How to Install a Motorcycle Exhaust System

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April 16, 2014 | By: J&P Cycles

ExhaustStock pipes are fine, but don’t always provide the look, sound or performance you want. Fortunately swapping them out for something that does suit your needs is an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your ride, and it shouldn’t take more than a few hours at most, even if you’ve never done it before.

First up, here is a list of exactly what you’ll need:

  • 3/8ths drive socket set (Fractional for HD’s, metric for everything else).
  • Combination wrenches in the appropriate sizes.
  • Any sockets or wrenches peculiar to your bike i.e. Torx or Allen wrenches.
  • 3/8 drive torque wrench
  • Aerosol lubricant (WD-40, CRC 556 etc.)
  • Anti-seize
  • Shop manual: Aftermarket is just fine: Clymer, etc
  • Required: Exhaust system gaskets.
  • Hand wipes
  • Rags
  • Chrome polish
  • Time required 1-4 hours.

Start by unpacking your new exhaust and reading through the instructions. Make sure the supplied parts and hardware agree with the parts list, and that you have everything you need from the manufacturer in order to complete the installation. Very often the instructions will also list the tools required, if they don’t provide a list then check your shop manual or take a quick look at the stock fasteners, as well as the new ones to determine if you have all the necessary tools.

Torque WrenchIn some cases, an aftermarket pipe may use slightly different fasteners, for example some kits supply Allen head bolts to replace the OEM hex heads, so make sure you have all the right tools on hand. Few things are as annoying as getting halfway through an installation only to find you’re stalled for lack of a simple tool.

Removing Your OEM Exhaust

If everything is in order, then get the project underway by removing the stock system from your motorcycle. Obviously this is a job best done with a cold engine, but you knew that right? In most cases removing the OEM exhaust is intuitive, but there always seems to be the odd curveball, like a hidden bolt or clamp, or components that have to be removed in sequence, so a quick read through the appropriate section of your service manual beforehand will help avoid surprises.

Typically exhaust systems are removed from back to front. You start by removing the muffler, then any brackets, and lastly the head pipes. Experienced mechanics sometimes short cut the process by stripping off big chunks at one time, but if this is your first rodeo I don’t recommend doing it that way. For starters OEM exhaust systems are heavy, and the larger they are, the heavier and more unwieldy they become and the more likely it is you’ll damage something. Remember: Small is manageable, especially if you’re working alone.

In most instances the muffler will slide off the head pipe without much effort. If it’s stubborn, a shot or three of penetrating oil should help. Let the oil work for a few minutes, then wiggle the muffler back and forth to help lubricate and open up the joint. As you pull, continue to wiggle or if there’s room, even twist the muffler, and it should come free without too much grief. Brute force is rarely needed to remove a muffler, but if the thing is rusted in place it may be your only solution. Before picking up a hammer, make sure you really have removed all of the mounting bolts and clamps (you certainly wouldn’t be the first guy that missed one of those hidden bolts we mentioned). Also, never use a hammer directly against the muffler surface and always use a block of wood between the head pipe and hammer to cushion the blow and prevent damage. Preferably you want to pound against a bracket, or welded on tab;  not directly against the muffler.

Slip-On Install

If you’re installing slip-on mufflers and keeping the stock head pipes the next step is simple: Start by following the provided installation instructions that came with your pipe. Gently insert the new canister onto the OEM exhaust pipe. You may need to wiggle it while putting pressure on it so make sure not to push your bike off the side-stand at this step. A little persuasion goes a long ways, just be steady. Once the slip-on is in place, tighten up the fasteners and then clean off your finger prints with a good chrome polish or cleaner.

Removing OEM Headers

Depending on the engine and exhaust configuration, the head pipes may come-off in one big chunk, or they may need to be removed individually. If they come off together, a second pair of hands will definitely come in handy, as will a few strategically placed rags to help prevent scratches to the frame. Header bolts can be difficult to reach, especially on some V-twins, but a long extension and universal joint added to the socket will generally get the job done with a minimum of swearing or blood loss.

