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S&S Twin Cam Gear Drive Set Installed

Lifesaving Performance Upgrade

By Bandit with photos from Markus Cuff and Sin Wu
6/11/2010 4:11:41 AM

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New Bikernet Security Beast, Cash, who works closely with his partner, Tank.

There's a code going around regarding Twin Cams. Lee Clemens pointed it out to me first, when he broke down on the way to Myrtle Beach on his FLH Twin Cam, with 25,000 miles on the clock. "The cam bearings disintegrated and took out the lower end," he said. The rumors are that the chain drive tension increases the load on the cam bearings and they begin to wear until they come apart between 10,000 miles, and as Lee Pointed out, 25,000 miles.


I discussed this with Gene Thomason of Gene's Speed Shop in Carson, California. We had an interesting chat about Evos and Twin Cams and which are the best. Gene and his dad, Gene Sr. worked for Bartels H-D in Marina Del Ray and for the Harley- Davidson fleet center for a decade. They know Twin Cams, every model and configuration. Gene Jr. is also an avid H-D top fuel drag racer, so he knows performance gremlins and how to deal with the stresses of performance enhancements.

Is he a surfer or drag racing maniac? That's Gene Thomason.

"The Twin Cam exceeds the Evo, especially when it comes to performance," Gene pointed out. "Since it's mated to the transmission, alignment is enhanced and the cases are heavier and stouter design to handle the rigors of big-inch engines. The Twin Cam configuration allows the pushrods to be shorter and run at less of an angle to the rockers. The hefty cams don't ride on the cam cover, but a separate plate specifically designed to hold the cams more securely and in alignment with the case more effectively."

I like the Evo for its pure tradition, historic refinement and minimal components, but everything he pointed out was correct and a consideration for performance-minded riders. I asked Gene if H-D would ever install gear- driven cams and he pointed out that noise is a factor. Factories are allowed a particular level of noise to comply with federal standards. That level applies to the entire driveline from the exhaust to the tappets.

"Harleys like their exhaust rumble, so they try to keep the driveline quiet," Gene said.

You'll notice that Victory runs a noisy gear-driven primary, but the exhaust is quieter to level the regulatory playing field. I also reached our to our resident Tech Expert, Pablo. Here's what he said:

”I hope you replaced the inner case INA (H-D) cam bearings with Torrington roller Bearings. Get them from Drag or CCI. The new 96-inch H-D engines also use INA inner case cam bearings, just a larger size.

”The Twin Cam INA bearings have the same issues like the EVOs did. They don't hold up with any performance work added to the engine. Cams, heads, stroker kits, and high-compression pistons enhance pressure on internal components. The Torrington bearings have more rollers, more bearing contact surface, and better support.

“Good choice on the S&S gear drive setup for sure. You might consider one those billet cam plates also. Check your Flywheel run-out also.”



I rode the 2003 Road King, with a measly 12,800 miles on the clock, to Gene's Speed Shop on Normandie in the Torrance, California Gasoline Alley (310) 618-1908. We pulled the bags and immediately performed a dyno run for a reference, although I wasn't switching the cams for additional performance. I had mid-range SE-203 cams in the bike with Screaming Eagle Heads, two-into- one Screamin' Eagle Exhaust and Terry Components closed-loop enhancement to my H-D EFI system. The bike ran terrific. The Dyno noted 68 HP at 6000 rpms and 84 pounds of torque at 3000.

"A stock 96-incher puts out 52 horses and 65 pounds of Torque," Gene said while straddling the King in his dyno room.

We carefully removed the exhaust sensor before yanking the pipes off.

The 203 mid-range cam had .510 and .483 lift (intake and exhaust), and .234 and .239 duration. The S&S 570G cam set had .570 lift with .240/.255 duration. The S&S brochure point out the following benefits:

Reduced Maintenance: There are no chain guides or shoes to wear or replace and no debris from wearing guides or shoes to contaminate oil supply.

Consistent cam timing: Cam gears are keyed with a light press fit. Chain and tensioner induced variations are no longer a problem.

