Today, we will compare two of the most common exhaust heat mitigation methods: exhaust wraps and heat shields.
Your motorcycle exhaust gets hot. Really hot! So hot, in fact, that it can be uncomfortable to ride the bike for longer periods. Exhaust wraps and heat shields help mitigate that heat and may even save you from getting a nasty exhaust burn.
For those unfamiliar, exhaust wraps go on your motorcycle’s exhaust pipes, usually covering the headers, and are made of heat-resistant fiberglass. They reduce the heat coming off exhaust pipes and make your ride a little bit more comfortable.
Heat shields, on the other hand, have a metal construction with different types of thermal packing on the inside to reduce heat coming off the exhaust pipes. They might also be powder coated for better heat resistance.
Today, we put these two head-to-head, or rather header-to-header.
At a Glance
For our money, an exhaust wrap is superior to heat shields. This is thanks to the lower weight, better pipe coverage and heat mitigation, and budget-friendly price.
That said, heat shields hold their own, offering better safety, impressive heat resistance, and what we think is a more aesthetically pleasing look.
Which one you choose will depend on your specific requirements and use case.
Starting off with the most important aspect, we have the heat resistance capability of both products. To understand how well each one performs, we must first understand how it works.
Exhaust wraps use high-quality heat-resistant materials such as fiberglass and silica mated to various fabric materials. The wrap itself goes over your bike’s exhaust and prevents it from emitting excessive heat. Some of the best exhaust wraps also use a metal exoskeleton, most commonly stainless steel, to further mitigate heat. Exhaust wraps that use ceramic or titanium are also pretty effective, if more expensive.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have heat shields. These will usually be made of a metal such as steel. More recently, heat shields made of aluminum or ceramic have become pretty common as well. And with most heat shields, you get thermal packing on the inside that dramatically reduces temps.
Still, we think exhaust wraps are the way to go for most motorcyclists, though heat shields work just as well in some cases.
Exhaust pipe coverage
This one’s pretty easy. An exhaust wrap covers almost the entire motorcycle exhaust from header to mid-pipe. Some wraps will even go the extra mile and cover your muffler, though that is pretty excessive.
Heat shields tend to cover a smaller area, and even then, it is only the hottest part of the exhaust that is covered. The rest of the header pipe is still exposed and can emit quite a bit of heat onto your legs.
Exhaust wraps: 2 Heat shields: 0
Design and aesthetics are entirely subjective, and there are some pretty slick options from both camps. However, our opinion is that exhaust wraps look even cooler than they perform. Heat shields aren’t bad by any means, but the classic ‘exhaust wrap wound around header pipes look’ is dang near unbeatable.
While neither heat shields nor exhaust wraps will weigh down your bike much, exhaust wraps are obviously going to be lighter than the all-metal heat shields and their heavy thermal packing. That said, there are some super lightweight carbon fiber heat shields out there if you’re willing to spend the money.
All said and done, we think this one is a tie. The weight of either option won’t be nearly noticeable enough for day-to-day use.
Ease of use
When it comes to installing heat shields or exhaust wraps, the former takes the cake. This is thanks to the bolt-on installation process of heat shields. It is easy to do, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.
Exhaust wraps, on the other hand, are almost more trouble than they’re worth installing. Firstly, you have to soak the wraps in water before putting them on the headers. Then, you have to tie it down with multiple straps at different points along the pipe.
Oh, and did we mention? The exhaust wraps hate being handled and will try to fight back! The same glass fibers that protect you from excess exhaust heat will rub off on your hands and arms, causing one hell of an itch or, in more extreme cases, a persistent rash!
Definitely opt for long-sleeved shirts and rubber gloves while installing exhaust wraps.
A motorcycle exhaust burn can suck! If you or someone you know has sustained a motorcycle exhaust burn, check out our guide on how to treat it here.
And while neither a wrap nor a heat shield will fully protect you from an exhaust burn, we still think you might be better off with a heat shield.
That is because the heat shield can be strategically placed on the most vulnerable area, and it will mitigate most of the heat at that specific point. A wrap, however, distributes heat more evenly across the entire length of the pipe.
Again, neither one will save you from a burn, but the heat shields eke out a win.
Long term effects
This is another area where the heat shields outperform the exhaust wraps. Heat shields, because of their design and function, tend to corrode chrome header pipes over long periods. Most noticeably, they will cause the chrome to fade over time. Moreover, if they are not correctly installed, exhaust wraps can trap moisture underneath the surface, possibly leading to rusted header pipes.
Heat shields are less intrusive and don’t affect the finish of your motorcycle’s exhaust pipes much, if at all.
Again, you can find both exhaust wraps and heat shields at vastly different price points. They can cost anywhere from a couple tenners to a couple hundos!
Generally speaking, though, an exhaust wrap will give you better bang for your buck. Moreover, if you compare exhaust wraps and heat shields that offer similar levels of heat reduction, the wrap will probably cost a bit less.
Exhaust Wraps vs Heat Shields: The Winner
It was a pretty tough matchup, and both contenders have their own strengths and weaknesses.
We think that for the vast majority of use cases, exhaust wraps are the best option. Still, heat shields aren’t without their uses and should definitely be considered for your heat mitigation needs.