3 Key Factors That Dictate When To Change Motorcycle Oil

Responsible motorcycle ownership and maintenance habits rest on the consistent performance of an oil change. Without it, not much else matters with respect to your bike. With it, you can set yourself up for a long and happy riding career.

Oil is the lifeblood of your motorcycle’s powertrain and serves a critical purpose in proper functionality and longevity. Using the correct oil and the appropriate amount is vital. Equally as important is to make sure the frequency of your oil service is set at the proper interval.

There are some specific elements to consider when calculating the correct service period for your bike.

In general, synthetic motorcycle oil should be changed every 12 months or 5,000 miles, whichever comes first. Mineral motorcycle oil should be changed every 6 months or 3,000 miles. The most important factors when determining your motorcycle oil change interval are mileage, time, and riding style.

Not every rider and bike will have the same maintenance needs, so let’s dive deeper into the nuance surrounding the question of service intervals.

1. Mileage

By far the most critical observation to make when considering an oil change is calculating how many miles it has been since your last service.

In these instances, it is handy to have service records filed away so you can easily collect the information necessary. Most motorcycle manufacturers will list mileage first when indicating a factory recommendation for changing the engine oil and filter.

Real-world miles ridden are by far the greatest stressor on engine oil and therefore provide the best metric for indicating an oil change.

Motorcycle engine oil goes through an extreme temperature change from cold to hot and back to cold from the beginning to the end of a ride. This change in temperature brings about a chemical change or breakdown in the oil more severe than just sitting over time.

This should be the primary tool used when deciding on changing your oil and is not to be violated for any reason. If you are pushing the mileage interval on an oil change, not much takes priority over performing the service.

Depending on the oil you’re using and if you’re doing it yourself, a motorcycle oil change should cost between $50 and $100 and take less than an hour.

Unless you like replacing your engine, there’s no excuse to put this off.

2. Time

The second data point to keep track of is time since your last service.

Motorcycle engine oil does have a limited shelf life and should be changed after a certain period regardless of miles ridden. In most cases, engine oil should not be used for more than a year without being changed.

As engine oil sits, it slowly separates into its individual parts and breaks down, even if the engine is not being started up routinely. Although less severe, this is still a form of wear that needs to be accounted for.

Synthetic oil is more stable than mineral oil and as a result can last longer in a crankcase while still being useful. We’re concerned about the useable life of the oil and ideally don’t want to push a cheap conventional oil beyond its capabilities to effectively lubricate the engine.

Should I Change My Oil At The Beginning Or End Of A Riding Season?

While most riders will hit their mileage marker before time, it is notable to keep track of the calendar, especially if you’re a seasonal rider or live in a harsh climate. I personally have lived in California my whole life and have the luxury of riding year round.

If you park your bike for the winter or only ride as a hobby during the ideal summer months, this time-based metric will be crucial. I haven’t had to worry about this during my riding career, but there are some simple practices I would recommend to serve as cheap insurance.

If your bike will be sitting for an extended period, make an effort to start it at least once a week and let idle for about 5 minutes. This will keep the oil fresh and circulate through every orifice of the engine.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to do an oil change after a season if it’s due. Use good judgement here there’s no need to be legalistic and change perfectly good oil.

I personally wouldn’t recommend an oil stabilizer as this can negatively affect the lubricative properties of the oil designed and engineered by the manufacturer.

3. Riding Style

The final factor to keep in the back of your mind when thinking about servicing your bike is your riding style and habits. Allow me to expand.

There is a difference in the amount of wear on your engine oil depending on whether you are commuting at a constant speed on the freeway everyday or riding like you stole it at a trackday.

I have a personal rule that I always change my oil and filter after each track day no questions asked. The amount of stress and wear on oil under these conditions is absolutely maxed out and pushed to the extreme. There is no need to get cheap and overuse oil that has already been abused at the track.

The only thing that will result is unnecessary excessive wear on internal engine components due to poor lubrication. Go ahead and see what your oil looks like after a full track session. It may have started looking like thick honey but it will come out looking like thin black coffee.

On the flip side, if you are casually commuting everyday at low rpm’s and constant speed, go ahead and push to the end of your interval comfortably. The oil is under minimal stress and will not breakdown at an accelerated rate under such conditions.

Manufacturer Recommendations

When it comes to motorcycle specifications and recommendations, I have always had good experience following the service manual. Whether you want to know the correct oil weight, type, grade, or capacity, the manual provided by the manufacturer is the best place to go.

The table below highlights two bikes that have very different engines to showcase how manufacturer recommendations do vary. The BMW S1000RR has a high-performance 1000CC engine with 4 cylinders, whereas the Honda CBR250R has a conservative single-cylinder 250CC engine.

