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News Motorcycle Snake Oil – 5 Performance Mods That Aren’t Worth the Money

Discussion in 'Motorcycling News' started by NetriderBot, Aug 25, 2015.

  1. It’s somewhat ironic that given most modern motorcycles have power to weight ratios that would make a supercar jealous, we’re still so interested in modding our motorcycles to get even more grunt out of them. But sometimes money invested is not money well spent and there are plenty of things you can waste your money on when looking to improve the performance of your bike. We take a look at five such things that are a waste of money – not only do they not improve performance, they can sometimes have the opposite effect.

    High Octane Fuel

    Were you one of those teenagers that when they got their first car or bike, would proudly put in the most expensive fuel to make it go faster? It made sense didn’t it? The more expensive the fuel then obviously the better it must be for your car? Unfortunately, no.

    All manufactures give a recommended octane rating for the fuel you should put in your machine. The reason they do that is because that’s the octane level they’ve designed the bike’s fuel system and engine compression around which is critical when it comes to the timing of when the spark plug goes off and ignites the fuel. Without going into great detail, higher octane fuels burn more slowly than lower octane ones. It does not provide better fuel mileage, it doesn’t give you more horsepower – higher octane fuels merely reduce the chance of engine knocking.


    If you want to go into more detail and really argue the point, there’s no doubt some clever technology in premium fuels that might help your bikes performance – but it would be minimal. Using fuel with a higher octane rating than recommended for your bike is literally burning money for no discernible benefit. Think about it this way. Your bike is programmed to ignite the fuel/air mix at X. By using a higher octane fuel, it will still ignite at X, meaning the potential benefit from the higher octane fuel is wasted.

    There will be arguments that premium fuels are better for your engine and so forth. Trust us, it’s marketing hype and unless you own a heavily modified race bike that’s on its engineering limit you’ll be fine. And if someone says they can feel more power and better running from moving up to a fuel that has a slightly higher octane rating, tell them you’ve got a bridge to sell them too and see if you can make a quick buck.

    Now sure, if you invest in piggyback tuners that allow you to run more spark advance on your timing then sure but that’s another story (and a whole lot more money).

    Changing Sprockets

    Changing either your front sprocket or your rear sprocket can actually be a worthwhile modification if it’s done with a real purpose in mind. Its primary application is on the track though there are road bikes that can make use of a change in sprocket size (from the factory standard.

    When at the race track, experimenting with different sprockets can yield good results. For example, there may be a particular corner that necessitates shifting up midway through it – never ideal. In that instance, changing the sprocket sizes could eliminate that issue. Perhaps more importantly is if you’re finding you’re hitting redline in 6th gear on the main straight. Changing sprockets could give you that little bit extra top speed.


    However, many people change their sprockets just because they hear it’s worth doing. Why you need your R1 to accelerate faster when it never hits the track is beyond me – but many people do it. The problems this raises is generally worse fuel economy but also an incorrect reading on your speedometer which will necessitate even further costs to rectify.

    Yes, there are some bikes that clearly have poor gearing and do benefit from different sprocket sizes. They’re few and far between, however.

    Wider Rear Tyres

    Sure, wider rubber on the rear tyre looks good but generally means slower handling. The wider a rear tyre, the less cambered it is and hence the bike’s ability to lean over quickly is diminished. This goes for superbikes and learner bikes.

    Obviously, the more horsepower a bike has the more rubber it needs on the rear to maintain traction, but smaller is always better – even if it doesn’t look as good. On smaller capacity bikes it’s an even bigger waste of money – they just do not put enough power down to necessitate all that extra rubber. Small bikes struggle to even lose traction on the rear when attempting a compression lockup. Keep in mind that wider tyres will weigh more, too.

    You’re better spending money on good quality but appropriately sized rubber rather than larger dimension tyres.


    ECU Controllers

    There’s two ways to look at ECU controllers like Power Commander, Bazzaz, et cetera. If you’re buying one in the hope that it will increase the horsepower of your stock bike – forget it, they wont. But if you’re after a potentially smoother and more responsive motorcycle then yes, they do have a purpose.

    On the horsepower front, think of it this way. Say you’ve bought the latest sportsbike from Yamaha and decide to spend another couple of hundred dollars on a ECU controller to get some extra performance out of it. Do you really think that the boffins at Yamaha like to sell their bikes with less power than they can actually produce? No, of course not.


    But on the other hand, the lads at Yamaha are hamstrung by emission laws and other regulations which can result in a bike’s fueling not being optimal. An ECU tuner can rectify that – of course your bike may not pass noise and emissions testing should you be unlucky enough to get caught, but it will run better.

