Easiest Ways To Increase Your Motorcycle’s Power

5 suggestions to get more ponies from your ride without breaking the bank

Biker riding red motorcycle.
Squeezing more power out of your stock engine doesn’t have to be overly complicated or super-expensive.Hot Bike

If you’re looking to wring more power out of your motorcycle, there’s no shortage of methods to do the deed. Problem is, they usually require that one thing you’re in short supply of: cold hard cash. The good news is there are ways around that, and oftentimes getting the right parts to work the right way on your existing machine can get you to the promised land of performance without taking out a second mortgage. Here, we’ll look at the modifications you can make that won’t require Daddy Warbucks bank accounts or a mechanic-level skill set.

At the core of it all, think of your engine as one big air pump made up of recurring combustions that suck in and push out that ever-crucial element, oxygen. Find methods to move bigger volumes of air in and out of your engine and you’ll increase its horsepower and torque. Let’s check out some of the most popular bolt-on mods, and what kind of gains you can expect.

Screamin' Eagle kit used to move more air into the engine.
Moving more air into the engine is one of your easiest and least expensive ways of uncorking power.Screamin’ Eagle

Increase Your Air Intake

Your motorcycle’s stock intake plumbing is usually pretty strangled, so reducing the restriction goes a long way toward helping combustion. Even just a freer-flowing filter helps, and increasing the surface area of the air intake can increase overall volume too; it’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways of pumping up power.

Be advised, however, that some of the kits remove the entire airbox and leave the filters exposed to the elements, so choose wisely for your application. Also be aware that this modification alone might also mean increased consumption of fuel (the result of thinned air mixture), so you’ll want to adjust your carburetor or tune your fuel injection accordingly.

Result: By itself, this step will net you a couple of horsepower at best. Filters start at about $50, but if you go for complete airbox removal kits, you're looking at $350 or better. Still, it's an easy and relatively cheap option.

Bolt-on pipes add power, lessen weight and look better than your bland stocker.
Pipes are probably the most common bolt-on because they add power, lessen weight and look better than your bland stocker.Vance & Hines

Upgrade The Exhaust

This modification usually goes hand in hand with our first suggestion. Because it has to adhere to changing emissions requirements as well as keeping costs low, your stock exhaust manifold’s ability to move air efficiently tends to be compromised. That makes aftermarket exhaust systems a good place to find extra horsepower and increase torque. You’ll probably gain performance right out of the gate because an aftermarket unit is lighter but it’ll also expel exhaust gases more efficiently, so your engine will breathe better too. Generally speaking, a 2-into-1 pipe (shown above) will net you the most usable power, particularly in the lower half of the powerband where 90 percent of riders spend most of their time. They tend to be quieter too, if that matters. Exhaust swaps are probably the single most popular bolt-on modification because they add power and torque, usually look better, and give your ride a better soundtrack. (Full systems are the best overall option, and should be made specifically for your bike. Slip-ons will add some power but usually just at the lower end.)

Result: Combined with a jet kit or ECU tune and airbox mods, you might even see a 10- to 15-percent increase in horsepower. Cost is all over the place because of the many options; expect to see slip-ons start around $250 and full systems from $500 to well over $1,000.

Realign fuel delivery with airflow, either with a re-flash or via aftermarket tuner.
Your basic EFI system can get overwhelmed by increased intake or exhaust mods so be sure you realign fuel delivery with airflow, either with a re-flash or via aftermarket tuner.Vance & Hines

Re-Flash The ECU Or Plug In An Aftermarket Tuner

Most modern bikes have an engine control unit (ECU), a small computer chip that controls (and much of the time strangles) various aspects of the bike’s performance. That chip is factory-programmed to comply with emissions and fuel requirements, but lucky for you, it can be remapped/re-flashed to uncork performance. An ECU (re)flash involves changing the stock onboard programming with a new tune usually resulting in good power gains (depending on your goals). But if you’re always changing parts on the bike (exhaust pipes, etc.), an ECU flash is probably not for you. Also, if done incorrectly your bike will suffer, so make sure the grease monkey doing the work knows the lay of the land.

