Small tubular devices that make your exhaust look like a boa constrictor swallowing an animal, catalytic converters always raise a lot of questions in the motorcycle community like “does my motorcycle have one” and “what are they even for anyway?”
Don’t worry, thanks to a lot of coffee and a deep dive into the EPA’s document archive, I have all the answers you need right here.
Do Motorcycles Have Catalytic Converters?
Most motorcycles these days have catalytic converters but not all. Due to new regulations and requirements, the EPA estimated that by 2010, 50% of motorcycles had catalytic converters.
The more recently the bike was manufactured, especially after 2006 and later, the more likely it is that it has a catalytic converter.
Prior to 2003, only about 20% of motorcycles had catalytic converters, so these older bikes will more than likely not have one unless it was added on.
What Is a Catalytic Converter?
A catalytic converter is a device that goes on your motorcycle’s—or car, truck, boat’s—exhaust system. It catalyzes reactions that convert pollutants produced by the combustion engine to less harmful gasses.
The original catalytic converters of the 70s were called “two-way” and only converted carbon monoxide and unburned gasoline particles into less harmful carbon dioxide and water.
“Three-way” catalytic converters were then invented in the 80s and also reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, one of the most dangerous pollutants. Your motorcycle may have either depending on how old it is.
Are Catalytic Converters Required on Motorcycles?
Neither the federal Environmental Protection Agency nor the California Clean Air Resources Board requires catalytic converters specifically. Instead, both have emissions laws and requirements that can be reached by whatever technology you want.
The original standards instituted in the 70s were pretty lax, leading to most motorcycles polluting more than cars and even large SUVs. However, the EPA made their rules stricter in 2003, and California has even tougher laws.
Practically speaking, these new laws basically make catalytic converters required. That’s why most new motorcycles manufactured since that date have them.
Do Catalytic Converters Decrease Your Motorcycle’s Power?
Unfortunately, yes, catalytic converters do decrease your motorcycle’s power. But not by much.
Studies have found that stock catalytic converters decrease a car’s horsepower by less than 3% with some advanced aftermarket models decreasing it by only 1%. There are a number of other motorcycle parts that can have a bigger effect on horsepower like air intake and the overall exhaust system.
Still, a lot of motorcyclists look into replacing their catalytic converters with better-performing models or stripping them off altogether. These are ways to eke out a little bit more power.
You just have to make sure you’ll still meet federal, state, and local emissions standards.
How Much Does a Catalytic Converter Cost?
One of the biggest complaints motorcyclists have about emissions standards that effectively mandate catalytic converters is that it adds to motorcycle cost. When the EPA toughened its regulations in 2003, it estimated that by 2010, catalytic converters would add $45 to the cost of the average motorcycle.
Of course, this all depends on the size and model of the motorcycle. Plus, I wouldn’t exactly be surprised if the EPA underestimated the added cost.
Regardless, the takeaway is that a motorcycle with a catalytic converter will be marginally more expensive than the same motorcycle without it.
As for aftermarket catalytic converters, they average around $100, with some on the low end costing as little as 30 bucks and those on the high end a few hundred.
Get the Most of Your Catalytic Converter
The EPA standards published in 2003 specify that the manufacturers must prove their bikes can meet the requirements for the length of their “useful life,” which is defined as five years or 30,000 kilometers (around 19,000 miles).
If you want your catalytic converter to run smoothly over its lifetime and outlive that five-year mark, there a number of things you can do to maintain it:
- Only use unleaded gasoline. Leaded gasoline makes it harder for the catalytic converter to do its job and will decrease its life.
- Avoid ethanol fuel if you can. Gasoline with added ethanol is usually cheaper, but once again, it’s hard on your catalytic converter. Pure gasoline will help it last longer.
- Maintain your engine. Engine problems can increase the temperature in the engine itself as well as the exhaust and therefore the catalytic converter. This can damage it. Take your bike in for regular maintenance and immediately have it serviced if you notice an engine problem.
Taking care of your catalytic converter doesn’t just keep your emissions down and avoid pollution. It also helps engine performance and keeps your bike running smoothly overall.