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How Often To Change Motorcycle Oil: Basic Bike Maintenance

by Jordan Harris
How Often To Change Motorcycle Oil

Every internal combustion engine requires an oil change every now and then, and that includes the one in your motorcycle. It ensures the engine runs smoothly and minimizes wear on the components. But of course, the question is, how often to change motorcycle oil?

The answer is it depends on the motorcycle you have. And often it’s best to stick to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Additionally, there’s a little difference between the car and motorcycle oil changes. Here’s everything to know about motorcycle oil changes:

How Often To Change Motorcycle Oil: The Factors

When it comes to oil changes—or any other maintenance interval—it’s always best to stick with your manufacturer’s recommendation. So, check your owner’s manual to see the appropriate interval. If you’ve lost it, you can easily look for a manual for your specific motorcycle make and model online.

Just like cars, the recommended interval varies depending on the make and model, and the type of oil that the vehicle uses. This is anywhere between 2,000 to 10,000 miles. However, we’re not here to tell you what you already know. We do have some advice to share.

While the manufacturer’s interval is a good guide to stick to, several factors affect how often to change motorcycle oil that you should know about:

The Motorcycle Size

We’ll explain why later on, but what you need to know is that your bike’s size will affect how often you need to change the oil. With smaller motorcycles and scooters being the ones that require the most changes.

While it may not always be the case, the type and class of your motorcycle often dictate the oil change interval. For smaller motorcycles, such as 250cc (or smaller) standard motorcycles and scooters, it’s usually best to change the oil every 2,000 to 3,000 miles.

How Often To Change Motorcycle Oil

The time interval depends on how often you ride your motorcycle. Frequent riders are likely to need a change every two months. If you don’t travel on your bike that much, then changing it around every six months is a good idea.

Meanwhile, motorcycles with larger engines—300cc or larger—can often go up to 5,000 miles and even 7,000 miles before needing an oil change. But much like smaller motorcycles, changing it every six months is a good idea. Again, other factors are at play. And motorcycles with synthetic oil will have larger intervals:

Synthetic Motorcycle Oil

Just like cars, motorcycle oil can either be synthetic, semi-synthetic, or conventional mineral oil. All of them are made from crude oil. But synthetic oil uses a combination of adipic acid ester and polyethylene oil. It’s all quite complicated, but in essence, synthetic oil is less volatile and more durable.

Motorcycles with synthetic oil can last to about 7,000 miles before needing an oil change. And some may travel up to 10,000 miles. In terms of the time interval, you can often get away with changing just once a year if you don’t ride that often.

The downside is that synthetic oil is more expensive, hence why some still use conventional oil. And this is where semi-synthetic oil comes in, where it can last nearly as long as synthetic oil, but at a more affordable price.

If you’re wondering, yes, you can use synthetic oil in your motorcycle even if it originally uses mineral oil. Most synthetic oil nowadays is designed to work with almost any engine. The important thing is to make sure that you choose an oil with the correct viscosity.

How Often (And Hard) You Ride

Finally, your riding behavior will also affect how often you need to change your oil. If you ride your motorcycle almost daily, you’ll rack up the miles much faster and thus you’ll need an oil change frequently.

Needless to say, pushing your motorcycle hard and revving it to the redline will put more stress on the engine oil. As a result, it will degrade faster and you’ll need to change it sooner than later.

If you take it easy most of the time, then you can simply stick to the manufacturer’s recommendation and you’ll be fine. But if you like to push hard, then it’s a good idea to check the condition of your oil every once in a while.

Most motorcycles should have a dipstick, and you can learn how to check in the video above. The oil color should be either clear brown or dark brown, depending on when your last oil change was. It’s also normal for the oil to be black, just make sure that it isn’t sludgy or dirty. It should still have an “oily” feel to it.

It also shouldn’t be milky brown. If the oil looks like chocolate milk, then your oil is mixing with coolant. This usually means you have a blown head gasket, causing the two fluids to mix. And you’ll need to repair it to prevent further damage.

Checking the oil level is also a good idea. Pull out the stick, wipe it clean, and then dip it again to see where the oil ends on the stick. Ideally, it should be in between the maximum and minimum markers. Preferably a little towards the maximum marker. If your bike is losing oil rapidly, then you likely have an engine oil leak.