Or you can go with an aftermarket fuel/power tuner (like a Power Commander or Vance & Hines FuelPak) to adjust those stock settings. Broadly speaking, tuners come in two flavors: plug-and-play units designed for stock or lightly modified engines, and those that can be programmed to add more fuel or air and tweak other settings at different ranges to make more power to meet a highly tuned engine's needs. If you've slapped on a new pipe, you'll definitely want a tuner to get fuel mapping brought into line. These units can be a much simpler and more flexible deal than a re-flash.

Result: Unless you're piggybacking with some other change, power gains won't be much, but they'll improve overall rideability. Prices also vary wildly; a re-flash can cost anywhere from $200 to $600 and up, and the same goes for engine tuners, depending on their features.

Jet kit for your carburetor.
Even if you haven’t opened up your engine’s intake and exhaust systems, your bike may be running lean right from the factory. A new jet kit for the carb is the answer.Dean Groover

Install A New Jet Kit/Tune Your Carburetor

Conversely, if you’re running a carbed bike, there are still tweaks you can make. Increasingly stringent emission laws mean your bike more than likely came from the factory jetted on the lean side, in which case a simple jet kit should be all you need to put things right. As the name implies, a jet kit packs together a selection of jets, both main and pilot, a new needle, any needed shims or springs, and, crucially, a set of installation instructions and jetting guidelines covering a variety of scenarios. You can also find kits specifically designed to work with a specific manufacturer’s pipe and airbox modifications.

Result: If added to a stock bike, gains will be marginal, though it should smooth out fuel delivery. On a modified bike, jet kits make tuning easier, and best of all, they'll run you about $85 to $200, depending on the application.

Motorcycle ignition.
You might not think to look here, but your motorcycle’s ignition system could also potentially be hiding some extra ponies. Do your homework before pulling the trigger though.Seven Sins Choppers

Modify Your Ignition

Ignition is one area that’s often overlooked, but you can set some more horsepower free depending on how good your ignition system is to begin with, and how your engine is set up. Modifying your ignition for a bigger control angle can give you a little kick, considering this is the place that generates the energy to ignite the fuel and air in the engine cylinder. If you’re just doing the pipes and airbox and your stock ignition is up to the job, then the only boost you’ll probably see is slightly stronger throttle response. But on an older bike or a so-so ignition system, chances are good you’ll gain a few extra ponies. Even new, upgraded plugs can help. Tread carefully though; aftermarket coils may not work with factory-installed ignition systems or wires. Read the manufacturer’s recommendations carefully so you know the deal.

Bonus Ideas

Worn out sprockets.
Changing your gearing can give you a quick hit in acceleration.Brian Hatano

Gin Up The Gearing

Technically you won’t be adding power with this step, but If you’re looking for a relatively quick way to dial up acceleration, then adjusting your gearing is a no-brainer. Changing your gearing will make your motorcycle behave differently and feel quicker (but not faster). Adding or subtracting teeth to either of your motorcycle’s sprockets can make a big difference, and just swapping the stock components out for lighter, aftermarket ones will also reduce unsprung weight.

Add Fuel Filters

Fuel filters work just like they sound; by filtering the fuel to make it cleaner before reaching the engine, you’ll (in theory) get more efficient combustion. Using high-quality filters and regularly replacing them will also keep your engine cleaner and help maintain consistent performance. If you can afford it—and depending on the year of your bike and its engine—you might also improve performance by using premium gas, which offers higher octane.

Bottom line? With just the pipe, jet kit, and air-filter mods, all of which most riders with basic skills and a few tools can perform at home, you can potentially pick up an impressive 20-percent increase in horsepower and a 10-percent increase in torque for less than a grand.