One of the first things every new Harley owner does when they get a new bike is try to get the best performance out of it. This usually means switching out the stock pipes for a performance exhaust, and once you do that, you almost certainly need to fit a new air cleaner.
We’ve covered the best performance exhausts for Harleys, and now we’re going to point you in the right direction for the best air cleaner too.
With the right pairing of a good exhaust and air cleaner, you’re guaranteed to get the best out of your beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
To clarify, air cleaners and air filters are exactly the same thing, so don’t be confused if you see products listed as air cleaners and others as air filters. They do the same job but have different names.
Here are our top air cleaners.
The Arlen Ness Big Sucker Air Cleaner is one of the best-selling air filters on the market. It’s a high-intake, high-performing unit compatible with a wide range of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
The V&H VO2 Naked Air Cleaner is a highly efficient air filter upgrade offering great value for money. You can use it with the stock air filter cover or swap it out with a more custom cover.
Reviews of the Best Air Cleaners for Harleys
Arlen Ness Smooth Stage 1 Big Sucker Air Cleaner
Arlen Ness is the King of Choppers, the ultimate manufacturer of performance and custom parts for the V-twins we all know and love.
The Big Sucker is one of the best-selling performance air cleaners on the market and for good reason. It has the potential to boost performance gains by up to 21%.
The Big Sucker is compatible with a wide range of Harley models across varying model years, from the Sportster to the Electra Glide.
You can choose between two filter options: a four-layer, surgical-grade cotton or a Synthetic Stainless Jacketed filter that uses a synthetic water-resistant material that never needs to be re-oiled. The mesh that supports the gauze for the synthetic filter is rust-resistant stainless steel as opposed to the standard carbon steel for the cotton filter.
The Big Sucker kits come with hidden breather backing plate technology. The breathers are built into the air-cleaner housing, so there are no hoses or other hardware sticking out. This keeps the whole setup nice and clean.
All Big Sucker kits include a high-flow filter, chrome banjo bolts, gaskets, and hardware, as well as simple instructions.
- Compatible with a wide selection of Harleys
- Choice of cotton or synthetic filters
- Super-clean minimalistic style
- High air-intake for optimum performance
- Street legal
Vance & Hines VO2 Naked Air Intake Kit
The VO2 Naked Air Intake Kit from Vance & Hines is a great value air cleaner that comes naked with no cover, so you can put your own spin on how you want your bike to look. It’s also compatible with stock covers if you just want to upgrade your air filter performance without changing appearances.
This air cleaner has a high-flow washable and reusable filter element. It isn’t quite as polished or finished to a premium standard as some of the other filters on our list but in terms of performance, it’s up there with the best of them.
Vance & Hines claims that the VO2 Air Intake provides strong performance gains across the power curve when paired with the right fuel management and exhaust system.
- Great value
- Wide Harley compatibility
- Naked filter for customizable filter cover
- Not street legal in California
- Finish leaves something to be desired
Roland Sands Turbine Air Cleaner
The RSD Turbine air cleaner actually uses a filter provided by K&N. The filter is a high-flow, industry-leading performance filter paired with an RSD bolt-on cleaner kit that improves your Harley in terms of both performance and style.
The Turbine filter has more exposed filtration surface area than multiple stock filters combined. This improves its intake and efficiency over a stock unit significantly.
The breathers are internal, so the style is minimalistic, and the tight-seal oil separators ensure a leak-free design.
As with the other performance filters mentioned so far, the unit is washable and reusable, which makes it a great long-lasting choice.
- K&N premium filter
- Iconic Roland Sands design
- Customizable covers
- Five different finishes to choose from
- Wide bike compatibility
- Not street legal in California
S&S Cycle Teardrop Air Cleaner
The S&S Teardrop air cleaner cover has to be the most iconic air filter cover of all time. It is a classic style that has been passed down through generations of Harley owners.
This kit comes with the classic cover as well as a complete replacement air cleaner kit so you can swap out your stock unit.
The filter is a good-quality, washable, reusable filter. The S&S teardrop kit is not the most performance-focused air cleaner, but it is the most classic in its design and that is where its strengths lie.
- Iconic teardrop design
- Heavy, well-crafted, solid air cleaner kit
- Good performance gains when paired with other performance parts
- Wide fitment compatibility
- Not street legal in California
- Instructions are a little sparse and general
Performance Machine FastAir Air Cleaner
Last on our list is the Performance Machine FastAir cleaner.
