Motorcycle modifications are almost inevitable. Whether they go big or small with their mods, pretty much every motorcyclist takes a stab at giving their motorcycle a performance bump at some point. It is easy to spend several hundred to even over a cool grand on certain single modifications, but do you really need to? Some can be had for a relatively low price. Here’s a cursory look at just a few cheap ways to boost your motorcycle’s performance.
Replacing your standard air filter with an aftermarket unit is one of the cheapest ways too boost your motorcycle’s performance. Not only do you enhance the airflow, but you maintain (or even improve) filtration. Both of those are a plus. On top of that, it is an easy modification that can be done in very little time. Simple. Effective.
Cost: Most air filters will run comfortably under $100, but really high performance filters and kits will cost up to $150. Fewer still cost upwards of $200, if you are so inclined, but the cheaper options are obviously a great value.
Braking system (lines and pads)
On a motorcycle, what stops you is arguably more important than what gets you going. The first thing you can do is replace your stock lines for braided stainless steel lines. Stainless lines will offer you improved feel and control, and will also look a lot neater (especially if you opt for lines with coloured plastic coating). Aftermarket brake pads will complement the improvements you get with the new lines. You have a choice of organic, semi-metallic, full-metallic or carbon pads, but pay attention to what material your brake discs are made of and match them to the suitable pads. Modifying your braking system is an easy way to get the most out of a vital performance area, and it can also be an invaluable safety-oriented modification.
Cost: A wide range under $200 for lines; anywhere from $15 up to $150 for pads, depending on brand and material.
Gearing and final drive
You can’t change what’s in your transmission without a lot of effort, but you can easily change your sprockets and chain. This really depends on what you want: better acceleration or better top speed. This is a matter of gear ratio, and you can modify this by changing either your front sprocket, your rear sprocket, or using some combination of the two other than stock. We won’t go into depth about gear ratio here, but there are plenty of resources out there, both in print and on the web. Your chain makes a difference, too. They come in three sizes, from lightest to heaviest: 520, 525, 530. The lightest 520 will obviously save unsprung weight, and will also give you more sprocket options. As always, though, it’s important to make sure that you perform a safe modification. You don’t want your chain scraping your bodywork or chassis, nor do you want your chain to break while riding. Decide what you want, and consider how to best go about getting it.
Cost: Around $300 or less. Some kits hit the high end of that range while others are cheaper, but kits do represent value and convenience. If you carefully mix and match parts yourself, it may or may not work out around the same, but it can depend on the parts you choose.
Suspension setup/adjustment part 1: pre-load
If your bike has a very simple suspension, then you may not be able to do anything. In some cases, you’ll only be able to adjust pre-load, and that’s the very first suspension adjustment you should make. This means setting it up for your weight. You want to do this in full gear. There is some mathematics involved, but this is something for which there are, once again, many resources available. If your suspension is too soft, you’ll need to increase pre-load and if it is too hard, you’ll need to decrease pre-load. If you routinely carry a passenger, then increase your pre-load even more. In just a few minutes, you will give your bike one of the most important performance boosts.
Cost: A few Dollars for a C-Spanner, if it isn’t already part of your motorcycle’s tool kit; a few Dollars for a tape measure if you don’t already have one; a few minutes of your time.
Suspension setup/adjustment part 2: compression and rebound damping
This applies if you have the benefit of fully adjustable suspension. Adjusters for compression are made with a slotted-head screw at the top of your bikes’ shock and at the bottom of its forks, while rebound adjustments are made at the opposite ends of either suspension component. Compression damping controls how fast your springs compress. Rebound damping controls how fast the springs return to normal after compressing. Both will dictate how your tires contact the road, so they are very crucial to not only traction and braking, but to overall feel. Get these dialed in and you will improve your connection with your bike’s handling, not to mention the handling itself. This is also a modification that pays off with regards to safety.
Cost: A few Dollars for a screwdriver, if it isn’t already part of your motorcycle’s tool kit; just a few more minutes at a time, depending on trial and error.
Controls (levers and rear sets)
Adjusting your controls to suit yourself can make a difference. Doing so will optimize your comfort level and that, in turn, will allow you to make control inputs as easily as possible. That means you will be able to spend more attention on other riding operations. Check the angle of your wrist and ankle joints on your handlebars and rear sets and adjust them as much as you can so that your joints are in the most natural, comfortable position. If your controls have limited to no adjustability, you might want to go the extra step and purchase aftermarket controls that offer you that adjustability. Some rear sets can totally burst the boundaries of what is considered “cheap,” but hand controls can be pretty affordable. Whichever way you go, don’t underestimate the role your comfort on your own bike plays in your ability to control it. As we’ll discuss below, that is also a performance consideration.
Cost: Anywhere from $200 to quadruple digits for rear sets, depending on brand, materials, adjustability, etc.; anywhere from under $50 to the $350 range, depending on brand, materials, adjustability…you get the idea; a few minutes of your time.
Working on your own knowledge and skills
The most important motorcycle performance enhancement happens in your brain. Sometimes, it pays to discard the idea of dropping money into the bike and to spend time feeding yourself with knowledge, practicing how to apply that knowledge, and becoming more and more comfortable with riding (by, you guessed it, riding a lot more). Many books have been written about riding fundamentals and techniques, so it’s a good idea to pick up a few. Practice braking, throttle control, countersteering, slow speed control…you name it. Practice. Unlike all the physical modifications to your motorcycle, there is potentially no limit to the modifications you can make to your own performance.
Cost: Time and attention; with regards to literature, you can spend as much or as little as you want!
These are, of course, just a few suggestions. There are plenty of ways to get some more juice out of your steed. A good resource is the Haynes publication, “Motorcycle Modifying: The Definitive Guide.” It is an easy-to-follow compendium of modifications that includes the above items, and much more. Everyone loves to save a few Dollars however, and the above options will have you well on your way to doing so. That way, you’ll be able to afford other modifications in the long run!
Know of any other cheap ways to boost your motorcycle’s performance? Share them down below!