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Every inquisitive mind would have at some point questioned the positioning of motorcycle exhausts. Why does almost every motorcycle have its exhaust placed on the right, and not the left?
Well, there is no right or wrong answer to this. However, answers like, pedestrian sidewalks are on the left, there is a chain sprocket on the left, spacing issues, etc, do not make enough sense.
What does make sense is that, manufacturers have just stuck to the design that was implemented on the very first internal combustion-powered, single-cylinder motorcycles. The evolution of motorcycles with respect to exhausts is a story in itself.
The very first internal combustion-powered motorcycles could not rely on just the engine for its power. Hence, to get it going from zero, they were equipped with pedals. The rider pedalled the motorcycle off the line, and at higher speeds, the motor would take over propulsion.
In this scenario, the engineers had no other option but to place the exhaust down below, right under the engine. This resulted in the pedals on the right and left, engine at the centre and exhaust underneath it.
Several months after the pedal and engine powered motorcycles came those powered only by the engine. Getting rid of the pedals resulted in a massive saving of space on either side. The manufacturers then took this as an opportunity to get rid of the underbelly exhausts.
The underbelly exhausts helped keep the centre of gravity low, and provided perfect balance. However, the same compromised on ground clearance. This being in the early 1900's, the roads were not developed well, and these bikes were mostly ridden off-road.
Hence, the manufacturers decided to mount the exhaust on the right side of the motorcycle. A decision which proved invaluable a few years later when motorcycles were taken beyond their limits on and off-road in the First World War.
A few decades later came the twin-cylinder engined motorcycles which required the mounting of two exhaust pipes to let the spent gases out efficiently. It was then that exhaust pipes were mounted on both sides of the motorcycle.
This allowed for equal weight distribution and the motorcycles started looking much better as well. But then, change is a never ending process, and so came the next step in the evolution of motorcycle exhaust systems - Underseat Exhausts.
The problem with twin exhausts mounted at the side was that it limited the cornering ability of the motorcycle.
Riders were not able to corner it as hard as they wanted to, and this was especially the case with faired Sportbikes which were used in racing as well. This led to manufacturers coming up with underseat exhaust systems which are to this day used in high-performance motorcycles.
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That, was the evolution of motorcycle exhaust systems. In the current scenario, various manufacturers have stuck to the various exhaust types aforementioned.
Ducati and KTM stick to underbelly or right-side-mounted exhausts. Cruiser motorcycles from Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle usually come with exhaust pipes mounted on either side or again right-side mounted exhaust.
There is not hard and fast rule, and there is no right or wrong answer as to why most motorcycles have their exhaust pipes mounted on the right side. It just might be because manufacturers have stuck to it since the first internal combustion powered motorcycle came about.
Motorcycles have evolved a lot ever since the first one was developed. However, there are a few things that haven't changed a lot. The wheels still are round, and the exhausts have been mounted in one of the aforementioned ways. The same is unlikely to change in the future too, unless it is an electric motorcycle with no exhaust at all!