5 Common Harley Compensator Problems & Quick Solutions 2024

You’ve probably heard about Harley Compensator Problems, and you are not exactly sure which way to go?

In spite of its importance, the Harley compensator issue is something most Harley Davison bikers have had to contend with.

So if you have been struggling to get high-quality information on the subject, you’ve just arrived at the appropriate platform.

This post will equip you with virtually everything you need to know about Harley compensator challenges.

After going through this piece, you would have enough information to make the right decision in this regard.

What is Harley Compensator?

A compensator is no different from a shock absorber for the starter mechanism.

When the engine develops any rough pulses, it is the job of the compensator to smoothen those inadequacies.

In other words, it helps to ensure such rough pulses are not left unchecked and transmitted along with the drivetrain.

Due to the fact that it has got equal ramps, it functions the same way when you are accelerating and decelerating.

Simply put, the compensator is put there to save you any inconvenience in your ride so long as it is in good shape.

So what happens when it’s bad? Keep reading to find out!

What is a compensator eliminator?

The responsibility of a compensator sprocket is to eliminate slipping, reduce any unwanted sounds, and enhance the motorcycle’s starting and starter life.

It decreases spinning weight by approx. 4.8 pounds. It has been crafted to match 07 – 15 Big Twin Models.

It’s made from the 4140 version of heat-treated steel. They are mostly produced in the US.

It’s an important component that is required to ensure a smooth ride.

Bad compensator symptoms?

Here are some of the early warning signs of a bad compensator;

  • Makes a loud clank sound when starting
  • The machine vibrates more than usual
  • Failure to start when it is hot.
  • Sounds like marbles or rocks are inside the primary
  • It becomes a bit difficult to shift into neutral or first

What does a bad compensator sound like?

It is possible you already know that a compensator produces an unpleasant sound when it’s about to go bad. But you don’t know what it sounds like.

A bad compensator produces a loud clang sound when it is starting up. This noise can be so bad that it can be embarrassing for you as the bike owner.

The noise produced can be likened to gravel thrown into the primary when working at 2200 RPM. So, an unpleasant sound is the hallmark of a bad compensator.

That said, the only way you can verify the compensator’s true status, whether it’s good or bad, is by opening it to see.

Harley Compensator Problems

Compensator issues are common to Harley bikes within a range of models. These issues may manifest in various formats.

But in all, you could narrow down these issues to an anomaly that is common to those Harley Davison bikes. The common issues are:

  • The bike produces a highly unpleasant clunking sound
  • It produces a rough sound when the bike is starting
  • The chain tensioner becomes too tight
  • Too much vibration

Why it occurs?

This section will take us through some of the factors that could be responsible for Harley compensator issues.

Harley Compensator Noise

The unpleasant clunking sound or noise is a common sign of a bad compensator.

If you have ridden yours with other bikers, you will notice that this is a common experience for bikers.

The unpleasant sound you get from a bad compensator is mostly caused by compensator parts that are worn out.

As a component that contains several moving parts, the type of lubricant you use is of great importance.

Thus, if the moving parts are not properly lubricated, they will experience more wear and tear.

Unfortunately, those damaged parts are behind the large frustrating sound you hear coming out from the compensator.

Also, the ugly starter grinding sound can be attributed to the wear and tear of those compensator components.

But with the right lubricant, all these can be avoided.

Sprocket problems

The job of compensator sprockets is to dampen the crankshaft’s torsional vibration, so it’s not transmitted along with the drivetrain, where it will make the rider uncomfortable and result in premature component wear out.

From all the information gathered so far, this seems to be a torque problem. If it’s over-torqued, you are bound to face sprocket problems.

And if it’s under-torqued, it’s equally not good for the bike. That means the torque has to be balanced, not too tight, and not too loose.

How do you achieve that? Just try making sure your service manual is not far from you anytime you want to do this.

Better still, you can begin by familiarizing yourself with the information in the manual. It contains specific details on how you should fit the sprocket bolt.

Starting issues

This is another possible sign of a bad compensator. In most cases, it will refuse to start when the bike is hot. Various factors can be responsible for this.

But before you peg the problem on the compensator, you should confirm the status of your battery. Has it become weak, or is the cable corroded?

You need to conduct a proper check to make sure everything is in order. If that is the case, you can conclude that the compensator may be what you have to deal with.

Difficulty in downshifting your gear

Changing your gear from one level to another is supposed to be an easy thing (or at least that is what the design should look like).

If you are cruising along the way on your Harley bike, different situations might require you to change gears, either up or down.

But, if you are having a bad compensator, downshifting your gear would suddenly become a challenge. Changing it to gear 2 or gear 1 would be your nightmare.

The inability to quickly locate your neutral is another sign that is indicative of a problematic compensator.

