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FAQ: How to Stage 1 Kit a Harley-Davidson Sportster

So you want to get a little more power from your Harley-Davidson Sportster, but you’re not sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. Have you heard others talk about how to Stage 1 kit a Harley-Davidson Sportster? Here’s some basic info on the Stage 1 tuning for your Sportster (or mine), the pros and cons, and the costs.

We’ll look at what it means to Stage 1 kit a motorcycle, what the required components are, how to do it, and what benefits you can realistically expect, no matter what model of Sportster you have.

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What is the Stage 1 Kit and where can I find / buy it?

Stage 1 upgrades aren’t a “kit” per say, they’re a combination of enhancements or add-ons to your motorcycle that are designed to improve performance. You can buy parts individually and adopt different strategies based on your preferences or budget.

The three key components of a Stage 1 kit are:

  • Free breathing air filter
  • Free breathing exhaust
  • Rejetted carburetor (for 1957 to 2006 Sportster models) or remapped EFI (for 2007+ Sportster models with fuel injection)

Sportster Profile

What does free breathing mean and what is the Harley Tax?

Free breathing is a state of being non-restricted. In North America and Europe, the automotive industries face heavy regulation for environmental concerns. Motorcycles often come restricted so as to meet emission tests and other standards of compliance.

There are a long list of ways manufacturers restrict their vehicles performances in order to meet the requirements of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and other government organizations around the world. Restrictions can be found in motorcycle air intakes, throttles, variators, exhausts, carburetor jetting, fuel-injection mapping, and more. The “Harley Tax” is the cost that many choose to pay to get their Sportsters or other Harleys running as they should’ve come from the factory, were it not from the government trying to save us from pollution.

Depending on your local laws, Stage 1 upgrades may or may not be legal. They may leave your motorcycle no longer meeting emission, noise, or other standards. They may also increase your fuel consumption and if done wrong could harm your engine.

If you understand the risks and want to find out more about Stage 1 kits, the best and easiest bang-for-your-buck way of improving your Harley-Davidson Sportster, or any other motorcycle’s performance, keep reading!

The key components of a Stage 1 kit:

Here’s a quick look at some of the things you’ll need for a Stage 1 upgrade and why you’ll need them. We recommend you do the upgrades in this order and preferably all at once for the best interests of your engine and your wallet. This is Page 2 of our Stage 1 Kit guide, if you’ve missed Page 1 we recommend you check it out.

Air Cleaners

There are a variety of hyperchargers and air cleaners available for the Harley-Davidson Sportster and for other motorcycles. My 2007 Harley-Davidson Sportster XL-883 has a Screamin’ Eagle Performance Air Cleaner on it. This cleaner has a surface area of roughly double the stock cleaner from the factory. Imagine you had double the lung capacity next time you had to run around the block. Expect to pay around $60 and up depending on features and design. For bang-for-buck-air-suck we recommend the Screamin’ Eagle filter, or one by K&N.

Sportster Screaming Eagle Air Cleaner

Free Breathing Exhaust

Now that you can let more air in, you’ll want to let more hour out to properly stage 1 kit a Harley-Davidson Sportster. Opening up the exhaust can range from slip-on mufflers to full exhaust systems. The costs range from a couple hundred to near thousands. Slip-ons are easy to install, resemble stock, and help with performance. Full exhaust systems may increase performance further or look much more appealing, but come at a much higher price range. We use the Screamin’ Eagle II slip-on exhaust for Sportsters.

Rejetted Carburetor / Remapped EFI

Harley-Davidson instructions clearly state: changes to both air cleaners and exhaust systems will require ECM re-calibration. We recommend swapping air cleaners and exhausts at the same time, so as to avoid paying for re-calibration twice.

When you start touching your motorcycle’s air intake and exhaust you need to make sure that you’ve adjusted your bike to run a proper fuel mixture to compensate. If you have a carburetted Sportster (1957 – 2006 models) you’ll need to look at changing your carburettor jetting via an appropriate carburetor jet kit. For 2007 and newer Sportster models you’ll need to re-map the EFI (electronic fuel-injection). This can be achieved with use of Sportster fuel-injection tuner tools such as a Power Commander.