Load: Eliminating the chains and tensioners eliminates excessive side loading of cam bearings.

Critical sprocket alignment is unnecessary. Use of precision-machined spacers is eliminated.

Performance benefits: This system maintains accurate valve timing when using high performance valve springs with higher spring forces.

Performance fitment: Higher cam lifts can be used without decreasing cam base circle. Gear-driven rear cam rotates in opposite direction from chain-driven cam. Lobes on front and rear cams never point toward each other, allowing increased lobe height.

With the S&S Gear Drive Cam kit and their Pushrod set (which is required), we had all the components to perform the job, including gaskets. All S&S parts are guaranteed for a year to be free of manufacturing defects in materials and workmanship. The pushrod kit even comes with all the covers and O-rings, minus the centers with the springs and washers. We hoped the operation could take place without removing the rocker boxes. If we had to remove the boxes, we would need additional gaskets, not included in the kit.

The reason S&S supplies the covers include the proper length to afford us the ability to adjust the pushrods.

"Gear drives also prevent chain drive drag on a performance engine," Gene pointed out as he started to remove the air cleaner and pipes after the bike cooled.

We had to loosen the exhaust sensor, before removing the pipes. We removed the right footboard and Gene prepared to drop the oil drain plug.

"What's the deal?" he said. "There's still Bonneville salt on the drain plug."


I didn't have an answer and just kept my mouth shut and took notes. Gene pulled the sparkplugs, disconnected the battery and turned the engine over until the rear cylinder pushrods were down, after removing the pushrod cover clips. With bolt cutters he cut the non-adjustable pushrods and tossed them in the trash. Then he turned to the front cylinder. The S&S booklet recommended we jack up the bike securely, put it in 5th gear, and rotate the rear wheel until both lifters and pushrods for either cylinder are at their lowest point on the camshaft (TDC of the compression stroke). Both pushrods for that cylinder will not be under pressure from the valve springs and will rotate with light finger pressure.


Here's a note regarding the adjustable pushrod requirement: 510G camshafts may use stock style non-adjustable pushrods instead of adjustable pushrods. If installing non-adjustable pushrods, disassemble and assemble rocker box per Harley-Davidson instructions. All other S&S gear drive cams require installing adjustable pushrods. As a timesaving measure, the stock pushrods can be removed with bolt cutters. Be sure to heed cautions and warnings: use bolt cutters and not cutoff wheels to prevent debris from entering the engine. Cutting pushrods without releasing the spring pressure (lowest point on the cam) may result in bodily damage or a dead dog, if he's in the way.


Gene at beginning



Hydraulic lifters, guide pin and lifter block.

Gene removed the lifter blocks, which aren't lifter blocks anymore. They are lifter covers that hold a hardened guide pin in place (the pin prevents the lifter from spinning) and seal the area with gaskets and O-rings. Throughout this process, we used a variety of JIMS tools to remove and replace components without risking damage. He removed the cam cover bolts and the cam case cover. It's not necessary to remove any ignition sensor from the cover.



Here's the original Screamin' Eagle cams set in place. There's one chain on this side of the support plate from the pinion shaft to the rear cylinder cam. On the back side a chain runs from one cam to the other.


We used a JIMS tool to hold the cam chain tensioners locked away from the chains after the cam cover was removed. Another JIMS tool held the gears in alignment so we could remove the gear bolts from the cam and pinion shaft. We popped the gears off then the chain tensioners were removed.


Then we moved onto removing the cam set and guide plate all as one piece. The S&S booklet documents specific fastener removal order for the oil pump and cam support plate. The cam system slipped right out of the engine case. In some cases, a press will be necessary to remove the cams and cam bearings from the support plate with a JIMS tool. In this case, the cams and stock bearings slipped right out of the support or alignment plate.



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Another S&S Note: It's not necessary to remove the oil pump from the engine to complete this installation unless grinding in the gear case must be performed for clearancing. If grinding takes place, all gear case components must be removed and all holes taped off with duct tape to avoid contamination.



There's another JIMS tool to support the plate and install the new S&S bearings. Gene used a 1 1/16th socket as a guide to tap the new bearings in place after smearing them with Redline assembly lube. A few light taps and they slipped into place.


