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How Adjusting Flex Length Can
Shave Lap Times.

story; pipe engines traditionally were

much harder on a clutch. However, the
popularity of dry single disc clutches
in the Can classes has probably tipped
the reliability scale in favor of the pipe
classes, (which for the most part still use
multi-disc wet clutches).
Let’s dispel another myth about pipe rac-
ing: You have a trailer full of pipes. Probably
80% or 90% of Yamaha pipe racers in the
U.S. use an RLV pipe and header combina-
tion; retail price is under $150 for the set.
The others are using custom pipes made by
other local motor builders.
For this test and article, we used the pop-
ular RLV L-2 (a good “all-round” pipe) and
L-3 (a slightly more “top end” pipe versus
the L-2) exhaust pipes and the RLV L series
header. The most notable advancement of
the L series header, versus the A series, is

the use of a hidden/internal “flex” ring. For
hen the WKA’s Manufacturers Cup es, or “Can” classes. Although the SSX (four the most part, this ring is between 1/4” and
set up shop in the west last year, they brought hole) and YBX (three hole) classes are quite 1” in total length making it easier to store,
Yamaha Pipe classes back to California, competitive, they take away either a little transport, and most importantly measure for
under mixed reviews. Many people believe imagination or engineering by eliminating flex length. Performance wise, the L series
this is a dead or dying class: hard on clutch- the exhaust tuning. header is supposed to produce more low-end
es, tires and it requires karters to have a power than the A series, but sacrifices a bit
So why are many karters shying away
large number of pipes in their trailer. These of top-end power.
from the pipe classes? Many racers believe
myths are no more extreme for pipe classes Finally, tuning a pipe. This can not be
it’s too difficult to tune a pipe. Others say
than they are for any other class. For karters summed up in a paragraph or two, but the
they have to buy too many pipes and head-
seeking a medium horsepower class, a class basics are this: ask your engine builder or
ers to be competitive, and the final reason:
where they have another avenue to tune their exhaust retailer which pipe is best for the
“a pipe wears out your motor too quickly”.
karts, or a second class for added track time: track(s) you run, and test a range of dif-
Questions we’ll try to find the answers to in
The Yamaha Pipe class may be the answer. ferent “flex” lengths to find out which
the remainder of this article.
For years, the KT-100 Yamaha pipe works best for your class.
The “pipe wears out your motor too
classes were among the most popular in U.S.
quickly” excuse is rather false. If most
karting. The rules basically end at the out-
pipe motors operate at a maximum
side of the exhaust port, allowing engine and
of 15,000 RPM and most Can
exhaust builders the opportunity to fine tune
motors 14,300 RPM max,
to get the most out of Yamaha’s classic 100cc
common sense tells
design. Additionally, the pipe classes give
us that 700 RPM Use a tubing cutter to
the technical minded racer one more avenue cut flex lengths easily
isn’t going to
to tune and experiment for that unfair advan- and evenly.
make much
tage over the competition.
However, over recent years, many kar- Clutches used
ters have moved to restricted exhaust class- to be another



Pipe Basics and from the exhaust side of

Measuring the flex the piston to the end of the
Terminology: length with a tape length of flex.
First, let’s define measure.
When measuring the
what is meant by
flex length, there are cus-
“flex”. Flex is the
tom tools available. It is
tube/ring/or other
just as easy to use a small
material that con-
tape measure too. First,
nects the header
remove the exhaust pipe
to the pipe. Flex is
from the header or exhaust
an outdated term
flex. Assure the piston is
left over from the
at or near top dead cen-
days when a flex-
ter by rotating
ible piece of tubing
the starter nut
was used to bridge
the gap between the
with an Allen
exhaust header and
the exhaust pipe.
Today, the most common material used is not black and white (other than the check- Move the tape measure
1.75” outside diameter steel tubing, and with ered, what is in motorsports). or tool into the header until it
the long RLV L series headers the piece of touches the back of the piston,
Verlengiere clarifies that when a racer
flex can be as short as 1/4”. preferably at the lowest pos-
asks about needed flex length, they’re actu-
sible point. The measurement
Probably the best way to cut a length of ally asking the distance from the back of
at the end of the header (L series)
flex tubing is with a plumbing type tube cut- the piston to the start of the divergent (or
plus the length of the metal ring,
ter. Available at any hardware store, this tool first) cone of the pipe. The divergent cone
“flex”, equals the length of the pipe as
allows you to make a straight cut evenly and is the first cone of the exhaust pipe from
referred to by most karters. For an A
effectively each time. the intake side. It is also recognizable as the
series, or any other short header that
Art Verlengiere of RLV Tuned Exhaust cone that expands or widens before the bend
Products is probably karting’s fore- in the pipe.
most expert on Yamaha exhaust systems. Often, most pipe competitors do not
Verlengiere states, “The most common ques- concern themselves with the beginning of
tion asked regarding pipe tuning is, “where the divergent cone. The recognized measur-
do I set my flex length?” But the answer is ing point for the flex length is most often


FEBRUARY 2005 35

requires a long flex tube, it’s easier to keep the flex tube on the header
for the measurement. Visibly there is little or
no difference between
The flex length measurement is important for two reasons. One it the RLV L-2 and L-3
adjusts the power band of the motor’s peak performance. Secondly, the pipes.
flex length can affect the operating temperatures of the engine: shorter
flex equals higher temperatures, and longer flex will lower the tem-
peratures. These temperature differences are more easily noticeable
with an exhaust gas temperature sensor.
“Lengthening or shortening the flex length does not necessarily
make any more or less power. More accurately, we are tuning the pipe
to a higher or lower RPM number which generally shifts the entire
power band up or down,” stated Verlengiere. Verlengiere continues,
“The adjustment of the flex length is to tune the pipe to match the
power requirements and RPM band for the track.”