How much power can I gain from a Sportster Stage 1 kit?

Expect to gain about a 10% increase in power by paying “The Harley Tax” or Stage 1 kitting your motorcycle. After a successful Stage 1, 883cc Sportsters should begin seeing horsepower in the low to mid 50s, and torque numbers at about the 50 ft-lbs mark. 

Soon we’ll have a step by step instruction on how to use a Power Commander 3 USB on a Harley-Davidson Sportster. You may also be interested in learning how to identify what type of Sportster you have based on its VIN #. For now please leave a comment letting us know what tunning you’ve done and please ask some questions.

More Harley-Davidson Sportster Resources

Affiliate links to all of the products you need are scattered throughout the article, be sure to check those out and shop via Amazon to help support the site. It’s free to you and helps us keep the server online and some gas in the tank. For more Sportster related links, see below:

Again, if you have any questions, or if you’ve enjoyed your Stage 1 upgrade, please comment below!

About Adrian from YouMotorcycle

I started riding motorcycles in 2007, founded YouMotorcycle in 2009, and was working in the motorcycle industry by 2011. I've worked for some of the biggest companies in motorcycling, before going full-time self-employed in the motorcycle business in 2019. I love sharing his knowledge and passion of motorcycling with other riders to help you as best I can.


  1. I did a full stage 1 on my 2013 superlow . I did rear fender off a 48 shorter rear fender and did the chop 5 inch off my front with a raw steel look on the front with clear coat… I did the superlow because I like to build from the lines of the 883 and make it mine. I also like rimes and big tank . from the back most don’t know what it is now .also 10 inch apes with hide wires in bars. stage 1 did a dk custom high flow k&n filter and two breather bolts . why bolts from dk custom it take the old hot air and old air with oil air out of engine not not back in to the engine to re burn it . not good. you must let out the old air and bring in new… will run better night and day when I give it gas and go. great thing is breather bolts. then I did custom slash part 1801-0478 fire power with mod to baffels made holes and took out the wraping around the baffle. much better flow and sound.. 10 mm wires and screamin eagle plugs down load from Harley eagle tuner.. the dk air intake is better then my eagel I had . much more power and the bolts you get with the kit breather bolts a must. bike is running great and cool engine is happy. next fall the 1250 kit with a cam and coil is the next move with the best $1500.00 2 into one made by sikpipes black with long mid part of pipe after the one to two meets, and 1 3/4 inch wide to 3 inch rear with custom cut at end of pipe. will be bad and mine.. be a safe rider

    • Frank, I just bought a 2015 super low if you have some pics of your bike like to use as inspiration. I be looking at getting v&h short shots, screaming eagle breather and ape bars as start. email is: tankslapper79@hotmail.com.


      • Hi My 2013 Iron has full Stage 1 since one week with screaminig eagle street tuner k&n filter. Before that I just have V&H short shots, and i have had many pops and brumbling. After stage one no shots on my muffler anymore. Someone could give me any advice what to do?

  2. I did a stage 1 on my 2005 Sport 883 (5000 miles) and could hardly believe the difference, feels more like 15% more go.

  3. Hi,

    I am venkat from India. Own Harley Davidson iron 883 – 2013 model. Have replaced (myself) my stock exhaust and air filter with Screaming eagle stage-1 exhaust and company’s air filter(Stage 1) except EFI.

    WIll it affect the ENGINE life? After this change my bike has clocked down around 1000kms only. With respect to performance its good except the mileage(12km Per Litre).

    Pls advice.

    • Hi, I don’t see why it would effect engine life if done right (with power commander). Given that you’re doing the stage 1 kit without it I can’t comment.

      Think about it like this:

      By adding the air filter and exhausts you’re allowing more air in and more air out of the bike. However you aren’t doing anything to regulate the air/fuel mixture.

