Exhaust Installation

You don't need much but make sure you have what you need

You won't need much, but make sure you have what you'll need.
You won't need much, but make sure you have what you'll need.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Installing an aftermarket exhaust is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to personalize your bike. Granted the job may look a little daunting, especially if your only prior mechanical experience in that direction involved dropping the car off at the local Midas Muffler shop, but in fact, it’s neither a difficult nor involved procedure and requires little in the way of tools or mechanical experience, which makes it a great do-it-yourself project, here’s the skinny.

Just in Case
Start by reviewing the appropriate section of your service manual, the one entitled, "Removing the Exhaust." Among other things, it'll point out exactly what you need to remove, and in what order, along with a list of tools you'll need to do the removing. The last one is kind of a biggie. If the job requires a 13 mm swivel-joint socket and you don't have one, it's not much of a problem. They're common as dirt and not too expensive, so acquiring one shouldn't present any particular problems. On the other hand, finding out halfway through the project that a particular bolt isn't coming off without the help of a torch, which will work, but no doubt create other issues, or that missing socket, it's another story. Trust me on this; if that's the case then every shop that carries 13 mm swivel-joint sockets will be closed, out of stock or 100 miles away, as they say, forewarned is forearmed.

A few minutes now may save you a few hours later.
A few minutes now may save you a few hours later.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Likewise, before removing a single bolt from the exhaust you’re replacing, unpack the new system and make sure that (A) it’s the correct system for your application, you wouldn’t be the first guy to get the wrong pipe, in fact the first one sent for this install turned out to be wrong, and (B) that everything you need to fit the system is actually there. Compare each part to the supplied parts list, and make sure any recommended extras, in particular new exhaust port gaskets (if required) are on hand before you commence to wrench. As a side issue, I’ve spoken to more than one guy that doesn’t replace the exhaust port gaskets unless he absolutely has to, and yes, some of these guys work in motorcycle shops. The problem is that exhaust port gaskets are for the most part “crush” gaskets, similar in design to the crush washer used on an oil drain plug or sparkplug. Can you reuse them? Well, yeah, you can sometimes do that, especially if the bike is relatively new, but in the main, it’s not a great idea. A leaking exhaust port gasket will create a backfire on deceleration, and makes a mess of the cylinder head/exhaust port area. Exhaust gaskets are cheap, and since I’m not a gambling man, my inclination is to always replace them. If you don’t think it’s necessary, by all means, reuse the old ones, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if the head pipe starts to leak.

Laying everything out will also give you some idea of how it all fits together.
Laying everything out will also give you some idea of how it all fits together.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Off with the Old
When I was a flat rate mechanic I saw lot's of guys remove a few crucial bolts, give a manly yank, accompanied by a few choice invectives, and be rewarded for their efforts with a large chunk, or sometimes the whole of the exhaust dropping to the bench like a pole-axed mule. When you're being paid by the job every second counts, but sometimes it's better to act in kinder, gentler manner, especially when you want to avoid damaging the old exhaust or the bikes finish.

Under most circumstances, you should break down and remove the individual exhaust systems components one at a time, typically by starting at the rear and working your way forward. Removing the exhaust in bits and pieces can be time consuming, especially if road dirt and carbon have conspired to prevent things from coming apart but with a little WD-40 and some elbow grease the parts will soon separate, and the individual parts will be a lot easier to handle by yourself than one huge chunk of awkward to balance exhaust.

However, there’s always an exception to the rule and here’s where it pays to read through the manual. Honda, in their infinite wisdom recommends removing the VTX1300 pipe in one large chunk. This was at odds with the pipe builders supplied instructions, but it did save time and effort, proving that even an old dog like me needs to read the manual from time to time.

Whatever method you use is of little consequence but take the time to lay a little groundwork beforehand. As a rule, motorcycle exhausts are normally in much better shape than the rust factories found on your family grocery getter, so corroded, crusty parts and hardware aren’t normally an issue. Regardless, it pays to give all the exposed hardware a good dousing in WD-40, Liquid Wrench or some other rust-busting aerosol at least a day or two before you plan to remove the exhaust. A good, penetrating oil will make the job go a lot smoother and reduce the chance some recalcitrant nut or bolt will seize solid and make the job more challenging than it has to be.

The exhaust gasket on the right has seen a few miles, note the indentation around its circumference. The one on the left is brand new. Will the used one seat the exhaust? Maybe.
The exhaust gasket on the right has seen a few miles, note the indentation around its circumference. The one on the left is brand new. Will the used one seat the exhaust? Maybe.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Once the old exhaust has been removed, bag up all the OEM hardware, label it and put the exhaust and the hardware safely aside. Resist the temptation to toss it out or sell it on E-bay. Many states are enacting muffler sound and emission laws, or in some cases, simply mandating that your motorcycles muffler(s) have an OEM exhaust certification stamp, so down the road you may want to reinstall that stock system if only to avoid certain legal hassles. It’ll also sweeten the deal with a potential buyer should you decide sell the bike at some future date.

