Harley 96 vs 103. Main Difference And Specs Of The Legendary Engines

Harley Davidson motorcycles are incomparable. They are classic, beautiful, and generally unbeatable. Indeed, which motorcycle riding enthusiast wouldn’t want to own one? 

Well, perhaps you’re planning to buy your first Harley. And now you want an opinion on which is better between the Harley 96 and the 103 engines. Or, you may already have the 96 but wondering if it’s worth upgrading to the 103 engine. Either way, this article is for you. Today, we’ll tell you the main difference and specs of these legendary engines. So, let’s get right into it. 

Main Difference Between Harley 96 and 103 

The Harley 96 and 103 engines are a true definition of power and reliability. While riding, you’ll not probably feel a significant difference between them. Nevertheless, we would recommend that you choose the 103. The engines are the same, but the 103 engine comes with bigger pistons, which offer extra cubic inches. Additionally, the larger pistons take the compression from 9.2:1 to 9.6:1. This increased compression offers the engine a power boost, meaning that the new model could go at a faster speed. 

Ideally, the more cubic inches, the more power an engine will have. Thus, the 103 cubic inches engine creates more power than the 96 cubic inches motor. That gives you a higher acceleration. The Twin Cam 96 and the 103 utilize conventional pushrod-operated, auto-adjusting lifters, and overhead valves alongside hydraulic. There are 2 valves in each cylinder. Also, both use timed injection or SPFI (Sequential Port Fuel Injection). The Bore x Stroke for the Harley 96 is 3.75-inch x 4.38-inch, while for the 103 it’s 3.875-inch x 4.38-inch. 

The displacement is 96 cubic inches or 1584 cc vs 103 cubic inches or 1690 cc. As we mentioned, the compression ratio is 9.2:1 and 9.6:1 for the Harley 96 and 103, respectively. There’s a difference in the lubrication systems as the Harley 103 is equipped with an Oil Cooler. Finally, the engine torque is 92.6 lb-ft at 3500 rpm and 102 lb-ft at 3500rpm for the 96 and 103, respectively.  

If you have the 96 engine, don’t worry. You can still upgrade it. Upgrading to a Harley 103 wouldn’t cost you much. You would require purchasing the gaskets, pistons, and cylinder hone, which can’t exceed $600. Don’t forget the labor (unless you go the DIY way). Going with the 103 can be a wise move, especially if you’ll be purchasing a Harley for the first time.

You now have a general idea of the primary difference between these two engines. Well, let’s focus more on their specs.  

Harley 96 Engine Specs

Harley-Davidson has built many different motorcycles over the years. The manufacturer offers a variety of base engines, which appear in various motorcycles. The 96 Ci engine is available in motorbikes like the Softail and Super Glide Custom FXDC. It’s available in two versions, namely the 96A and 96B. However, these engines are similar only that they were built separately. You can read more here.  

The 96 Ci engine is equipped with an ESPFI system. Moreover, it controls valve timing using pushrods. A fork connection and tongue connect the crankshaft to the linking rods. There are some differences between the various versions of the 96 Ci engine. But, the measurements of the bore and stroke (mentioned above) are the same.  

Both the 96A and 96B engines fall in the Harley-Davidson EVO lineup. However, the engines have an oil pump, which is a doublet-Gerotor instead of the external system that the EVO engine series use. The 96 produces 92.6 lb-ft of torque at 3500 revolutions per minute. According to Harley-Davidson, the 96B version can generate an extra 1.7 lb-ft of torque at 3500rpm.

Previous base EVO engines utilize single-coil 14-millimeter spark plugs. The 96 Ci engine features a dual-coil plug measuring 12 millimeters. That means the 96 engine is more efficient than its predecessor in using spark. The best part of this engine is the fuel mileage. It offers great efficiency without sacrificing performance. It will cover 53 miles on a gallon of fuel on the highway. The 96B takes in more fuel per mile – 54 miles per gallon on the highway. 

