“Stock motorcycles rule,” said no one. Ever. Name one motorcycle that you would take straight out of the factory and not change a thing. Any era, any make, any model. The bike is so perfect in stock form, it would remain untouched. For many of us, no such bike exists. Nor, will it. Ever.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of owning a motorcycle is making it your own and in most cases, the first step in our quest for personalization is upgrading the exhaust.

Why do we scrap stock exhaust? In a nutshell, thanks to government regulations, OEM exhaust systems must meet certain noise and emissions requirements. As a result, sound and performance are restricted and many designs leave a bit to be desired. Luckily, there is a plethora of aftermarket exhaust products available for us to improve the sound, style, and performance of our motorcycles. Maybe too many. So let’s simplify some things.

Mufflers, head pipes, full systems….what’s the difference? Motorcycle exhaust systems generally consist of head pipes and mufflers. These components can either be purchased separately or in a full system.

Installing mufflers on stock head pipes is typically the most cost-effective exhaust upgrade available. This combination will result in more sound but minimal performance gains. If you’re satisfied with your motorcycle’s performance and just want to be heard, mufflers will do the trick. If you would also like to change the look of your bike, there are many different styles to choose from. Some of which feature interchangeable end caps to further expand possibilities for customization.

If you upgraded your mufflers but decide later on that you could use some more power, you can add a set of head pipes to the equation. Head pipes will improve performance as well as sound when combined with a set of aftermarket mufflers. Even if you haven’t already installed mufflers, you may still want to purchase these components separately if your desired head pipe and muffler combination isn’t offered in a full system.

Full systems come complete with head pipes and mufflers. Some full systems are more performance oriented while others are designed primarily to look and sound good.

Performance systems are designed primarily for increasing horsepower and torque. Many of them feature stepped head pipes for increased performance. If you are more interested in power gains than the look and sound of your bike, a performance system is the way to go. The most common performance exhaust configurations are 2-into-1 and True Duals.

2-into-1 systems feature head pipes that merge into one muffler, also referred to as a collector. True Dual systems, most commonly found on Touring models, consist of one head pipe and one muffler per cylinder. The 2-into-1 is the clear choice for optimum performance. However, if you’re a Touring rider who’s hung up on the “unbalanced” look of the 2-into-1, there are still plenty of outstanding performers for you in the True Duals category.

Style systems are ideal if you value style over and sound over performance. They commonly feature full coverage heat shields, which are sometimes offered in different finishes. The styling lines of the motorcycle itself play a big factor with design of these systems. Popular configurations include 2-into-2 systems and drag pipes.

Both of these systems feature one head pipe per cylinder. However, the 2-into-2 system includes baffles and drag pipes are straight through with no baffle. Out of the box, 2-into-2 systems will outperform drag pipes. However, if you are dead set on drag pipes, baffles and torque cones may be purchased separately. With the right combination and proper jetting, it is possible for you to dial in a set of drag pipes for decent performance.

No exhaust modification is complete without an air-fuel mixture adjustment. The less restrictive exhaust will cause your motor to run leaner and require more fuel to be added. Motorcycles with a carburetor will require jetting and fuel injected bikes will require installation of a fuel management system. Failure to correct this lean condition may result damage to your top end. Burnt pistons, scored cylinders, all that good stuff, so be sure not to overlook your air-fuel mixture.

In addition to fuel, more air is also required to achieve optimum performance and fuel efficiency. Replacing your stock intake with a less restrictive air cleaner, or at the very least a high flow air filter element, will deliver more air to your engine. These modifications will provide a significant increase in air flow resulting in more power.