The Best Performance Air Cleaners for Harley Davidson Cruisers

The Best Performance Air Cleaners for Harley Davidson Cruisers

By Wesley Pestana | Updated Oct 22, 2019

Best Air Cleaner For Harley

Whether your Harley Davidson cruiser is carbureted or has an EFI system, if you’re looking to increase your bike’s performance by having a freer-flowing motor, a performance exhaust is only one part of the equation. To really get the most out of a performance exhaust, you’ll need a high performance air cleaner too, and rejetting of your carburetors or tuning of your EFI. Even with your stock pipes, though, your motor will benefit from having a less restrictive air filter than your stock one, and you’ll get to hear your motor’s induction roar - which is a pretty cool sound, let’s be honest - a lot more distinctly.

Best Air Cleaner for Harley Quick Review

Product Best For Our Rating
1. Kuryakyn Alley Cat Air Cleaner/Filter Cover Best Aftermarket Harley Air Cleaner Cover
2. K&N Air Filter: High Flow Performance Air Filter Best Air Cleaner For Harley Touring
3. Arlen Ness Big Sucker Performance Air Filter Kit Best Stage 1 Air Cleaner For Harley Davidson
4. Vance & Hines 96-19 Naked VO2 Air Intake Best High Flow Air Filter For Harley Sportster
5. Krator Harley Davidson Spike Air Cleaner Kit Best Air Cleaner For Harley 103

Top Choice: Kuryakyn Alley Cat Air Cleaner/Filter Cover

If you’ve got something like an Arlen Ness Big Sucker air filter kit on your Harley, and you want to add some style to it, Kuryakyn’s Alley Cat Air Filter Cover, which comes in black or chrome, will do just that.

1. Kuryakyn Alley Cat Air Cleaner/Filter Cover
Best For

Best Aftermarket Harley Air Cleaner Cover

Our Rating
2. K&N Air Filter: High Flow Performance Air Filter
Best For

Best Air Cleaner For Harley Touring

Our Rating
3. Arlen Ness Big Sucker Performance Air Filter Kit
Best For

Best Stage 1 Air Cleaner For Harley Davidson

Our Rating
4. Vance & Hines 96-19 Naked VO2 Air Intake
Best For

Best High Flow Air Filter For Harley Sportster

Our Rating
5. Krator Harley Davidson Spike Air Cleaner Kit
Best For

Best Air Cleaner For Harley 103

Our Rating

Harley Davidson Air Filter FAQ

What Does An Air Filter Do?

An air cleaner or air filter (same thing, different names) does exactly what the name suggests: it cleans and filters the air that’s entering your motor. Okay Captain Obvious, but why does air need to be cleaned anyway? Air, especially in polluted or dusty environments, is full of particles of dirt, grit, dust and other debris that, if it gets in the engine, can cause serious damage, like scoring piston walls, which will dramatically decrease the life and efficiency of your motor. An air filter traps all these particles before they can get into your engine, and only allows clean, uncontaminated air into the engine.

What Kinds of Air Filters Are There?

There are generally two kinds of air filters out there: ones that you use once and then discard and replace, and others that you can wash and keep using repeatedly. Use-once air filters are usually made from paper, and they’re generally the cheapest types of filters (which doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that they’re the worst performing filters). Reusable filters are either made of foam or cotton. Foam filters, which can be washed, and then must be re-oiled, are mostly designed for dirt bikes or other machines that’ll operate in really dusty environments. Cotton filters are often the most expensive type. They too must be washed and re-oiled, but unlike foam filters, which can be a tad restrictive in terms of air flow, cotton filters usually allow an excellent rate of air flow.

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Can't I Just Run My Motor Without A Filter for Better Performance?

There’s probably someone reading this right now who’s thinking, wait a sec, if the means to achieving better performance and efficiency is better airflow, why bother with an air filter in the first place? Why not just remove the thing altogether? Well, go right ahead if you want to wreck your motor after a few thousand miles. You’re not going to see any difference in performance without a filter, compared to running a performance filter, but you will see a quick degradation of your engine. Don’t run your motor without an air filter. Seriously.

What is A Stage 1 Air Cleaner?

