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Carburetor Tuning

By: Canadian Dave

Understanding Carburetion
Motorcycle carburetion is fairly complex, but a basic understanding of the parts and theory involved
will go a long way to simplify the processes and make fine-tuning your carburetor much less
intimidating. Right off the bat Im going to say this is only intended to be a very basic explanation.
Motorcycle carburetion is quite complex with a number of circuits and conditions acting together to
deliver a measured amount of gasoline and air to your engine. Most of which aren't even mentioned
here. To do it justice you would literally have to write a book and thats not my goal here.
Information from a 1988 to 2000 KDX200/220 Keihin PWK is illustrated here but the principals
are the same for all KDXs.
Basic Motorcycle Carburetor Theory
Pressure can be your friend. Your KDX relays on differences in air pressure to deliver a charge of
gasoline and air into the engine. If you measured the force applied by a column of air above the
Earth youd find that it exerts about 15 pounds of pressure per square inch at sea level. This
pressure is referred to as atmospheric pressure and varies slightly with altitude, meteorological
(weather) conditions etc. but well talk about that later. Air, gasoline etc. will move from an area of
higher pressure to an area of lower pressure until both are equal.
How does your engine produce a pressure differential? As the piston moves past bottom dead
center ( its lowest point ) and back up towards top dead center ( its highest point ) the pressure
above the cylinder increases and the pressure below the cylinder decreases. The reduced pressure
inside the crankcase causes the reed valve to open and outside air, at a higher pressure, to flow
through the carburetor delivering a charge for gasoline and air to the engines crankcase, which is at
a lower pressure. Great so we know how air is drawn through the carburetor and into crankcase
but what about the carburetor how is gasoline combined with the incoming charge of air?
Some times restrictions can be a good thing. If you place a restriction in the path of a flowing
liquid or gas a drop in pressure is created. The pressure before the restriction will be greater than
the pressure after the restriction. Yup were back to that pressure differential thing again. Since the
charge of incoming air must pass through the horn shaped mouth of the carburetor and into the
smaller venturi ( a restriction ), the pressure before the venturi is higher than after. Such a reduction
in pressure will cause an increase in the airs velocity because the same amount of airflow must take
place before the restriction as after it. Velocity will vary directly with the amount of flow, and as the
flow increases a greater pressure differential will occur across the venturi.
Ok so we know that as air is drawn into the carburetor and meets the restriction imposed by the venturi
a pressure differential is created. The atmospheric pressure outside the carburetor is greater than the
pressure inside the carburetor. So why do you care? Because the carburetors float bowl is vented
directly to the outside atmosphere (higher pressure) and connected to the venturi (lower pressure) via
the pilot circuit and the needle jet/ spray bar ( through the main jet ) thats why. If we remember that a
liquid, gas etc. will move from an area of higher pressure to an area of lower pressure until both are
equal we can see how gasoline is introduced into the incoming charge of air. In this case gasoline is
forced from the float bowl up through the pilot and main jet into the carburetors bore where it is delivered
to the crankcase.
The Basics- When people talk about jetting a carburetor, tuning a carburetor or "breaking out the
brass" they're talking about manipulating the carburetor's 4 main circuits to optimize gasoline delivery
and therefore engine performance. They might adjust the air screw, adjust the jet needles clip position
or exchanging the pilot (slow) jet, main jet, throttle valve (slide) or jet needle for one of an appropriate
size. A perfectly tuned 2-stroke engine/carburetor delivers a 12.5 to 1 air to fuel ratio.
The Parts- No jet acts independently of the others but rather they work together to deliver
gasoline to the engine. They do however target specific throttle openings and have the most effect is
that area. See below.
The air screw is most effective between idle through
1/8 throttle.
The pilot (slow) jet is most effective between 1/8
through 1/4 throttle.
The slide valve is most effective between 1/8 through
1/2 throttle
The jet needle is most effective between 1/4 through
3/4 throttle.
The main jet is most effective between 3/4 through
wide-open throttle.