      I recommend checking your spark plugs and see how they look. Are they a little in the white side? If so you’re running too lean (not enough fuel), and that could lead to premature wear. Please check and let me know. I’m curious to hear the answer.

      • I own a 2016 Iron 883, and I have a similar query. Can I switch to the V&H Short Shots without changing the air cleaner or adding Fuelpak?

        • Hey Maynard, similar answer: You’re going to be adjusting the amount of air out of the motorcycle, without making any adjustments to how much air you’re taking in, nor to the fuel mixture. Will you see some power gains? Maybe. Probably. But nowhere near as much as doing it right. Could it effectively harm your engine. Yes, but so could most things done halfway. That doesn’t mean they *will* negatively effect your motor.

      • Hi,
        Txs for your response. Will check the spark plugs and let you know asap.

  4. I have an ’07 xl883l. Just changed out pipes for drag specialties long shot slash end pipes. (love the sound and look, seems like a bit of an increase in power) I have a k&n filter but want to up grade Intake (reccomendations?). I have an ACCEL Steath Super Tuner but doesn’t give me option for my specific exhaust. Can you give advice or better suggestions?

    • I would contact Drag Specialties and ask them. Always good to consider the full package before buying individual parts so that you don’t find yourself in this position.
      Alternatively you can get it professionally dyno tuned if your ACCEL stealth super tuner allows for custom mapping. Expect to pay a good amount for that.

  5. I have a 2015 Iron all stock except my V&H Straight shot slip-ons. It used to sound great now it sounds like a piece of wet rubber is in my exhaust any advice?

  6. Hi All! I live in the UK and own a 2002 1200S which is a direct import from the States. She is not a UK/European model. She has been “Staged 1’d” by the fitting of Screamin Eagle exhausts, A K&N Air Filter element behind the original “Ham Can” cover and a rejetted carb. The exhausts are marked underneath as being “not legal for highway use” a fact which in the six years that she’s been fitted with them, has only been picked up once by an MOT tester. Two of those MOT’s have come back with an advisory comment that the exhaust system is noisy! (Like I didn’t know!!). I recently changed the spark plug leads with a set from Drag Specialties as the original set was showing its age somewhat! This made an immediate difference to the bike. She responds to the throttle SO much quicker now and the mid range feels more torquey too. She has also been converted to run on fully synthetic oil which has smoothed a lot of the vibes out at higher speeds and has also helped with the engine’s responsiveness as the motor revs much more freely now that it used to. Right now, I’d say she’s about perfect for me. I’m told thee are more horses that can be freed from this bike but that would involve MAJOR outlay which would include balancing the crank to near perfection and upping the cc’s. At 1202cc, she’s big enough for me! I havea bike that can cruise comfortably (as long as it is not for hours), but is also pure joy on twisty roads and which doesn’t mind at all if you give it a little bit of stick once and a while.In short, everything my old ’76 T140V SHOULD have been, but wasn’t!!

  7. Hello, I am looking at a 2012 Harley 72 and have been told that it has a “super tuner” on it. How do I know if it has been done right in a away that doesn’t compromise the motor? Is there anything to look out for? First time motorcycle buyer.
    Thank you.

    • Hey Shelby, a more experienced buyer would be able to tell from riding it. Given that you’re new motorcycles though, I recommend simply asking questions. Who installed it? When? What other components does the bike have (intake/air, outflow/exhaust)? Was a map selected that accounted for these.

      Essentially, a super tuner lets you select pre-made fuel maps that optimize air/fuel mixture at different RPMs. As you indicated, if the incorrect map is running, performance will not be optimized and the motor could get some extra wear and tear from it. If you’re concerned, bring a friend who rides and ask them to test it out. If you’re still concerned when you buy it, simply download the right map (based on your components) to your super tuner yourself. Worst case scenario you replaced the existing map with the same map or better.

  8. Hi All, live just outside of Toronto and ride a xl1200c currently stock. I am trying to decide whether to go ahead with the stage one or just leave it alone. It seems like it is a common upgrade – would that be a fair statement. The dealer was a little vague on whether or not to spend the money but they may have been trying to upgrade me to a bigger bike. I do like the sportster size. Just looking for some general comments and feedback. Mostly solo rides with wifey on the back now and then.