BMW S1000RRHonda CBR250R
WeightSAE 5W-40SAE 10W-30
GradeAPI SL/JASO MA2API SG or higher except oil labeled as energy conserving on the circular API service label. JASO T 903 MA
WarningsAdditives (for instance, molybdenum-based substances) are prohibited because they would attack the coatings on engine components.Your motorcycle does not need oil additives. Use the recommended oil. Do not use oils with graphite or molybdenum additives. They may adversely affect clutch operation. Do not use API SH or higher oils displaying a circular API ”energy-conserving” service label on the container. They may affect lubrication and clutch performance. Do not use non-detergent, vegetable, or castor based racing oils.
Recommended OilBMW Motorrad ADVANTEC Ultimate OilHonda 4-Stroke Oil that meets the parameters listed
Recommended Interval6,000 miles or 12 months8,000 mile or 12 months
Information sourced directly from service manuals of each model motorcycle

To provide a quick analysis, observe how both manufacturers advise staying far away from any additives that might negatively affect the viscosity and friction inside the engine. Also, for the lower performance engine, the oil change interval stretches out 33% longer because of the lower stress and wear in the smaller weaker engine.

Mineral Vs. Synthetic Motorcycle Engine Oil

The question of conventional (mineral) oil versus synthetic oil neither complex nor disputed by motorcycle owners.

Mineral oil is refined from crude oil which makes it is less stable under stress while containing more impurities. It is a lower grade oil that should be serviced more regularly.

The main benefit to mineral oil is it is typically half the price or less than synthetic oil. This is because it is easier to produce based on the refining process. I would only consider using conventional oil under two circumstances:

  • Low-powered commuter motorcycle that you plan to service frequently
  • During the 600 mile break in period of a brand new bike

Synthetic oil is a more pure product created in a lab setting that is typically more stable and better at lubricating internal engine components for longer time.

The tradeoff here is that although synthetic oil can cost 2-3 times more than mineral, the service intervals can be stretched out longer with more peace of mind that the engine is getting what it needs.

If you are doing any aggressive riding or frankly care at all about the longevity of your engine, it’s a no-brainer to perform synthetic oil changes only.

If you’re still hung up on the cost and can’t bring yourself to go for the premium product, a semi-synthetic oil is simply a blend that is a compromise of quality and cost.

What Happens If Motorcycle Oil Is Not Changed?

The reason oil has to be changed is because over time and mileage, the gold viscous oil that you poured into your engine eventually breaks down into a black thin substance that does a poor job of lubricating.

As a general rule, if you do not change your motorcycle engine oil, the internal components of your engine and transmission will wear excessively and fail catastrophically.

As the valves, pistons, crankshaft, clutch, and gears spin during engine operation, they rely on the slippery oil to cushion the contact and reduce the friction created by the metal components rubbing together.

As the oil breaks down, it loses viscosity and does a worse job of lubricating. Certain contact points like the piston and cylinder wall will begin to wear excessively from too much friction which will certainly lead to major engine failure.

Can I Use Car Oil In My Motorcycle Engine

Cars and motorcycles are similar in some ways and very different in others.

One major distinction that is pertinent in this instance is the fact that cars have separate engine and transmission oil whereas motorcycles share the same oil between both components.

In general, car engine oil should not be used in motorcycle engines under any circumstances. Motorcycle oil is designed using different parameters than car oil and serves different purposes. Using car oil in your motorcycle can cause engine damage or clutch slipping.

The reason this is critical is that because the motorcycle oil cycles through the clutch and transmission, it has to be engineered with finely tuned specifications to work in multiple components.

Car engine oil is more so designed with efficiency and economy in mind since there is another fluid with different properties running through the transmission. The transmission fluid has friction modifiers that allow for the gears to shift smoothly.

Should I Change The Oil Filter With The Oil Every Service?

When performing an oil change, the oil can be drained from the crankcase simply by removing the drain plug. Notice you did not have to remove the oil filter to perform the service.

In all cases, the oil filter should be changed when servicing the motorcycle engine oil.

Although not required, the filter should be serviced whenever changing the oil. It’s a cheap consumable part that serves an important purpose. The the internal passages of the oil filter become clogged or compromised, the engine will be starved of oil and ultimately lead to catastrophic failure.

This is another classic example of cheap insurance and don’t be lazy.

Can You Change Oil Too Often?

Depending on your riding habits or type of motorcycle, you may ask yourself “Can I change my motorcycle at too frequent of an interval.”

Motorcycle engine oil can be changed as often as desired by the owner and can never be changed too frequently.

All that will happen as a result of hyper-frequent oil changes is a long lasting engine and wasted money.

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