S&S supplied a new outer bearing retaining plate and it only slips on one way. S&S recommends checking the clearance between the bearing retainer and the woodruff keys securing inner gears to the cams. Remove material from the retainer as needed to provide .030-inch clearance between keys and retainer. Gene installed the bearing retainer plate and used blue Loctite and tightened the screws to 20-30 inch-pounds torque.


Gene grabbed the new S&S cam set and washed any anti- corrosion packing residue from the surfaces. Then he slipped the correct cam in the correct hole. The longer cam with the keyway is the rear cam. The two cams have alignment notches to indicate how they should be positioned. He used a press to install the cams in the cam plate, pressing the tall cam first until it was even with its mate, then pressed both into place. He double-checked to verify that the cams were aligned properly. Then he coated the crap out of all the new components with Redline lube.


This shot shows the stock roller bearing. The new S&S bearing is a ball bearing set.

He inspected the brass pinion shaft bushing for severe wear and performed a quick test fit to insure that no cam lobes would hit the case casting under the lifters. This wasn't a high performance set of cams, so there wasn't a problem, but it was good to inspect.

It's a lousy photograph, but it is a JIMS tool removing the case cam bearing.

Again he used a series of JIMS expansion tools to remove the case cam bearings. The case cam bearings are the ones known to go to shit at between 10,000-25,000 miles especially under performance loads. The stock bearings are smaller, shorter and fewer in the race than the S&S performance roller sets.


Again a JIMS tools was used to carefully tap the new bearing into the cam gear case. Gene drove the new bearings into the case material until they mated with the inside case lip. While the case was still open, he inspected the oil pump for scoring. He also checked the back of the cam plate where the oil pump rides.

Gene also cleaned the lifter block gasket surfaces while the case was open. Any material that inadvertently fell into the case could be easily removed.

The head of the screwdriver held the oil pump pick-up just the correct distance from the floor of the case.

He installed the cam set and bolts loose and spun the cams to insure there was no binding or problems. He tightened the oil pump Allen fasteners, first alternating sequence, one through four to 95-inch pounds. He performed this task while making sure there was a gap beneath the pick-up opening in the bottom of the pump. If there was no gap, the cam case would fill with oil. He used a large flat-bladed screwdriver as a guide to insure the gap didn't disappear during the tightening process.


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hands installingplate

Then Gene tightened the cam plate to factory torque specs and installed the key and rear drive gear timed with the slots on the components. There's no way to go wrong unless you're blind. He almost forgot the front cylinder cam clip ring that prevents the cam from backing out.


"I never had one come loose," Gene commented.

Gene installed the big cam gear bolt with Loctite and torqued it to 35 foot-pounds. The smaller gear, with washer and Loctite, was torqued to 25 foot-pounds. S&S supplied new fasteners with the gears, but he used the stock machine washers (S&S said you don't need 'em). Next, he replaced the hydraulic lifters.

Before replacing the chromed case cover Gene checked this area for clearance since the S&S pinion gear is larger than the stock unit.

"I always need to think about pushrod order and rotate the engine so the rear valves were down as far as possible,” Gene said. The new adjustable S&S pushrods were just two lengths. The two long ones were used in the exhaust sides.


Replacing the pushrods, tubes, lifter block, guide pin and gasket at one time. A miracle.

S&S supplied all new covers minus the center spring retainers. Gene worked with the lifter blocks and pushrods to determine whether he could install the pushrods without removing the rocker boxes. A larger lift cam could pose a problem; these units were very close to being too long. Gene had to feed the intake pushrod, the lifter block gasket, and the pushrod covers into place in one dainty motion. It was a trick to hold and guide all the elements, but it worked.

There's that surfer in the chrome. He was kind enough to relinquish his trademark pushrod cover containment special tool. Even JIMS doesn't have this one in their stock, just two rubberbands.

I also learned the code of pushrod adjusting.

Gene paints the adjuster flat with H-D touch-up paint and counts four turns, or you can go for 24 flats.

