Can You Turbo a Motorcycle Safely? Here Are All the Facts You Need

Can You Turbo a Motorcycle Safely? Here Are All the Facts You Need

If you ask most motorcycle riders what they want, one of the most likely answers is to achieve more speed. Therefore, how exactly can you make a motorcycle run faster? One way is by turbocharging it.

Can You Turbo a Motorcycle Safely Or Not?

Yes, you can turbo a motorcycle safely, but there are some factors to keep in mind. You can turbo it with a turbocharger, an induction device that helps improve the motorcycle’s efficiency and performance. A turbocharger adds speed and power to a motorcycle without increasing the motorcycle’s weight. 

I’ll let you in on the most important things that you need to understand, such as the main pros & cons, how a turbocharger works, and the issue of turbo lag. 

Can You Turbo a Motorcycle?

turbo charger installed in a harley davidson motorcycle

Yes, you can. You need a good motorbike with a strong bottom, a suitable turbo, and an innovative mind. Indeed, there are a number of turbocharged bikes out there, such as the Kawasaki Ninja H2R, that generate a whopping 300 horsepower. 

Another example is the Suzuki Hayabusa that delivers up to 650 horsepower, capable of delivering a top speed of 264 miles per hour. But these models are racing bikes. Let's take a look at the concept of turbocharging a bike. 

What Is a Turbocharger?

This is an induction device fitted into a motorcycle's engine to help improve two things: efficiency and performance. 

turbocharger structure scheme image

It comprises two sections that are connected with a shaft. On one section, the turbine is turned rapidly by hot gasses while the turbine in the second part sucks the air, compresses it rapidly, and pushes it into the motorcycle engine. 

The enhanced compression is what gives the motorbike extra power because more air than the engine would have sucked under normal circumstances is sucked into the internal combustion chambers. You might also ask, "what is the difference between a turbocharger and a supercharger?”

  • Turbochargers: These induction devices rely on the motorcycle’s exhaust to run the compressor so that it can feed more air into the engine. 
  • Superchargers: These rely on engine rotation and can be belt- or gear-driven to work. 

Although they perform the same task of compressing hot air and pushing it into the engine, superchargers are less efficient compared to turbochargers. They are also more expensive. 

The Main Benefits of Adding Turbo to a Motorcycle

setting up a turbocharger on a motorcycle

When considering the idea of whether or not to turbo your bike, it is also crucial to ask, “What benefits does it bring?” Here are the seven main advantages to expect. 

  • Turbocharged engines deliver more power compared to non-turbocharged models. When installed correctly, a turbocharger can add up to 60 horsepower. 
  • A turbocharged motorcycle races at very high-speed levels because of the added power and efficiency. This is why turbochargers are more common in racing bikes where top speed is required. 
  • Turbochargers are more efficient than superchargers. Since turbochargers run on the energy that is lost in the exhaust, they are more efficient. Indeed, you will be recovering part of the energy that could have become waste to help improve the engine’s efficiency. 
  • Because they are small, turbochargers can be fitted to motorcycles without adding a lot of weight. Some riders rarely notice it when racing with turbocharged motorcycles. 
  • In addition to boosting speed, a turbocharger will also make your motorcycle stand out from the pack. 
  • Although not ideal for canyon racing, you get ample power to race fast on straight tracks.

Disadvantages of Adding a Turbo to a Motorcycle

Although adding a turbo to your motorcycle comes with many benefits, it is not without its share of disadvantages. Here are some of them:

  • If you install the turbo incorrectly, there is a risk of causing damage to the pistons of your bike. 
  • Your bike might not support the turbo if it does not have a strong bottom. 
  • Turbo adds some weight to your motorcycle. Although this is not an issue for many professional riders, it can become a challenge for starters. 
  • It adds the challenge of turbo lag. 

What Is Turbo Lag in Motorcycles?

In a car, when you step on the gas pedal, you expect a sort of “immediate adrenaline rush” thrusting the vehicle to its top speed. But if it is installed with a turbocharger, the response is not immediate. This is referred to as turbo lag, but it is not a major issue because the car is firmly on all four. However, turbo lag can be deadly when it comes to motorcycles. 

Turbo lag is caused by the turbines that take some time, usually a few seconds, before delivering the additional power that you want. When the turbocharger delivers the extra power, it causes a sudden increase in acceleration, which can make the motorcycle hard to control. 

Imagine you are racing downhill and negotiating a bend when the turbo kicks in the additional power. If you are not fast, you could lose control of the bike. So serious is the problem of turbo lag that insurance companies back in the 1980s refused to insure bikes with turbos. 

However, the issue of turbo lag is not a serious one for lag racing motorbikes because they only run on straight tracks and short distances. 

Is It Possible to Buy Motorcycles With Turbos?

As we indicated earlier, turbocharged motorcycles really look cool, but can you purchase one on the market? Yes, you can, but only a very few models are available. Let’s take a brief look as to why very few manufacturers are willing to release turbocharged motorcycles. 

Back in the 1940s and early 1950s, the idea of forced induction was very popular, but the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) was not impressed. They argued that forced induction was killing innovation and also increased the risk of riders. Ultimately, they banned them from any form of racing competition. This led to a lack of interest in advancing the technology, but it was sure to come back at some point. 

In the 1980s, about 30 years later, the turbocharged and supercharged bikes were back. This resulted from the fast-growing competition as manufacturers wanted to make bikes that could race faster than competitors. However, insurance companies would have none of it and blacklisted all turbocharged motorcycles because of the high risk involved. 

