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Too Much Cam For Your Engine


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The most important cam timing event is when the intake valve closes. The intake closing point determines the minimum rpm at which the engine begins to do its best work. The later the intake valves close, the higher the rpm must be before the engine gets "happy."

High rpm cam designs often perform poorly in the rpm range associated with ordinary riding. The problem with such choices is that the engine seldom spends time in the rpm range favored by such cams. Unfortunately, in the quest for maximum power output, many-too-many Harley owners choose a late-closing, high-rpm cam for their engine.

A majority of any Harley motor's life is spent in the mid-portion of is rpm limits, between 2000 and 4000 rpm. At open-road cruising speeds, that range is more like 2500 to 3500 rpm. With current Big Twin gearing, top gear at 2500 rpm returns a road speed of 60 mph and 3500 delivers 84 mph. Riders sometimes "putt" around at 2000 or less. Even when accelerating to cruising speed, few of us use more than 4000 - 4500 rpm as a shift point. Very seldom, in day-to-day use, do our engines get near 5000 rpm, let alone 6000.

Even the mildest of Harley-Davidson's aftermarket cams (Evo or Twin Cam) do their best work above 3000 rpm. At 2000, the majority these cams seldom perform as well as the stock cam(s).

The rpm at which a Big Twin gets "happy" can be predicted by the closing point (angle) of the intake valves. The angle is expressed as the number of degrees After Bottom Dead Center (ABDC) that the valves reach .053" from being fully seated.

30 degrees = 2400 rpm
35 degrees = 3000 rpm
40 degrees = 3600 rpm
45 degrees = 4000 rpm
50+ degrees = 4500 rpm

These relationships are approximate but should hold true to within 200 rpm or so. They also assume that all other tuning factors, exhaust, ignition, etc., are operating correctly.

If you have one of the late-closing cam designs installed, say one that closes the intake valves later than 40 degrees, then you cannot expect excellent performance at 2000 rpm. No carburetor adjustment, ignition adjustment or exhaust system can change this.