Harley 103 Engine Specs

One notable feature of the 103 Twin Cam engine is the PowerPak that debuts on the 2011 HD touring bikes. The Harley 103 engine also includes an advanced Smart Security System and anti-lock braking (ABS). The PowerPak is standard on the 2011 Road Glide Ultra, Electra Glide Ultra Limited, and Road King Classic versions. This feature now comes factory-installed on the latest Road Glide and Street Glide Custom models.  

The H-D 103 twin-cam produces 102 lb-ft of torque at 3500 revolutions per minute. That’s an almost 10% increase in power compared to the 96 twin-cam engine. This extra power allows more hill-climbing performance. What’s more, the ABS works hand-in-hand with the high-end Brembo brakes helping you enjoy complete control over braking. The powerful braking system comes in handy during emergency braking. 

Many people who have seen this bike love how well the ABS components are hidden to eliminate unnecessary clutter around the wheel area. Since ABS isn’t a linked system, you can maintain independent control over the rear and front brakes.  

The automatic self-arming/disarming feature allows you to communicate one-on-one with the security module through a personalized frequency. When you switch the ignition off and leave the proximity of the 103 bikes, the H-D Smart Security System automatically disables its starter, ignition, and the SPFI. 

Note: Not all 103 Touring models include the PowerPak features. The good news is that you can now order your 103 motorcycles with both the Smart Security System and ABS put together one factory-installed package. Previously, the manufacturer offered these two features separately.

Harley 96 vs 103 Horsepower 

H-D engines keep their engines’ horsepower a secret. So, it’s hard to know the amount of power an engine will produce instantly. Often, they provide different information for people to figure out on their own the actual HP of the engines. That is for a reason. 

Most H-D models tend to utilize different criteria for measuring the HP. Mostly, the means used to do that is by using a wheel. According to some expert bikers on reviews online, the 103 engine has at least 80HP on the rear wheels. This number is considered the exact horsepower measurement based on the 103 that ran down the road (Rider’s comment). 

On the other hand, the Harley 96 engine produces around 66 horsepower. Thus, according to this, we can say that the 103 offers more horsepower. It’s more powerful than the 96 models. We would like you to note that these numbers are according to reviews from expert bikers in various forums. 

The HP difference between the 103 and 96 engines, according to this information, is 14 HP. Although you may not notice a huge difference when riding, the 103 engine can offer more hill-climbing power. That also means that the 103 can move at a higher speed than its Harley-96 counterpart.

Used Bikes with Harley 96 or 103 Engines

Harley-Davidson is no longer producing the 96 and the 103 engines. But there are excellent second-hand H-D motorcycles with these engines. If you’re ready to acquire your first Harley, check these 3 models and choose one that best suits your needs:

1. Heritage Softail Classic
It was in production from 2007 to 2017. The model is available with 96 to 103 Ci V-twin engines. It’s a great bike with many cool features such as ABS and generous storage space. It can accommodate two riders comfortably. The price ranges from $5,000 to $13,000. 
2. Touring Models
The H-D Touring Models were in production from 2009 to 2013. Some of them run on the 96 Ci V-twin engines. You can still find nice bikes with good mileage at an affordable price below $10,000.  
3. 2012 FLHR Road King
The iconic model runs on a powerful Twin-Cam 103 engine equipped with a 5-speed cruise-drive transmission. It’s a perfect bike for long-distance rides with outstanding features such as ABS, electronic cruise, and more. You can find it at a price below $12,500.

Final Words

Both the Harley-Davidson 96 and 103 are incredible engines that are always in demand. Every motor-biker wants to own an H-D bike. We’ve discovered that the main difference between the Harley 96 and 103 is the larger pistons in the latter. That means there are more cubic inches and increased depression in the 103. 

In other words, the Harley-Davidson 103 produces more horsepower than the 96 Ci engine. Accordingly, the 103 engine offers more hill climbing performance and moves faster than the 96. 

For that reason, it’s worth purchasing or upgrading to the 103 models. Additionally, the 103 comes with great features that make your ride better. Remember that these two engines are available in several versions. Each version comes at a different price.


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