If the new gasket tends to drop out of the port, hold it in place with a dab of grease.
If the new gasket tends to drop out of the port, hold it in place with a dab of grease.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

On with the New
With the old system tagged, bagged and out of the way it's time to install that bright and shiny new pipe. Start by replacing or at least inspecting the exhaust port gaskets, if you're going to reuse them, (again, not recommended,) make sure they're still serviceable, look for nicks, gouges or serious deformity, if there's any doubt, replace them. While you're in there it won't hurt to give the exhaust port a little attention. Built up carbon can prevent the new pipe from seating properly and make it more difficult to install. A quick swipe with a hunk of sandpaper should clean things nicely. If your engine uses exhaust port studs, now's the time to make sure they're snug. Your manual may have an installed height specification for the stud, but in most cases tight is fine, but remember too tight is broken so don't be overzealous when you're applying the wrench. If everything is to your liking, install the exhaust port gaskets, if need be with a dab of grease, to prevent them from dropping out.

Typically, the head pipe will held in place with a collar or flange. If the flange isn’t already on the pipe select the correct one, some flanges are asymmetrical, the pipe builder’s instructions should provide clear details and slide the pipe into the port. A light coat of anti-seize applied to the pipe will help it glide home and make it easier to remove, should it ever come to that. It’ll also make it easier to adjust the pipe so you can get a perfect fit. Snug but don’t fully tighten the head pipe, you’ll probably being doing some adjusting before you’re done.

Flanges may differ, be sure to select the correct one.
Flanges may differ, be sure to select the correct one.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Normally the first head pipe will be followed by the second, and so on, but in some circumstances, you may need to install a bracket or collector before proceeding, look to the instructions for the specifics. For example the Roadhouse Classic pipe we’re installing on the VTX, uses a two into one collector system so there’s a Y pipe that must be in place before the rear cylinder’s head pipe can be inserted. Again a dab of anti-seize will speed things along and prevent the pipes from binding should you need to adjust them. Snug the clamps, but don’t fully tighten them just yet, a little slack in the system will make it easier to fit the remaining parts. Typically, the last step will be to install any mounting brackets and hardware followed by whatever your particular installation requires in the way of a muffler.

Yeah, it's a little messy...
Yeah, it's a little messy...Photography by Mark Zimmerman
....but it sure makes assembling and adjusting the exhaust joints a lot easier.
...but it sure makes assembling and adjusting the exhaust joints a lot easier.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Opinions vary on what sequence to use when tightening up the exhaust system. One manual recommends starting at the head pipe and working your way to the muffler, while another wants the process reversed.

I like to start at the head pipe and work my way towards the mufflers, tightening everything in stages. It usually takes me two or sometimes three passes to torque everything down, but doing it this way pulls the joints down evenly and completely which helps prevent any backfiring-induced air leaks and forestalls preloading the system, which might lead to premature component failure.* (see "Dude, My New Pipe Just Fell Off!" below)

With the system firmly secured go ahead and install any heat shields or muffler guards, and replace any ancillary parts, like floorboards, brake levers or side covers that were removed to access the exhaust system. As a final touch wipe down the exhaust with a clean rag and your favorite degreaser, I generally use brake or contact cleaner to remove any greasy paw prints, before giving the pipe a quick coat of chrome polish or wax. After the road test, allow the system to cool off, and then recheck all the hardware, just in case it’s gone a little slack after being heat-cycled.

Tighten the connections in stages working from the front to the rear.
Tighten the connections in stages working from the front to the rear.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Most pipe swaps will require some rejetting or remapping of the fuel system. EPA regulations have forced the manufactures to run their bikes on the ragged edge of lean so in many instances the additional airflow created by installing a less restrictive exhaust system pushes them over the edge. The rule of thumb is; the less restrictive the new exhaust, the more likely it is to require rejetting. This is particularly true if you're making a radical change in the exhaust system design, and be advised; making a very radical change may cost you horsepower and torque, at least at some point of the power band, no matter how carefully the bike is jetted. My suggestion here is to use the pipe manufacturer's baseline recommendations as a starting point and see how the bike runs. In most cases, it'll be pretty close to what you'll need, and all it should take to make it perfect is a little fine-tuning. If things seem really wrong, double check the jetting or fuel management module installation and settings. If they're on the nose and the bike still won't run, book some dyno time. You'll learn more in three quick pulls in the dyno than you would during a weekend of riding up and down the street in front of your house, and your neighbors will stay a lot happier.

