What Does an Air Filter Do For a Motorcycle?

Indian Chieftan Elite

If you want your motorcycle to perform at its best, a good air filter is essential. If you’re not au fait with the term, an air filter essentially acts as the barrier between the engine and any unwanted particles of dirt and dust. It helps your motorcycle ‘breath’ easily: without it, performance is affected and your overall enjoyment of your motorcycle is going to take a downward turn. Maintaining a clean air filter is essential. If it becomes clogged, you’re quickly going to see the effects in rough idling, a loss in power, and skyrocketing fuel consumption. Getting to grips with what an air filter does and learning when (and with what) it needs to be replaced is part and parcel of owning a motorcycle. Here’s exactly what you need to know.

What Does a Motorcycle Air Filter Do?

Air filters catch any particles of dust and dirt before they reach your engine. As ridermagazine.com writes, without an air filter, these unwanted particles would wear down your piston rings and cylinder walls in no time. Available in OEM paper, oiled gauze, and oiled foam varieties, they’re an extremely effective means of ensuring your engine performs optimally.

Where is the Air Filter Located?

You can usually find the air filter easily enough by removing the air filter cover on the side of the engine. If you struggle to locate it, dig out your owner’s manual for reference or, if you’ve mislaid the manual, check online sources using the model, make, and year of production of the bike as the reference points.

How Often Should I Clean/ Replace a Motorcycle Air Filter?

Once an air filter becomes heavily laden with dirt and grime, it can stop clean air from reaching your engine. The result? Reduced performance and poor fuel efficiency. As pj1.com writes, air filters should be cleaned anywhere between every ride to every 10,000 miles, depending on how and where you ride. Air filters used in dirt bikes need to be cleaned at least every other ride, while other bikes can go longer. To be on the safe side, check your air filter every 10 rides or so to see how quickly they get dirty. Once you know the rate at which the grime builds up, you can work out a tailored cleaning schedule.

What Types of Motorcycle Air Filters Are There?

Motorcycle air filters are available in three varieties: OEM paper filters, oiled gauze filters, and oiled foam.

  • Paper Filters – The majority of OEM filters are made of cellulose or paper. At first glance, they’re easy to mistake for a coffee filter. To increase surface area and improve the filter’s capacity for trapping dirt, the filter is pleated like an accordion. Despite being very effective at catching dirt, OEM filters perform less well in enhancing airflow. They also have the disadvantage of being disposable: as bikebandit comments, any attempt to clean the filter will just break it down and damage it, rendering it useless. Once they’re dirty, you’ll need to replace them at around $20-$40 a pop. On the plus side, their efficiency and design ensure a longer than usual lifespan.
  • Oiled Gauze Filters – An oiled-gauze filter replaces the paper membrane of OEM filters with thin layers of oil-coated fabric. Usually, the layers will be separated by thin wire mesh frames. One of the most popular types of aftermarket oiled filters is K&N. In appearance, it’s almost identical to OEM paper filters, but as gauze is more porous than paper, K&N style filters offer superior airflow. Any dirt or grime in the air is easily trapped by the oil coating. As this type of filter is capable of holding a huge amount of dirt, you should be able to get more miles out of it than you would a paper filter. As bikerrated.com writes, K&N filters are the optimal choice for bikers looking to fit an exhaust or remap their bike to improve its peak torque and horsepower (although it’s worth noting that a filter alone isn’t enough to hike up the power – other modifications (fine-tuning your fueling, installing cams, etc.) will be needed if you want to see an improvement). Other than that, K&N style filters suit just about anyone looking for a highly efficient filter that isn’t going to end up in the landfill – unlike the disposable paper variety, oil-coated filters can simply be washed and re-oiled before being refitted. Although the initial outlay is high (expect to pay between 50-100% more than you would for a paper filter, along with around $20 for a cleaning and re-oiling kit), you’ll save more in the long run than you would with OEM filters simply by virtue of being able to clean rather than replace them.
  • Oiled Foam – Oiled foam works on a similar basis to K&N type filters, but it’s much thicker. It’s usually around an inch thick, making it a superbly efficient means of capturing any grime particles from the air. Due to its ability to work when wet (something both paper and oiled gauze filters struggle with) and its capacity to hold a lot of dirt while still allowing good airflow, it tends to be a favorite among off-road motorcyclists. On the flipside, oiled foam applications need to need to be washed and re-oiled more frequently than the other types – as often as every ride in some cases. While this might be fine if you have a dirt bike or quad with an easy-to-access airbox, it’s going to be too big a hassle for most street riders to put up with.

The Best Type of Air Filter For Your Motorcycle

Which type of motorcycle air filter is best for you depends on how you use your bike. Street riders looking for maximum efficiency and the greatest number of miles between replacements are likely to prefer OEM paper filters. If you tend to ride off-road or simply prefer the idea of a reusable option, an oiled gauze filter is likely to be your best bet. If you ride in extremely dirty conditions and don’t mind the hassle of cleaning the filter out after each ride, you might want to go the direction of oiled foam. As ridermagazine.com recommends, take a look at the pros and cons of each option, think about your driving style, then pick your filter from there.

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