Why Do I Smell Bad After Riding My Motorcycle?

Motorcycle riding presents some unique characteristics not shared by other forms of transportation. One specific trait is the smell that results from operating a motorcycle. When driving a standard passenger that is functioning properly, most folks won’t report any worrying smells entering the cabin.

When I started riding motorcycles, I was concerned that the smell that came both from the bike while running and the one that lingered around after a ride was indicating some sort of problem with the machine.

As a general rule, motorcycle exhaust will circulate around a rider and linger for some time resulting in a strong smell. The gas coming from the exhaust contains some residual fuel and emission particulates that will cling to clothing.

Why Does My Motorcycle Produce A Strong Smell?

Let’s first define what is to be expected from a standard motorcycle regarding smell.

Depending on the style of motorcycle, the exhaust will exit from the rear typically on one side or the other. If it is a sport-oriented motorcycle, the exhaust will be angled upward which will, in turn, circulate more gas around the rider.

The gas exiting the exhaust has just been dispatched from the combustion chamber through the exhaust valve that opened after the fourth stroke (exhaust stroke) of the engine. Therefore, it is to be expected that some burned fuel, as well as other particulates from the explosion, will cling to the gas particles.

The strong smell that comes out of your motorcycle exhaust is perfectly normal and to be expected. This is part of the life of being a motorcycle rider you will come to enjoy.

What Smells Should I Be Concerned About That Come From A Motorcycle?

I do not want to speak in generalities and say ALL strong smells coming from your motorcycle are normal. There are some specific smells to be cognizant of and should throw red flags if noticed.

  • Raw Fuel

As mentioned in the section above, some residual fuel will escape the exhaust as part of normal operation. There can be a condition where your motorcycle is running too rich and maybe releasing excess fuel from the exhaust. Aftermarket parts like exhaust and intake components can change the running condition of your motorcycle and may require tuning to return to normal operating condition.

Additionally, a fuel leak either from the tank or a hose will produce a much stronger raw fuel smell that should perk your nose up and result in you immediately aborting your cruise. Fuel leaks are extremely dangerous not to mention you’ll probably be out of gas not too far down the road.

  • Electrical Burning

It’s difficult to describe electronics getting hot, but if you have ever been near an overheating computer or a shorted-out electrical connector you know what I’m describing. Sometimes a wiring harness can break or a connector might have a loose node which will cause a short and produce a potential fire risk.

Be aware of this strange smell coming from your bike and do not ride with an electrical issue.

  • Rubber Burning

This is fairly self-explanatory. One potential cause may be a wire laying against a hot surface like an exhaust pipe or the engine causing the rubber sheathing to melt and possible damage to the harness.

If you’re riding in a track setting or canyon roads and decide to lay down a qualifying lap, this can heat up the tires to the point of producing a noticeable smell. Keep in mind that tire temperature is critical to how a motorcycle handles and should be noted.

How To Avoid Smelling Bad After Riding A Motorcycle

The best method I have personally used to avoid smelling like motorcycle exhaust is to wear an outer layer of clothing that I can shed when I arrive at my destination.

If I was commuting to work or going to a social event in which I don’t want to smell like exhaust when I arrive, the only effective solution I found was to wear a riding jacket and pants over the top of my clothes. When I arrived, I would have to either stow the gear in a bag and carry along find a place to store it but I could carry on with my day in a normal manner.

One thing that can be easily overlooked as a novice motorcyclist is that riding is a very physical activity and may cause the rider to perspire. Take caution to apply good hygiene techniques when commuting to a professional or social event. Nobody wants to work with the guy who puts in an hour of work at the gym and doesn’t have the foresight to throw on some deodorant.

As I mentioned in the first section, some motorcycles have different exhaust positions that allow for the exit tip to be positioned further away from the rider. A cruiser might likely be equipped with long exhaust pipes that exit low and past the rear wheel.

In contrast, a typical sportbike exhaust will exit up high near your back pocket which essentially deploys fumes directly onto the rider. While this is a subtle difference, the greater distance between the exhaust and rider on a cruiser may significantly reduce the smell that lingers.

How To Get Rid Of Bad Smells After Riding A Motorcycle

The first thing that I’ll say about this topic is that motorcycle gear is SUPPOSED to smell like exhaust and burned fuel. It’s part of the game. It’s a badge of honor that represents the experience and should not be removed.

Aside from that, a standard laundry and hygiene routine will rid your person and clothes of any odors that linger after riding your motorcycle.

There is an interesting strategy that I have never personally used but find amusing and would be curious to report on. There is a website you will be redirected to if you click here that sells “Fuel Fragrance”. This particular flavor is strawberry, and believe it or not, the claim is that if you add this to a tank of gas, the exhaust will smell of strawberries.

I can only imagine how this would gum up a fuel system to within an inch of its life, but if the normal exhaust smell bothers you enough, here’s one path you can exhaust.

Are Motorcycle Fumes Harmful?

We have discussed the fumes coming from your motorcycle and some characteristics of which to be mindful. Now we can reasonably ask if there is any danger associated with these smells.

In general, motorcycle exhaust fumes are not harmful. However, be sure not to remain in a closed room like a garage for an extended time with your motorcycle running as the carbon monoxide will accumulate and can cause harm.

When you are warming up your motorcycle outdoors and smell the fumes, the parts per million (PPM) of harmful particles are so low and dissipate so quickly that you are not in any danger. The concentration of the harmful compounds like carbon monoxide never gets high enough and the molecules cannot accumulate like when indoors.

How To Responsibly Operate A Motorcycle

I’ll conclude with some offensively obvious final comments.

If you want to begin down the path of motorcycle ownership and operation, set your expectations appropriately and maybe ask a few people what their experiences have been.

I can assure you they will comment on the smells associated with riding and recommend getting used to them or staying away from bikes altogether.

Don’t start riding motorcycles expecting to carry over your car-driving habits and behaviors.

If you can’t stand the heat then stay out of the kitchen!

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