The Milwaukee-Eight engine, introduced in the model year 2017 Touring bikes, came with a redesigned clutch and enhanced transmission, which together produce a powerful package outshining anything that’s come before. However, as I learned shortly after I acquired my 2017 Road King, there’s still room for improvement, specifically in the realm of “finding neutral.”
Although I’m thoroughly familiar with the tricks one uses to shift into neutral, e.g., rolling the bike slightly, revving it, shifting before you come to a stop, etc., I still had a hard time finding the sweet spot. Sitting at a light holding in the clutch for extended periods of time is no fun, especially with the amount of pull required to keep the clutch constantly disengaged. When I asked my friends in the industry what suggestions they had, the answer was unanimous: “Call BAKER.” So I picked up the phone and, true to the company’s philosophy, a live person answered! At BAKER Drivetrain, whoever answers the phone is generally well versed in the company’s products and if more technical support is needed, that connection is made right away. When I described the difficulty I was having finding neutral, a not-uncommon occurrence with some of the newer bike models, the BAKER staffer immediately recommended the Cruise Drive Smooth Shift Kit.
BAKER took the concept of their TorqueBox Six-Speed Overdrive and applied it to the design of the bolt-on Cruise Drive Smooth Shift Kit. The CD6 makes it easier to find neutral, in part due to improved ratchet pawl geometry. BAKER put a lot of time into coming up with the right calculations for the detent mapping to allow neutral to be found more easily, as well as providing the right “feel” while skipping over neutral while shifting. The roller ball, or detent bearing, used in this system is machined perfectly to fit in the bottom of the detent groove which contributes to solid, crisp shifting as well.
The fixed spindle drum, made of all-billet steel rather than cast, is also a lot more precise, offering lower friction as the drum rotates which means that less effort is required to shift. At the same time, there is less “shift clunk” because of the precise machining. Also, the shift drum grooves are cut differently which works better because of the ramp angles in the mapping where the shift bore pin goes through the groove. And the 4140 steel ratchet pawl has machines splines for more strength and less chance of stripping, and it includes an anti-overshift feature that prevents skipping gears
Knowing that BAKER would be set up at Destination Daytona during Daytona Bike Week, I made arrangements for an onsite installation. When I got there, the tech staff readied the parts that come with the kit: the new shifter pawl assembly, seal (BAKER recommends always using a new seal instead of re-using the original one), and snap ring, the CD6 6-pin shift system, and all the required fasteners and gaskets. For a do-it-yourself job, normal hand tools like Allen wrenches, sockets, and pliers are used, along with transmission and primary fluids and primary gaskets. The only specialty tool needed is an inner race puller/install tool available from BAKER or other suppliers.
Between the included instructions, with photos, and the Harley-Davidson factory service manual, the installation was fairly straightforward for someone with good motor/transmission technical skills. Preparation includes removing the exhaust system, primary, clutch and transmission gearset as well as the stock shift forks, rods, shift system and detent spring assembly. After that, the stock shifter pawl is removed and everything that is going to be re-used or installed is cleaned. The new shift system is installed, followed by re-installing the factory shift forks and rods, and then the shifter pawl assembly. Finally, the exhaust and primary components are reinstalled with fresh transmission and primary fluids added.
The install took several hours, and when it was finished, one of the installers sat on the bike, worked the shifter through the gears multiple times, and then took my Road King for a test ride, coming back with a big smile on his face. Once I took the bike back and rode away, I’m pretty sure my smile was even bigger than his. I no longer have a problem finding neutral—I haven’t missed once in over 5,000 miles since the install! Plus both upshifting and downshifting were much smoother. No more sitting at lights or in traffic with my left hand clamped down on the clutch lever. And no more clumsy backing-up maneuvers while still in gear because I couldn’t find neutral. I’m now able to ride my Road King with a lot more confidence and a lot less pain.
Besides BAKER’s excellent customer service on the phone, a pop-up window appears while you’re on their website, indicating a tech waiting to chat with you about your product questions. And BAKER stands behind its products with its limited warranty policy. For instance, the Cruise Drive Smooth Shift Kit is guaranteed from manufacturer defects for two years from date of purchase or up to 20,000 miles. It’s been more than six months since my CD6 kit was installed, and both my bike and I couldn’t be happier with the results.