Before we get into the different parts of the carburetor and how they effect gasoline
delivery I want to stop for a second and define the terms RICHER and LEANER. I know these
terms can cause some trouble for those who are new to the sport or new to carburetor tuning and
they are often used incorrectly. The terms RICHER and LEANER refer to the amount of
GASOLINE being delivered to the engine and not the amount of oil. If youve done a plug reading
at wide open throttle and the plug indicates you are running rich ( dark brown to black ) this is an
indication that too much gas is being delivered to the engine and not too much oil. I know there are
people that will say "Youre running too rich, try to change your premix ration from 42 parts gas: 1
part oil ( 42:1 ) to 50 parts gas : 1 part oil, that should lean things out a little ". This is in fact
increasing the amount of gasoline ( 8 more parts of gas for each part of oil ) and causing the engine
to run RICHER rather than leaner. If you remember richer and leaner are referring to the amount of
gasoline being delivered this will all make much more sense.
The pilot, or slow circuit, can be adjusted by manipulating two parts: the air screw and the pilot jet.
The air screw controls the flow of air into the circuit. Turning the air screw clockwise reduces the air
flow and richens the circuit. Turning it counter clockwise increases the airflow and leans the circuit.
You can therefore use the air screw to fine tune the pilot circuit. The pilot jet restricts/regulates the
flow of gasoline from the float bowl to the venturi. Pilot jets have a precisely machined orifice/hole
running through their center which gasoline passes through. Increasing the size of the pilot jet ( size
of the hole ) richens the circuit by supplying more gasoline; i.e. removing a 40 pilot jet and installing
a 42 richens the circuit.
The slide/throttle valve has the most effect between 1/8 and 1/4 throttle with a declining effect
up to 1/2 throttle. The throttle valve can be exchanged for one with a greater or smaller cutaway.
The PWK equipped KDX200/220 comes equipped with a #5 or 5mm cutaway. The larger the
cutaway the more air flows to the jet block/nozzle screen leaning the mixture. Exchanging the factory
#5 ( 5mm cutaway ) throttle valve for a #6 (6mm cutaway) would lean the mixture.
The jet needle Has the greatest effect between 1/4 and 3/4 throttle. Its attached directly to the throttle
valve. As the throttle is rolled open or closed the jet needle moves through the needle jets bore exposing
different sections of the jet needles profile to the needle jets inner bore.
Six major elements determine the jet needles effect on fuel delivery - the diameter of the straight section, the
length of the straight section, the jet needles taper, the clip position, the number of tapers and the length of
each tapered section. The number of tapers is normally not changed from what was supplied from the factory.
Ill talk about jet needles in greater detail in the Tuning section.
The Main Jet- regulates the flow of gasoline from to Wide Open Throttle. Like the pilot jet the main
jet has a precisely sized hole drilled through its center. Increasing the size of the main jet ( size of the
hole ) richens the circuit by supplying more gasoline; i.e. removing a 152 main jet and installing a 155
richens the circuit.
Before you consider fine tuning your carburetor there are a few things that have to be done. First
you need to install a clean air filter. Second you need to insure the float level is properly set. If the
gasoline level is set too high or too low properly jetting your bike will be impossible. A high float
level will cause it to run rich and a low level cause it to run lean. You can find instructions for setting
you float level here.
Third you need to fill your tank with a fresh load of premixed gasoline. Dont go out and try to jet
your carburetor with the gasoline thats been sitting around in your jerry can for the past month.
Gasoline degrades over time so youll want to start with a fresh batch. While Im talking about
gasoline remember that different gasoline will change your jetting requirements. If you normally run
race gas, straight or use it to cut pump gas, youll want to be sure you have it in your tank when you
head out to tune the carburetor.
You also need to be aware of any potential mechanical problems that can imitate poor jetting. Eric
Gorr has included a number of articles on his web site from his book "Motocross and Off- Road
Motorcycle Performance Handbook". An excellent article on carburetor tuning is included which
covers this topic. Check it out here. If you dont own a copy Id definitely recommend picking one
up. Its chucked full of useful, easy to read information and make a great companion to your factory
service manual.
