Choosing the best motorcycle oil for your needs can be a tricky business. Naturally, you have to take your manufacturer’s advice seriously, but once you know what oil weight you’re looking for, what other factors should you take into account?
Many motorcyclists consider their engine to be the beating heart of their motorcycle. If that’s true, then oil is undoubtedly the blood. Like a human body, a motorcycle needs blood to function, and not just any old blood either. For the best riding experience and improved performance, the right oil goes a long, long way.
Your motorcycle’s oil is there to keep the engine running efficiently, and keep the internals friction-free and clean. A properly lubricated engine won’t seize, overheat, or make any worrying noises. That’s why choosing the right motorcycle oil is an absolute essential. But it’s not a straightforward task.
What does weight mean? What’s the difference between a mineral oil and a synthetic one? What’s the difference between a Castrol product and a Motul one? Can an oil change really alter the overall performance of your motorcycle? We’ll cover those topics below and try and answer those questions as best we can. But before we discuss the ins and outs of engine lubricants, here are the top 10 best motorcycle oil products on the market, in our humble opinion.
Motorcycle Oil: Buying Guide
Now that you’ve seen our favorite products, it’s time to get into what all of those numbers and names really mean. You’ve seen things like 10W40 motorcycle oil, or 20W50 motorcycle oil, but what does that actually mean? What’s the real difference between synthetic and mineral motorcycle oils? And why is it so important to regularly change your oil and replace it with the right stuff for you motorcycle?
What Does Motorcycle Oil Do?
First things first: let’s have a quick look at what motorcycle oil actually does. It’s a lubricant. We all know that. And while most of us know what oil does and what it’s good for, there might be a few things even old hands don’t know about the stuff. Here’s a quick overview of what oil actually does.
It’s A Lubricant: This one is obvious, or at least it should be! Oil is there to lubricate your engine, minimizing friction between moving components and preventing wear. It does this my coating the internals with a thin film of oil, allowing parts to move freely. Oil lubricates more than just the engine: the clutch and gearbox also require lubrication.
It’s A Cleaner: When oil moves through your motorcycle’s system, it doesn’t just lubricate and protect your parts—it also cleans them. Most oils have additives that remove carbon build-ups, and filter any debris and move it away from your engine’s moving parts. A clean engine is an efficient engine!
It’s A Coolant: Motorcycle oil also removes heat as well as dirt. As it moves around your motorcycle system, it takes heat with it, cooling lubricated parts and stopping components from overheating. A good quality oil will never go above their flash point, and will keep your engine cool.
It Improves Life-span: A clean engine that doesn’t have any unnecessary signs of wear and tear will last longer than an engine filled with waste carbon and using damaged components. Regular oil changes, used with the right motorcycle oil filer, will maximize your engine’s life. That’s beyond doubt.
It’s A Performance Booster: A properly lubricated engine will improve your engine’s efficiency and overall performance. An engine with components that can move freely without resistance or excess friction will naturally perform better than a dirty engine. A clean engine will also be more fuel efficient than one that’s clogged up with dirty oil and sludge.
Types Of Oil Available
Now that you know what oil does, here are the three types that you’ll find on sale. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses, better suitability to different engines types and of course, they all come with different price tags. Here’s an overview of each type available.
Mineral oil is a product that’s mainly made up from crude oil. The crude oil base is modified and formulated with a wide range of additives that help to neutralize acids and reduce friction, resulting in superior lubrication than you’d get with plain crude oil. Mineral oils offer excellent protection when breaking in new engines, and they’re also great for simpler, small-capacity engines, or low pressure classic motorcycle engines. Unfortunately, these natural oils require changing more often than newer, synthetic oils, but they’re generally very affordable so it balances out.
100% Synthetic Oil
Synthetic oil, as its name suggests, is an artificial oil that doesn’t contain any natural minerals or products. Instead, it’s made from chemically altered petroleum-based materials, with additives and modifiers mixed in. Synthetic oils are generally have a lower viscosity compared with natural oils, allowing them to move through engines and coat components with ease. This low viscosity makes synthetic oils ideal for high-performance engines that are constantly under stress. Synthetic oils last a long time, improve performance, and don’t degrade in a hurry. Unfortunately, synthetic oil is more expensive than mineral oil.
Lastly, there’s semi-synthetic oil. This is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a fusion of both synthetic and natural mineral oils. A semi-synthetic oil offers the best of both worlds. It’s a great oil for smaller-capacity or lower performance motorcycles that aren’t put under high-stress. Think of it as a good oil for your daily commute, but a bad choice for the race track. These semi-synthetic oils are higher priced than mineral oils, but they’re not as expensive as fully synthetic oils either.
