How to choose the right exhaust for your motorcycle

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Motorcycle exhausts and pipes come into question quite often. So we set out to help our fellow riders decipher which exhausts package is best for their bike, and the type of riding they do! Let’s shift it into gear…

Why Do I Need a New Exhaust

Keeping it simple, there are a few reasons why riders opt to upgrade their stock system:

Motorcycle Exhausts
There are many reasons to

your stock exhaust

Performance- The most obvious and most common reason many install a new exhaust is for more ponies. We all want a little more when we crack the throttle right?
Appearance- From a chromed out straight pipe to a full carbon race system, nothing makes your machine standout better then a new set of pipes.
Sound- The only thing better than a handful of throttle is the sound that follows. A new muffler or system can greatly improve the rumble of your beast. Switching things over to the dirt side, off roaders use mufflers to make their bikes quieter to comply with certain regulations and compliances. Check out our full off road exhaust guide
Weight- Sportbike racers know less weight equals more power and faster lap times. Even a new muffler alone can drop pounds and seconds off your laps.

Muffler/Slip On

The least expensive yet perhaps best dollar for dollar exhaust upgrade is with a muffler or “slip on.” Most mufflers can “slip on” with little installation, hence the name. Here are some pros of going with just a slip on muffler:

Slip On Muffler

Economical- best bang for your buck. Less expensive than upgrading the whole system
Boost in Performance- a new can will open the exhaust system up, and let your motor breathe better than stock components.
Weight Savings- most weight reduction comes from the can and cap of the exhaust. In many cases an aftermarket muffler will save 1-2 lbs.
Spark Arrestor- most off road machines do not come stock with a spark arrestor. The only problem is, most-if not all off road trail systems or recreation areas require a spark arrestor. A slip on can be an inexpensive way to ride legally!
Easy- You will most likely not be required to remove the whole exhausts system or body panels, making install a 20 min job in most cases.

Full System

From the headers on back, a full aftermarket exhaust system upgrades your bikes complete exhaust set up. Whether its performance or changing configuration or routing of your exhausts, there are plenty of reasons to justify swapping out your bikes full system.

Full Exhaust System
Brands like Vance & Hines make 2-to-1

systems for V-Twin cruisers & Harleys

Configuration- With cruiser or Harleys, changing the configuration or routing of your exhaust is huge. For any V-Twin, you can go from a 2-to-1 system or even go to a true single pipe per cylinder (no Y-pipe or 2-to-1). There are a ton of options to choose from that will suit your needs.
Maximum Performance- Full systems are designed to outperform every inch of the stocker. The advantage from just a slip on style muffler is the header (and possible mid pipe) that are included as well.
Maximum weight savings- Depending on the materials used (we will get into that in just a bit) you can really shed some pounds. Most header pipes are engineered to be much lighter than stock, like the muffler.
Aesthetics- Let’s face it, if you want to go full chrome, or murdered out black, a full system is the only way to go!

Heavy Metal (Or Light Metal)

Exhausts come in a few different materials depending on the style. Here is a list of the most common materials used from heaviest to lightest:

Motorcycle Exhaust

Stainless Steel: The most commonly used metal and for good reason: durability. Stainless steel holds up great against rocks or gravel and resists dings and dents.
Aluminum: Many sportbike and off road exhaust systems come in a less expensive aluminum version (same level of performance). Aluminum isn’t the heaviest but isn’t the lightest, however still durable, which makes it a great option for most riders.
Titanium (Ti): The most expensive and lightest material used to make exhausts. Usually exclusive to the highest performance exhausts, Ti is for those who really want to shave weight and have peak horsepower.
Carbon Fiber: You won’t find a full system made of just carbon fiber, but you will find mufflers, end caps and even mounting hardware made of this ultra-light material. Many Ti systems have carbon mufflers or end caps.

Wont This Change My Fuel Management?

Motorcycle Fuel Controller

Unfortunately, you will likely have to adjust your fuel mapping or jetting if your motorcycle is still carbureted. To comply with stricter and stricter government environmental standards, motorcycles are mapped leaner and leaner. An aftermarket exhaust speeds the airflow through the bike, but can’t pull more fuel to compensate, leading to an even more leaner air/fuel mixture (which isn’t good). If you just add a slip on, sometimes you can get away with the stock fuel mapping. Pay attention to any excessive popping (backfiring) and/or heat coming off the pipes.

Installing a fuel controller may sound like a daunting task, but many options are simple plug and play (requiring you to simply select the model motorcycle once installed). Others require a bit more installation and know how, however install videos and other recourses from the manufactures are easily available. We recommend adding a high intake air cleaner or filter for best engine performance when mapping your new fuel controller.

What Is C.A.R.B.?

Virtually every pipe we sell that is made for highway use is legal in all 49 states-but wait, there are 50 states…

If you happen to be a resident of the great state of California, then making any type of exhaust modification can be an exhausting process (see what we did there?). The California Air Recourse Board (or C.A.R.B) has prohibited exhaust tampering or modification unless the exhaust is considered a “replacement part” or authorized by the state. There are really three ways to go about following C.A.R.B. regulations: replacement parts, executive order, and competition only.


    1. Replacement Parts: These are parts that are considered (by C.A.R.B.) to be functionally equivalent with no changes in emissions. When it comes to replacement parts there are two routes to take:
  1. If the original stock exhaust does not feature a catalytic converter, the replacement exhaust must not remove stock emission controls (like oxygen sensors)
  2. If the bike comes standard with a catalytic converter, any changes down flow of that is considered O.K. (referred to as “cat-back”)

2. Executive Order: Executive Order Parts are aftermarket parts that C.A.R.B. has evaluated and determined does not adversely impact emissions, and thereby are granted an Executive Order (EO)
3. Competition Only: These are exhausts that do not pass C.A.R.B. standards, but are allowed in competition. These will not be allowed for highway use.

Your safest option and best bet is to research each manufacturer and understand which exhausts are C.A.R.B. compliant before you buy. Trust us, don’t chance it, California CHP and other officers are cracking down on this!

Off Road

Time to get dirty… There are two classes of exhaust based on the motorcycle engine, and those are two stroke and four stroke exhausts.

Four Stroke Exhaust

Four Stroke: configurations are similar to the exhausts we discussed above. Most consist of a skinny header pipe and a muffler (and a mid pipe depending on your motorcycle). Like most other motorcycles, the easiest gains can come from a simple slip on muffler upgrade. You’ll find many options with and without spark arrestor options as well as a myriad of materials used. Full systems are available and offer the greatest performance but with the obvious added cost.

Two Stroke Exhausts

Two stroke exhausts are a tab bit simpler made up of just a pipe and silencer. Most riders tend to upgrade both the pipe and the silencer, as the pair compliments each other well. The saving grace is that a two stroke pipe and silencer together cost less than your average four stroke slip on!

Keeping things Legal

Chances are if you’re riding a public trail system or riding area, you’ll need a spark arrestor. What this is, is a metal screen that sits at the end of the silencer or muffler to retard sparks coming from the engine, preventing the risk of forest fires. So spending the cash to be legal not only saves you a hefty ticket but also helps keep forests standing for us all to enjoy!

Check out our full Off Road Exhaust Guide for more info on the best pipe for your dirt bike!

Things to remember

Always refer to your manual on what exhausts options your manufacturer recommends and installation instructions. Take your time and don’t be afraid to go to your local dealership for help with the install process and fuel mapping.