When it comes to aftermarket exhaust components, there are two distinct tiers of products. On the bottom end are companies that cater to what is politely called the ‘urban’ market (decode that as you will). These riders want a “loud, barking exhaust,” as LeoVince USA CEO Tim Calhoun told me in his Richmond, California office. With that crowd, a short, loud, bling-ey canister is “almost mandatory—you better be rolling with something on your bike,” and quality is less important. I won’t name brands, but my experience with cans intended for these audiences is that they are poorly designed and manufactured, hard to mount without a big crowbar and some Dremel surgery, and tend to rust, fall apart and blow out their packing quickly. Okay if your goal is to draw attention to yourself during infrequent rides, not so good if you put serious miles on your bike in all kinds of conditions.
Serious riders are more discerning and seek the best value. We want price, performance, low weight and quality manufacture. Luckily, the European brands are manufactured for markets that require aftermarket accessories be warranted, meet emissions and sound requirements and fit properly. That’s probably why LeoVince USA is based right here.
Haven’t heard of LeoVince? It’s actually tied with Yoshimura R&D as the oldest manufacturer of aftermarket exhausts in the world. Parent company SITO Group was founded in 1954 by Pietro Mollo—still president to this day. Originally a supplier of performance exhausts for two-stroke scooters, by the 1980s SITO was building exhausts for all types of machines, both street and race, on-road and off. The 1987 Milan motorcycle show saw the launch of the LeoVince brand, an offshoot intended originally to showcase high-performance products like the titanium four-into-one system proudly displayed in LeoVince’s booth. Today, LeoVince, together with the SITO and Silvertail brands, is a huge seller, with over 500,000 units produced annually.
Like our readers, I wanted to get more performance, save a little weight and improve the looks of my ride, a 2010 Triumph Street Triple R. LeoVince was ready to help out with one of its hand-made GP Pro full systems and tuning genius Manny Hauswirth to help me set it up.
I can’t lie to you; life as a motojournalist is good. I rolled my bike up to the well-appointed LeoVince garage, where Hauswirth strapped it to a lift, unbolted my old system and bolted on the shiny new LeoVince components in less time than it took for my bike to cool down (we have the burned knuckles to prove it).
You may not have an expert factory technician and lift-equipped garage (with a dyno, don’t forget the dyno), but LeoVince designs its products to be easy to install for everybody. All instructions and parts are included; there’s nothing more to buy. “We want it to be Christmas morning when you open that box,” said Calhoun. My system came with two different removable sound inserts—off-road systems include a wash plug and spark arrestor. Calhoun pointed out proudly that even a spring puller is included—no more stabbing yourself with a screwdriver trying to get those springs onto your header.
The fit was perfect (though I don’t know how well this system would work with aftermarket rearsets, as the can mounts to the footrest brackets) and the system felt as solid as OEM parts when everything was fastened down. Finish and build quality was outstanding, with the beautiful TIG welds and polished stainless steel backing up Calhoun’s claims of “old-world craftsmanship.” Everybody says it, but it’s nice to actually see it still being practiced in LeoVince’s two European factories (one in Italy, the other in Poland).
After bolting the system on, we rolled the bike onto the Dynojet to see what gains were to be had. LeoVince designs its slip-ons and street systems to boost power without any need for tuning, but my experience told me this wasn’t possible. My experience was wrong, I tell you—peak power went from 96 horsepower (aside: removing the plastic screen that sits inside your air intake gets you a full horsepower) to over 102 with the noise insert removed—a 6-percent increase with no tuning required. I later found out my chain was too tight—LeoVince claims a 10-15 percent boost with its full systems.
But you don’t ride a dyno chart. How much time do you spend with your throttle wide open? “Some brands focus on peak power,” Calhoun told me, but “we’re into rideable power.” And that’s what we want, right? You want to feel results from your engine tuning when you open the throttle coming off a turn, even if you’re not in the optimal gear. “It’s all about linear power, from roll-on to redline, the broadest, straightest power curve possible.” And it’s true—I felt gains in throttle response and power across the rev range, though midrange performance was a little choked up as a result of a lean mixture thanks to the bike’s O2 sensor. To harness the full potential of any exhaust system, you must ditch that sucker by removing the sensor (LeoVince includes a nice stainless-steel plug, drilled for safety wire, to assist) using an aftermarket FI tuning system like the Bazzaz or a Power Commander, but that would violate CARB and DOT regulations and That Would Be Wrong. We want to be good citizens, no?
And that’s a key difference between the upper tier of high-quality exhausts designed for the European market and the cheaper, louder, flashier components intended for domestic consumption: civility. Customers can install the Euro systems and still comply with government sound and emissions regulations. With the quiet insert in place, my system loses just a few hp on top, with no detectable change in pulling power where it counts. And my neighbors don’t hate me quite as much as they do with the muffler fully uncorked. My iPhone sound-meter app showed under 90 decibels, which while isn’t exactly soothing, is a lot more pleasing to the general public than the earsplitting straight pipes fitted to V-Twins or the barking cans you’ll find on bikes ridden by the backwards ballcap street-racing crowd.
For $1049, the GP Pro system for my Street Triple is a bargain. It’s well engineered, nicely made and significantly less expensive than many of its competitor’s products. LeoVince is clearly a company staffed and run by enthusiasts who value building and selling quality products rather than maximizing profit. Customers step up to the higher tier of exhaust components, at prices similar to the cruder, less durable lower-tier products.
That value position is creating success for LeoVince. Since the company took over its distribution from Western Power Sports, the USA subsidiary has had its best year ever, with 30 percent sales growth over 2010. Over 200 dealers nationwide inventory LeoVince products, no mean feat in these days of recession and Internet mail-order houses.
A competitively priced product, made in Europe, doing gangbusters business in the Great Recession? That equation flies in the face of common wisdom: that only cheap Asian labor can build competitive products, that Western workers are lazy and spoiled. It gives me hope that maybe the future of Western civilization won’t involve selling each other cheeseburgers. As Pietro Mollo said, “Not everybody can be a policeman, doctor or politician—if we don’t have industry, how can we afford to buy things?” More to the point, how will we afford to have snarling, high-powered motorcycles? LeoVince shows that it’s possible.
Find out more about LeoVince by visiting leovinceusa.com or calling 510/232-4040.