The Recap: Motorcycle Air Filter Service

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The Recap: Motorcycle Air Filter Service

Anyone who rides can tell you, riding motorcycles is a lot of fun. There is simply nothing else like the thrill of putting down miles with nothing between you and the elements. Its freedom on two wheels. But motorcycle engines require some basic maintenance to keep the good times rolling. One of those basic maintenance items anyone can do is changing a dirty air filter.

Air is one of the three required elements to propel your motorcycle down the road. You need a steady flow of clean air rushing into the cylinders where it mixes with fuel to get that perfectly timed sparked explosion to drive the pistons. Without free-flowing clean air, you can find your motorcycle has less horsepower or worse has a dead engine. Below we go over the steps to properly remove and inspect your air filter for dirt, oil, or damage. Lucky for you Powerbuilt makes all the tools you need to get this job done quickly and easily.

Clean Air

Regardless of make or model, your motorcycle engine needs clean, free-flowing air to run flawlessly. The example we have here is an American V-Twin motorcycle. The air cleaner is easily accessed which is the beauty of these V-twin motorcycles. They only require common tools for basic, do-it-yourself, maintenance jobs so they are generally fairly easy to work on.

Removing and replacing the air filter is a great way to start doing your own motorcycle maintenance. Working on your own motorcycle will get you more familiar with your bike’s function and build a stronger bond with the machine. Let’s start with removing the air cleaner as you need to inspect the air cleaner and make sure your air filter is clean and clear of debris.

Removing the Air Cleaner

Most motorcycles have three parts to the air cleaner:

  1. The Cover
  2. The Filter
  3. The Intake

Using the handy 13 Piece SAE Hex Bit and Socket Adapter Set (941128)

The basic idea is you need to remove the air cleaner cover to get to the air filter, which filters the air going into the air intake. Clean air, happy motorcycle engine. Most air cleaner covers have a decorative piece that covers the center bolt. You will need to remove that piece of flash before you can gain access to the center air cleaner bolt. This American V-twin motorcycle uses a 10mm Hex bit for the air cleaner bolt, however, your motorcycle may not as they vary between manufactures. That’s what makes the Powerbuilt 13 Piece SAE Hex Bit and Socket Adapter Set #941128 so great. You can probably find the right bit size for your motorcycle’s make and model with the coverage this handy 13 piece set offers.

Taking out the Flex Head Ratchet (649952) and 3" Extension (641501) for a spin

Speed up the process with Powerbuilt’s 3/8” Drive Pro Tech Flex Head Ratchet (#649952) and 3” Extension (#641501). And a pro tip add the Powerbuilt 6” extension (#640850) when you do this step. You want to protect that paint and chrome by bringing the chrome-finish ratchet handle out away from the pretty parts of the bike. It’s just too easy to run the smooth and fast ratchet end right into the tank without giving it some room. The extension gives you plenty of clearance. Fully remove the air cleaner center bolt to pull off the air cleaner cover. You’ll be able to see the state of your air filter at this point. Give the inside of the cover a glance to see if there’s excessive oil and dirt residue inside. There will be some, but any excessive amount may lead to further questions regarding engine health and motor oil levels. Give the inside of the cover a good wipe down with a clean rag. Set the cover aside to gain access to the air filter.

Removing the Air Filter

Now with access to the air filter, inspect the filter to see if dirt and oil have clogged the airflow. You may notice it gets dirtier towards the front which is normal for most motorcycles as that is the business end. You can tell how dirty it is by how dark or black the filter fibers appear to be. Can you see through the filter? Is it wet with motor oil? Does the filter look black with specks of debris? If the answers are yes, it is time to replace the air filter. Depending on make and model year they will be a varying number of smaller Allen bolts fastening the air filter in place over the air intake. Simply use Powerbuilt’s 9 Piece SAE Stubby Long Arm Hex Key Wrench Set (#240099) to easily loosen and remove the air filter fastener bolts. Side note on these Stubby Long Arm Hex Key wrenches, they are perfect for working on motorcycle’s tight spaces while applying the needed leverage but also the long arms can span the surprising long reaches on so many motorcycle engines.

Back to the air filter, these air filter bolts generally are not torqued to a very tight specification so this will be a short and sweet step but take care not to strip those bolts. With all the air filter bolts removed you can start to slowly pull the air filter off the air intake. Please note, on some American V-twin motorcycles the engineers have designed oil breather tubes that connect to the backside of the air filters. Our v-twin example has the oil breather tubes attached to the back of the filter. Go ahead and carefully pull the tubes off the back of the air filter. This can sometimes be a delicate job so just take your time with this step. The breather tubes allow oil blowback from the crank to get into the air cleaner which accounts for the oil you may find in the next step, filter inspection.

Inspect the Air Filter

With the air filter completely removed inspect it for excessive dirt, oil, or damage. This will be a more detailed inspection than before as you now have access to the entire filter. There normally shouldn’t be any physical damage on the filter, if you do find damage you will need to replace it regardless of the level of oil and dirt. You will also want to investigate what damaged your filter as that is not very common. As previously noted there will be some engine oil and dirt from use. At least we hope you’re using your motorcycle. If the oil and grime are enough to restrict airflow you will absolutely need to replace the air filter. How do you know if it’s too dirty? If you cannot see through the filter easily and you see obvious debris and oil build up in the filter fibers or if the general color is dark to black it is time to replace the air filter.

Please note there are different styles of air filters. Some aftermarket performance air filters are reusable, and you can simply clean with soap and water then thoroughly rinse them with clean water and let completely dry. You would then recharge the filter with the manufacturer's recharge spray and reinstall reversing these steps noted above. These filters do cost more than the stock disposable filters but you get a much longer life out of each air filter if you’re diligent with your cleaning maintenance. If it is not a disposable filter that cannot be cleaned and recharged, you’re done!

Reinstall Clean Air Filter

As mentioned, reverse the above process with a clean air filter, tighten air filter bolts to factory specifications, place the air cleaner cover back on, tighten the center air cleaner cover bolt to your factory specifications, wipe everything down and get back out on the road.

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  • Gustavo Luna
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