Oil Change Time VS Mileage

Should you change the oil depending on time or mileage? This is a frequent question, as some of us are frequent riders that can ride over a thousand miles in a month. While others are less-frequent, riding no more than a thousand miles in six months.

It depends on what the bike reaches first. If it’s done only 1,000 miles and your manual recommends a change every two months, you should still change the oil. If you’ve done 5,000 miles in just three months, and the manual recommends a change every 5,000 miles, then you should change it. Even if the time interval recommended is six months.

As a general rule, you should change the oil in a small motorcycle every two to three months. And for larger motorcycles, you should change it every six months to be on the safe side, regardless of oil type.

Why Do Motorcycles Require Oil Changes More Frequently?

You’ll notice that motorcycles require oil changes more frequently than cars, especially smaller motorcycles with engines below 250cc in size. But why is that? For you curious cats out there, here’s why:

Motorcycle Engine

First, it has to do with the motorcycle’s engine. Even though they’re smaller, motorcycle engines tend to rev much higher and more regularly than cars do. Small scooters such as Vespa can rev all the way to 7,600rpm, and more performance-oriented bikes often have a maximum RPM of 9,000rpm or more.

How Often To Change Motorcycle Oil

Meanwhile, most road cars usually top out at 6,000rpm. Additionally, motorcycles need to reach higher RPMs more often because their engines typically have little-to-no torque at all in the lower RPM range. The Vespa 150cc engine, for example, reaches peak torque at 5,000rpm and peak power at 7,600rpm. So, you need to exploit all that RPM to get the bike going.

Higher RPM means that the pistons and other engine components move faster and harder. This means it makes a lot more friction and heat. And as a result, the oil has to work harder and degrade faster than it does in cars since most car drivers don’t have to go over 4,000rpm in normal driving conditions.

Air-Cooled Engines

The next reason is also still related to their engines. Some motorcycles, particularly small scooters, and cruiser bikes, still use air-cooled engines. In case you didn’t know, internal combustion engines can be either air-cooled or liquid-cooled. The latter is now preferred since they offer more benefits.

However, smaller motorcycles are often still air-cooled simply because they’re cheaper to make. And cruiser bikes are often air-cooled because that’s part of their identity. As the name suggests, the engine relies on the air going through the components and fins to cool down the engine. While liquid-cooled engines circulate coolant around the engine to disperse heat.

What you might not know is that the engine also relies on oil to cool the components down. This is also true in liquid-cooled engines, but even more so in air-cooled engines, since they don’t have coolant and an active cooling system.

Anyway, the oil helps to cool down the engine by reducing friction between components, thus reducing heat and helping to keep the engine at operating temperature. Since there’s no liquid cooling, the oil undergoes faster cycles of wear and tear. As a result, frequent oil changes are necessary.

Smaller Oil Capacity

The final reason is oil capacity. With such a compact package, motorcycles are bound to hold much less oil than a car. For example, Vespa’s lineup—be it the 150cc or 250cc—holds just 1.4 quarts of oil. For comparison, a Chevy Spark—which is a subcompact hatchback and one of the smallest cars on the market—holds 3.7 quarts of oil.

Since there’s much less oil to go around, this also affects the frequency of the oil undergoing the wear and tear cycle. Additionally, most motorcycles share their engine oil with the transmission, whereas cars have a separate fluid for the transmission. This means that the motorcycle oil has to lubricate more parts. Further reducing its lifespan, hence why frequent oil changes are needed.

Of course, this effect is much less prominent in motorcycles with a bigger engine, such as 400cc and larger since they can hold more oil. Also, these bikes are often liquid-cooled, and their bigger engine means they can hold more oil. Especially if the manufacturer gives it a bigger oil sump.

Motorcycle Oil Change Cost

Now you know that smaller motorcycles will require an oil change every 2,000 to 3,000 miles. In contrast, larger ones can travel up to 5,000 miles before needing an oil change. And ones with synthetic oil can go 7,000 miles, or sometimes even 10,000 miles. But when the time comes, how much will it cost you?

Motorcycle oil changes are usually quick and painless, especially for Japanese scooters, hence why they’re generally relatively cheap. Local shops will probably charge you around $80 for an oil change. But if you do it at the dealer or national auto shop chains, the cost can be anywhere between $100 to $200.

