Best Performance Exhaust For Harley Davidson Motorcycles

I. Introduction


When you buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle, it comes with a well-engineered stock exhaust (exhaust fitted by Harley Davidson) that complies with the legal guidelines on pollution and sound emission.

However, many Harley motorcycle riders are not satisfied with the stock exhaust and want more, and they look towards performance exhausts which are aftermarket exhausts and are manufactured by different companies.

Different topics discussed in this article are: how does a motorcycle exhaust work and what are the functions of the exhaust pipe, reasons for replacing the factory fitted stock exhaust pipe with the performance exhaust pipes, review of the best performance exhaust pipes on Amazon for Harley Davidson motorcycles, and FAQ.

II. How does a motorcycle exhaust work and what are the functions of the exhaust pipe?

The basic principle of working of a motorcycle exhaust has not changed much from the time of two-stroke engines.

Let us see how it works. After the completion of the power stroke, the piston of the motorcycle engine pushes up the exhaust gas through the exhaust port into the exhaust manifold which connects to the exhaust pipe. The hot exhaust gas enters the exhaust pipe at high pressure (80-100 PSI) and velocity.

The exhaust gas undergoes an expansion when it enters the wide part of the exhaust pipe and sends a low-pressure wave to the engine cylinder. This low-pressure wave increases the pressure difference at the transfer port (inlet valve) and aids in the pumping of fresh air gasoline mixture into the cylinder.

The exhaust enters the constant diameter section. In the meantime, the piston reaches the bottom dead center (BDC) and rises back for the compression stroke. Now the transfer port (inlet valve) is closed, but the exhaust port (outlet valve) is still open, and under this situation, the rising piston may push the fresh air gasoline mixture into the exhaust.

However, the exhaust gas is now entering an inverse or inverted cone pipe and sends a positive pressure wave to the cylinder. The positive wave of pressure pushes back the fresh air gasoline mixture back into the cylinder just in time before the piston closes the exhaust port.

The exhaust pipe of the modern four-stroke motorcycles is more engineered and sophisticated to meet the requirements of the high power engines, customer requirements, and emission & noise control laws. However, it still follows the basic principle and aids in improving the performance of the engine.

In a multi-cylinder four-stroke engine, the hot exhaust gas enters the exhaust header pipe at around 100 PSI, travels down to a junction, enters the bigger section, and expands. This expansion results in a negative wave to the engine cylinder that aids entry of fresh air gasoline mixture into the cylinder and also draws out the remaining traces of the exhaust from the cylinder.

The exhaust pipe of a motorcycle looks simple when you see it, however, the length of the exhaust pipe, its diameter over the different cross-section of the length is an important consideration for its designers, it affects the backpressure on the engine and hence its performance.

The exhaust pipe is built to do many functions, the exhaust gas flows out of the exhaust port of the cylinder into the header pipe and passes through a catalytic converter, pipe, and muffler before mixing with the atmospheric air.

Parts of the exhaust of a motorcycle are:

Motorcycle Exhaust Pipe
Pipes. The pipes (including the header pipe which connects to the exhaust port with a flange and gasket) are normally made of stainless steel or steel (chrome-plated) and the size, length, and shape depend on the design of the individual motorcycles.

Catalytic converter. In the catalytic converter, the molecules of the toxic gases in the exhaust gas viz. carbon monoxide and Nitrogen oxide split into inert nonhazardous gas particles Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, and water, before mixing with the atmospheric air.

The catalytic converter is a rectangular or cylindrical steel box normally fitted after the header of an exhaust pipe or in some design, it may be fitted in the muffler

You can find a honeycomb-shaped ceramic structure coated with catalysts (Platinum, Palladium, or Rhodium) inside the catalytic converter. Due to the presence of the ‘catalysts’, the molecules of the toxic gases viz. carbon monoxide and Nitrogen oxide split into inert nonhazardous gas particles Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, and water.

The catalytic converters are the efficient and economical method for controlling the pollution from the exhaust gases of automobiles including motorcycles. The catalytic converters need a high temperature to do their function, hence they are placed nearer to the engine (in some designs, it is placed in the muffler).

Muffler. The muffler has baffles and complex pipe shapes inside it absorb the noise and emit a pleasant sound conforming to the state law. The muffler is meant to reduce the noise, however, some designs may use the muffler to modify the noise of the exhaust into a pleasant sound.

Resonator. Makes the motorcycle operate quieter.

Exhaust guard. An exhaust guard is an optional item, it protects your leg from the heat of the exhaust pipe and protects the exhaust from dirt.

State laws are governing the exhaust pipe that can be used on a motorcycle and this may differ from state to state.

