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

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.

Motorcycle Snake Oil - 5 Performance Mods That Aren't Worth the Money

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.

Motorcycle Snake Oil - 5 Performance Mods That Aren't Worth the Money

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.

Motorcycle Snake Oil - 5 Performance Mods That Aren't Worth the Money

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.

Motorcycle Snake Oil - 5 Performance Mods That Aren't Worth the Money

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.

Motorcycle Snake Oil - 5 Performance Mods That Aren't Worth the Money

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