How Often To Change Motorcycle Oil

Note that this estimate doesn’t account for an oil filter, which is necessary for every other oil change. The cost for an oil filter is anywhere between $35 to $65 if your bike uses conventional oil. And between $75 to $125 if you use synthetic oil. It may also vary depending on your bike’s make and model.

How To Change Motorcycle Oil

An oil change is one of the cheapest auto maintenance. But if you want to save money, or you want to do something that feels rewarding, then changing the oil yourself is also an option. You’ll probably save no more than $30 – $50, but that’s money you can use for gas instead. Here’s what you need to prep:

  1. New motorcycle oil.
  2. An oil filter (if necessary).
  3. Common hand tools, most importantly a torque wrench.
  4. Drain pan.
  5. Funnel.
  6. Gloves.

One last thing to note, make sure you pick an oil with the correct viscosity. As a refresher, every oil now comes with a viscosity rating which are the numbers you see on the packaging, such as 5W-30. The first number and ‘W’ indicates the thickness of the oil at low temperatures, such as running the car in wintertime or during cold starts.

Meanwhile, the second number indicates its viscosity when it’s at operating temperature. You can learn more about oil viscosity in our guide here. But the most important thing you need to know is to always stick with the manufacturer’s recommendation.

You can find this information in the service manual. And most manufacturers typically give a range of oil viscosity that’s safe to use. Be sure to stick to this recommended range. Using oil that’s too thick or too thin can result in severe engine damage.

Motorcycle Oil VS Car Oil

One last thing we’d like to note before we get to how to change the oil, make sure that you’re using oil that’s been designed for motorcycles. They’re largely the same, but there’s one big difference:

Unlike cars, most motorcycles don’t have a separate fluid for their transmission. This means that it uses engine oil to lubricate the transmission as well. As a result, there’s a different amount of friction modifier in the oil to meet this need.

If you use car oil in a motorcycle, this can disrupt the transmission’s operation. Additionally, it won’t give sufficient protection to the transmission’s gears, leading to damage in the long run. So, ensure that you’re buying oil that’s been made for motorcycles.

Steps To Change Motorcycle Oil

Right, now you have the right oil and all the right tools, here’s how to change your motorcycle oil:

  1. Wait at least 10 minutes to let the oil cool down if you’ve been riding.
  2. Put your motorcycle on its center stand. If it doesn’t have one, you’ll need a rear stand.
  3. Locate the motorcycle’s drain plug, then place the drain pan underneath it. Afterward, wear your gloves.
  4. Loosen the drain plug, and then remove it by hand. Be ready to move your hand away as oil will immediately pour out. Let it drain until it’s empty, and set the plug aside.
  5. Afterward, remove the oil filter and drain the oil out of it. You can skip to step number 7 if you don’t need a filter change.
  6. Install the new filter onto the slot. You can tighten it by hand, but make sure you don’t overtighten it.
  7. Reinstall the drain plug with a torque wrench. Specifications vary, but you shouldn’t tighten it more than 25 ft-lb. Overtightening it can strip the plug and you’ll have an unpleasant time in your next oil change. You can also use anti-seize if you like.
  8. Locate the oil filler and then refill with the correct amount of oil. Use a funnel so it doesn’t spill while you’re filling it.
  9. Start the bike, let it run for a few minutes, and then check the oil level.
  10. If the oil is at the correct level, then you’re done! If not, then refill as necessary.

The video above from Motorcyclist Magazine is a great visual guide on how to change the motorcycle oil and filter. Some bikes may be more difficult to work on, but the steps are generally the same. Good luck!