III. Reasons for replacing the factory fitted stock exhaust pipe with the performance exhaust pipes.

The major reasons for Harley motorcycle riders to replace their stock exhaust with performance exhaust are:

  • To improve the performance of their Harley motorcycle viz. more torque and horsepower.
  • Performance exhaust pipes are available in different finishes, add aesthetics, and improves the look of the motorcycle.
  • In some models of Harley Davidson, changing the layout of the stock exhaust pipe with a performance exhaust pipe may increase the comfort of the rider and the passenger.
  • Performance exhaust pipes sound better and you can listen to the sound of each performance exhaust pipe and decide your favorite.
  • Performance exhaust pipe weighs less and this improves the performance of Harley motorcycle.
  • The cost of the aftermarket performance exhaust pipe is cheaper than the stock exhaust.

You must know clearly what you want when you are doing modification/replacement of your stock exhaust and you have the following options:

  • Replace the stock exhaust completely with a performance exhaust.
  • Replace only the stock exhaust header (retaining the muffler as it is).
  • Replace the muffler of the stock exhaust pipe with an aftermarket slip-on muffler.
  • Add the heat shield to the exposed stock exhaust pipes.

In the earlier days (maybe a decade earlier), one of the basic intension of replacing a stock exhaust of the motorcycle with a performance exhaust was to improve the engine performance. However, the present-day stock exhaust pipes have gone through sufficient Research & Development, and engineering, and they not only conform to the laws of the state but also protect optimum engine performance. This leaves a very marginal scope for improving the engine performance by replacing it with a performance exhaust

There are important things to remember when you decide to go for an aftermarket exhaust for your Harley motorcycle:

  • Please check laws regarding aftermarket performance exhaust at your place of residence.
  • If your Harley motorcycle is new, check the warranty conditions regarding aftermarket exhausts.
  • Consider the cost of installation including resetting of carburetor jet/needle system.

IV. Review of the best performance exhaust on Amazon for Harley Davidson motorcycles

Please check laws regarding aftermarket performance exhaust at your place of residence. If your Harley motorcycle is new, check the warranty conditions regarding performance exhausts.

1. Bassani Xhaust Road Rage 3 2-into-1 Exhaust System (Stainless Steel) for 07-17 Harley FXDB3

  • Manufacturer: Bassani
  • Stainless steel construction and hand TIG welding
  • Item weight: 13.3 Lbs.
  • Made in the USA.

The user reviews are generally positive. Users have used this performance exhaust on their Harley Davidson motorcycle 2015 Dyna Street Bob, Dyna 2017. One user commented that the power of his Harley Dyna is increased by 10 HP/6feet-lbs. and he is happy with the quiet sound. Another user commented that even though the exhaust is claimed to be made from stainless steel, it gets rust like marks on it.

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2. Cobra Power Port Dual Head Pipes Black 6255 RB

  • Weight: 28.7 Lbs.
  • Heat shields are included and are black. The headers are chrome and look black on installation.
  • Power port crossover provides a power boost across the entire RPM range. 21/2ʺ heat shields.
  • Accepts 2017-18 style aftermarket mufflers only.
  • Doing installation is simple and easy, by following the instructions.

User reviews are good. One user gave a good rating, however, commented that this is a power dual and not a true dual, and did not like the sound. Another user installed this on his 2020 Road Glide special and is happy with the sound.

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3. Vance & Hines Power Duals Exhaust Chrome for 2009-16 Touring Models

  • Brand: Vance & Hines
  • Item weight: 26 Lbs.
  • The power duals are hidden behind the perfectly shaped heat shields, and this will improve the stock performance of your Harley motorcycle.
  • This power dual exhaust considerably reduces the heat generated on the left side of the motorcycle, and benefits the pillion rider, and protects the parts from heat damage.
  • The supply includes dual bung sensor ports (size 12 mm & 18 mm), and full coverage heat shields.
  • Mufflers are not included and are sold separately.

The manufacturer recommends the purchase of a fuel management system to suit this power dual (if your motorcycle has the fuel management system).

There is a caution for you to check the legal regulations of your state about using this performance exhaust, and it also states that this unit cannot be dispatched to California state (due to the legal regulations in California).

The user reviews are good and positive, though one user was not happy with the instructions sheet and felt it was confusing. More users are happy about the reduced heat.

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4. Classic Chrome Megaphone Slip-on mufflers Exhaust Pipe for 2017-19 Touring, Road King, Electra Glide, Street Glide, Road Glide, Ultra Classic

  • Brand: JFG Racing
  • Sound level: 7.5/10 (OEM muffler sound level-4/10).
  • Material: 16 gauge cold rolled steel and triple chrome-plated finish.
  • Outlet size: 4ʺ with a black tapered tip for an excellent look.4ʺ diameter, 31ʺ long, 1-3/4ʺ and 2-1/2ʺ inlets.
  • 2.25ʺ internal diameter. Removable baffles.
  • The package includes a pair of slip-on mufflers with hardware for mounting.
  • Item weight: 23.9 Lbs.

User reviews are good.

