Cool Pipes and Blind Lizards
by Lee Meyer
Without a doubt, the most popular modification done to a motorcycle is the installation of an aftermarket exhaust system. It comes in various forms: the famous four-into-one, the latest four-into-two-into-one, the slip-on replacement muffler, and the two-into-two for twins like the Ducati. What brand and type you choose depend on your reasons for wanting one in the first place. Performance, looks, sound, and weight saving are some of the reasons you may want to change your exhaust. There’s also the “cool factor.” You, J.Q. Customer, are going to have to decide what equipment fits your needs best. Because there are so many makes and models of bikes and pipes, I won’t be able to cover everything for everyone. I do hope to provide some useful info to help you make your choice.
If performance or maximum horsepower gain is your only objective, you have probably been looking at a top of the line, big-dollar pipe with an ultra-light carbon fiber canister. This system might be great if you are planning to race your machine on a track, but it is not very practical, and it’s hard on the wallet. Carbon fiber is not cost effective. Carbon fiber systems will make no more horsepower, but they will cost considerably more money. Your average weight savings with a carbon can is only a few pounds. Save a couple hundred bucks by doing a few sit-ups.
Conversely, cheap pipes often look cheap, and they are sometimes more restrictive and make less power than your stock set-up. Brands like Vance & Hines, Two Brothers, or Micron have a very nice fit and finish. The V&H SS2R is probably the quietest of the bunch–a nice bonus for your neighbors. Less noise means less power. Expect two to three fewer horsepower out of the SS2R compared to other top shelf systems.
It’s a good idea to start by checking out pipes on other bikes like yours. I thought I wanted a Muzzy for my ZX-11, until I saw someone else’s ZX-11 equipped with one. The lower left fairing was melting and bubbling right on the pipe. Instant turn-off. Go to a bike race at BIR or Road America. A dozen or so of the zillion bikes there will be the exact year, make and model as yours. Compare bikes and talk to the owners. Grill them with questions. Did they have to trim body work? Were the supplied brackets of use, or was major modification or complete refabrication necessary? How is the maintenance? Can they change the oil without removing the pipe or are the filters locked in cages of tube steel? How does it sound? Mellow? Throaty? Buzzy? When they hit the gas, do their fillings drop right out of their head from all the racket? Remember you have to ride it. Maybe you,re looking to get rid of that dental work.
Slip-ons can be an affordable alternative, and they are generally a breeze to install. Unbolt the stock mufflers, and bolt on the new. If you can change your own oil, you should be able to install these no sweat. You can achieve nice looks, good sound and noticeable performance gains at minimal cost. The big liter bike sport tourers really wake up nicely with these, because their factory mufflers are huge and whisper-quiet restrictive. And they don’t lose the low end grunt like they can with a full pipe. Another benefit is a jet kit is usually not mandatory. It may help, but you can probably do without it.
Aaaah, jet kits. Installation of a pipe will likely lean out carburetion. This can cause bogging, hesitations, flat spots, or a very hot engine if your machine is air cooled. You will have to recalibrate your carbs to keep your engine a happy camper. The brand of jet kit you choose makes no difference. You will get the same results, but these kits are designed for various climates and altitudes. You can install it according to the instruction sheets, and everything can work out well. Or you can still have a hesitation. Or maybe now you run rich. Installing these kits can be somewhat tricky. If you are going to attempt this yourself, be prepared to disassemble and reassemble your machine a few times before you get it right. Here’s one more thing about these kits. Each brand has several stages or levels of performance. DO NOT buy the higher level kits thinking bigger is better. These are designed for modified engines only! A header does not a modified engine make. Stick to the lower stage kits.
Okay, J.Q. Customer. You have picked out a pipe for your soon to be rockin’ sport bike, but completely disassembling your hot-rod doesn’t sound like your bag. If you are at all hesitant about doing this yourself, pass. Stress kills, and shop mechanics do not dig reassembling someone else’s abandoned project.
Let’s have a look at your bill: pipe, $450.00; jet kit, $100.00; you haven’t had a recent valve adjustment, and this is a must for this project to work, $150.00; installation and various parts not included, $300.00; one trip to the dyno for Ego Fuel and Bragging Ammo, $50.00; total, $1,050.00. Congratulations. You now have ten more horsepower. That’s one hundred dollars per one horsepower. Don’t get me wrong. Ten ponies is a very noticeable improvement, and your “cool factor” is waaay up. You can (usually) do older bikes, standards and cruisers for considerably less dough. Some sport bikes and V-Maxes may be more expensive. One thousand bucks is quite a wallet spanking, and your bike won’t be worth more than it is stock. If you may be selling your bike soon, this is not a swell idea, but this could be the bees’ knees for the long term owner.
Keep those old pipes. Someday you may wish to reverse this little decision, or you may want to sell your bike to someone who thinks your “cool factor” is silly. They may still buy, if you can pull out those mint, stock pipes.
On a personal note: one of my favorite bike rallies, The Blind Lizard MC Picnic on Nicollet Island, celebrated its 20th and final year on June 16, 1996. This was one of the largest and most anticipated rallies. Everything on two wheels showed up: BMWs, Ducatis, Nortons, Triumphs, Beezers, Whizzers, Laverdas, Urals, various Japanese sport bikes (including mine and a Gamma 500), Moto Guzzis, various custom bicycles and even Harley-Davidsons. There were more, but I am out of breath. Great food. Great people. Plenty of beer and rain. We’ll miss it. Farewell to the Lizard.
See you next month. The Doc.