Motorcycle Exhaust: Tuning Tips

Written by john willis
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Motorcycle Exhaust: Tuning Tips
Exhaust tuning is all about flow. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Unless you're developing race bikes and have a fabrication shop, tuning a motorcycle exhaust system probably means "replacing" a motorcycle's exhaust components, creating a state of tune that gives you a better-sounding exhaust note, more horsepower, more torque and possibly better gas mileage. Tuning a motorcycle exhaust will often involve compromises and trade-offs.

Exhaust Components

There are three main parts of a four-stroke motorcycle exhaust system: the header, the collector pipe, and the actual exhaust pipe and canister. Typically, all three components will be replaced at the same time. It is possible, though, to modify only one. Someone might replace only the header or whatever the most flow-restricted area is. Some systems, like a SuperTrapp, are actually adjustable so you can change the exhaust flow by changing the number of baffles.


A motorcycle's combustion engine functions by inserting a gas/air mixture into the combustion chamber, compressing the gas/air mixture, igniting the mixture, then releasing the spent exhaust gasses. The faster these four cycles can be repeated, the more peak horsepower an engine can make. Increasing the speed of the cycles means improving the flow of the engine. So, any accurately tuned, high-flow exhaust system will help optimise an engine's horsepower. It can make it sound great, too.

Horsepower and Torque

Horsepower isn't the only goal of exhaust tuning. If you tune your exhaust for absolute peak horsepower, you will probably be disappointed in its mid-range torque. While maximum power is basically created from maximum flow--letting the spent exhaust gases out of the engine as quickly as possible--it comes at a cost. First, it's a noisy affair--too noisy for the street. Second, it won't give the engine mid-range torque, which is very desirable in street applications. Maximising these variables involves a compromise. You trade power for torque and torque for power.

The Weakest Link

You can put a great, high-performance exhaust system on your motorcycle, but that doesn't mean it's going to make a big difference. Remember, you have to improve flow to improve performance. If your engine doesn't have good flow coming into it, having great flow coming out will severely limit the benefits of your exhaust system. So, think in terms of overall head flow, not just exhaust.


Correctly tuning your exhaust probably comes down to choosing the right exhaust system for your application. You will choose one system for road racing, another for drag racing and yet another for the street. And each application will have many variances to match your preferences. Understanding the power characteristics you're looking for (combination of torque and horsepower) is critical to choosing the correct exhaust system.

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