Motorcycle Maintenance Facts: Tips for Oil Changes and Other Maintenance Tasks

  1. Regularly checking and changing your motorcycle’s oil is crucial for ensuring that it runs smoothly and lasts for years to come.
  2. Motor oil acts as a lubricant for the moving parts of the engine and running low or running out of oil could lead to expensive repairs or needing an entirely new engine.
  3. Factors such as the make/model/year of the motorcycle, how often you ride, and the type of oil used determine when an oil change is needed.
  4. Motorcycles needing mineral-based motor oil can typically run 2,000-3,200 miles before needing an oil change, semi-synthetic motor oil can usually last between 5,000-8,000 miles, and fully synthetic motor oil can last between 7,000-10,000 miles.
  5. The quality of the current oil can also indicate if it needs to be changed, and it’s recommended to change the oil filter every time you change the oil.
  6. Other important maintenance tasks include checking the battery health, inspecting the brakes, checking fluids like coolant and brake fluid, and ensuring that safety controls like headlights, brake lights, and turn signals are working properly.
  7. Regular maintenance is especially important during the summer riding season to ensure that your motorcycle is in good shape for the rest of the season.
  8. Cleaning the exterior of your motorcycle is also important to prevent damage to the paint and keep bugs from becoming a permanent addition to your bike.
  9. Different types of oil may be required depending on the make/model/year of the motorcycle, and it’s important to check your bike’s service manual for specific directions.
  10. While oil changes and other maintenance tasks may seem like a hassle, it’s much better than having your motorcycle out of service for a few weeks while undergoing major repair work.

FAQs About How Often To Change Motorcycle Oil

Oil changes are very basic but crucial, so we understand if you still have more questions. These answers might be helpful:

How Often To Change Motorcycle Oil

Small motorcycles and scooters need an oil change every 2,000 to 3,000 miles, which is about two months for most riders. Larger ones usually need an oil change every 5,000 miles, and bikes with synthetic oil can get away with oil changes every 7,000 to 10,000 miles. To be on the safe side, change your oil every three months if you own a bike with a 250cc engine or smaller. And every six months for larger bikes.

How Often To Change Oil Filter

Most manufacturers recommend an oil filter change every other oil change. So, if you change the filter now, you won’t need to do it in your next oil change. This is the accepted standard in the auto industry, but check your service manual just to be sure.

How Many Miles Do Motorcycles Last

Motorcycles typically last between 30,000 to 50,000 miles. They last shorter than cars since they’re more exposed to the elements, leading to faster wear and tear on the components. However, with proper maintenance, many bikes can last over 100,000 miles. It’s all about how you love them.

How Often Should You Change Synthetic Oil

Synthetic oil can last anywhere between 7,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on your bike’s make and model, and the quality of the oil. If you don’t ride often, we recommend changing it every six months to be on the safe side.

Do You Tip Oil Change

You don’t need to, since mechanics are paid a decent hourly wage. But if you’re feeling generous, there’s no harm in tipping. Most people tip $5 – $20 on average.

How To Check Motorcycle Oil

Motorcycles also come with an oil dipstick, it usually has a black handle. To check the oil level, simply remove the stick, wipe it clean, and reinsert it back into the slot. Then pull it out again, and check where the oil ends, it should be between the minimum and maximum marker. Engine oil is typically brown and almost transparent, but it’s perfectly normal for it to be dark brown or even black if it’s been a while since your last oil change. If it’s sludgy, you’ll need to replace it. If it’s milky brown and looks like chocolate milk or gravy, you have an engine leak.

Can You Mix Synthetic And Regular Oil In A Motorcycle

Yes, you can safely mix both types. As long as they’re both of the same viscosity and are appropriate for your motorcycle, then you’ll have no problems. However, note that mixing synthetic oil won’t enhance the quality of regular oil. You might even lose the benefits of synthetic oil. So, it’s best to just stick to one type of oil in your car. But you can safely mix them if you’re in a pinch.

In Conclusion…

To summarize, your motorcycle’s oil change frequency depends on several factors. Most importantly is your motorcycle size. Smaller motorcycles with a 250cc engine or smaller need more frequent oil changes, usually around 2,000 to 3,000 miles or two to three months, whichever comes first.

This is partly due to the smaller oil capacity, causing the oil to degrade at a faster rate. And partly due to the air-cooled engines, which inherently cause the oil to degrade at a faster rate than liquid-cooled engines.

Motorbike Maintenance

Meanwhile, if you have a larger motorcycle, they typically need an oil change every 5,000 miles or six months. If your bike uses synthetic oil, you’ll need to change it every 7,000 to 10,000 miles. Some synthetic oil can last up to a year, but we like to be on the safe side and change it every six months.

Hopefully, this has been a helpful guide to motorcycle oil for you. Always stick to your manufacturer’s recommendations, and change your oil in due time. You may not feel the difference after an oil change, but it will help your bike to last much longer.

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