When making jetting changes make one change at a time and test the result. It's very helpful to keep
a log book for your motorcycle where you can log changes to the jetting, the temperature, altitude
etc and the result. Over time you'll build a jetting history of your bike that you can go back to and
determine what changes you have made. I also include routine maintenance and repairs in my log
Tuning From Idle to Wide Open Throttle, Plug Reading Again this is a good method for
beginners. Once youve gained more experience and are more comfortable with jetting youll start
to relay more on power delivery and how the engine feels until then this is a good method.
If you go back and have a second look at the parts of a carb youll see that gasoline delivery is
dependent on throttle position and not engine speed. Youll also notice that the air screw, pilot jet,
main jet, and jet needle target specific throttle setting. With this information in hand we can easily
identify which circuit is likely the cause of a specific symptom.
Before you head out for a jetting session youll want to mark your throttle grip and housing so you
can easily identify the four major target ranges. I like to use White Out but placing a piece of tape
on the throttle grip and throttle housing and breaking out a marker will work just as well. With the
throttle at idle and your materials in hand draw a straight line across the inner cuff of your throttle
grip and onto the throttle housing. Now twist the grip to WOT and draw a second line on your grip
straight across from the line on your throttle housing. Next find the half way point between the two and
place a third line, this will indicate throttle. Now divide the halves in half again and mark 1/4 and 3/4
throttle. Now with a quick glance you can easily determine the throttle position while jetting.
Nows a good time to stop and talk about plug reading. The color and condition of the spark plug can tell
you a lot about whats happening in your engine. Youll be doing some runs at known throttle settings
and then observing your spark plug to determine the condition of the corresponding circuit i.e. is it lean,
good or rich. Ideally a professional tuner would use a variety of instrumentation and how the engine feels
to fine-tune jetting. For more information on instrumentation check out Eric Gorrs comments on "How to
use carburetor tuning gauges". This method will insure you're in the ballpark so you can start
fine-tuning. When you have more experience and are more confident in your ability to
determine jetting requirements by feel you'll start to phase out this method for 1/4, 1/2
and 3/4 throttle setting and replace it with the jetting by feel method. You'll continue to
use this method for tuning the main jet at WOT. Ill also say that my recommendation for
the appearance of a good plug is going to be slightly different than someone who is
jetting a motocross bike for an experienced rider. The conditions faced by enduro
riders and moto-cross riders are quite different and therefore the jetting requirements
are also slightly different.
Checking the Main Jet Warm up the engine and go for a short ride letting the engine comes up to
its normal operating temperature. Install a brand new plug that's been properly gapped. With the
new plug installed aggressively accelerate through the gears until you reach 4
or 5
gear. For best
results you should accelerate up a slight up hill section to place additional load on the engine.
Continue to run the engine at WOT for 20 to 30 seconds longer if there is not fear the engine is
running lean. If you suspect the engine is running lean 15 to 20 seconds to give you an indication. At
the end of your full throttle run simultaneously push the kill button, chop the throttle and pull in the
clutch. This procedure is often refereed to as a " plug chop". It is important to perform a plug chop
exactly as described. If you allow the engine to run or leave the throttle open for even a few
seconds after the plug chop the plug reading will be invalid. Now remove the spark plug and
carefully look at its color.
Plug Reading - What does a good plug look like? First you need to know where to look and what to
look for. Ive seen a lot of plug reading instruction that suggest you to look at the general appearance of
the plug. That doesnt work. The easily visible portion of the plug, the upper part of the porcelain and the
electrodes, wont give you an accurate reading. This area is mostly affected by additives in the gasoline
and the oil youre running. To get an accurate indication you want to look down inside the plug where
the porcelain insulator emerges from the steal body of the spark plug. Ideally you should see a ring of
light brown/tan at the lower 1/4 of the porcelain. White is lean and youll need to install the next richer
main jet( larger number ) and do another plug reading. A dark brown to black ring is too rich and youll
need to install the next leaner main jet ( smaller number ). A small flashlight and magnifying glass make
this much easier to see and itll give your friends something to poke fun at. If you ride in a diverse area
with fluctuations in temperature greater than 15 degrees F, and altitude changes dropping more that
3000 feet over the course of the day or you ride in high load conditions ( loose sand, mud, long steep
hills ) adjust the size of your main jet until you reach the ideal condition then install the next richer main
jet which should result in a dark brown plug reading. You'll be loosing a small amount of top end power
in trade for the added confidence that you can ride aggressively over the course of the day without fear
of running lean at WOT.