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5. Street Glide Exhaust Pipe-Classic Chrome Megaphone Slip-on Mufflers for 1995-2016 Touring Dresser bagger, Road King, Electra Glide, Street Glide, Road Glide, and Ultra Limited.

  • Brand: JFG Racing
  • Sound level: 7.5/10 (OEM muffler sound level-4/10).
  • Material: 16 gauge cold rolled steel and triple chrome-plated finish.
  • Outlet size: 4ʺ with a black tapered tip for an excellent look.4ʺ diameter, 31ʺ long, 1-3/4ʺ inlet, and 2.25ʺ internal diameter. Removable baffles.
  • The package includes a pair of exhaust pipes with hardware for mounting (as shown).
  • Item weight: 24 Lbs.

User reviews are good and positive. Users are happy with the sound and also ease of installing it.

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6. ACCESSORIESHD-LSD Big Radius Style Stealth Exhaust Drag Pipes for Harley Softail with Heat Shield

  • Brand: ACCESSORIESHD
  • 2.25ʺ diameter. Chrome plated.
  • For Softails with left side drive transmissions (except Rocker FXCW/C, Breakout FXSB/SE, and CVO FXSTSE models).
  • The supply includes pipes, full-coverage heat shields with clamps, baffles, brackets, and hardware items.
  • Designed for Softails 1986 to 2017. Include provision for 2 sensors and plugs are provided to plug them if they are not used.

User reviews are good and positive. Users are happy with the look, sound, cost, and ease of fitting.

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7. Vance & Hines 47449 Black Short Staggered Full System Exhaust for Harley Sportster 2014-18 Models. I pack.

  • Can be used for 2014-2018 Harley Sportster models.
  • Twin slash end treatment and full coverage heat shields. Black matte finish.
  • 12 mm oxygen sensor mounts. Made in the USA.
  • Weight: 21 Lbs.
  • This comes with standard louvered-core baffles, and you can fit this with optional quiet baffles.
  • The manufacturer has stated that this item cannot be shipped to California, Alaska, and Hawaii due to the anti-tampering laws of the state.

User reviews are good and they are happy with its loud sound.

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8. Cobra True Dual Head Pipes 6251

  • One-piece full-length, 2.5ʺ diameter heat shields cover the complete length, from the exhaust port to the chromed muffler bodies.
  • 1-3/4ʺ head pipes to increase the exhaust flow. 2-1/2ʺ one-piece heat shields provide seamless and proportional protection. Traditionally styled for Harley V-Twins.
  • Can accept Cobra Slip-on mufflers or OEM style mufflers. Mufflers are sold separately.
  • Weight: 15.85 Lbs

User reviews are good. Users are happy about the sound, price, ease of fitting, and look. One user was not happy since he received the ‘used and returned’ unit.

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9. Rinehart 100-0200 4 Xtreme True Dual System for Harley Davidson Touring 2009-2016

  • Brand: Rinehart Racing
  • Item weight: 31 Lbs.
  • 4ʺ mufflers. Exhausts are built to order.

User reviews are good.

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10. Freedom HD00060 Exhaust (Declaration Turn-outs Chrome Dyna). Brand-Freedom Grill.

  • Item weight: 25.5 Lbs.
  • 16 gauge heavy-duty heat shields. 2 ports and plugs are provided.
  • Supply includes mounting hardware and brackets.
  • Made in the USA.

User reviews are good.

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V. FAQ-Frequently Asked Questions

1Is it legal to replace the stock exhaust with an aftermarket performance exhaust pipe?
Study the product details. Aftermarket performance exhaust is not legal in many states like California. Check for the manufacturer’s declaration on this subject, and see how it affects your place of residence.
2I only want my Harley motorcycle to sound better, can I replace the muffler of my stock exhaust with an aftermarket one?
Yes, you can do that. There are many slip-on mufflers available on Amazon for different Harley models, search one for you. Do not forget to verify that it is legal in your state or not.
3Can I improve the performance of my Harley motorcycle, by replacing my stock exhaust with a performance exhaust?
Yes, there may be a marginal improvement in the performance of your Harley motorcycle, however, it may come at the cost of reduced fuel efficiency.
4Does the resale value of my Harley motorcycle increase when I replace the stock exhaust with a performance exhaust.
Harley motorcycle riders normally go for performance exhaust to make their ride more joyful and interesting. There may be an increase in the motorcycle resale value, and it can be a bonus.
5How can a performance exhaust improve the performance of my Harley motorcycle engine?
Harley motorcycle fitted with a performance exhaust causes better airflow into the engine, reduces the work of the engine, and better outflow of the exhaust gas, and all these contribute to a marginal increase in the performance of the engine. However, your fuel consumption may go up.

VI. Conclusion

People purchasing Harley motorcycle have very high expectations about their look, power, and sound, and when they are not satisfied with the factory fitted items, like exhaust, they turn towards performance exhausts.

However, there are state laws that restrict or prohibit its use. Hence, verify the laws of your state of residence before going for the performance exhausts.