Flex Test:
We took the new Official SSC/NKN CRG Blue Demon test kart
to our local track for a ‘shakedown’ and decided to test some flex and
pipes while we were there. We started with an 11/80 gear, which we
knew from previous experience would rev about 14,500 RPM using an
RLV L-2 pipe and L series header at 7-1/4” flex length.
This combination did exactly that. Max revs were 14,510 RPM;
however, the EGT was a little high at 1,173 degrees. In a five-lap run,
this combination produced a best lap time of 1.06.75.
For the next run, we increased the flex length to 7-3/8”. This was
quite a minimal change; so slight I could feel no difference at all. There
was some improvement in lap times, nearly .2 seconds (which could
be credited to many factors: driver, wind change, etc.); however, the
greatest effect was losing 20 degrees of EGT temperatures.
We went up to a 7.5” flex length for the third five-lap run. This
Gearing, in relation to the flex lengths time, the results were a little odd, but satisfying. Lap times dropped
is a whole separate topic; however, it is another .3 seconds; however, so did the maximum RPMs to 14,408.
important that we do touch on it here. The EGT also again dropped to a comfortable 1,130 degrees. At the
Let’s begin with a 7.5” flex length which 7.5” flex length, you could feel a difference in acceleration versus the
produces 13,600 peak RPMs and the clutch 7.25”; most notably the clutch did not seem to slip as long.
is engaging at 10,200 RPM. “By adding X The final run with the L-2 pipe was at a 7.75” flex length. This
amount of teeth to the rear gear, the rate yielded some change versus the 7.5” length: 14,276 max RPM, and a
of acceleration will increase, and the max fast time of 1.05.99; EGT was relatively unchanged.
RPMs will increase to 14,000 RPM. With
As the clouds began to form on the horizon, we left the 7.75” flex
the increased acceleration, we will move
length in and switched to the L-3 pipe. Knowing the only
through the power curve much faster Flex needed for RLV place I’ve used the L-3 before was a nearly flat-
and spend more time in the 12,500 to A-series (or older) out street race, I knew keeping the longer flex
14,000 RPM range,” states Verlengiere. headers (left); flex
“rings” needed for
in would make it a lot more competitive with
“Before adding the teeth, we spent the L-2 at a shorter length.
L-Series header
more time between 10,000 and 12,500, and (right). The L-3 was about a half second slower
we didn’t need to move the power. But, keep
than the L-2 was at the same flex length.
this in mind: if we move to a shorter flex, we
Maximum RPMs were only 14,268, while the
are able to match the power band more closely to
EGT was only two degrees lower. It was easy
the gear we just added.”
to feel the difference between this L-3 pipe and the L-2.
A final thought on gearing and pipe tuning. When you add one When the L-3 got out of the power band of the motor, it was easy to feel
tooth, and the RPMs increase by 200, your top MPH has not increased, the “delay” before the pipe would again put the power to the ground.
but your rate of acceleration has. Conversely, if the RPMs do not However, as I said the L-3 is an excellent pipe for racing at a sustained
increase at least 200 RPM, you have lost both top MPH and accelera- high RPM level (Rock Island, for example).
tion. A gain of 300 or more RPM proves an increase in both top MPH
In conclusion, it’s not as hard as it sounds to run a pipe class.
and acceleration.
Remember the simple rules of tuning the flex: longer equals more bot-
So taking this knowledge to the track, we have essentially learned: tom end use of the engine’s power band, and shorter equals more top-
the shorter the flex the more effective use of the top end motor’s power end use of the engine’s power band. However, looking at the numbers
band. The opposite is true for longer flex lengths: they are used on from our test, draw another conclusion: don’t waist valuable practice
tracks where more acceleration is needed. But how big of difference time on race morning testing a 1/8” difference in flex. Go big or stay
does an eighth of an inch make? home! Well, at least a 1/4” is the start of big.

FEBRUARY 2005 37

direct drive
ICA engine.

Just for Fun:

After seeing ICAs and some other direct
driver karts: the curiosity got the best of me.
Could we make it competitive for our local
club’s Yamaha pipe class?
In every form of racing, reducing rotat-
ing mass is the key to success. There’s a
simple formula top race teams use: 1 pound
of static weight equals 3.5 lbs of rotating
weight, reduce that and reduce lap times.
So our thought process was to eliminate the
clutch for rolling start races, and find and/or
tune a pipe to make it competitive.
We started with the same 11/80-gear
combination we were using to test the pipes.
Next, we installed an RLV DD87 direct
drive pipe, the WKA mandated one for
Formula Y at a 12 1/4” flex length. After a
quick push start, we hit the track.

The NKN/CRG setup in direct drive


As I negotiated the quicker corners of

the track, I thought we’d hit a home run. It
definitely pulled faster from the 9,000 to
14,000 RPM range. Then in the lower RPM
hairpins, when the power dropped below
7,500 RPMs, I realized we fouled out! No
make that, struck out. It seemed to take an
extra 100 plus feet to get the motor “going”
in the power band with the direct drive
versus slipping a clutch. By the time we hit
the halfway point of the long straight, the
motor was maxed out on RPMs, and stopped
Oh well, it sure was fun to drive! It was
also nice not to have any worries about the
clutch overheating, but it did require a little
different style of driving in comparison to a
clutch kart; more focus on keeping RPMs in
the power band. It makes me hope ICA rac-
ing catches on in the midwest a little more!