Take A Deep Breath: Best Motorcycle Air Filters

Troy Siahaan
by Troy Siahaan

Get out and breathe some fresh air

In essence, an internal combustion engine is just a big air pump. Air comes in, then air goes out again. In a perfect world, engines wouldn’t even need air filters, but as we all know, there’s a ton of dirt, grime, and other airborne crud on the roads (or off the roads!) which, if ingested by your engine, could spell terminal damage. Or at least a lofty repair bill. Many of today’s motorcycles have well-designed intake paths and airboxes, but in many cases the stock paper filter element restricts the amount of air your engine could be breathing, robbing power in the process. Here we’ve gathered some aftermarket air filter options to help your motorcycle breathe as best it can. Of course, the most obvious plus side in doing so includes gaining more power, but in some cases you can achieve better fuel mileage. You can even save money in the long run, too, as some aftermarket filters are designed to be washable and reusable. See our top picks for best motorcycle air filter below, and remember, the prices will vary depending on the application.

Table of Contents

1. Editor's Pick: K&N

When it comes to aftermarket air filters, no name is more recognized than K&N. The secret to their success lies in the unique characteristics of the filter medium which was originally developed by K&N all those years ago in the dust, sweat, and tears of desert motocross racing.

The high flow cotton gauze air filter is washable, reusable and built to last for the life of a motorcycle engine. K&N air filters consist of four to six sheets of cotton gauze layered between two sheets of aluminum wire mesh. This media is then pleated and oiled to enhance its filtering capabilities and overall performance. The result is an air filter that allows dramatically more air into an engine, is washable and reusable, and will protect your engine for the life of your ride. Available for almost any motorcycle, K&N also offers race versions of its filters with fewer sheets of gauze to allow more air in. But be warned; using a race filter may require tuning to your motorcycle’s jetting or EFI settings.

2. Arlen Ness

The Arlen Ness Inverted air filter is designed specifically for the company’s Inverted air cleaner, which has applications for a wide variety of cruisers. So while this obviously isn’t a universal application, the net is still cast relatively wide. Regardless, the Inverted filter is a fully synthetic, water-resistant piece that never needs oiling – you can simply wash and reuse, making it essentially the last air filter your bike will need. Each filter features an inverted pleated top with pleated sides to maximize airflow by pulling in from every angle, and each filter is handmade in the USA.

3. Maxima

For the dirt guys, the Maxima Ready-to-Use Air Filters make the frustrating task of cleaning and oiling air filters a thing of the past. At $11, they’re so cheap you don’t need to worry about washing and re-oiling – just buy a new one! But don’t let the price fool you. Every RTU filter is constructed of dual-layer, pre-oiled reticulated foam. Reticulation is a process that opens up the foam cells, allowing for increased airflow and more horsepower. The dual foam layers consist of a dense inner foam to catch the fine particles of sand and dust, whereas the outermost foam is constructed of a more open pore matrix to filter larger micron dirt particles. The RTU Air filter seams are welded with industrial-strength adhesive and come with a rubber grommet to help secure the filter to the cage which eliminates tearing and maintains the structural integrity of the filter.

4. Twin Air Factory

A fan favorite in the dirt world, Twin Air filters provide maximum filtration and superior airflow. Constructed from two layers of open-pore foam that are bonded together, a coarse-foam outer shell is flame laminated with a fine-foam inner core, resulting in a one-piece design that is both functional and durable. Twin Air filters are also designed to increase air volume around the filter to improve airflow into the intake. More air means more power for your engine. Flow bench tests have proven that Twin Air filters provide increased airflow while reducing the filter’s tendency to clog, says Twin Air.

Anybody who has messed with a carburetor or two before is definitely familiar with the red Uni air filter pod. This universal two-stage clamp-on filter clamps directly to your motorcycle’s carburetor (check part number for correct diameters for your application), and its angled design helps with clearance issues for some models. The two-stage design uses a black inner foam, while the red outer foam can be left oiled or dry depending on the conditions. Be sure to check your jetting after installing the filter.

For the performance-oriented rider, there’s a BMC Air Filter for nearly any sport or sporty-bike application. Manufactured using a proprietary molding process that yields a truly seamless part, the characteristic red rubber is very pliable and conformable to ensure an airtight seal within your air box. Low viscosity oil saturates multi-layered cotton elements to filter out particulates down to seven microns, yet overall flow is increased in comparison to OEM paper elements. Maximize the efficiency of the air entering your engine to maximize the power coming out of your engine. As always, be sure to check EFI or carburetor calibration after installation to maximize the filter’s advantages.


How do you clean motorcycle air filters?

If you have a stock, OEM paper air filter, you can start by removing the filter from the bike and shaking it to get rid of loose dirt or grime on the surface. Afterward, use compressed air to blow away anything else trapped in the filter. A word of caution: this is only a stop-gap measure. If you really want to use a cleanable, reusable filter, find an appropriate cotton or polyester filter and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Generally speaking, it may involve rinsing with water, letting it dry, applying a solvent, and blowing air.

What does the air filter do on a motorcycle?

The air filter’s job is to trap and isolate any dirt, grime, or other particulates that can cause damage to the engine before they make their way into the cylinder head or combustion chamber.

How do you change the air filter on a motorcycle?

Changing the air filter on a motorcycle is very easy. Sometimes, like on cruisers, they are exposed on the side of the engine. Other times they are tucked away under the fuel tank or other body panel. Your owner’s manual (or factory service manual) will tell you exactly where the air filter is, and how to access it, for your motorcycle.

Recent Updates: September, 2021: Numbered list, and Recent Updates added.

Additional Resources

Keep-It-Klean’s Revolution Air Filter Cleaner

MO Tested: Sprint Air Filter

MO Wrenching: Air Filter Maintenance

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Troy Siahaan
Troy Siahaan

Troy's been riding motorcycles and writing about them since 2006, getting his start at Rider Magazine. From there, he moved to Sport Rider Magazine before finally landing at Motorcycle.com in 2011. A lifelong gearhead who didn't fully immerse himself in motorcycles until his teenage years, Troy's interests have always been in technology, performance, and going fast. Naturally, racing was the perfect avenue to combine all three. Troy has been racing nearly as long as he's been riding and has competed at the AMA national level. He's also won multiple club races throughout the country, culminating in a Utah Sport Bike Association championship in 2011. He has been invited as a guest instructor for the Yamaha Champions Riding School, and when he's not out riding, he's either wrenching on bikes or watching MotoGP.

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2 of 3 comments
  • Peter Wainwright Peter Wainwright on Jun 09, 2022

    On the motorbike carb pod filter I pull on a cotton small size sock, lightly oiled as an extra outer layer. Takes most dust before reaching the pod

  • R.S. R.S. on Sep 15, 2023

    I have a 2022 Yezdi Adventure (350cc). A bike similar to the Royal Enfield Himalayan. I plan to go to various parts of the country including the Himalayas. If you're reading this, can you suggest me a good air filter that can improve performance while not bringing down mileage?