Checking the Jet Needle Once you have the main jet properly sized you can turn your
attention to the jet needle. Warm up the engine and go for a short ride until the engine comes up to
its normal operating temperature. Install a brand new plug that has been properly gapped. With the
new plug installed accelerate through the gears until you reach 4th gear. For best results you should
find a location that allows you to run safely at half throttle with out having to ex or decelerate to
avoid obstacles etc. A long straight away or well groomed oval track will work the best. Continue
to run the engine at half throttle for more than 60 seconds if possible. Do a plug chop and inspect
the plug. If the plug indicates a lean condition, lower the clip on the needle by one position.
Lowering the clip by one position raises the needle further out of the needle jet allowing more
gasoline to flow, richening the circuit. If the plug is dark brown to black raise the clips position by
one notch to lean the circuit. As a general rule if you need to run the clip in the top position you
should install a leaner jet needle. If you need to run the clip in the bottom position you should install
a richer jet needle. Jet needle selection is something of an art. Watch for an article in the near future
describing PWK jet needle profiles in more detail. This method will give you a good ball park
indication if you jet needle is properly sized. However due to inefficient cylinder scavenging at
lower throttle settings its often little more that a ball park indication and you'll need to fine tune by
Once you're satisfied with the appearance of the plug turn to the jetting by feel method to fine-tune
the circuit. Gradually roll the throttle open from 1/2 to 3/4 throttle paying particular attention to the
sound and the type of power delivery. Having an experienced friend on the sidelines to listen and
watch the silencer for excessive smoke is also helpful. A rich condition will result in excessive smoke
from the silencer, the plug will often carbon foul and the engine will produce a sputtering/crackling
sound. A lean condition will result in slow throttle response, you twist the throttle but the power
delivery is lethargic and flat. A lean condition results in a tell tale booooooha sound as well. You can
quickly verify a lean condition by pulling the choke half way out. Engaging the choke will deliver
additional fuel to the system and the symptoms of a lean condition should clear up.
A Helping Hand
There's a little tip that'll make changing needle clip positions a breeze. If you're like me you tire of
wrestling the throttle valve spring and collar pretty quickly when it comes time to adjust your needle.
Not to mention the first time you sent a spring loaded collar jettisoning into a dirty mound. Why is it
those " must stay clean" parts always find there way into the grim anyway? This little trick makes
trail side needle adjustment anxiety a thing of the past.
Run to your local tool supply store, hobby shop or what have you and pick up a hemostat. I'm not
talking about the bone crushing size here, a 4 to 5 inch pair will work just great and they'll only set
you back $4 to $5. The best thing about a hemostat is its small enough to carry in your fanny pack
and they apply just enough pressure to prevent the spring and collar from slipping but not enough to
damage the throttle cable. Nurse, hemostat please!
The Pilot Circuit, Tuning from Idle to Throttle -You can use the air screw to help
determine if your pilot jet is appropriately sized. Take your bike for a short ride letting the engine
come up to normal operating temperature. With the engine stopped, transmission in neutral and the
bike on its stand turn the air screw clockwise until it just seats, gentle now its delicate and you
dont need to torque it down just gently seat it. Now turn the air screw a quarter of a turn out so the
engine will fire and start it. Slowly turn the air screw counter clockwise ( out ) until the point where
the engine just reaches the maximum obtainable rpm and continuing to turn the air screw beyond this
point wont increase the engine speed (rpms) any further. I find its easier to hear the rpm increasing
if you set the idle at its lowest possible position without the engine stalling. Youll want to repeat this
procedure a couple times until youre confident that youve found the right spot and that the result is
reproducible. When youre comfortable count the number of turns ( 360 revolutions ) youve
backed the air screw out to reach this point. The normal operating range is between 1 and 1.5 turns
out so if you find the ideal setting is less that 0.75 turns out consider installing the next richer pilot jet
(larger number ). If you find the ideal setting is more than 2 turns out consider installing the next
leaner pilot jet ( smaller number ).