"You lower them all the way," Gene explained. "Then you take all the slack out, and screw them down four turns. The hydraulic lifter doesn't move. You've opened the valve four turns. That's why you can't turn the engine over for ten minutes. If you did the valve could smack the piston. So you need to wait ten minutes for the lifter to settle, and then adjust the front cylinder."

After all was said and done, the pushrods should spin when the engine is turned over and the valves cams lobes are down.

Again Gene checked the cam cover for clearance, since the S&S gear is larger than stock, but we still didn't face any clearance problems. He tightened the pushrod jam nuts on the rear cylinder, checked for spin, then moved onto the front cylinder pushrod adjustment. He waited another ten minutes, checked for pushrod spin, turned the engine over once for a final inspection then replaced the cam cover.

Note:In this case, with new S&S pushrods, the adjuster spins on a fixed threaded shaft, and the jam nuts tighten down against the adjuster and not up against the pushrod.


Gene added three quarts of Redline 20-50 synthetic oil and replaced my Screamin' Eagle exhaust system.

"It should hold four with a new filter," Gene said.


Then I went for a ride.

We dyno'd the King with the new, but very similar, cams. There was no excessive noise and my max torgue came in very close to the original. I'm going to take it back after I put add 100 miles. I'll report back.

This piece was final edited by Bruce Snyder who owns an '03 H-D. He made the following comment about his experience with cam drives:

Here's my shoes after only 12,000 miles. Just out of curiosity, what kind of shape were your tensioner shoes in? Mine were still fully intact at 57K, although the inner shoe would've probably been toast in another couple thousand. But a friend of mine had a shoe grenade and take out the oil pump on his RK at 42K. I can send you a pic of what my shoes looked like if you're curious. Seems to be a crap shoot on how long they'll last - I know another fellow who's racked up over 60K on his '03 Duece with no issues.

Here's Bruce's shoes. Note that all the wear and tear to these puppies could have clogged an oil passage.

Enjoy the ride. My local indy installed Andrews 26Gs in my '03 FXST a year ago (a tad milder than your S&S set) and I love 'em.


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Reader Comments

Yeah, I know this about two decades too late, but I (was drunk) and have that low of miles on my bike. So I just now am addressing the cam issue.

I really don't see why they didn't just focus on the problem rather than re-creating so many other solutions that cost out the rear end of a monkeys ass to purchase. $550.00 for a set of gears. Really! Is this the NASA space shuttle? They could have paid me all those millions in R&D and still made money.

No! I think even S&S and the others need to make a buck or two on the solution, thus all the distractions of billet plates, bearings, new cams, over priced gears, oil pumps, bubble gum flavored oil, bolts, etc. But My highest respects to S&S, just like H-D, those guys sure know how to milk the cow.

The (99-06/even the latters) V-Twin cam problem is the "to small, too thin, too weak, wrong design, wrong material" junk plastic portion and that's it! A $2.00 piece of plastic if it cost that much!
The bracket works just fine in its concept! Haven't heard a thing about the metal part of the "thingy" have you? Just the plastic failing! So lets not be lead by the nose in miss-direction of some magic trick as to buy $1700.00 worth of upgrades. Chances are you will pick the wrong cam lobes and end up reworking the top end as well....Another few grand later on.

There is no reason to go all rocket science on it and cast a new plate or machine it out of high grade aircraft aluminum, unless someone just wants the supercharge the motor and credit-card with high performance at the same time. Your spending $500.00-$1700.00 (plus labor) to fix the issue of two $30.00 over priced brackets no bigger than the lifters, or more accurately to replace two $2.00 pieces of poorly thought out and poorly formed shapes of plastic?.... (of whatever fantastical futuristic material its made of).

It does one thing, it presses on the chain as to take the slop out of the chain so it won't jump a tooth and time. Sure better bearings, high volume oil pumps, and other are nice EXTRAS for the power hungry Motor-heads, but in my book that is cornering the market and an up-selling manipulative monopoly. "Because its the American Heritage"!
More accurately, It's an Error of Harley Davidson who wants to pocket their monies and avoid the responsibility of fixing the problem as it will both "Cost them" and "Destroy their Reputations" due to Recalls, parts and labor cost.

