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Loud Pipes Save Lives! - Exhaust Options For Your Harley Davidson Sportster

Updated on August 8, 2013

Exhaust Options For A Harley Davidson Sportster

"Loud Pipes Save Lives" , They also enhance the performance of your motorcycle.

When you purchase a new Harley Davidson, aftermarket pipes are likely the first major upgrade you will make, this article will explore and offer comparison of some of the more popular options available for Sportster exhaust systems.

The Harley Davidson Sportster - An Iconic American Motorcycle

The Harley Davidson Sportster has been deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of the motorcycle community since it was first produced in 1957. Even after 55 years the "Sporty" has maintained it's classic looks and rugged style, it has maintained it's iconic image and still looks like a Sportster. Motorcycle enthusiasts and especially those of us in the "Harley family" all seem to have strong opinions when a Sportster pulls into the dealership, mostly the looks are of sentimental affection, a smirk of acknowledgement followed by a relaxing of the shoulders which often indicates memories of having once owned one. Like many others my first Harley was an 883 Sportster, it is the smallest displacement and lightest bike in the Harley line up and I had heard all the less than flattering remarks made about the bike, I quickly learned those who would give me a little good natured $#!^ about my bike would usually ask why I had purchased "a girls bike" and quickly follow up of the insult with a heartfelt description of all the Sportsters they had owned over the years. It seemed apparent that the soft spot for the bike is one that lasts a lifetime and the shape of the peanut tank brought people bounding across gas station parking lots eager to share their "Sporty" stories with a complete stranger. I have owned 5 Harley motorcycle in the last two years alone, four of them have been Sportsters, I currently have an 883 Iron & and XR1200 parked proudly next to my Fatboy Lo in the garage, the car sleeps outside.

Sporters are quick lightweight bikes, they are a blast to ride and nimble enough to be manipulated through traffic with ease, they are at home on just about any road you can throw at them, they corner well, they have a nice balance and they look good getting wherever they are going. I have both cruisers and sport bikes and find the Sportster offers something uniquely between both worlds that is functional and fun at the same time, I am a road captain with our local Harley chapter, and when the gas tank capacity is not a factor (about 110 miles per tank) I have no hesitation about showing up for rides on a Sporty.

Sportster Manuals - Repair Manuals

Even if you plan to have your local shop or dealership do the work, it is always good to have a manual on hand.

"That's great, can we talk about exhaust for my Sportster now?" ... Absolutely!!

Giving your sportster a boost with aftermarket pipes!

What you will notice however especially with the newer fuel injected Sporters and the rest of the stock Harley line up for that matter, is how quiet they are due to current emissions standards. Visibility is crucial and it is what keeps us safe when sharing the road with cars, the way we change that is with exhaust options. You may hear some riders say well meaning things like "just punch/drill out the baffles, it will save you some money", while this advice is well meaning and may be somewhat true, it is a short term solution and while it may increase the noise level of your motorcycle it will not enhance the performance whatsoever. Yes, it may be louder but you will have little control over choosing how it sounds and will likely find yourself shopping for an exhaust system in the near future anyway. I believe in doing things right, and the right way to enhance the sound and also gain performance is with new pipes, or an exhaust system.

Slip-On Pipes For Harley Sportsters - The least expensive exhaust option.

Slip-ons provide a sound enhancement, better air flow, and will be your least expensive exhaust option.

Pros: Inexpensive

Quicker/Faster Install

Often do not require a new Air cleaner/Intake

Often do not require changes to the EFI & the purchase of a Fuel Management system.

Cons: Does not offer much if any enhanced performance.

Can potentially cause the engine to run lean.

Does not allow your motorcycle to live up to it's full performance potential.

The most popular brand of Sportster Slip-Ons currently seems to be Vance & Hines, they have a little higher note than Rush but are extremely well made.

Rush Slip-On Mufflers - Another popular option for Sportster Slip-Ons

I currently run Rush pipes on my 883 Iron, they offer a nice deep note with an affordable price tag. I have been very happy with them, and people often comment on how they sound.


The baffle is a chamber which works like a resonator inside the muffler it is designed to muffle the sound of the exhaust system The baffle chamber increases the amount of internal sound inside the chamber and by the time it exits, "the sound cancels itself out." There are different baffle sizes which will dictate the note and volume of the different slip-on mufflers, baffles range in sizes generally from 1.50" - 2.25" , the larger the diameter the louder the pipes will be, generally 2.00" or 2.25" seem to be most popular, however the larger you go can result in a deceleration pop, which likely means your bike is running a lean fuel mixture and this can do damage over time. If that is the case a fuel tuner, or digital download must be done to the EFI, and we're talking about a full stage 1, which is actually the best way to go even if it does cost more, it will offer the best performance enhancement, and insure your motorcycle is breathing and running properly.

With these amazon modules please double check the fitment to make sure

the pipes will fit your motorcycle!!!

What is a stage 1?

A Stage 1 "kit" is a basic upgraded exhaust system consisting of upgraded exhaust, air-cleaner, and some type of fuel management. This can be done with a Fuel Pack/Tuner or with an EFI download.

If you already have slip-on's you can go ahead and do the Air-Cleaner & Fuel Management to complete your basic exhaust system upgrade.

As you will find with any of these exhaust upgraded, you get what you pay for, and to do it properly will cost more than cutting corners, however will most likely be your best option long term. I have tried to cut corners with EFI downloads myself and spent more money in the long run when I later decided I should have done it right the first time and went back for a proper fuel management system which we will cover in just a few minutes!

Full System Options - These replace the head pipes as well, and are a step up from common slip-ons

A full exhaust system will yield better performance than Slip-Ons !!

I've even heard a stage 1 kit with slip-ons called a Stage .5 because the head pipes are not replaced, therefor you don't get a lot of performance enhancement.

Here are some popular full exhaust options for the Sportster.

As with ordering any parts online, please remember to use the fitment tool at the top of the page to ensure you are ordering a product that fits your motorcycle!

Harley Davidson Air Filters, Cleaners & Air Intakes

The addition of a more open air cleaner/filter allows your motorcycle to breathe, it enhance your performance however once this is done a fuel management option will also be necessary. At a minimum you will want increase airflow to your engine by changing the stock air cleaner. If you like the stock look of your bike you can keep the stock cover assembly you have and go with Screamin' Eagle or an Arlen Ness "Big Sucker" upgrade. These allow you to use your stock cover but will still make a huge difference.

Fuel Management Systems

Once you have your exhaust and your air cleaner picked out, you will need a fuel management system (simple re-jetting on pre-2007 carbureted models, this can be done by a digital download at your dealership to adjust the EFI to the new configuration, or better yet done with a fuel module. There are many options and everyone has a different opinion, these are a few of the more popular options.

Please use the "Will this fit my bike" tool at the top of the page or call your local shop to confirm you have the right type of fuel management, they will likely be willing to give you helpful advice and you can save money by purchasing the parts yourself.

XR 1200 Video Module - 2011 AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Series Season Highlight Video

Show this to anyone who tells you a Sportster is a "Girls Bike", or calls it a "Piglet", the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Series is a guts for glory battle of riding skill. It's beautiful to see a racetrack and know every bike is a Harley, I own an XR1200 Sportster myself and it's an amazing animal.

Sound Comparison - Sound Comparison Between Vance & Hines & Rush Slip-Ons

Sound Comparison - Rush Slip-Ons

This is with a 2.25" Baffle

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