how much extra rake they went with. In fact, many bagger owners are going with a rake and a 21″ front wheel to keep the bike at the same height and for looks. I’m led to believe that by putting the rake in the triple trees; it keeps the trail correct.

    What have your sources been telling you about this combination Cyril?

  6. 6 t holland Jun 26th, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Lowering the back end, whether on Baggers, Dynas or Softails does most always create poor handling characteristics. To really get in the zone, try also lowering the front and adding Racetech Emulators, with 10wt Racetech fluid…..Velvet Smooth. I have no financial interest in Racetech….They just work.

  7. 7 Jun 26th, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    For the record, The Drop-In system is a 30 or so minute install on Dyna, Sporty and FX style Softails, but longer on the baggers (forks are burried under fairing bits). The advantage of the Drop-In style kit is the legs do not have to be taken apart. This allows the install to take far less time than a traditional lowering kit and for the most part can also be done one one’s garage.

    We like the baggers with 21″ wheels and much prefer the handling with at least a 1″ drop.

  8. 8 Jun 27th, 2011 at 2:10 am

    Looks silly AND causes handling problems? Everyone should do it! Oh, wait, you already have.

  9. 9 RKBrent Jun 27th, 2011 at 8:46 am

    I also think its awesome to convert to single disc front brakes. Who cares if my 800+ pound bike doesn’t stop worth a damn, my front wheel looks cool – at least until I run into someone.

  10. 10 Wahlegator Jun 27th, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Of all the 21″ wheel conversions with single disc brakes, I have yet to see someone mention changing the Master Cylinder. When I went to a 13′ rotor with a 6 piston caliper the front brake lever went rock hard. The master cylinder should be switched with a Softtail unit for proper modulation. Just a extra cost that nobody ever figures on.

  11. 11 Shifter Jun 27th, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Wahlgator, nothing obliges you to go to single disc. The change of master cylinder is due to the fact that you went from a 4 to 6-piston brake. You are not obliged to do this. It has nothing to do with the size of the wheel.

  12. 12 John Bradington Jun 27th, 2011 at 11:56 am

    About to switch to a 21″. Will follow Progressive suggestion.

  13. 13 Jun 27th, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Great info Cyril… Another thing we suggest is to use a heavier weight fork oil. The stock fork oil is very light and does not offer a firm front end feel. We use either 20 or 30W oil to give it a firmer and more responsive feel in the front end, along with the 1.5″-2″ drop kit. If you are lowering the front, make sure you check the fender clearance especially if you have a crash bar…

  14. 14 Jun 27th, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Pickard speaks the truth. Although 30w in your fork is pretty heavy!

    Another option would be Monotube Fork kit in a dropped version (adjustable to suit your taste). Sealed unit replaces all of the fork internals and eliminates the need for oil (we recommend a few ounces for lubrication only). Also cleans up the brake dive and corner wallow these machines struggle with.

  15. 15 Jun 28th, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Tricky Air & Billet (The leader of Motorcycle “Air-Suspension”) has been making 9 degree raked triple trees for baggers for 2 yrs now! We make them in two bore sizes, 41mm for your stock legs and 55mm for our air-suspension front forks. There is absolutely no cutting of the frame. We have tested the trees with both 21”x3.5 and 23” x3.5 wheels and tires and feel that the 23” rides better because of the over-all diameter. Your stock rake on your FLH frame is 26 degrees and the 9 degree “Tricky Trees” will put your legs at 35 degrees. Take a look at our page to see comments from previous customers or just us @ 1-866-922-3533.

  16. 16 Axel Jul 2nd, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    “Installing a 21″ front wheel is one of the most popular conversions to greatly improve the look of of a Bagger. ”
    You’d have to be legally blind to believe this.

  17. 17 Glide33 Jul 2nd, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Axel. It’s your taste and you’ve none. You can trust Cyril about having a good one. By the way, email him pics of your sled that we laugh.

  18. 18 Aug 4th, 2011 at 8:24 am

    just purchased new 21″ wheel from rc components and 1″ lowering kit for 2011 streetglide. hoping there are no issues w/handling etc… w/progress w/install as soon as it gets too cold to ride…

  19. 19 Aug 4th, 2011 at 8:28 am

    purchased 21″ dunlop tire elite3 120 and v rated. load rating is about 13 lbs less than stock 18″.
    i’m guessing thats not enough difference to fret over?

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