Again, its the tension bracket's piece of crap plastic and no need to get all worked up and redesign the cam housing with an elaborate retrofit while the wife and kids are gagging for something to eat and the house is in foreclosure!

Now this has not been tested to my knowledge, but it might just blow some peoples mind to its simplicity of solution.
Redesign and change the tension bracket from a piece of plastic to a (metal) needle bearing and gear or guided pulley/wheel system, DONE!.
Coat it with a thick wheel of the plastic junk if you just have to smooth it out so it wont be lubricated metal on lubricated metal turning in the same direction, at least it will be tuning rather than stationary and grinding away like your constantly oiled finger on a bench grinder!

(BTW, opposed to resistance, heat, friction, dragging/scaping, when two objects turn in conformity and unity, they tend to have less wear especially when lubricated...just like that metal on metal cam bearing/busing cars use. Guess cam engine berings out to be made out of plastic as well?).

Then again, who knows maybe my Idea of this precision "springy thingy" slack gathering wonder might grenade, but it couldn't be worse than what is in there now. might even last twice as long perhaps 40- 60,000 miles. for $30.00

I am either an engineers worst nightmare when it comes to literal common sense or literally a dumb ass.

PS.. in a scientific study, I tested this theory by performing two simple test. (#1) I lubed my x-wife up with 20w50 and drug her down the road at 40mph with my cruiser until she stopped screaming. Later, in test (#2) I re-lubricated her and I tied two wheels on her legs and drug her at the same speed and down the same road, she did seem to scream louder and last longer and for many more miles. I stopped when I hit the cost line and noted the findings. She finally shut up!
No Harley was harmed during this test!

Shade Tree Bob
A small one, TN
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Editor Response I agree with some of your contentions. Twin cams are expensive beasts, unlike the perfect Evo, but we still installed new cams in our Evos to make them breathe and run stronger. Except with an Evo, you can perform the upgrades in your garage for a few bucks.

The new M-8 leaned back toward the Evo configuration, but I would have liked a gear driven cam over the chain. More problems?
Great story. I built my first massive hot rod out of a '99 RK .. 45 S&S carb conv SE welded trued balanced crank by revperf cp pistons s&s jugs, f
Feuling plate, Carrillo, ECT, ECT. Anyhow the gear Drive is great. I hate how the cams have very little notch" in them. I've spun two key ways.. This s#!t is expensive, why?

Thanks great article would love a more basic or break down on push rods but all good.

Hell, AZ
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Editor Response Thanks, let us know if we can help. I sent your comment to S&S.
Really good job but did u show that only .030 thousandths is allowed on the pinion shaft run out? I installed as gear drive & cams.510 & p/rods several years ago. Dial indicator needed to check the run/out.

I added a new cpu (commander) & dyno tuned it,also put a larger (capacity) oil pump! Along w/ stealth coils. Eliminating the stock coil & plug wires. Alegedly achieving better spark fuel burn. Also adj. push rods & yes red line oil.

Hadn’t worked on a big bike in 20 years. Also rear wheel H.P. 80. Oh, bike is a 2006 fxstbi Nightrain. I retired from Railroad. Got lots of bikes in Mobile. Good Luck & thanks again. One more thing— the twin cam tension chains & shoes are the “Achilles Heel” for Harley chain drives per Peterson . Out

David Hopkins
Mobile,al., AL
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Editor Response Thanks, I shared this with the S&S crew.
Excellent article. I am an older HD certified mechanic from the '80's . I mainly ride a 2008 CrossBones softtail and will soon be doing the cam upgrade to a gear drive system. The bike has only 34,000 miles on it. My question is , at what approx. milage should the counter balance in this twin cam B motor checked?

Ken Jennings
Brookneal, VA
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Editor Response I have never heard about checking the counter-balancer. I'll check around, call a dealer or check your manual. Let us know what you find.

You're right to do the cam upgrade soon. Let me know what the cam tensioners look like.
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