Features To Look Out For
Knowing what type of motorcycle oil to look for will greatly help your search. So, you’ve probably got a good idea of whether you’re looking for a mineral, synthetic, or semi-synthetic oil for your bike. But there’s more to it than just that. Here are some other crucial features to keep in mind and other things to look out for when you’re hunting for some new motor oil.
Compatibility is one of the most important things to keep in mind. Not all oils are compatible with every kind of motorcycle, and every kind of engine type. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions here. If your motorcycle is designed specifically for synthetic oil, only use synthetic oil. The right type of oil will help keep your motorcycle in top working order and keep it performing just how the manufacturer intended. Of course, there are times when you can change oil types, just make sure you do your research before taking any unnecessary risks.
Viscosity is one of the main features to look out for. Again, follow your manufacturer’s instructions. Viscosity is designated by a rating that looks something like this: 10W-40, or 20W-50. This number gives away two important pieces of information: the oil’s SAE viscosity when it’s cold, and the oil’s SAE viscosity when the engine is hot.
The W stands for Winter, and cold. So, for 10W-40 oil, it has a cold viscosity of 10, and a running viscosity of 40. Lower viscosity oils allow your engine components to move faster, while higher viscosity oils move slower. It’s essential that you put the correct product in your engine to avoid huge problems later on.
Some oils are blended with special additives and modifiers that have beneficial effects on your engine. Some are formulated to promote cleanliness, breaking down corrosion, and removing debris. Others are formulated to neutralize acidity. Most of them have additives that actively cool your engine as they lubricate it. Be on the lookout for oils that have additives that do what you most need them to do. If your engine runs a little hot, look for an oil with a special coolant additive, for example.
An oil’s working life is a very important factor to consider. Do you want to be changing your oil regularly, or would you prefer change intervals to be as far apart as possible? While some manufacturers will recommend an oil change after ever so-thousand miles, that figure can be extended with the right product. Unfortunately, oils with a longer working life are much more expensive than shorter life spanned products. The flip side is that you don’t have to buy it as regularly, so you keep that in mind when you’re looking for the best motorcycle oil for your needs and budget.
Another very important thing to look out for is the oil’s compliance standard. If you’re attempting a motorcycle oil change, you’re going to want to replace the oil with an approved, high-quality product. The symbols that you should be looking for will have SAE, JASO, or API written somewhere on the bottle. Make sure that they’re in-line with what your motorcycle manufacturer recommends. Buying an oil without these designations can be risky, and since oil is the life-blood of your motorcycle, it really isn’t worth taking a risk with a sub-par product.
The price of a product can be a deal breaker. But it’s better to spend money on oil than not, and be left with a broken engine instead, right? Luckily, thanks to the rise of online retailers it’s not possible to bulk buy bottles of motorcycle oil. This can lead to bigger savings. It’s also possible to buy full kits, with a new motorcycle oil filter, with oil, and other necessary products. Whether you’re buying WalMart motorcycle oil or top shelf, track-ready performance oil, always buy the best product for your motorcycle, rather than simply the best you can afford. The best isn’t always the most expensive.
Lastly, always read the reviews. Always! You can usually find some very useful information in the reviews section—along with a load of nonsense too. However, you can be lucky and find a review of a product from a rider who has the same motorcycle as you. They might shed light on the sort of performance benefits they gained from one brand when compared with another. It’s always useful information and could help you make an informed decision about which product will work best for your motorcycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often to change motorcycle oil?
Motorcycle oils are being manufactured with longer change intervals than ever before. Despite advances in technology, there’s still no right or wrong answer when it comes to change intervals. Mineral oils may require changing every 2,000 miles. Semi-synthetics: every 5,000 miles. Some fully synthetics even boast up to 10,000 miles. Follow the manufacturer’s advice, and take note: mileage isn’t the only criteria for oil change intervals. Time also plays an important role.
How to check motorcycle oil?
To check you oil level, warm your engine to operating temperature, and then turn it off to allow it to cool. With your motorcycle balanced upright and level, you can read the sight glass on the side of your engine case. The oil level (and the state of the oil) will be visible.
If your motorcycle uses a dipstick, simply wipe the stick clean, insert the stick into the oil reservoir as per the manufacturer’s instructions, and remove it reveal your oil reading. Following your manufacturer’s advice is the best way to understand your oil level and the state of it. Inaccurate readings aren’t uncommon—that’s why you should always follow the handbook’s advice.
Can I use car oil in a motorcycle?
It’s not recommended. Car oil and motorcycle oil may share viscosity ratings but they’re formulated to do different things. Cars have separate fluids for different things, while motorcycle parts try and share as much oil as they can. Car oil generally has additives that reduce friction by a great deal and while motorcycle engines like less friction, wet clutches generally need some friction to work.
In short: you could and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you had to put something in there in a pinch, but it’s definitely not for long term use.