Can you Paint Motorcycle Exhaust? The Definite Answer

The exhaust of a motorcycle goes well beyond the 1000 degree Fahrenheit mark. At such temperatures, many thin metallic strips tend to melt. So how could you paint the exhaust of the motorcycle without it melting? The better question should be, why do you need to paint the exhaust of a motorcycle? 

Perhaps it doesn’t match your style. Or maybe, you want to get noticed. Or maybe, just maybe, you are looking to increase the shelf-life (or the garage-life) of your motorcycle. The last answer does seem implausible. But let us go through the subtler intricacies of the thoughts and actions involved in the painting of your bike.

Why do people want to paint exhaust?

Exhausts don’t sport any paint on them usually. Instead, they are made of stainless steel and sometimes plated with chromium. This is enough to prevent it from degrading due to the ravages of time. But this is akin to saying that a computer enthusiast stays with the graphics card they install in PCs.

Painting of exhaust has so many upsides that it is almost impossible to list them all out. So I will stick with explaining the selected few that have more of an impact on the riding experience and the longevity of life of the bike.

1. Enhances Heat Withstanding Capability

As we talked about in the beginning, the temperatures in exhaust reach well beyond 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Wouldn’t regular paint melt at such temperatures? The answer is yes. But we don’t use regular paint on exhausts. Instead, these are ceramic paints – incombustible and ceramic-based, known for their high heat capacity. 

Now, if the exhaust gets too hot, it will impart a signature, bluish tinge. This is purely due to the formation of oxides that get deposited on the exhaust. A coat of ceramic paint would prevent oxides, act as better heat dissipation, make the pipes more efficient, and look better.

2. Paint Prevents Rust Formation

We all know that if we paint an object, it will not rust until this paint erodes off. But what exactly happens beneath the layers of paint? What magic prevents the iron from going bad?

The answer is pretty simple. One of the biggest nemeses of steel is water. Water, in all forms, is relatively harmless. But coupled with the presence of oxygen in the air, it becomes devastating for the steel. 

Stainless steel in the air or underwater will last out all your successors. But a wet steel pipe, in the presence of oxygen, will give in to rust. And once rust gets a small part to attack, it will eat the whole object from inside.

That is why exhausts are usually covered with chromium, which is far more resilient to the ravages of rust. However, chromium is pretty expensive. That is where paint comes in. A thick coating of paint on the exhaust prevents the steel from getting in contact with the humid atmosphere, thereby prolonging its life. It also has the added benefit of being available in high volumes and at cheap rates. So if one part of the paint chips off, you can easily repaint it over and make it ready as new.

3. Scratch Protection

How many times have you fumed at those inopportune moments when your bike fell and skidded, leaving behind marks on the exhaust. Now I drive a Honda and don’t care about these scratches, but if something were to impugn the honor of the Yamaha exhaust, I don’t know what I would do. 

I once thought about covering the exhaust in layers of clothing to prevent it from being scratched inadvertently. But, let me tell you, it’s a bad idea. The temperatures skyrocketed, and I lost an exhaust and a good jacket that day.

Paint, however, is cheaper and more durable than any piece of clothing. It is also easily replaceable, unlike that jacket I lost. That is why painting the exhaust of the bike can help you in minimizing damages. You can easily repaint the scratched area over again, and it will be as if there never was a scratch in the first place.

4. Improved Aesthetics

This is a purely cosmetic advantage that affects the way you present your bike. All bikes are the same (if you buy them from the same manufacturer), and no bike is unique. So, painting the exhaust can help you present your bike as unique and separate from the crowd. So try to enhance the look of your bike as much as you can. 

Tools & Steps Required in Painting Motorcycle Exhaust

The actual process of painting the exhaust of the bike involves many steps and tools. It is not a particularly tough job, but it does require some hard work and common sense. But, on one of the upsides, you can mess up the work and still salvage it without investing extra capital. On the other hand, if you tried chrome plating the exhaust without prior knowledge of metallurgy, you will only make it more hideous and end up without an “undo” button.

Let us take a look at the various tools that are required to get the job done:

  • Sand Paper: This is a rough and sturdy piece of parchment used to remove any impurity from the exhaust and make it smoother and cleaner than factory settings.
  • Grease Remover: The exhaust is an area frequently exposed to dust, dirt, oil, and water. It causes a huge amount of grease to build upon the pipes. A grease remover helps you remove the accumulated grease easily without wasting time scrubbing it out.
  • Hot Temperature Primer: A primer is what you put on a surface before you paint on it. By definition, a hot temperature primer is a primer that can withstand high temperatures without causing any adverse problems. The best idea would be to go with ceramic-based primers, as they are heat resistant and prevent the buildup of oxides.
  • Hot Temperature: This is another variant of regular paint that can withstand high temperatures. This time too, ceramic-based paints come out to be better than regular ones, so try to look out for those.

How to paint your motorcycle exhaust

Step 1: Break down…

… the work in smaller parts and start with the dismantling of the exhaust. Always try to remove the different parts first to expose only the area required. Leave the rest as it is. Directly removing the whole thing is not possible, and secondly, if you did make it possible, something must have broken.

Keep a toolbox near you, and use all the tools required in the dismantling. Screwdrivers, spanners, etc., show off all your handyman skills.

Step 2: Shine bright like a diamond

The removed exhaust would undoubtedly be in a rough shape (I’m getting better at puns). The dust, dirt, and scratches accumulated from all your trips would make it unsuitable to be painted on. Hence, you need to smoothen the whole surface with the help of sandpaper. Smoothen it until you can see your face in it (or until you no longer feel any noticeable bumps on the exhaust).

Step 3: Let the grease flow

Did we talk about having a grease remover early on? Well, this is where it would come in handy. You need to clean the years of accumulated grease on the exhaust in a day or so. So, apply the grease remover on the required area, wait for a few hours, and you are good to go.

Step 4: Let your inner Bob Ross shine

It’s time to paint the exhaust now. Be sure to hang the exhaust before you do any actual work on it. This way, you won’t have to touch any part physically, and all the areas can be equally spare painted on. Next, apply the primer and allow it to dry. 

After the primer has dried, apply the first coat of paint and allow it to dry. One coat isn’t nearly enough to deal with the environment on its own, so be sure to spray at least three coats of the paint after each coat has dried.

Step 4: Fix it

Now that you have your exhaust, you need to re-mantle (is that even a word) it all back together. Be sure to start with the hard-to-reach parts first. Leave no screw or nut outside. Each one has its place, and losing even one can be disastrous.

Thus, you have your custom exhaust motorcycle ready. Finally, you have secured your bragging rights and sweet-looking motorcycle exhaust.

Alternatives to paint?

There are cheap alternatives in the market, and usually, all of them are fabric-based. An exhaust wrap is one such device that can impart a colored look to your motorcycle. However, unlike a painted exhaust, a covered exhaust does not have many benefits except rust prevention. Also, the heat development will be the same (probably more, if you chose a cheap fabric-based cover). This will make it less appealing than a painted pipe, which has a higher performance for price ratio.

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