Once you're comfortable you have an appropriate pilot jet installed you want to fine turn the circuit
using the air screw. Starting with the air screw 0.5 turns out adjust the screw an 1/8 of a turn at a
time until youve obtained the best possible throttle response between idle and 1/4 throttle. Continue
to adjust the air screw until the engines throttle response off idle is clean with no hesitation or
bogging. You can test the final results using the same method as you did for checking the jet needle
this time riding in 2
or 3
gear at 1/4 throttle. Remember this is only a ball park indicator your
goal here is to obtain the best possible throttle response not a perfect plug reading.
Because jets have a combined effect over a range of throttle setting its often useful to go back and
recheck your jetting once you have followed this procedure. The second time through you can
broaden the throttle settings to insure theres a good transition between one circuit and another. So
for example slowly roll the throttle open between 1/2 and WOT insuring the transition is progressive
and that the engine doesnt stumble etc. Do the same between 1/8 and 1/2 throttle, 1/4 and 3/4
throttle etc.

The Effect of Temperature, Altitude and
Humidity on Jetting
Once your jetting is set its not necessarily set for life. Changes in air temperature, altitude and
humidity can have an effect on how your engine runs.
If you captured a measured volume of air on a humid 90 F day at sea level or a cool dry 40 F day
at 10,000 feet both would contain about 22% oxygen. The density and therefore the total number of
oxygen molecules however would differ enough to effect the performance of your engine.
Temperature- For most of us changes in air temperature will have the greatest effect on our jetting.
As the air temperature gets colder the air density increases. The air molecules become less active (
move around less ) and therefore take up less space. Because they take up less space more air, and
therefore more oxygen, can fit into a measured volume of air as the temperature decreases. As the
temperature drops the engine will begin to run leaner and more gasoline will need to be added to
compensate. As the temperature increase the engine will begin to run richer and less gasoline will be
Altitude- Again this is an issue of air density. At sea level atmospheric pressure is around 15 psi and
as the altitude increased the atmospheric pressure decreases. Because less pressure is exerted on a
measured volume of air as the altitude increases the air molecules are able to relax and they take up
more space leaving less space for additional molecules. The higher the altitude the less air in a
measured volume and therefore less oxygen present so jetting will have to be leaned to compensate.
Humidity- Humidity is a measure of how much water vapor is in the air. The higher the humidity the
less space there is for additional molecules of air and therefore oxygen. As the humidity increases there
is less oxygen and therefore the engine runs richer. Jetting that may have been spot on in the cool dry
morning air may start to run rich as the temperature and humidity increase over the course of the day.
Correcting for Changes in Temperature, Altitude
and Humidity
Correction Table-You can use a correction table to roughly determine the appropriate jetting
changes to compensate for changes in temperature, altitude and humidity. Ive included a typical
correction factor chart that has been modified specifically for use with the KDX. To use the chart go
back to your log book and record what jetting is presently installed in your carburetor then
determine what altitude youll be riding at and the temperature. I'm assuming here that you've
already optimized your jetting. Ive used my present jetting as an example. Youll need to slightly
modify the table to fit the specific requirements of your bike but Ill go over that in the example.
Example- Im presently running a 45 pilot jet with the air screw 1.25 turns out, an 1173 jet needle in the
second from the top clip position and a 152 main jet. This jetting was optimized at 20 C and 2240 ft above sea
level. For this example lets assume Im going riding in the mountains where the temperature is 20 C at 9600 ft.
The first thing I do is adjust the bottom of the table so that it reflects the condition where my jetting was
optimized. Using the illustration below as an example I draw a straight line from 20 C horizontally across the
graph until I hit the line that represents 2240 ft., then draw a line vertically to the bottom axis on the graph. This
point becomes 1.0. Adjust the work sheet by subtracting 0.02 for each increment to the left of this point and
adding 0.02 for each increment to the right of this point. My graph now looks like this:
Now using my personalized graph I can calculate what jetting I should install before making the trip to the
mountains. I draw a horizontal line from 20 C over to 10000 ft and then vertically down to determine the
correction factor of 0.95. To find the correct pilot jet size I multiply 45 by 0.95 and the new jet size would be 42.75.
