When it comes to motorcycles, the first thing that usually comes to mind is their engine. Undoubtedly, it forms the most important part of any bike.

Harley Davidson motors are masters in manufacturing motorcycle engines and other parts of bikes. They have launched many iconic products for Sportster bikes which makes them a standard in their department.

The most prominent ones are its engines. The two most argued ones are shovelhead and ironhead.

Still, confused between these two? Let’s explore them together!

What are Iron heads?

The first launch of Harley Davidson for racing motorcycle engines was Ironheads. They were produced in 1957.

Ironheads, as the name explains, is an engines made purely of iron, instead of aluminum.

It is made of two cylinders, with two valves per cylinder and a V-twin pushrod.

Even today, Ironhead is a landmark in motorcycle racing. It was the first motorcycle engine to have an electrical start ever.

What are Shovelheads?

Shovelheads were produced from 1966 to 1984. They were considered the successor of Panhead engines.

It is an aluminum-based engine. It has a shallower build combustion chamber with a large valve drop of intake and exhaust. It has a stronger valve and piston and a better porting mechanism.

Shovelhead was the modified version of Panhead.

Even some simple Panheads can be converted into shovelheads by simply replacing cylinders, pistons, and heads with parts of the shovelhead engine.

It was termed “shovelhead” because it had a rocker head appearance like that of an old coal shovel that is flipped upside down.

Comparison between Shovelhead and Ironhead

There are many aspects in which shovelheads differ from iron heads. Let’s look into them one by one.

●     Power

The best way to access an engine is through its power. Ironhead has a power of 40.0 Horsepower (29.2 kW)) and functions with 5500 RPM.

Shovelheads has a power output of 66 Horsepower with 5,600 RPM.

●     Engine

Iron heads come with a V-twin engine, also known as the V2 engine. It has two cylindrical shafts arranged in a V pattern. And has a four-stroke internal engine.

Shovelheads also have a V2 engine with 74 cu.

●     Displacement:

Displacement is the measure of the volume of the cylinders of an engine.

Ironhead has a displacement of 883.0 cc which is 53.88 cubic inches.

Shovelhead has a 1340 cc displacement which equals 82 cubic inches.

●     Speed:

 Due to its more efficient build, iron head has a top speed limit of 185 km/h (115 mph).

Whereas shovelheads have a limit of 105.6 mph.

These are tested limits by the manufacturers that make them “The best” for the racing bikes.

●     Cooling system:

Ironhead has an air-cooling system that makes it less prone to overheating episodes of the engine while racing.

Shovelheads have a cooling system with fins. They usually have 10 fins that allow rapid cooling action.

●     Gearbox and Torque:

Normally the smaller the torque, the greater is the gearbox that decreases the speed of the shaft of the motor.

Ironhead has a 4-speed gearbox that makes its torque around 50-60 lb. The gear shifters were placed to the right side in iron heads while rear brakes were placed on the left side.

Shovelhead has a 5-speed gearbox that comes with 95Ib.

●     Final drive/Transmission:

Ironhead comes with a chain drive transmission while shovelhead comes with a belt drive transmission that allows the functioning of its wheels.

●     Prices:

As iron head has more durability parts and higher functional capacity, it ranges from $6,195 and can go up.

Shovelhead offers a price range according to the specifications of the engine. It starts from $3,495 and goes up.

These prices may vary depending on the color, location, and specifications.

Ironhead or Shovelhead: Which is better?

Like everything, Ironhead and Shovelhead have their pros and cons too. However, both have great reliability.

Ironhead marked the start of the XL era in motorcycle engine production. Even Evolution engines, which go with the name of Evo, follow this line of function. Also, Ironhead looks cool while going on track.

Shovelhead also uses modified technologies and comes with great characteristics and features. Also, the price ranges are economical too!


What makes an Ironhead a Harley?

Ironhead was the first sportster engine made by Harley Davidson motors. It has extreme importance in the racer bike production era as it forms the basis of many new models that came after it. This makes an Ironhead a Harley.

Is a Shovelhead a good engine?

Shovelhead comes with the best technology and upgraded parts. It has good power and is used in many new-generation racing motorcycles, so there is no doubt in Shovelhead is a good engine.

Which Ironhead version is the best?

Ironhead was made from 1957 to 1985. Between these years, it was modified many times but the best version was in 1978.

It was the fastest and most powerful among all versions. And more than 17000 engines were sold in one year alone.

Is a Shovelhead a sportster?

Like any other racing bike engine, shovelhead produces the best results too. It is undoubtedly a Sportster.

What does “XL” stand for on a Harley?

Harley had its own abbreviation to define its terms. In Harley “XL” stands of “Extra Light” that defines the quality of its engine

How many miles can a Shovelhead run?

If kept in the best conditions, a Shovelhead can run up to 5000 miles. However, its limit is between 500 miles to 5000 miles.

The Bottom Line

Shovelhead and Ironhead were the originals in the racing motorcycles. They can be managed easily and even modified and upgraded with the newer technologies.

The modern engines are not designed for amendments like these models. Hence they prove that the phrase “Old is Gold” was hundred percent accurate!


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