Replacing the oil in your motorcycle is one of the most important tasks to perform to keep your hogg running at its best. Motor oil lubricates essential parts, prevents premature wear and tear, and will save you money down the road. Changing your motorcycle oil frequently is the best way to increase the longevity of your bike.
How often should you change the oil in your motorcycle? There’s no magic number that will fit across the board. The time between oil changes depends on the type of oil that is used, the size of the engine, how often and how hard the bike is driven, manufacturers’ recommendations, and much more.
Here we will go over all the different types of oil, engine size, and more so that you can decide when you should be changing your oil. We will unravel the mysteries so that you aren’t flushing money down the oil pan by changing your oil too frequently, or causing undue stress to your cycle’s engine.
Different Oil Types
Once upon a time, there was only conventional, mineral-based oil. While there were many brands, they were all basically the same. These conventional motor oils would typically last around 2,000 miles before they needed to be changed. Now though we have synthetic blends, high-mileage oil, full synthetics, and much more.
First, let’s check out mineral-based motor oil.
This type of oil is based on crude oil that is refined and filtered to create a smooth lubricant for many engine types. It’s cheaper than synthetic types of oil, but they break down faster and need to be replaced more often.
Over time, motor oil accumulates moisture, and debris, and heats up quite a bit which leads to it breaking down and degrading. When the motor oil becomes dirty and starts to degrade, it loses the ability to protect the engine as it should and needs to be replaced.
When using a mineral-based conventional motor oil, you should be changing it about every 2,000 to 3,000 miles. Of course, this depends on the type of driving you’re doing.
If you live in the city, and go through a lot of stop and go driving, or you only travel a few miles a day, you should change your oil closer to the 2,000-mile mark. For those of you who take your bikes out and cruise for hours on end on the weekends, you can wait a little longer as the oil doesn’t get broken down as quickly.
All synthetic oils are made using a petroleum base, but other chemicals are used to modify the oil physically and chemically. Synthetic blend oils have more of a conventional oil base but have added synthetics that increase the overall performance of the oil.
Synthetic blends don’t break down as quickly as full conventional oil and claim to offer better protection against wear and tear.
Since synthetic blends last longer they should be changed about every 5,000 to 6,000 miles.
Fully Synthetic Oil
These oils are the most expensive out of the types of oil because they contain the most processed chemicals. While there still is a base of conventional, refined crude oil, synthetics have the highest amount of chemical lubricants.
Therefore they last longer and break down slower than conventional and synthetic blend oils. During normal driving conditions, if you use full-synthetic oil, you only need to change it every 7,000 to 10,000 miles.
Should You Change Your Oil Filter Too?
Every time I change the oil in any of my vehicles, I go ahead and change the filter too. It’s a minimal cost and it helps to prolong the life of your motor oil.
The oil filter helps to catch debris and moisture, and if you change your oil, but keep the old filter in, you could be shortening the life of the motor oil. If you still only change your oil every 3,000 miles, you could be increasing the stress on the motor. It’s worth it to go ahead and change the filter too whenever you change the oil.
Oil Change by Time
There are motorcycle owners who aren’t able to get out as much as they’d like to, and may not even put 2,000 miles on their bikes in a year. Does that mean you still shouldn’t change the oil until you reach that mile mark?
Regardless of mileage or riding frequency, your motorcycle’s oil should be changed at least twice a year. Once during the riding season, regardless of mileage, and once before you store it for the winter.
If you’re going to put your cycle away for winter storage, you should change the oil before you put it away. The reason is, the oil currently in the motorcycle has impurities and has started to break down. When that oil is left to sit during the cold months of disuse, it can cause rust, or produce acids that can start to break down sensitive internal parts.
What about different riding habits? Does that make a difference in how often the oil should be changed?
Different Riding Habits
The way the motorcycle is driven certainly plays a factor in when the oil should be changed. Bikes that are driven hard, raced, or go through a lot of city driving need to have the oil changed more often. Cruisers and highway miles don’t put that much stress on the oil so they can go longer between oil changes.
Bikes that go through extreme stress and the heat of racing or rough riding should have their oil changed more often. Oil breaks down faster when introduced to extreme heat and high RPMs. Also when you’re off-roading, the dirt, sand, and dust that can get into the engine’s oil will decrease its lifespan.
Easy cruising will still cause the motor oil to degrade over time, but not as quickly as extreme driving. The reason is that the oil is running at a constant temperature. It’s able to cool off quicker and isn’t put under extreme stress.
Is there any harm in extending the recommended time between oil changes? Let’s look at that now.
What Can Happen if You Don’t Change the Oil in Time?
Let’s say you plan on changing your oil at 3,000 miles, but things happen and you’re not able to get to it until 500 miles later. Don’t stress out and worry that your engine is going to blow up because you tacked on a few hundred more miles. While it’s not recommended to go past the oil change mileage, a little bit won’t hurt anything.
Now, if you’re using conventional oil and you go thousands of miles past the oil change mark, you can cause severe damage to your motorcycle’s engine. First, you might end up damaging piston rings or the heat buildup could damage head gaskets. As oil breaks down it loses its ability to lubricate and cool off the engine which causes secondary problems.
If you continue to drive your motorcycle for many miles past the recommended mileage, the oil can increase in viscosity to the point where it’s as thick as petroleum jelly. I’ve seen this firsthand before.
When this happens, the oil no longer protects the engine and will cause the motor to seize up. At this point, you will have to buy a new motor or pay for a complete rebuild.
Don’t take that chance, go get your oil changed when it needs it. If you go a few miles over it’s okay, but try to keep it under a few hundred miles beyond the recommended time. What other signs should you look for when deciding when to change the oil?
Signs That Your Motorcycle Needs an Oil Change
While the mileage benchmarks should be adhered to, you don’t have to wait for 3,000 or 10,000 miles to roll around to change your oil. If you see other indications that you should change your oil before you hit the general recommendation, go ahead and change it, you’re not going to hurt anything.
Is Your Oil Very Dark or Gritty?
You should check your oil by pulling out the dipstick or looking through the window regularly. If your oil is very dark, or black you may want to go ahead and change your oil. When you check the oil with the dipstick, put a small drop on your finger and feel it. If you feel grit or particles, definitely change the oil immediately.
Your Engine Is Running Differently
Sometimes your engine will let you know the oil needs to be changed. When you feel it running a little rougher, or it sounds different, you may want to change the oil. You know your bike better than anyone else and will often hear or feel the slightest differences.
Listen to these tiny indicators as they may be telling you it’s time to change the oil.
Your Indicator Lights Are On
Many newer vehicles have indicator lights on the instrument panel that tell the owner when it needs maintenance. If you see oil lights come on, or “maintenance needed,” or some other indication, go ahead and get your oil changed.
You should also go ahead and change your oil if you can’t remember the last time you had that service performed. When it comes to your bike and the oil, it’s definitely “better to be safe than sorry.”
Under normal driving conditions, with conventional oil, you should be changing it around every 2,000 to 3,000 miles. You can go longer if you’re using synthetic or a blend, or you don’t put stressful miles on your bike. Regardless, you should be changing your oil at least twice a year.
If your oil gets dirty before the recommended mile marker, or you put your motorcycle through stressful driving conditions, you should be changing your oil more often. Certainly follow the mileage recommendations, but if you feel it needs to be changed more often, by all means, do it.
I’m William Guzenski, ASE certified master automobile technician & automotive expert. I love to attend race events and car shows throughout the country. I also loves to travel 40-foot motorhome, exploring abandoned mines and ghost towns. I’m currently building another car for Bonneville Salt Flats and will be campaigning a drag car at several events.