Keeping your motor lubricated properly is the most important thing you can do for the longevity of your motorcycle. Without lubrication, even for seconds, your engine could be completely ruined. It’s critical that in addition to knowing the intervals at which to change your oil, you understand what kind of oil you need. If the recommended oil for your motorcycle is not available, you need to find an equivalent or superior oil.
Factory Specified Oils
Motorcycle manufacturers almost always specify a brand of oil in addition to type and weight. Your safest option is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation. Other oils will work, but identifying them with absolute certainty can be difficult. In a low-revving motor with loose mechanical tolerances, it wouldn’t be as important. But motorcycles put greater demands on motor oil.
Motorcycles have unique motor oil needs because of their high-revving and tendency towards warm-weather use and periods of long storage. The best modern motorcycle oils are purely synthetic with a base of manufactured molecules instead of crude oil. This reduces engine sludge, which is more apt to occur in motorcycles that are used, then stored for prolonged periods. Motorcycles also tend to use multi-grade oils, such as 20W-50. The “20W” means that the oil is viscous and functional at 20 degrees Celsius. The “50” measures its thickness at operating speed or 50 degrees Celsius. These two numbers are higher than most car oils. Motorcycles aren’t typically used in cold weather, so they rarely have a winter weight below 20. The operating viscosity tends to be higher because it means the oil is capable of protecting the engine at a higher temperature with relatively low drag on the engine.
Multi-grade motorcycle oils are achieved by adding polymers. Other chemicals are added to modify nearly every function of oil: dispersing engine waste, stabilizing oil to keep it from frothing so it stays in contact with parts, rust inhibitors to fend off moisture, and extreme-cold-weather additives to keep the oil from getting too thick or even freezing.
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