Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Making It My Own: Part 1 - Exhaust System

In stock form, a 2002 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide is a pretty sweet motorcycle, with a 1,450 c.c. V-twin engine; wide, raked front forks; spoked wheels; mini ape hanger handlebars; and generous amounts of chrome. It also has a decent amount of power (especially for someone who previously rode a 535 c.c. bike).

The first owner owner of my Wide Glide, like most Harley owners, ditched the quiet, restrictive stock exhaust system for a set of drag pipes, also known as open pipes or straight pipes because they have no baffles. They are good for top-end horsepower, but rob low and mid-range torque, which is more useful on the street. They are rather loud (although loud is a relative term), but not obnoxiously so - at least not to me, but then again, I'm not taking the brunt of the sound on the bike. To me, they sound like a Harley should, with a nice 'crack' or 'backrap' when you roll off the throttle when accelerating through the gears at higher-rpm shift points. For me, that sound has been the essence of Harleys, and I sound I admired when I was much younger and had never even ridden or considered riding a motorcycle ... but I digress.

Nevertheless, the straight pipes did sound a bit 'blatty' or 'raspy' (for lack of better terms), and sounded tinny when using engine braking in a lower gear to go down a hill. I've also been avoiding certain communities, such as East Greenwich and Newport, R.I., which have regulations against loud motorcycle exhausts (when you come off the Newport Bridge, you are greeted by signs saying straight pipes on motorcycles are prohibited). Every time I approach a police car on the road, I've gotten into the habit of rolling off my throttle until I pass. And I've heard that motorcycles with straight pipes can annoy others on group rides, especially for riders behind you or to your right. Plus, as if I needed another excuse to change pipes, the heat shields on my straight pipes got scraped when I dropped the bike a few months ago and it was bothering me.

I spent the last several months researching exhaust systems. In some respects, it was a fairly easy decision. I knew I wanted a full exhaust system, not slip-on mufflers. Also, I knew I wanted to stay with a 2-2 system. Yes, a 2-1 system is more performance-oriented and will produce more low- and mid-range power, but I like the looks of a 2-2 system better. As for brands, I wanted to stick with a well-known brand such as Vance & Hines, Python or Samson. I did a lot of online searches for opinions on exhaust system brands, and read some negative reviews on Samsons (although in fairness, many people are happy with that brand). The reviews for Vance & Hines were nearly all positive. In the end, though, I based my final decision on looks, and I liked the clean lines of the Big Shots Staggered exhaust system from Vance & Hines. They have slick-looking billet tips that can be positioned one of two directions (I chose the slash down). I also purchased the optional V&H "quiet baffles" after reading reviews that said the baffles that come with the Big Shots Staggered are pretty loud. The quiet baffles aren't really quiet, but they tone down the bark and give a nice, deep rumble, according to several people who have installed them. I ordered the pipes and baffles from and was happy with the service.

Being a perfectionist can be good and bad. Whenever I install a part or accessory on my Harley, I like to be prepared with all the little parts I need, or that I might even potentially need, before I begin. In this case, I bought new exhaust port gaskets (which I definitely needed); a new front exhaust flange (which I didn't really need, but bought for strictly cosmetic reasons because the chrome on the old one was starting to deteriorate); and new exhaust flange nuts (the old ones were rusty). I also bought some stainless-steel bolts to replace the cheaper zinc-plated ones that came with the V&H exhaust system.

I had most of the tools for this fairly simple job, but on a Harley, the lower rear exhaust flange nut is tough to reach with a wrench or socket. After trying several different wrench and socket combinations, I found a Sears Craftsman 1/4" drive, swivel-joint, six-point 1/2" socket that fit the bill. Three of the four nuts came loose easily, but the fourth nut (of course, the one hardest to reach) wouldn't budge, so I sprayed it with PB Blaster the night before and it came loose easily the next day.

Before installing the new V&H exhaust system, I had to install the quiet baffles. The baffles are held in by a single bolt, but, unfortunately, the bolts are obstructed by the heat shields, so the baffles cannot be changed while the pipes are on the bike. While I think the Vance & Hines pipes are good quality, I also think it's stupid that they are designed so that the baffles can only be changed with the pipes OFF the bike. All the company had to do was drill a small access hole in the heat shields ... but that probably would have cost the company a whopping extra $5 in production costs, for pipes that cost about $500 retail ... okay, rant over. The quiet baffles come with fiberglass packing that is taped on, but I took the advice of other Harley owners who wrapped wire around the fiberglass to hold it in place so it would not bunch up when the baffles were inserted into the pipes. That worked like a charm.

I tackled the job on Tuesday. Removing the drag pipes from the bike was easy.
I used an O-ring pick to remove the old exhaust port gaskets, and applied anti-seize compound to the exhaust studs. I installed the exhaust support bracket supplied with the V&H system, and, after putting the heat shields on the pipes it was time to install the system. It was not too awkward putting the pipes on by myself, although I'm sure an extra pair of hands would have made the job easier. As much as I was dying to hear how the bike sounded, I waited until the next day to start it, when I had finished modifying the carburetor and installing the new high-flow air cleaner.

Well, the new exhaust system with the quiet baffles are quieter, and, as anticipated, have a deeper tone and a nice rumble at idle and low rpm. At higher rpm, the pipes have a throaty roar. When I am riding on the bike, they do sound quiet,
and I can hear more engine noise (which might explain
why some bikers complain they are too quiet) but the pipes sound plenty loud when I am standing next to the bike. On my second test ride, they seemed to get a bit louder, maybe due to the fiberglass packing settling in. Overall, I am happy with the system, and it is the sound and appearance I wanted to achieve. Plus, it will be nice to not have to wear ear plugs on longer highway rides and not have to avoid riding through certain places for fear of getting busted for loud pipes.

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