It doesn’t matter whether you ride a Harley, a supersport, or a cafe racer. If you’re looking to upgrade the exhaust on your motorcycle, you are probably considering either a slip-on or a full system.
But just what is the difference between the two? Do you really need a full system exhaust, or will a slip-on suffice? Are there any areas where one is better than the other?
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out the answer to these questions, don’t worry. We’ve been testing and reviewing motorcycle accessories like exhausts for over a decade. So any questions you have, we’re here to answer them.
Keep reading to learn more about the differences between slip-ons and full system exhausts.
Slip-Ons vs. Full System Exhausts: The Differences
First and foremost, we must understand each of these exhaust types and how it works. Put simply, ‘slip-on exhaust’ refers to an aftermarket exhaust muffler that replaces the stock muffler on your motorcycle. Slip-ons are designed to work with the stock mid-pipe and headers. They are pretty easy to install and don’t need little to no modification.
Full system exhausts are larger exhausts that comprise the whole exhaust system, including the headers, mid-pipe, and even the muffler. Full systems will require a bit more technical know-how to install, and you will probably have to tune the bike for the best results.
Below, we put slip-ons, and full system exhausts head to head and compare the most important features of a motorcycle exhaust. The aim is to see which of the two is best and which one you should choose for your motorcycle.
When it comes to the performance of your motorcycle, the flow of exhaust gasses makes a huge difference. Generally speaking, installing a free-flowing exhaust system that allows more exhaust gasses to be ejected from the engine quickly results in better power and torque.
And while slip-on style exhausts boost power a little bit, they are a mere fraction of the performance gains offered by full system exhausts. Full systems allow a higher volume of exhaust gasses to be ejected from the engine. The unique design of full systems also allows for better backpressure and more efficiency, making them the obvious choice for high-performance aftermarket exhaust.
Another major concern most people have when looking at aftermarket motorcycle exhausts is the sound. Loudness, depth, exhaust tone, and character vary significantly from one exhaust to another. The difference is even more pronounced when comparing slip-ons and full systems.
Once again, the flow of exhaust gasses determines how loud an exhaust is. The higher the volume of gasses exiting the system at high velocity, the louder the exhaust. You could say that exhaust volume and exhaust volume go hand-in-hand.
But when comparing sound, the shape of the muffler and the piping also come into play. Slapping on an aftermarket slip-on is actually a great way to enhance the sound of your motorcycle. Doing so can make your bike louder and deeper sounding.
However, full systems just have more hardware and room to play with. Installing a full system will produce louder, deeper, and fuller sound than with a slip-on. So while slip-ons are great if you want to change up the sound of your bike a little bit, a full system is still the better option.
Full systems: 2
Motorcycle exhausts are meant to withstand the highest pressure and temperatures. This necessitates high build quality with premium materials that can stand up to the abuse and keep everything running smoothly.
It seems we have a tie on the premium materials side of things. Both slip-ons and full systems use the latest hardware with such materials as carbon fiber, stainless steel, aluminum, and even titanium on offer.
As for the quality of construction, both a slip-on and a full system exhaust from a reputable manufacturer will be largely the same. Sure, there are exceptions, but in most cases, the build quality is pretty much uniform between slip-ons and full systems. The status quo is maintained.
Full systems: 2
You know the value of lightweight motorcycle parts if you ride a sportbike on the track. And exhaust systems are ripe for weight savings. Stock exhausts have a lot of extra hardware that is installed by the manufacturer to comply with regulations. All of these components are heavy and rob you of some extra power.
Slip-ons and full systems alike are designed to be lighter than the stock parts they replace, so you get an improved power-weight ratio, easier maneuverability, etc.
Unsurprisingly, installing a full system exhaust can lower the bike’s weight more dramatically than installing a slip-on.
Full systems: 3
The loudest, most lightweight, highest performing exhaust in the world is useless if you can’t afford it.
This is where slip-ons shine through and beat their full system counterparts. Slip-ons are designed to be more affordable than full systems, and for many riders, a slip-on is just the exhaust that fits both bike and budget.
Sure, you can find both at every price point. But generally speaking, slip-ons are cheaper to buy than full systems.
Full systems: 3
Ease of installation
This one is obvious. A slip-on, by definition, is designed to be easy to install. All you need to do is remove the stock muffler and ‘slip’ on the new one. On the other hand, full systems require you to dismantle the entire stock exhaust system and install the new parts. This may also require you to take off the fairing of your bike.
Moreover, you will probably have to re-tune the bike if you install a full system exhaust. Now, we don’t know about you, but flashing an ECU, messing around with carbs, and putting the bike on a dyno isn’t exactly our idea of a fun afternoon. Well, actually, it is, but most riders would much rather ride their bikes than work on them.
So slip-ons take another win. And with that, we have the final results.
Full systems: 3
So what does that mean? Are full system exhausts inherently better than slip-ons? Well, not exactly. In fact, we think this comparison just proved what we already knew: slip-ons and full systems each have pros and cons.
Full systems are easily superior if you want better sound and performance. They even make your bike lighter than if you installed a slip-on. But they also cost a lot more and are a pain to install properly.
Meanwhile, slip-ons are low on power, and their sound isn’t nearly as loud or appealing as full systems. But they’re also cheaper and easier to install. After all, would you rather your bike was lighter or your wallet?
So, to sum up, both slip-ons and full systems have their place in the world. If you favor higher performance and incredible sound, pick a full system. But if you’re willing to miss out on the performance and acoustic benefits in favor of a more affordable option that still sounds pretty good and is easy to install, slip-ons will do just fine.