Some headers are connected via a crossover pipe, and on occasion that can cause problems especially on older bikes. Because they get so hot, crossover pipes can rust themselves to the head pipes as if they were welded, and yeah, there are times when you have to get tough with them, but 99% of the time all it takes is a liberal amount of penetrating oil, some patience, and a little elbow grease to free them up. One way to do it is to loosen one head pipe, and remove any brackets that fasten it to the frame, so it can pivot in the port. Leave the other head pipe tight. Loosen the crossover pipe clamps, and liberally spray the joint with lubricant. Work the lose head pipe back in forth to free the joint. Once the joint has broken, remove the head pipe from the crossover followed in turn by the remaining pipe(s). Doing it that way will provide a better mechanical advantage and prevent the pipes from banging up the bikes finish while you wrestle with them or in case they suddenly come loose with the predictable result.

With the stock system out of the way, remove the old exhaust gaskets for inspection. Often these gaskets can be reused, but they’re generally cheap and a leaking head pipe gasket will cause a back fire on closed throttle, so if there’s the slightest doubt replace them. Lightly clean the ports with sand paper or Scotch-Brite to remove any built up carbon to complete the disassembly.

Installing Full Exhaust System

Cleaner degreaserThe installation process is basically a reverse of the disassembly procedure, with one major difference. Exhaust systems are always “hung” loosely on the bike, with the hardware finger tight. Once the entire system is installed and aligned the fasteners are properly torqued down, so leave the wrenches on the bench for the time being.

Start by installing any required brackets, tightening them just enough to hold them in place. Next install the exhaust port gaskets then lightly coat the port with anti-seize and insert the head pipe. Again you’re only going to hand tighten the hardware, and yes, it too should get a dab of anti-seize in case it has to come apart again at a later date. Slide the mufflers onto the head pipes, and if you’re sensing a theme, yes the joint gets a little anti-seize as well.

From this point, you lightly secure the muffler to the mounting bracket. With everything in place and the hardware snug, carefully align the system, being careful to avoid placing any portion of the exhaust under any undue strain. You will tighten the fasteners starting from the headers and working your way back to the mufflers in an effort to reduce any strain on the equipment. Strain leads to cracking and cracking leads to parts falling off, so if things don’t line up, don’t force them. A better plan is to loosen the hardware, wiggle, cajole and if need be gentle tap the pieces using the flat of your hand or a rubber mallet into alignment. If you have to, use a strategically placed shim or two, you can use washers, to achieve a perfect fit.

With the system hung in place and hand tight, you can start by tightening the muffler mounting bracket(s) to the frame using the OEM specifications, preferably by using a torque wrench. Once the bracket is solidly in place you move back to the front of the bike.

Next come the head pipes, you want the head pipes to sit squarely in their ports so run the fasteners down a little at a time until they’re tight by tightening each opposing fastener a bit in a sequence so that one header isn’t completely tight before the other. You want to carefully tighten them down in order to allow the system to work its way into place. Once they are all hand-tight and snug, then you can tighten the fasteners to spec.

Next secure the muffler(s) to the head pipe clamp. The fastener may be a hose-clamp style or a system that is integrated into the exhaust design. Usually this is a nut or bolt configuration, so make sure nothing sharp, like the end of the bolt, is protruding out to where it might hit your leg or important component of your bike. Sometimes, the motion of the suspension compressing will reveal if anything is too close or might potentially make contact with another piece so pay attention to this. At last, firmly tighten the muffler to its bracket. We recommend that you re-check all of these fasteners after your first test ride.

Installation Tip: Give the new exhaust a good cleaning before you fire up the bike because grease and fingerprints can stain the finish of your new system. The last step is to rub it down with your favorite chrome polish to protect the finish before hitting the road.

Remember: Some fasteners may loosen slightly once they’ve been through a heat cycle so always remember to re-check all the nuts and bolts after your first ride.

Comments (5)

You didn’t mention changing the tune or hooking up a computer to calibrate for the new exhaust. Is that something that should be done or is this an urban legend made up by the dealership to sell you another product or service?

If you are doing anything other than slip ons you need to tune bike after putting on new exhaust, most of the time you will also need to purchase a tuner. Approx cost for new exhaust system, new breather, mapping, install will run you approx 1,800

I enjoyed reading the article just the article did not mention to those wanting to install an exhaust system the way their bike would run after installing.On any fuel injected model it will run like crap especially if a new higher performing air breather is also installed. I would suggest having a dealer or shop install the exhaust where they can also tune the bike once exhaust is installed.

Really nice article. Great post, indeed!!! Will you please write about Electrically heated motorcycle clothing in your next post?

Motorradhelme, we’ll put your request for heated motorcycle clothing in queue for an upcoming post.

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