I want to repaint my exhaust pipes

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A small introduction

If you want to paint the exhaust on your motorcycle, we can only guarantee that one of two things will happen:

A. It will stick.
B. It won't stick.

Some have had good luck with this, others haven't. You have most likely heard that most of the real work in painting is in the preparation. This is certainly true, but we have had people who did their prep work and still had their paint fall off in a short time. Motivational speakers will tell you to not prepare for failure, but, when it comes to painting your exhaust, a back-up plan may be in order.

Let's get these testimonials out of the way right now

  • Against: "I've had 1200 degree BBQ paint -- applied properly -- fail on the pipes near the headers in only six weeks. I've never seen glossy paint good past 900 degrees."
  • For: "I've had really good luck with the Dupli-Color High Heat paint, as opposed to barbecue paint. I've had it on the exhaust headers of my 1100 for a few years now, and it's held up well. I found it worked better if I "cycled" it a bit at first (see below). The best paint I've found is Duplicolor Ceramic High Heat. Part number is DH1602 for black. There are a limited number of other colors.”
Another feature is this nifty spray can which it comes in:
Here's a picture of those headers, with several years and quite a few dirt roads on them.
  • Ceramic coating: Check your local yellow pages for performance or exhaust shops that do ceramic coating. They claim they can do a range of colors, and that they'll stand up to hot-rod engine heat. It's pricey, but it's a process which is much more likely to last. The best paint, from a ratings standpoint, is 1500 degrees, and that's not really enough to use on the headers and expect it to last.

Painting the headers

If you're still with us and want to give this process a shot, here's your best chance at success. Keep in mind that you should use 1200 degree (F) (or higher) high temperature paint. Nothing else will stick for very long, especially on the headers. You will undoubtedly end up with flat paint, as glossy is pretty much unavailable in that heat range.

Most of the trouble club members have had has come when they tried to paint the headers. The cans are not as hot and will usually hold up better, but the header pipes, and the area where the header pipes join the slip-ons, have trouble holding paint, due to the high amount of heat they give off.

If you just strip the pipes (and don't paint them) they will rust. You can do this, then clean the pipe periodically with steel wool, but that falls into a "high maintenance" area for most people.

Sand the pipe with fine sandpaper and use a dremel tool with a wire brush to clean around the welds, then paint it. Make sure you take your time. Follow the directions on the can (especially regarding time between coats), apply thin coats, and the paint will stick better. Did we mention to follow the directions on the can?

Once you are satisfied with the look of your pipes, you should “heat cycle” them. This works better than just popping them on and going for a ride:

  • After you start the bike for the first time, run it for 30-60 seconds, shut it down, let it get cool again... Do that about half a dozen times before you get it hot for any extended period.

Painting the mufflers

Doing just the mufflers (or “cans”, as they're commonly called) is not much different than doing the front part of the exhaust. The process is the same, but the paint requirements aren't quite as stringent. It's generally agreed that you can get away with 500 degree F engine enamel on the mufflers, since they don't run nearly as hot as the headers. This will give you a better choice of colors. We can't say for sure that this will work, as there are no long-term tests that we know about. If you're just going to paint the cans one of the colors available in the 1200F paint, then you should use that, as you'll have a better chance of success.

In spite of the number of choices available in 500F paint, there is still little chance that you will be able to match the color of your bike. It's probably best to stick with a contrasting color. Here's what one member came up with when he tried to paint his pipes Kawasaki Green. Even in these taken-with-a-cellphone pictures you can see that the color just wasn't true. Three days later he ended up going back to black.

554170.jpg 554171.jpg 554174.jpg

You can make these look pretty good, if you're careful, follow the directions, and take your time.


Another member was not a big fan of chrome on a bike that had no other chrome, so he painted the cylindrical part of the mufflers and left the headers and tail alone.


Painting chrome

Sand chrome as you would any metal (with a VERY coarse grit), and kill the shine. Clean properly with thinner, let dry, and use an etching primer. Then, apply the base and clearcoat as usual.

Long-term results

Our rider (above) who painted his pipes green, then returned to black, has sent in results after a year and a half of testing while riding in rain, salty roads, snow, and the occasional dirt. He used Duplicolor 1200F ceramic gloss black paint for the mid pipes and mufflers. After 2 weeks the gloss black faded to flat black and was dull. He then took the pipes off, stripped them all, did it again and found a method that worked.

With the pipes prepped, apply 3 thin coats of 1200 degree flat black BBQ paint by Krylon. Then use 500 degree clear Engine Enamel by Duplicolor. The pipes came out great. They shine, and luster is amazing. After 5,000 miles of riding the mufflers are still shiny. The pipes will begin to attract the loose dirt and dust from dirty roads, so when the pipes are cool, a wet paper towel will clean them right up and bring the shine out again.

There is paint failure where the muffler tapers down to meet the mid pipe on the right side of the bike, caused by heel of the foot. The mid pipe will need to be repainted soon, since the paint seems to have rust coming through.

Recommendation: If your pipes are factory black, keep them that way. The paint on the factory pipes is not brittle and won't flake off. If you paint, plan on re-doing the mid pipes and headers once a year, or every 5,000 miles, to maintain a clean look. The mufflers should be able to go significantly longer.

Links to high-temp paint

Caswell Plating VHT

Dupli-Color High Heat

Bill Hirsch Auto Paints

plasti-kote paints

Before & after painting photos

The following pictures are of a 16 year-old system done with Duplicolor high heat and lots of prep time. How long they will stay looking like this is anyone's guess.

Send $20 and we'll send you the plans to the high-tech 3 mil spray booth:

N250RC FAQ Beer Fund
Box 250 Taipei, Taiwan ROC

Exhaust 01.jpg Exhaust 02.jpg

Exhaust 03.jpg Exhaust 04.jpg

Exhaust 05.jpg Exhaust 06.jpg

You can try scrubbing, you can try soaking, but chances are you're not going to get that pitting out.

Exhaust 07.jpg Exhaust 08.jpg