Frequent kickbacks

kickbacks are known to happen when piston’s air/fuel charge passes before the piston gets a chance to approach the top center.

Your Harley bike should only have few kickbacks as you use it. Unfortunately, a faulty compensator helps to ensure more frequent kickbacks. That is not good for your bike.

Solutions to those problems

The stock compensator is bad due to its design. It’s something Harley Davison did struggle to get right until about 2012. Therefore, the best solution to the above problems are:

  • Installing a Bakers compensator
  • You can also replace your stock tensioner with an Attitude Adjuster
  • You could go with the new compensator assembly unit

Benefits of upgrading a bad compensator

It’s easy for you to imagine that a dealer is trying to play games with your intelligence when they ask you to upgrade your Harley-Davison compensator.

They aren’t, actually. If you want to get the best out of your bike, you need to change the stock compensator.

Outlined below are some of the things you stand to gain when you do so:

  • The bike becomes easy to start
  • The power delivery becomes smoother
  • The throttle response becomes quieter
  • The clunking in the primary goes away

Cost of compensator upgrade

How much you will eventually spend on your compensator upgrade would depend on a couple of factors.

First, you need to know if you are purchasing only the compensator. Or would you be upgrading the rotor as well to enable you to use the new compensator? You also have to consider the cost of labor.

Depending on the model of the H-D bike you have and your location, you should expect to pay anything between $400 and $1300. Again, the cost depends on what and what you are upgrading.

FAQ’s of Harley Compensator Problems

I get this funny clattering sound whenever I’m carrying a passenger; what could be the problem?

The compensator nut helps to connect the motor crank to the front sprocket.

The compensator is positioned to smooth out any pulses to ensure the bike does not shake unnecessarily anytime power is transmitted through it.

Harley tries to solve this problem by ensuring the engine is not too fastened to the front sprocket.

When the bike is in motion, the compensator nut is subject to various forces.

Sometimes, it tends to go out of position because of those forces. So you might be dealing with a loose compensator nut.

I have this loud, unpleasant noise coming out of my primary cover whenever I disengage my clutch; what could be the issue?

I am guessing the problem could be a result of the extremely tight chain. Try to readjust the tensioner and clutch and verify if the noisy sound is still there.

You may also execute a charge test just to check if the issue is coming from your stator. The compensator nut might be loose as well.

I get a clunking sound that decreases and increases when I decrease and increase, respectively. Any help?

Your bearings may be good, but you should check the compensator before doing anything, as that sounds like the problem.

Carefully observe the spline for any possible wear. Verify this before you tighten it.

If you disregard any wear and go ahead to tighten it, it might result in more serious damages. I hope this information is helpful enough.

When I power up all gears in my 2011 Dyna, the effect is a noise caused by chain flapping within the cover?

There are a couple of factors that could be responsible for this. Take the cover off to ascertain what the problem is.

It could be a loose compensator sprocket or broken chain adjuster. It could equally be your primary drive train.

Get your adjuster tightened until you are sure it won’t make that ugly sound anymore.

My 2012 Harley is giving me roll-over issues when I’m doing right-hand turns. My dealer hasn’t helped much. Does anyone have an idea of what I’m facing?

I recommend taking the bike to your dealer for servicing if a warranty still covers it. If not, you might want to get it fixed yourself.

You can start by ensuring the neck bearing is in good shape. It’s also possible that you might need a new gearbox oil.

What should I expect in terms of noise when my compensator eventually goes bad?

If what you are getting is the clunking or rattling sound, then this is your lucky day. Harley Davison did fix this issue by introducing a new compensator assembly.

The new compensator assembly now comes with a bearing. So if your own is bad, I suggest you don’t replace it with the same old assembly.

That’s part of the problem many people experience. Ask for the replacement unit that comes with a bearing. That assembly is much better and would last you longer.

My Harley’s super glide clutch has failed to engage, and the compensator is quite noisy, and I’m trying to figure out the issue. Any similar experience here?

Your compensator ought to be as noiseless as possible. Maybe not totally noiseless, but it shouldn’t make any annoying sounds like what you are explaining.

So, you may want to start by investigating that first. Also, you might want to dig into the history of the clutch.

What exactly did you do with the bike before this problem came up? Did you properly adjust the cable? Did anybody remove the clutch cover or cable recently?

These questions will enable you to trace where the problem may be coming from.


Harley compensator problems are real. If you are using a stock version (HD compensator), expect it to go bad anytime, particularly for models between 2007 and 2012.

The loud clanking, difficult startups, and inconvenient vibrations are all indications of a bad compensator.

The good thing is that the new Harley compensator assembly takes care of the problem. Otherwise, you can try the other solutions mentioned in the post.