Although Softail started as a series of Harley-Davidson, the tremendous popularity has turned the name into a generic one! Even other brands of motorbikes with hidden rear suspension are generally called Softail!
Like their design distinctiveness, Harley Softail models require unique exhaust systems too. Without the ideal option, you can’t get the boosted sound performance (controlled yet attractive) you expect while riding.
The industry is flooded with different exhausts that some people may find confusing when choosing a muffler or entire exhaust system for their Softail. We engaged our experts to research aftermarket Harley Softail exhaust systems. They ended with picking up the following:
Best for Softail Standard – Vance & Hines Shortshots
Best for Harley Fatboy – Vance & Hines Twin Slash
Best for Softail Street Bob – V&H Twin Slash Prime
Best for Softail Lowrider – V&H-16875
Best for Softail Slim – V&H Pro Pipe
Best for Softail Breakout – V&H Big Radius
Best Softail Heritage Classic – Bassani Pro Street
Best 2 into 2 for Softail – V&H Big Radius 2:2
Best for Softail Fat Bob – V&H Hi-Output
Best for Softail Deluxe – Vance & Hines 16879
Different Softail Models
Harley Davidson introduced the Softail motorcycle in 1988 to give the bikes a more sport-oriented look and feel. Soon, it became popular because of its classic retro style and modern performance.
Now there are many different types of Softail motorcycles with various customization and performance features. Here are some of the most popular Softail models that you may encounter:
- Softail Standard (FXST)
- Softail Custom (FXCW)
- Softail Heritage Classic FLSTC/FLSTN
- Softail Slim FLSTS/FLSTN
- Street Bob
- Softail Deluxe
Best Exhausts for Harley Softail – All Models
Softail Exhaust: Before 2017 vs. After 2018
The design of a Softail exhaust system remains essentially the same. But how do you tell whether your bike has an older version before 2017 or a new version after 2017? The main difference between the 2017 Softail exhausts and 2018 models is suppression, resulting in lower sound levels.
Before 2017, the Softail models had a single muffler at the end of a short 2 into 1 system, with the introduction of Milwaukee 8 Engines. This was replaced by a new dual-muffler setup in 2018 that’s similar to the Dyna models. This means they have added an extra pipe after the primary catalytic converter for additional noise reduction.
Harley Softail Exhaust Producing Brands
Like many other motorcycle manufacturers, Harley Davidson has had a partnership with other brands. They are responsible for most of the aftermarket exhausts that you see today on Harley Davidson motorcycles. Some of the most popular brands and models are:
Vance & Hines: They produce custom exhaust systems for motorcycles, cars, trucks and marine applications.
Rinehart: They produce the Slash-cut exhausts for Harley, cruiser and touring.
Bassani: They are known in particular for high-quality motorcycle exhaust pipes that reduce noise while improving the performance of your bike.
Cobra: The Cone Engineering Company is a US-based producer of aftermarket components for cars, bikes and motorcycles. They have a wide product range, including exhausts and air intakes.
Buying a Softail Exhaust – Considerations.
You must be careful when buying an aftermarket exhaust otherwise it may not fit or cause irreparable damage to your motorcycle. The below factors are particularly important when choosing a new motorcycle exhaust.
Compatibility: Your Softail exhaust should be compatible with your model and year of motorcycle.
Sound: Choose an exhaust that has a sound similar to stock unless you’re looking for something louder.
Metal: The exhaust material and coating determine how your Softail will handle under extreme temperature, environmental conditions and engine stress.
Shape: Depending on your preference, you may want a round-shaped exhaust tip or angular one like the custom Vance & Hines pipes.
Diameter and Length: The diameter and length of your pipes can significantly impact your motorcycle’s performance and sound. Longer pipes give a louder tone but decrease overall performance. Short pipes increase horsepower at the expense of exhaust notes.
Finishing: Since a motorcycle is an aesthetic piece, you’ll want to consider how important the look of the exhaust will be in selecting it. Some exhaust systems come fitted with a chrome finish, some with ceramic and others with black.
Cost: You should factor in how much you’ll spend on other motorcycle parts & accessories when choosing an exhaust. Aftermarket pipes can be expensive, but they are far cheaper than replacing your entire stock system or having someone do it for you.
Accessories: You can buy exhaust accessories to protect your pipes and make them easier to install. For example, you might want bar risers or engine guards if you’re going for a longer pipe system.
2 into 1 Exhaust – Is it Better for Softails?
2 into 1 exhaust are still on some Softail today because of its low cost and easy installation. But you’re losing a lot in terms of sound quality as well as performance. Rather than improving overall performance, your bike will become louder, jerkier and decrease fuel economy.
It’s not worth the performance and fuel economy loss. If you’re looking to improve your Softail’s performance, keep it stock or upgrade to a 2 into 2 exhaust system.
When and How to Replace Your Softail Exhaust?
It’s more of a general question than for Softails because they come with a 2 into 1 system from the factory. But here are some instances you need to check for.
If your exhaust was damaged when you crashed or dropped your bike, you should consider replacing it. But usually, if the damage is not too extensive, bent pipes and weld cracks can be fixed instead of throwing out the whole system.
If you’re planning on upgrading other parts of the bike like the air intake system, it may be worth replacing your stock pipes with a new set of aftermarket ones.
As with any motorcycle exhausts, if there’s too much noise or power loss due to engine damage, it’s probably time for a replacement system.
Installation of a Softail Exhaust?
Installation of exhausts and air intakes is not too difficult if you have some basic mechanical knowledge. You can usually do it yourself, but sometimes it may be best to hire a local mechanic for installation.
If you plan to use it as a DIY project, go over every part of the motorcycle exhaust system thoroughly before buying one. Read customer reviews about different parts and make sure everything is compatible.
Take note of the following things before installation:
Ensure any upgrades like new pipes come with all required parts. Check for the right-sized wrench. Remember that exhausts are heavy, so you’ll need someone to help you lift them in place or use a jack to secure them on the bike and an extra set of hands.
When installing your new pipes, make sure they’re clamped tightly on the muffler supports and other points along their length. Check that there are no loose parts or uneven surfaces.
If you’re replacing your muffler as well, take note of its bolts since some are longer than others and go on in a particular order. Check the length and diameter of new pipes to ensure they’ll fit inside the frame before installation.
Is Fatboy a Softail?
Yes, Fatboy is a Softail. It’s an FXST/FXCW with a long travel suspension to mimic the retro chopper look and sound. Other features include larger diameter tubular handlebars, 7-inch rear wheel and longer fenders & chain guard. By the way, every rider should invest in the best exhaust for Harley Fatboy if they need their two-wheeler roaring deep yet pleasing while riding.
Can You Fit a Dyna Exhaust on Softail?
Yes, it is possible to fit a Dyna-style exhaust system on the Softail models. Although it may be possible, you need to ensure some things before trying to fit an off-brand or aftermarket pipe. You also need to know the differences between the Softail and Dyna models to get the best exhaust for your bike.
You will want to have various choices regarding your motorcycle exhaust. Make sure that everything is in order before going for it. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that cannot do what it is supposed to do.
If possible, try to get as much information about any bike exhaust product that you can find. You have to make sure that you will be picking the best one before you proceed with your purchase. Good luck and happy riding!