    • Hey Jim, what’s your main drive for considering doing the upgrade? Top speed ? Acceleration from a stop?

      • Thanks for responding. A bit of everything I suppose but I think mostly to be able to cruise at highway speed and not feel like the bike is having to work at it. If that makes sense.

        • Hey Jim, based on this Dyno of a XL 1200 stage 1 kit you can expect to see about a 10% horsepower and torque gain:

          XL1200 Stage One Kit Dyno

          You could also look at changing the size of the rollers… if you geared the bike taller, it would have lower RPMs, and a higher top speed, but accelerate a bit less hard. Good for if you don’t necessarily need the power, but just want a smoother highway ride. Did that on my XL883.

          • Thanks for the info and comments, I appreciate it. Will help with the decision. I will see how much they want to charge me for the work and go from there.

          • if you do full exhaust ..intake and a full time tuner ..ie i did Samson big gun pipes V02 naked intake and VH fuel pack 3 ..got a little more that 10 percent ..slipons and a high flow filter with a dealer tune wont be as much …budget and what your after is a balance we all face :)

  9. Hi , thanks for the Dyno info . I have a Black 2015 SuperLowT ( Traded a 2011 CVO Softtail
    Convertible for it to down size weight it was 1800cc ) with 1200 & Stage 1 . I added Python Chrome slash cuts exhaust pipes 2 weeks after delivery, the sound improvement was significant ( similar to the VH Big Radius I had on my CVO ) , but there was a lot of popping ( back fire ) it felt faster then stock but probably wasn’t just louder .
    A few months later I ordered the Vance & Hines FP3 Tuner module & and a HD free flow airfilter . I did one of VH preconfigured downloads for ” my package ” ( VH manufacturers the Python pipes ) , the difference was like night & day ????❗The popping was gone & the bike came alive . The FP3 with a iPhone interface gives you hp, torque, rpm ,mpg cumulative or instant, internal temp , volts ( diagnosed a battery failure & got a new one under warranty last weekend ) & more . You can view up 5 parameters with phone holder . If I upgrade further later down the line , the unit has a multitude of maps or I can use an as you drive it learns & remaps mode . This is an awesome unit. Harley had to pull their tuning module units being sold in the dealers back in the fall by the EPA with a big fine . I don’t know if all of these units are going to be outlawed soon. The one issue is you can only use the unit on one bike as it learns the bike’s Vin number. . I found your website and information to double check the possible power being made, I think the bike is making more power than your graph as it feels faster than my 1800 mL CVO that had a stage one also then again ithe sportster is about 150 pounds lighter that’s why I got it but I think the VP3 does a nicer job then the Harley Davidson download at the dealer and I’m not even sure they’re allowed to do it anymore. Do you have any info on my VP three unit shows the bike making hi 80s to low 90s and horsepower and torque very transiently at times when I look down at peak throttle in 2-3 gear , then again that may be internally at the engine and not the rear wheel . Thanks guys let me know what you think but I highly recommend this set up and you can do it all yourself ; the pipes by the way are slip on’s not even the headers like I had on the 1800cc . So the whole job can be done at home . The VP3 just plugs into the diagnostic interface Under the left side access panel & the download takes a few minutes ????????

    • FP3 …and they are very nice ..and great VH support ..if you do cams..bore kit or head work just call them and they’ll load the map you need to your phone ..cant say enough about this tuner

  10. Is it advisable to run a new bike in before having a stage 1 done?


    • Hey Jon, great question. I’m gonna do a proper video on this soon, but I didn’t want to leave you hanging until then.
      For now I’d say, if it’s your first motorcycle, you might want to wait. It might already have enough power for your tastes. If you’re an experienced motorcyclist and you’re already confident in your ability to handle your bike, I don’t see much reason to wait.
      Maybe put 700 miles on it first if you really want to, but after that, no sense in putting off your own happiness.

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