“Stage 1” is a phrase that gets bandied about the Harley community. What exactly does it mean, though? Basically, a Stage 1 tune is a way of modifying your motor’s air and fuel systems without getting into modifying the engine’s moving parts themselves. So a Stage 1 tune will involve changing your bike’s exhaust, air filter and either rejetting, if your bike is a carbureted model, or getting your EFI electronically adjusted to optimally handle a more free flowing engine. Many people simply slap on a performance pipe and leave it at that; however, without adjusting your carbs/EFI and getting a performance filter, you run the risk (especially on a carbureted bike) of having the bike run too lean or rich, which will affect your bike’s performance and, over time, damage the motor. If you’re going to get a Stage 1 tune on your bike, you need to make sure that you’ve got the pipes, carburetors/EFI and performance air filter all working together for optimal performance.

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Can You Clean A Harley Davidson Air Filter?

Stock Harley Davidson filters, if you want to stick with the OEM item and don’t wish to upgrade to a performance filter, can be cleaned and reused. When cleaning your stock filter, just use mild detergent (like dish soap) and lukewarm water. Don’t use harsh chemicals, and don’t use an air compressor - either of these could damage the element. Stay far away from your general bike cleaners, chain cleaners, chrome cleaners and carb cleaners. Give your stock filter a gentle wash by hand, and blow debris out from the inside outwards, using gentle air pressure.

The filter will be clean when you can hold it up to a light source, and see light evenly through all areas of the element. The filter element itself can (and, obviously, should be) replaced if it’s too dirty or clogged to be cleaned, or if it’s damaged.

You should check your stock filter every 5,000 miles or so, or more frequently if you ride in dusty environments.

How Do You Clean A Motorcycle Air Cleaner?

How you clean your motorcycle’s air filter will depend on what kind of air filter your bike has. If you have a paper air filter, it’s best to simply discard it and replace it with a fresh one. If you’ve got a foam filter, then generally you’ll need to wash it in some sort of mild detergent, like dish soap, in lukewarm water, by hand. You may need to wash it a few times before it’s completely clean. Take care when you’re washing it not to damage or tear it. Once it’s clean and dry (let it air dry), you’ll need to re-oil it with air filter oil.

If you’ve got a cotton filter, like a K&N filter, these often come with special filter cleaning sprays designed specifically for keeping them clean. You spray this onto the filter, let it soak in for ten minutes, and then rinse the filter until the water comes out clean. Shake the excess water off the filter, and then leave it somewhere to dry out for a few hours, preferably overnight. Then, like a foam filter, re-oil the filter with a thin coat of oil. Cotton filters like K&N filters will have filter oil designed specifically for them, so this is what you should use.

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Best Air Cleaner for Harley Review

1. Arlen Ness Big Sucker Performance Air Filter Kit

Best Stage 1 Air Cleaner for Harley Davidson

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Arlen Ness is a well-known brand among Harley enthusiasts, and their Big Sucker Performance Air Filter kits are perfect for a Stage 1 tune.

Among Harley enthusiasts, Arlen Ness is a well-known brand. Their Big Sucker Performance Air Filter kits, which they make for various Harley models, provide the kind of unrestricted airflow you need for a Stage 1 tune, to open your motor up and really let it breathe and flow far more efficiently than stock. The quality of Arlen Ness is right up there with the very best, and their parts are manufactured to a high spec, and their Big Sucker kits are no exception to this rule. While they’re not the cheapest air filters you can by, not by a long shot, you know that you’re paying for a high quality part that not only looks great, but will (especially with a rejet or tuning of your EFI) add noticeably to your motor’s performance.

  • Provides excellent airflow, which is essential for a Stage 1 tune
  • Extremely high quality
  • Quite expensive

2. Kuryakyn Alley Cat Air Cleaner/Filter Cover

Best Aftermarket Harley Air Cleaner Cover

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If you’ve got something like an Arlen Ness Big Sucker air filter kit on your Harley, and you want to add some style to it, Kuryakyn’s Alley Cat Air Filter Cover, which comes in black or chrome, will do just that.

