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Exhaust System Construction and Finishes 101

Exhaust System Construction and Finishes 101

Posted by Wiley Moody on Jul 25, 2019

You have some choices when purchasing an aftermarket exhaust system for your motorcycle. There is a multitude of styles and configurations but one of the first things you should consider is what the pipes are constructed of and how are they finished. Unless the exhaust system says it is constructed of stainless steel, most exhaust systems are made from mild steel tubing. To keep the steel from rusting and also to be aesthetically pleasing, the exhaust system is either high temperature black coating or chrome, with the exception of the stainless systems that need no protection from the elements. Stainless systems are supposed to look industrial and raw with the welds exposed, giving it a custom built racing system.

Aftermarket Stainless Exhaust System

Looking at the stainless systems first, as mentioned earlier, they are unfinished, showing off the workmanship of the construction and the welding that went into manufacturing the exhaust system. Many stainless systems do not come with heatshields, and are make to be purchased separately because the manufacture wants to show you the craftsmanship of the piece that mare than likely was welded by hand. But what you also get with that raw look is all of the bluing and browning of the system due to heat. Most of the time, any bluing is hidden under a set of heatshield and is never seen. Not the case with most stainless systems. Most folks who purchase stainless actually want the pipes to change color and add to the racing style look the pipes were made for. A definite plus with stainless pipes is that they will never rust and there is no finish to chip or flake off.

harley davidson orange motorbike with mild steel chrome plating

The next choice is mild steel with chrome plating. This is by far the number one style of exhaust you’ll see on the bulk of cruiser motorcycles on the road today. As the saying goes, chrome won’t get you home, but you’ll be looking good! A quality set of pipes are finished with triple plated chrome and is the best way to keep an exhaust system from corrosion on a motorcycle. Some manufactures will only go as far as the zinc coating on the underneath header for protection and the cover the entire system with bright chrome heat shields to hide bluing, imperfections, welds, the O2 sensors and any bracketry. The heatshield also add the illusion the exhaust pipes are thicker and beefier than they really are. So a plus is that chromed systems are fairly easy to maintain and will last the life of the bike if cleaned and polished at regular intervals. The downside is chrome can scratch and if you do get a chip or flaking, more than likely the part will have to be replaced.


And finally black and ceramic coated systems. First off, not all black systems are ceramic. Most are simply finished in black high temperature coating. Coating from one manufacturer to the next can vary, so sticking to one company to supply the headers and mufflers will keep the color and texture the same throughout the exhaust system. From a performance standpoint, ceramic coating on the inside is best at helping speed the exhaust through the system. Ceramic coating on the outside of the pipes stands up looks the same after years of use. The added benefit is the ceramic runs a lot cooler than bare steel, offering you a cooler system on hot days!

You may have heard the term “stepped header design.” That design is an exhaust system that flows gasses into a larger diameter pipe as it flows along until it meets the collector at the end of the exhaust system. A stepped header will pull the exhaust gasses out of the combustion chamber by creating negative pressure letting the exhaust speed out of the system. By scouring the system this way, new fresh air and fuel can be introduced faster and with a more complete burn in the combustion chamber than with a stock exhaust system.

Please call West End Motorsports if you have any question concerning exhaust systems and we can help you choose the right components the first time!