Do Air Filters Make A Difference In Motorcycles? (Not Much!)

A man holding air filter

I went from using OEM air filters to aftermarket air filters. And back again to OEM air filters.

All these futile exercises on air filters make you wonder how much difference does an air filter makes.

Do air filters make a difference? Although an air filter does not make much difference in a motorcycle’s performance, a good air filter will help in clean and sufficient air entering into the engine. This will slightly enhance the engine’s combustion process resulting in higher fuel efficiency and horsepower.

This is more like – a good air filter will keep things running well in the engine. But a bad and clogged air filter will have a far adverse impact.

In simple words, the upside of a good filter isn’t much, but the downside of a bad filter is much!

Let’s dig in a bit more detail on this aspect.

What does an air filter do basically?

Air filter, as the name suggests, filters the air from dirt, dust, and other contaminants to allow clean air to enter into the engine.

This clean air is required in certain amounts to mix with the fuel to form a blend of an air-fuel mixture. The internal combustion engine requires this mixture for a smooth combustion process.

The optimum air-fuel mixture is decided by the tuned jets or sensors depending on whether the motorcycle has a carburetor or a fuel injector respectively.

In short, an air filter ensures clean air is passed into the engine by weeding out contaminants in the air sucked into the motorcycle.

For more details, here is a detailed post on the role of an air filter.

Does an air filter make a difference?

This brings us to the main question. Does an air filter make a difference?

Short answer. Not much.

Long answer. While air filters do not make that big an impact on engine performance, they still are a required component since they provide a clean and required amount of air into the engine.

When this air coming from the air filter mixed along the way with the fuel forms an optimum air-fuel mixture (called stoichiometric mixture), the combustion process in the engine is far smoother.

The fuel is burned to generate maximum power. As a result, the fuel efficiency will be higher.

Suppose, the air filter is not working fine and is clogged. In that case, there won’t be sufficient air entering the engine.

This leads to higher consumption of fuel to generate power and lots of unburnt fuel going out the engine and exiting through the exhaust.

And what if there is no air filter at all?

The dust and dirt in the air will start entering the engine and slowly keep on accumulating. Over time, the engine will get damaged.

You get the picture. Air filter might not drastically improve the performance. But, it is still an essential component to keep the engine combustion smoother.

Do you need a performance air filter?

You do not need a performance air filter for your motorcycle.

A simple paper pleated air filter will do a good job of filtering air.

The dust and dirt particles will be filtered easily.

The main aspect here is to keep the air filter in a good condition. As long as the filter is not dirty or clogged up, it will do a fine job.

As for performance filters are concerned, there is no evidence or testing – backing the claim that performance air filters enhance engine performance.

As long as the filter is in good shape, the engine performance will be smooth.

There practically is no difference in functioning between a clean paper air filter and a performance air filter. Both impact the engine performance in the same way.

As for how they differ, you can check out our post on different air filter types.

You can try out other filters though if you are annoyed to regularly replace your OEM paper filter.

Cotton gauze and foam filters do not need frequent replacement and can be cleaned and reused.

So, if the replacement is your primary problem, you can look for other air filters. But if it is a performance that you are after, a clean paper filter is more than enough for the motorcycle.

An air filter improves the motorcycle performance – True or False?

A good air filter is essential for peak engine performance. But, an air filter does not improve a motorcycle’s performance.

Even if it does, it is negligible. I am yet to come by a study, research, or any form of credible evidence that supports this air filter will improve performance or increases horsepower thingy.

Going from a badly clogged filter to a good decent air filter will certainly make a difference. You will notice an improved performance because you had a malfunctioning air filter earlier.

But going from a decent good air filter to an ultra-marketed ‘performance’ air filter will leave you with no improvement in performance.

Even if you see that ‘slightly improved’ engine performance, you need to reassess the cost of buying the air filter there.

So, in short, an air filter will not enhance the engine performance.

They are just a happy-go-lucky component filtering dirt and dust to give the engine some clean air.

Despite all this, you should maintain the air filter

While the performance cannot improve much with different air filters, it can certainly go down if you don’t maintain the filter well.

A bad or clogged air filter will restrict air flow into the engine. As a result, the engine will run on a rich fuel mixture where the air is scarce.

This will impact on engine and the overall motorcycle performance. The mileage will go down. There will be lots of unburnt fuel exiting the exhaust. The engine power will decrease, you might even start noticing poor acceleration and power lags.

That’s why it is essential to maintain your motorcycle air filter in a healthy condition.

Air filter maintenance tips

  • Replace the air filter or clean it up for every 10,000 to 12,000 miles of distance traveled.
  • Frequently check the air filter condition. A regular interval of 3000 miles or every time you take your motorcycle for servicing works the best.
  • Do not ride your motorcycle without an air filter. Running a motorcycle with no air filter can damage the engine.
  • For motorcycles that operate in dusty conditions, paying attention to the air cleaner periodically will ensure longer working life for the engine.
  • When opting for replacing the air filter element, always prefer to invest in an OEM. Never buy a cheaper or inferior performing product.
  • Never allow your mechanic to puncture holes in old and dirty filters that have passed their best use-by-life. Sounds strange. But I have seen many roadside garages practice this.