The closest available size is a 42 and Ill fine-tune the pilot circuit with the air screw once I get there. I then
multiply my main jet size ,152, by 0.95 and the new jet size would be 145. Now remember this is intended to give
you a rough indication.
You can print off your own correction factor table here. comi ng soon
Using a correction table should allow you to closely meet the requirements of changing conditions. It
is however intended to be used as a guide. You should always carry an assortment of jetting in your
toolbox and check any jetting suggestions you receive. At a minimum do a plug reading at WOT
after changing your jetting to insure you arent running lean. Jetting recommendations that work well
for one bike may not necessarily work for another even if it is being ridden in the same area with
identical modifications.
Available Keihin Jets Tle main and pilot jets for yheres a list of availabour reference. Ive included
jets sizes commonly used to fine tune PWK equipped KDXs. This includes 1988 to 2000 KDX200/220
as well as second generation KDX250s. There are larger and smaller sizes available that arent listed
here. This list might seem rather long but it includes possible jet sizes for a number of temperatures,
altitudes as well as modified cylinders.
"21 Series" Pilot Jets - 38,40,42,45,48,50,52
" 13 Series " Main Jets 140,142,145,148,150,152,155,158,160,162,165,168,170,172,175,178,180

Jetting Recommendations, a Starting Point
These are intended to be good jetting STARTING POINTS so use them as just that a starting
point. In many instances jetting will be very close if not right on but you'll need to insure youre not
running lean and optimize the jetting from here to meet your individual requirements. At the very
least youll need to do a throttle reading at Wide Open Throttle and insure youre not running lean.
These jetting recommendations are intended for use between sea level and 3000ft with an average
temperature of 73 degrees plus or minus 7 degrees.
1995-2001 KDX200
Stock -Run the stock R1174K jet needle in the second from the
top clip position, 45 pilot jet, 155 main jet and fine-tune the pilot
circuit using the air screw.
With a performance pipe/expansion chamber, the air box lid
removed and the stock or a performance silencer run a 42/45
pilot, R1174K jet needle in the mid clip position, a 152/155
main jet fine tune the pilot circuit using the air screw.
1997 to 2001 KDX220
Stock run a 42 pilot jet,the stock R1173L jet needle in the
second from the top clip position, a 142/145 main jet and fine
tune the pilot circuit using the air screw.
With a performance pipe/expansion chamber, air box mods ,
the factory or after-market silencer and the stock 33mm
carburetor run a 42 pilot, the stock R1173L jet needle in the
second from the top clip position, a 145/148 main jet and fine
tune the pilot circuit using the air screw.
Same as above but with your carburetor bored between 35 and
36mm or running a 1988 to 2000 KDX200 35mm carb jet
according to 95 to 2000 KDX200 requirements.
Addition of Boyesen reeds or a Boyesen RAD Valve will require
you to lean the pilot and main jet one size and readjust your air
1989 to 1994 KDX200
Stock -Run the stock R1172N jet needle in the second from the
top clip position, 48 pilot jet, 155 main jet and fine-tune the pilot
circuit using the air screw.
With a performance pipe/expansion chamber, the air box lid
removed and the stock or a performance silencer run a 45/48
pilot, R1173N jet needle in the mid clip position, a 152/155
main jet fine tune the pilot circuit using the air screw.
Addition of Boyesen reeds or a Boyesen RAD Valve will require
you to lean the pilot and main jet one size and readjust your air
For jetting recommendations on remaining models ( 1982 to 1988 KDX200s ) check
out Jeff Fredette's engine performance recommendations here.
If you require addition jetting help fire your question off to the JustKDX Forum. Youll
need to include the following information; year, model, modifications ( things like after-
market reeds, pipe, air box lid mods, silencer, ported cylinder etc etc. average riding
conditions, air temperature ( dont submit a range between 5 and 85 degrees F you
need to beak it down into your present condition within 10 degrees C or about 15
degrees F. ) altitude and average humidity.
If you would like to use or link to this material please contact me.
If you have any comments or suggestions smack the email
icon and send them my way.