Make note that most pipes will require some rejetting and might also turn blue due to the heat passing through them.
Make note that most pipes will require some rejetting and might also turn blue due to the heat passing through them.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Most aftermarket pipes will blue, at least for some of their length, and the simple fact that they do isn't necessarily a cause for concern. Here's why; with some exceptions, the majority of aftermarket pipes are built from single wall tubing and then chrome plated. As soon as heat passes through them, they turn blue and frankly, there's not much you can do about it. Some things, for instance overly rich or lean jetting, letting the bike idle for extended periods, especially with the choke on (or anything else that causes the bike to run hot) exacerbate the situation, but even if everything is perfect, chances are good that some portion of the pipe is going to discolor.

Back in the day some guys (and I mean that in the generic sense) would spray the inside of the pipe with heat resistant paint, or even coat the inner surface with grease. It really didn’t do much except postpone the inevitable. If a blue pipe is a deal breaker for you, I’d suggest you look towards some of aftermarket pipe builders that use double wall construction.

Customizations like this look great and are fairly cheap too.
Customizations like this look great and are fairly cheap too.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

10 Things You Really Need

All right already, I get it. No, really I do. Believe it or not, I do realize that a certain percentage of you prefer to have your favorite mechanic perform all of your routine maintenance. While it’s not my style, I understand where you’re coming from, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a few tools handy just in case does it?

In that spirit, I’ve put together a list of ten essential items that everyone and anyone who rides a motorcycle should own. Some are to perform safety checks, some will get you out of a jam, and all will fit into a shoebox.

10 essential things that every motorcyclist should have.
10 essential things that every motorcyclist should have.Photography by Mark Zimmerman
  1. An Owner's Manual This is the most valuable tool you can own. It'll tell you everything you need to know about your motorcycle. Including how to tell when something's gone wrong.

  2. Tire Pressure Gauge Even a cheap one is better than none. If you can't check and adjust your own tire pressures, you shouldn't be riding without adult supervision. Check them once a week or whenever you ride the thing.

  3. Four-way Screwdriver A halfway decent four-in-one screwdriver with interchangeable tips cost about five bucks at your local big box store. Use it to change that burnt out tail light bulb or tighten that loose light switch in the hall.

  4. Medium Size Adjustable Wrench You can use a good adjustable to do everything from tighten a loose bolt to open a can of beans. Figure on spending about 15 clams for a good one.

  5. Locking Vice Grips Your bike tips over, and breaks a shift lever, how do you get home? Clamp the vice grip on the stub of the broken shifter. Oh yeah they work well as pliers to.

  6. Flashlight Peer into dark spaces, signal on-coming traffic, find out what evil lurks in men's souls. Okay, the last is a stretch, but a good flashlight is worth its weight in just about anything, and should be carried by anyone that ventures out after dark or just wants to see where that drop of oil is coming from.

  7. Shock Adjusting Tool Carrying a passenger or even yourself is a lot more fun when the shock preload is properly adjusted and its lot easier to do when you've got the proper spanner. If your bike didn't come with one, and most don't, order one from your favorite local shop.

  8. Battery Tender If you don't ride your bike on at least a weekly basis, the battery should be kept up to snuff with a plug-in charger. I use one on my infrequently ridden dual sport bike and the battery has lasted nearly 6 years.

  9. A Funnel I have a real aversion to riding my bike when it's low on oil, and an even bigger one to spilling lubricant all over it. You should be checking, and if need be, topping up your oil on a regular basis. Having a funnel handy makes the job a whole lot easier.

  10. Cruz Tools Econo-Kit (or equivalent) Okay this last is something of a ringer. However, if you want to delete items two thru six buy one of the prepackaged tool kits that are on the market, and yeah, I unabashedly recommend one of Cruz–tools kits. They contain everything you need to perform minor (or not so minor repairs) and start at about 40 bucks.

So you there you have it. A shoebox full of goodies that you can leave stashed under the bed until you need them, and if you never do, so much the better.

Dude, My New Pipe Just Fell Off!

A heavily preloaded exhaust system is guaranteed to fail, and it usually happens in a lot less time than it took to install the system.

Preloading occurs when rigid parts are forced into position against an opposing tension. For instance, when an exhaust pipe doesn’t quite line up with its mounting bracket it’s usually possible to force it into place because the pipe is essentially a long flexible piece of tubing. The problem is that heavily preloaded parts are highly susceptible to vibration-induced damage. It’s far better to fiddle and jiggle until everything lines up nicely, or shim the mounting bracket with a few strategically placed washers than it is to force the pipe into place with brute strength, and hold it there against its natural inclination with a nut and bolt. Against my better judgment, I once installed a brand new race bike pipe to gain some extra ground clearance I forced the pipe on to a shortened bracket, which preloaded the snot out of it. Before I hit the third turn, the pipe bracket had fractured and my new pipe was dragging on the ground… so much for the extra ground clearance! An extra five minutes spent properly aligning the system would have prevented my $200 pipe (this was a long time ago) from breaking after less than a minute of use, so let that be a word to the wise.