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How to clean your bike's air filter

May 16, 2015 15:00 IST
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Regular cleaning of air filters not only improves the health of your bike's engine but also leads to a comfortable ride, says Juie Merchant

Indian Roadmaster

As most motorcycle enthusiasts will know, clean and maintained air filters are essential for the smooth functioning of a bike. When the air filter is clogged with dirt or is damaged in any way due to any number of reasons, it hampers the functioning of the engine and in turn limits that thrilling experience of your ride.

So what is the purpose of the air filter and how can one ensure its proper functioning? Let's take a look.

Air filters and their functioning

As the general idea goes, air filter plays a far more important role in a motorcycle than a car, especially due to bike's smaller engine that is more exposed to open air. The said filter is also vital for rides through rough and muddy terrains. Motorcycle air filters are mostly easy to maintain, as they are washable and reusable and are also environmentally friendly. Notably, majority of filters used in daily commutation bikes last for 15,000 to 20,000 kilometers, depending on quality of the bike as well as its running conditions.

The purpose of the air filter is to shield the engine from dust and debris in air and improve airflow. It is also designed to enhance acceleration and raise the horsepower of the motorcycle. A motorcycle requires air to fuel its fire in the engine. However, the air has a huge amount of dust and grime which can gather on the engine, in turn hindering the engine's performance. The collected dirt will decrease the power and speed of the bike and after a certain period of time the engine may just shut down. Here is where the air filter comes in as it filters the air and protects the engine from excessive dirt.

Maintenance and cleaning of air filters

Considering the importance of the air filter, it is also necessary to maintain it properly. Every motorcycle of any make or model comes fitted with an air filter. It is important to check it every time one changes the oil in the bike. As is obvious, the air filter might require cleaning much earlier in muddy and dusty regions.

Cleaning of air filter

Cleaning air filters is quite an easy task that most riders can do on their own within their homes and without any specialised training. It is just a matter of pulling out the air filter, washing it clean and slipping it in after drying. In case of disposable filters just replace the old one with a new one.

Nevertheless, the method to clean the air filter depends basically on the type of filter installed in the bike. Most common types of air filters are paper filters, foam filters and cotton filters. Let's take a closer look into these filters:

Paper filters

Most motorcycles come fitted with these Paper filters, although jury is still out on their usefulness. While on one hand these filters are cheap and easily available for replacement, on the other it is also believed that they do not always keep out the dirt as well as the other filters. Nevertheless, paper filters are installed in most bikes because they are cheap and disposable.

Paper filters cannot be cleaned and must be disposed off. Trying to clean these filters will only damage them and render them completely useless. However, if paper filters for some reason seem unsatisfactory or need frequent replacement, it is worth spending a little extra on foam and cotton filters.

Foam filters

Foam filters might be costlier than paper filters but they are still fairly inexpensive and often used in off-road motorcycles. Also, these can be reused after cleaning a number of times and hence are cost effective. Although foam filter will not last forever, they certainly last much longer than paper filters.

Cleaning of foam filter is a relatively easy task once you know the process. It is always helpful to carefully read the service manual for the filter since there are always small differences in the procedure when it comes to various company products. But generally, the filter must be removed from its housing to be cleaned. It is important that you wear service gloves so as to not come in contact with allergic components in the dust or washing chemicals. Meanwhile, ensure that the air inlet of the bike is covered to block out any dust particles from sneaking in.

To clean the filter, first you must carefully knock out as much of the dirt and crust as possible off the filter. Next step is to wash the filter using the right chemicals. For this purpose you can use cleaning kits available in the markets and follow the simple instructions on them. Air filter cleaner is usually applied thoroughly and then gently massaged to loosen all the dirt. Then the filter is rinsed out with warm water inside-out. In order to get rid of any residual grime, the filter must be submerged in mild soap water and washed out. Dish soaps can be used for this purpose. The process of washing should be repeated twice or thrice in order to get rid of any dirt.

The filter must be set aside to dry. Once it is completely dry, foam filter must be saturated with fresh filter oil and installed back into the motorcycle, until next cleaning session.

It is important to note that foam filters must not be scrubbed, pulled and twisted harshly. Also the filter must dry out completely before being reinstalled. If you notice any tears or loose foam on the filter it is best to get a new filter.

Cotton filters

Cotton filters are by far the most expensive of all. However, if properly maintained, these filters can function without any glitches for a long time. These filters are also highly praised and are known to give the best performance for your bike and also avoid expenditure over replacing and repairing the filter. On the downside though, these filter require cleaning more frequently than other options.

Cleaning cotton filters is relatively similar to cleaning of foam filters. Right chemicals must be used and cleaning kit instructions must be followed. The filter must be washed and rinsed at least two to three times. However, drying of these filters is an interesting and rather fun process. You have to toss the filter in the air, giving it a spin repeatedly so that all the excess water from inner layers is thrown out. Squeezing the water out by using compressor is not an option here, as this will damage the filter beyond repair. Once you are satisfied with the tossing, the filter must be set aside to dry completely, before it is fitted back in its housing.

As is clear from all the observations, air filters are an important part of a motorcycle engine, but are often neglected. It is vital for the engine's life that air filters are monitored regularly and maintained at their best. For hard core bike riders who take long tours, air filters must be checked before every new journey. It is also essential to pack a new filter in a clean bag and take it with you, in case the current filter breaks down and causes problems mid-journey.

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