    An ECU controller may provide incremental increases in horsepower and torque at certain parts of an engines operating range. But they’ll be so small that if you think you can feel the difference, it’s because you’re brain is trying justify the fact you spent so much money for very little gain. For real horse power gains, you’ll have to spend money on a full exhaust system, the ECU controller and a trip to the local dyno…

    Slip-on Exhausts

    We vacillated on whether to include slip-ons to this list. The reason we thought about not including them was while they don’t provide horsepower improvements to your bike, they do provide a performance gain by generally being lighter than the OEM exhaust. You could of course use the same argument for buying a lithium ion battery instead of a regular lead acid battery as a performance upgrade too.

    We covered this somewhat in our article on understanding exhausts and there’s nothing we’ve ever seen since then that indicates that slip-ons do anything to improve engine efficiency. We’ve seen some argue that a good designed muffler will reduce the amount of air reflected back up the exhaust pipe but again, we haven’t see any real evidence that this is actually true.

    And yes, almost every slip-on manufacturer will provide a dyno chart showing the horsepower gains of their product. But it’s not a fair comparison. Those dyno charts are done under conditions that are favorable to the slip-on – the engine has been tuned, the temperature and humidity of the test are controlled and potentially other non-stock modifications have been made (i.e. the air filter has been replaced with a race one). If the same was done with a stock exhaust, the result would be the same. Slip-ons provide weight savings, not horsepower increases.


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  2. hmmm, I actually disagree with three of those in one way or another.

    Sprockets. changing sprockets is not about always accellerating faster. It's about gettingthe right engine speed for a particualr gear, for a particular riding style. If your bike is geared for the open road or the race track, then chances are that it will be wrong for the city. Or it might be about moving the bike out of an annoying vibration range. and it doesn't always mean worse fuel economy even when gearing higher, because it's a 3d curve and load effect fuel as much as revs do. And I don't accept the factory tends to get it right. Often noise tests are done at a particular speed, so gearing is often compromised to meet the requirement.

    And the smaller capacity the bike, the more gearing matters. It may not matter when you have 1000cc of flexibility, but when you only have 250cc of wheasy grunt, then gearing becomes very important.

    ECU controllers. Bit mixed on this. Most people can't use more power. about 50hp is all people can use on the street. So I agree that getting more top end is pointless. But getting more mid range is really useful. 4hp doesn't sound like much, but if it's in the mid-range that could be on top of 40hp, so that is very significant. ECO controllers are even more important when you are talking about slip-ons.

    Slip-ons. sure, these days they are not as big an imporvement over standardas they were, but those dyno charts are usually compared to the stock system, under the same condition. So the benefits are real, particularly when matched with an ECU controller.

    And of course, the above two really depend on the bike. There might not be much to wring out of a modern supersport, but that is an extreme example. Another extreme example is a Hardley. The above two things alone can add 25% more usable power to a hardley.

    There are lots of pointless mods for a bike. Wave rotors on sports bikes, for example. Or x-brand levers.

    the above three may be pointless on some bikes, but hardly pointless on most bikes.
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  3. I disagree also on a couple of points,firstly the sprockets/lowering the gearing, most sportsbikes are geared for over 100km/h in first gear,try riding with this gearing around town in slow traffic and stop/start conditions,it is a real pain in the a.. a lot of 2011+ model ZX10R riders,and no doubt other late model litre sportbike riders do it for this reason,not few and far between, and definitely not pointless,
    Secondly the power commander/bazzaz issue will become more frequent as fuel emissions get tighter and mr yamaha ,or whoever, does not have the bike tuned to its optimum state they tune it to pass euro 3 or oncoming euro 4 emissions (thats why we are losing so many air cooled bikes over the next couple of years as they wont meet the new euro 4 emission targets e.g triumph bonneville, bmw gs are now-gs- or will be-bonneville- watercooled) so they are tuned on the lean side out of the factory,not a pointless exercise in doing a custom tune
    not pointless at all in my opinion
    carry on
  4. Interesting and I agree with most of the article. But, with the fuel octane argument, some bikes do benefit from Higher octane fuels. A lot of bikes have oxygen sensors and knock sensors now, these will help the ECU determine how much advance the engine can run. I've seen the Dyno results on my bike from both 95 and 98 octane fuel. It is about 1KW+. Same with one set of Slip ons I've tried, My Delkevics added 6ph, 4.5KW at 10,000 RPM over the originals, plus a significant weight saving of over 8KG.
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  5. It's funny that the first one isn't a mod and the other four are mods that (done properly, and depending on the bike) can improve your riding experience significantly.

    Meanwhile, no mention of spending $'000's on carbon fairing bits to save a couple of kilograms.

    (Yes, I'm aware that this is a bit rich coming from someone who rides an S-model Ducati.)
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  6. Can use or should use? I often bear witness to dramatically more than 50hp being used, if I had more I'd gleefully use it.
  7. what a load of crap..
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  8. All 5 improved my bike.Its 40 years old though and getting faster all the time.Close to 100 hp at the wheel now.