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Slip-on Exhausts vs. Full Systems

Motorcycle exhausts normally have three parts. There is a header(s), which collects exhaust gases directly from the cylinder(s). The header is connected to a midpipe, which runs the fumes toward the back of the motorcycle. If the bike has fuel-air sensors, exhaust management cables or a catalytic converter, these components will normally be incorporated here. Eventually, the midpipe connects to a muffler. This is the wide bit, where baffles and interior diameters will modify your engine sound. Because of their appearance, mufflers are affectionately known as “cans.”

There are two types of aftermarket exhausts. A “slip-on” replaces only the muffler, while a “full system” replaces everything: header, midpipe and can.


At a few hundred bucks, slip-ons will supply the most bang for your buck (literally). In many cases, they have all the sound and style benefits of a full system. However, slip-on exhausts won’t do much for performance. Because the midpipe and headpipe remain stock, the weight-saving numbers aren't extraordinary. Likewise, a slip-on exhaust won’t achieve large horsepower gains.

Of course, that last downside is actually an upside for some people. If you want awesome sound and style without having to install a jet kit or a fuel controller, the lack of performance is probably a good thing. For the most part, you can install a slip-on exhaust without having to change the air-fuel mixture. That said, slip-ons will offer a couple horsepower to anyone enthusiastic enough to do the tuning.

The other advantage of slip-on exhausts is the easy installation. In many cases, it’s as simple as it sounds. Remove the stock muffler, slip on the new one, and tighten some clamps. Road-going motorcycles might require some bodywork to be removed first, but that’s no biggie.

A note for off-road riders: Many dirt bike slip-ons replace the muffler and a good chunk of the midpipe. Installation is still simple, but the horsepower and weight-saving gains are more substantial. As you might guess, this brings us into a grey zone where jet kits and fuel controllers are necessary-ish.

Shop all slip-on exhausts here.

Full Systems

When you replace more pipes, you have to buy more metal. Full exhaust systems commonly run around $1000. Some are less. Many are more.

Of course, full systems give an awesome noise and look. But what you’re really paying for is performance gains. In some cases, full exhaust systems can shave nearly 20 pounds off the stock numbers. And with the obligatory air-fuel tuning, horsepower improvement can reach 15%. Of course, these kinds of numbers often require the removal of a catalytic converter. In the previous section, we discussed the legality of this (or lack thereof).

There are a few complications with full exhausts. As we mentioned, you’ll almost always need a jet kit or a fuel controller to get your bike running properly with the new system. Also, replacing the full exhaust will often effect (for better or worse) the available lean angle of your motorcycle. You should think about that before edging into the first post-mod corner. Finally, you might have to remove your motorcycle’s centre stand or passenger foot pegs. Obviously, this depends on which motorcycle you have and which exhaust system you choose.

In terms of installation, full exhaust systems are more complex. The average tinkerer can get it done, but many people will hire a mechanic for peace of mind. Our installation section gives a few details on what to expect.

So, should you get a slip-on or a full system? Well, it depends what you’re looking for. If you just want an awesome sound and style, get a slip-on. If you’re looking for performance gains – or if the midpipe and header on your bike are particularly ugly – get a full system.

Shop full exhaust systems here. 

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