This is arguably the most aggressive, forward-facing air cleaner on the market, and the increased performance gains are also some of the most impressive.
The forward-facing design ensures maximum airflow and efficiency of the filter.
The FastAir cleaner comes in two types of finishes: Contrast Cut or Chrome. It features an internal crank breather system that keeps the unit tidy and clean to look at. It also comes with mounting hardware and the gaskets you need to fit to your bike.
- Aggressive design
- Impressive performance gains
- K&N filter element
- Internal crank breather system
- Not street legal in California
Regardless of whether your Harley is an older carbureted model or an EFI model, your bike can probably benefit from a new air filter.
And if you’ve fitted a new exhaust to your bike, you definitely need a new high-performance air filter. Replacing it will ensure you have a free-flowing motor.
Even if you don’t change your exhaust, fitting a new air filter to your bike can free up the engine and allow you to really hear the motor’s induction roar.
Just remember that once you start fitting performance parts to your Harley you should also invest in an auto tuner so that your engine mapping is tuned correctly.
Here are some factors to remember when buying an air cleaner for your Harley:
Know What Type of Air Cleaner You Need
There are two main types of air cleaner:
- One-use disposable filters
- Reusable filters.
One-use filters are usually constructed of paper and are generally the cheapest, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the worst-performing filters.
Reusable filters are made of either foam or cotton. Foam filters are mostly used for dirt bikes or for bikes that operate in particularly dusty environments.
They can be quite restrictive in terms of airflow. Cotton filters are the most expensive option, but are highly efficient and offer a less restrictive airflow for maximum performance gains.
Make Sure the Air Cleaner Is Suitable for Your Model
It sounds so simple, but you do need to make sure the air filter you buy is compatible with the bike model you ride.
A simple check on the manufacturer’s website should suffice, or you can go on Revzilla and select your air cleaner, then use its model checker to check if the part matches your model.
You Might Need to Upgrade Other Parts to Notice the Benefits
As a general rule, you won’t notice too much of an improvement in your Harley’s performance if you only change the air filter. You might get a slightly different engine sound, but that’s about it.
If you swap your air filter, you should consider switching out your exhaust to a performance model. The two work in conjunction with each other to allow the engine to breathe more easily and can, as a result, produce more power.
You may have heard the phrase “Stage 1” in regard to Harleys. What this means is that a rider has done a Stage 1 tune on their bike.
This involves fitting a new performance exhaust and high-intake air filter. Additionally, the carbs will have been rejetted, or, if it is an EFI model, the engine will have been mapped electronically to cope with the new high-intake system.
If this is something you are interested in doing, be sure to check out our posts on performance exhausts and auto tuners.
There is also a Stage 2 upgrade, which is a performance cam upgrade, along with the other modifications from the Stage 1 process.
It doesn’t always stop there. Once your motorcycle is performing at its optimum rate thanks to improved air and fuel efficiency upgrades, you could find yourself upgrading your suspension to a more sporty setup or swapping your tires, so they are stickier.
That’s the beauty of Harleys, though, right? Each one tends to be unique to its rider.
The Arlen Ness Stage 1 Big Sucker is one of the best selling air cleaners on the market for two reasons. Its performance gains are impressive and the unit simply looks awesome.
Second to that and offering great value for money is the Vance & Hines VO2 Naked Air Cleaner. You get a high-intake, high-performance air filter that you can fit straight into your stock air cover or into a custom cover.
Why Do You Need an Air Cleaner on Your Bike?
An air cleaner’s (filter’s) job is simple. It cleans the air that enters your motor. Air is full of pollen, dirt, dust, and other particles that can damage your engine over time, so the air filter simply filters the air and traps the particles and prevents them from getting into your engine unit.
High airflow leads to better efficiency and can therefore increase performance in conjunction with other modifications. High-performance air cleaners increase the airflow while still trapping any debris.
Never ride without an air cleaner. To do so will lead to the quick demise of your motor.
Can You Clean and Reuse Your Air Cleaner?
Depending on the type of air cleaner you are using, yes. Paper filters should simply be removed and replaced, whereas foam and cotton filters can be washed.
Generally, foam filters can be washed using lukewarm water and a mild detergent, but cotton filters will often have special sprays you can use before rinsing them with water.
You should allow your foam and cotton filters to dry overnight and remember to re-oil them with air filter oil before fitting them back onto your bike.
It is the oil that attracts the particles and gets them to stick to the filter rather than entering your engine.