Today, some companies, such as Kawasaki and Yamaha, are willing to give the turbocharged bikes a new shot, but most of the versions are only available for racing. Good examples include theNinja H2R and Suzuki Hayabusa. 

Another option that you might want to consider is going for customized turbocharged models. If the turbos were fitted properly and the bike is in top condition, it will give you the desired thrill of top speed both on public roads and racing tracks. However, the insurance of these turbocharged motorcycles is very high. 

If you already have a good bike and want to see it race even faster, it can also be customized by adding a turbo. Make sure that such customizations and testing are done professionally to guarantee safety and super-performance.

Why Manufacturers Do Not Sell Motorcycles With Turbos

The primary reason for the reluctance is turbo lag. With experts advising against using bikes with turbos due to safety risks, manufacturers know that selling such bikes won’t be easy. Here are other reasons why most manufacturers opt out of developing turbocharged motorcycles. 

  • Insurance companies charge more to cover turbocharged motorcycles compared to the standard models. 
  • Not so many people would be able to handle high-performance machines. For example, many riders have indicated that controlling the turbocharged Ninja H2R with an output of 320hp is a major challenge. 
  • The combination of insurance companies and racing authorities' arguments that turbocharged bikes are bad sends the message that racing is dangerous. 

As the demand for faster bikes compared to the standard models on the market continues, manufacturers will not have any choice but to deliver what customers want. Therefore, you can anticipate getting more turbocharged motorcycles on the road in the coming years. Buying one will also be a lot easier. 

Why Turbochargers Are More Common in Cars Than Motorcycles

The truth about turbochargers is that although you will rarely get a motorcycle fitted with one, a lot of cars are already using them. So, why do they work perfectly in 4-wheeled vehicles and not motorcycles, yet both of them use internal combustion engines? Here are the four main reasons:

Cars Have a Lower Center of Gravity Compared to Bikes 

Cars, unlike motorcycles, are designed to run on four wheels, which means they are stable because of the low center of gravity. Therefore, controlling them even when running at top speeds on public roads is not that challenging. For example, many people can comfortably control their cars when racing at, say, 100 miles per hour or faster. 

When it comes to turbocharged bikes, their center of gravity is high, and balancing can be a challenge when riding at top speed. If something happens when the bike is racing at, say, 200 miles per hour, controlling it would be a major challenge. This is why most turbocharged bikes today are used for racing on dedicated tracks only.

Installing a Turbocharger in a Motorcycle Is More Complex

The idea of weight and location when installing a turbocharger into a motorcycle is very important. Often, the additional weight can make the bike feel imbalanced and put the rider’s life at risk. However, it is completely different when installing it in a car. 

Because a car is already heavy, adding a turbocharger will not make a significant difference. Again, most cars have ample space in the engine area to accommodate new devices, such as turbochargers. Therefore, installing a turbocharger is a lot easier with limited modifications. 

It Is Easy to Address Turbo Lag in Cars 

As we have highlighted, turbo lag is the primary reason why manufacturers choose not to turbocharge bikes. 

On the other hand, in a car, turbo lag can be addressed by including several turbos to make acceleration smooth. Even when the lag occurs, the wheels are not likely to spin much because cars are heavy and have a low center of gravity. You will also find controlling a car easy. 

Studies on Car Turbos Are More Advanced Than Motorcycle Turbos 

When the use of motorcycle turbos was discouraged starting in the mid-19th century, most manufacturers withdrew the effort and resources they had committed for studying associated technology. However, research on car turbos raced ahead, and now we have some of the finest models on the market. 

But, even though the interest in motorcycle turbos has been rekindled because of racing, it is likely to take years before reaching the level of car turbos today.

Also, read about our price and cost comparison between cars and motorcycles: are motorcycles cheaper than cars?

FAQ

Can you turbocharge any motorcycle?

Sure, you can. More people today are turbocharging their motorcycles. Turbocharging a motorcycle is all about power, and the additional thrust guarantees breathtaking speeds. 

Is it better to buy a high-performance motorcycle or simply turbocharge my current one?

Both options are viable. Buying a high-performance motorcycle is a more convenient way to get good performance. You can also choose to have a turbo installed on the bike. Remember that turbocharging the bike can lead to turbo lag, which delivers sudden acceleration. So, you should be extra careful when driving a turbocharged motorcycle on the road. 

Is maintenance of a turbocharged motorcycle expensive?

Maintaining a turbocharged motorcycle costs slightly more than maintaining a standard bike. The additional cost comes from the fact that you need to maintain more devices, plus, the insurance premiums are also pretty high. Also, your turbocharged bike will consume more gas compared to a standard bike.

Main Takeaways

Can you turbo a motorcycle? This post has demonstrated that you can safely add a turbo. As long as your motorcycle has ample bottom space, it can be turbocharged. However, remember that turbocharging a bike comes with a host of challenges. Turbo lag is particularly dangerous because it causes a sudden acceleration that makes it challenging to control the bike. It is the main reason why more manufacturers are not willing to produce turbocharged bikes. 

The best way to get a turbocharged motorcycle is using customizations. Experts in turbocharging motorcycles are already waiting to help you with adjustments. A turbocharged motorcycle would also do well in competitive racing, especially drag racing. 

joshua mattie

Joshua D. Mattie

My motorbike addiction began with 50cc at 5 years old. I rode motocross as a teenager & into my 20's when I worked as a mechanic. This helped me to see the light—sportbikes & cruisers became a passion. Now I'm building BikersRights to be the #1 resource for everything on 2 wheels!

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