If you’ve got a performance air filter kit like an Arlen Ness Big Sucke, Kuryakyn Street Sleeper or Screaming Eagle Stage 1, and you want to add some style to it, then Kuryakyn’s Alley Cat Air Filter Cover is probably just what you’re after. This filter cover comes in either a chrome or a black finish, so whether your Harley cruiser’s visual theme is predominantly chrome-oriented or black-based, you can work this cover in. Airflow, with the mesh cover, will be great too, adding to your performance filter’s efficiency. While it may be a tad pricey at just over a hundred bucks for what’s essentially a visual accessory, when it comes to your Hog, can you really put a price on style?

  • Adds distinctive style to your Harley air filter compared to stock cover
  • Allows for better airflow
  • A little pricey

3. K&N Air Filter: High Flow Performance Air Filter

Best Air Cleaner for Harley Touring

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When it comes to performance air filters, K&N is likely to be the first name that comes up. Their HD-1508 filter is a fantastic performance filter for Harley touring models.

Regardless of what style of motorcycle you ride - cruiser, sportsbike, adventure bike, tourer - the first name that usually comes up when it comes to performance air filters is K&N. Their HD-1508 performance air filter for Harley touring models can, K&N claim, go up to fifty thousand miles between cleanings. It also provides superior airflow compared to the stock filter, which translates into both better performance from the motor, and increased fuel efficiency, so it’s a purchase with many advantages. K&N filters work particularly well with a stage 1 tune, so if you’ve got a touring model and are planning a stage 1 tune, this filter should be at the top of your “to get” list. It’s more expensive than a replaceable filter, of course, but you’ll probably only ever need to buy one of these for your motorcycle’s entire working life.

  • Exceptionally long service life
  • Provides excellent rate of air flow
  • Very high quality
  • A little pricey

4. Vance & Hines 96-19 Naked VO2 Air Intake

Best High Flow Air Filter for Harley Sportster

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If you want to keep your Harley Sportster looking stock, but you want to boost its performance, then the Naked VO2 Air Intake from Vance & Hines is just what you need.

Vance and Hines are really well-known in the Harley world (and in the world of performance motorcycles in general) for their performance exhausts. They also, however, make performance air filters for various models, and, as one would expect from a manufacturer whose quality and workmanship is among the very best in the business, their air filter kits are just as good. Their Naked VO2 Air Intake kit for Harley Sportsters is perfect for the enthusiast who wants to keep his bike looking stock, but who also wants to increase his motor’s performance. This air filter from Vance & Hines does exactly that, so while your bike might look stock, it’ll go with a lot more oomph. It does come at a price, though - but, generally speaking, what high quality performance part doesn’t?

  • Keeps stock look, but increases performance
  • Excellent rate of air flow
  • High quality part
  • Quite expensive

5. Krator Harley Davidson Spike Air Cleaner Kit

Best Air Cleaner for Harley 103

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If you’re looking for an air cleaner kit that provides both standout styling and increased airflow for your 103, this Chrome-covered spike filter from Krator does exactly that.

If you’re looking for an air filter kit for your Harley 103 that will both increase your motor’s performance as well as add a distinctively bold and aggressive style to your ride, then this spike-style air filter kit from Krator has been designed to achieve both of those aims. It’s not particularly difficult to install (it will require complete removal of your stock air filter and housing, though), and it provides better airflow than your stock filter. As for looks, when you put it next to your stock air filter housing there’s simply no comparison. While it’s not the cheapest air filter kit out there, it’s certainly not expensive either, and at a shade over $90 it won’t be breaking the bank.

  • Extremely bold and distinctive styling
  • Good air flow
  • Decent price
  • Perhaps not as high quality as pricier options

Better Airflow + Tuning = Quick and Easy Performance Gains

If you’re after the performance boost that a Stage 1 tune can give you, changing your stock air filter for a performance item is a quick and easy (and not particularly expensive) task that generally won’t make your wallet too much lighter, but which will definitely provide noticeable gains in terms of engine performance and efficiency. The benefits of modifying your Harley this way certainly outweigh the minimal financial investment you’ll need to make in doing this, so why settle for a corked-up stock motor when you could unleash a few ponies with the best performance air cleaner for your Harley?


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