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Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

motorcycle engine oil change guide - Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

Changing your motorcycle’s engine oil isn’t challenging but you do need to make sure you have all the right tools, fresh oil and a new filter plus an idea of what you’re doing before you start.

You should follow your motorcycle owner’s manual to ensure you use the manufacturer’s recommended engine oil. 

In this guide, we’ve used a BMW R1200GS but the principles are the same for any motorbike. If you have any questions, just drop them in the comments box below.

Motorcycle Oil Change Guide

The Tools You’ll Need

The tools you’ll need will vary depending on your motorcycle. For this guide, we’ve used a BMW R1200GS. However, the tools I’ve listed below will cater for most motorcycles.

  • Oil filter removal tool
  • Oil filter cap removal tool (if your bike comes with one, BMW for example)
  • 3/8″ square drive ratchet / socket wrench
  • 10mm & 13mm sockets
  • 8mm Allen key or Allen socket
  • Oil funnel
  • Oil drain container for old oil (old washing up bowls are excellent)
  • Paper towels and or cloth rags
  • Don’t forget the engine oil (usually around 4 litres)

Choosing the right engine oil

There’s an old saying that goes ‘any engine oil is better than no engine oil’ and broadly speaking that’s right. However the ‘right’ engine oil is better than just any engine oil.

If you don’t know what oil you need, just use our handy motorcycle oil finder to find the right oil and the engine’s oil capacity.

It goes without saying, you should consult your owner’s manual and use the oil recommended by your motorcycle’s manufacturer.

While motorcycle engine oils vary in price, you do get what you pay for. It doesn’t make sense to run a motorcycle on cheap engine oil as it will reduce the bike’s outright power, its miles per gallon and possibly cause engine wear. An synthetic ester oil is more expensive than most oils but that’s because they’re far better at protecting the engine, helping the bike produce power and improving MPG. So skimp at your peril.

Before you start

Before you start the process of draining the oil, you need to warm your motorcycle’s engine up so the old oil will be thinner and drain more effectively. 

You can take it for a lap around the block or just leave it ticking over until the temperature needle (or display) shows the bike is getting warm. If you have an air-cooled bike, be cautious as it’s generally not recommended to leave them ticking over for too long.

Once up to temperature, your oil should flow with the consistency of a milkshake, rather than clear honey. 

How to change your motorcycle engine oil

Step 1 – Get access to the engine

motorcycle engine oil change step1 - Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

Before you start, remember your exhaust pipes are now hot!

You need to get access to your engine and specifically your sump plug and oil filter. For our R1200GS this involves removing the bash plate but if you have a sportsbike you’ll need to remove the fairing.

Owners of naked bikes can smugly move onto Ste 2. Sportsbike owners, we’ll see you in a bit!

Step 2 – Get ready to drain

motorcycle engine oil change step2 - Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

First, remove the engine oil filler cap as this will allow air into the engine and help the oil drain out. The filter cap is where you’ll put the fresh oil, it’s not on the underside of the engine.

Place a suitable container under the sump (you can buy a proper used oil container like this one) or just drain it into an oil washing up bowl but you’ll have to decant this into something else in order to dispose of it.


Step 3 – Drain away

motorcycle engine oil change step3 - Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

Then loosen off the oil drain plug with whatever tool you need (usually an Allen key on your ratchet socket). Once the sump plug has been loosened, continue to loosen it by hand but ensure you apply pressure so it to keep it in place until it has been completely undone. 

Then whip it away and the oil will flow into your receptacle. By undoing it by hand, you also have a better chance of it not dropping into the oil pan and then getting covered in oil.

It’s good practice to use latex or workshop gloves as engine oil is carcinogenic.

Step 4 – Fitting a new oil filter

motorcycle engine oil change step4 - Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

While the oil is draining from the engine, you can remove the old oil filter and replace it with a new one. Loosen the old one off with your filter tool for a couple of turns. Oil will start to seep out, you can leave it for a minute until most of the oil has flowed. Then wipe the excess oil off and unscrew the old filter it by hand and remove completely.

You should leave your bike draining for a good 5 minutes. If it’s on a side stand, you can pick it up to help drain more oil but be careful not to get oil on your controls.

Step 5 – Double-check everything

motorcycle engine oil change step4b - Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

Clean the oil drain plug and fit a new crush washer if your manual asks you to. Re-fit the sump plug.

Clean the underside of your motorcycle’s engine , wipe the oil from where the filter locates and then wipe a dab of oil around your new filter to help it properly seal. Some mechanics like to add a bit of new oil into the filter to ensure there isn’t starvation wheny ou first run up the engine. Pour in small amounts and keep topping up over a 5 minute period.

Fit your new filter and tighten it up to the manufacturer’s recommended settings. If you don’t have a torque wrench then tighten by hand and then use your filter tool to add another 180-degrees.

Step 6 – Pour in your fresh oil

motorcycle engine oil change step5 - Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

Slowly pour in your new oil. This is fairly easy to do when you use multiple 1-litre bottles but if you have a 4-litre bottle it’s best to use a funnel or you’ll pour a load over your engine before you even reach the filling hole. If you don’t have a funnel, make one from an old plastic bottle.

Don’t just fire in the full amount that your user manual says the engine can hold or you might overfill. Fill it to 500ml of the recommended amount and check the sight glass. The oil should be halfway up the sight glass. Top up as required.

Step 7 – Check your engine oil level

motorcycle engine oil change step6 - Motorcycle Engine Oil Change Guide

Replace your oil filler cap, ensuring that the O-ring is in place. 

To accurately check your engine oil level, the engine should be at temperature. Let your engine idle for a few minutes and then check the oil level again. As the oil has circulated in the engine it will most likely have dropped in the sight glass, so add another 200ml and check. 

Replace your sump guard or fairing and you’re good to go!

Motorcycle Engine Oil FAQ

Can I use car engine oil in my motorcycle?
This can be risky. Even though you can and will find car oil with the same viscosity ratings (i.e. 10w40) as for motorcycle engines, the additives in the oil will be different. Most cars use a separate gearbox oil and most cars have a dry clutch. So a car oil could make your clutch slip or knacker your gearbox. If you're buying a bike that's been run on car oil, beware!

Does engine oil have an expiry date?
Engine oils have an expiry date which means the performance levels can no longer be guaranteed. However if your oil hasn't been opened, it'll take years and years for it to degrade. If your oil has been opened and is a couple of years out of date, it'll most likely be absolutely fine. However, if you've already opened it and it's 5 years out of date you'll be better off buying fresh oil as the additives in the oil may have oxidised and lost their qualities.

What are the most critical areas where the oil flows?
For a motorcycle engine, the critical engine areas are the piston assembly, bearings and valve train. The engine oill also lubricates the clutch (but not if your motorcycle has a dry clutch) and your motorcycle's gearbox.

What does my oil filter do and do I need to replace it?
The oil filter traps foreign particles and debris that are introduced into the oil by normal riding. These particles can be anything from carbon deposits to small metal particles from your motorcycle's engine. These particles can lead to engine damage, while a blocked filter may lead to oil starvation and ultimately engine failure. An oil filter costs just a few pounds, so it makes sense to change this every time you do an oil change.

What is the difference between a mineral, semi-synthetic, and full-synthetic engine oil?
Mineral oils are refined from petroleum, but even mineral oils contain some synthetic compounds or additives to improve them. Semi-synthetic oils are a blend of mineral and synthetic oils. They have definite improvements over pure mineral oils. Semi-synthetics can contain “hydrocracked” bases. Hydrocracked oils are mineral oils that have been subjected to intense pressure and temperature to change the structure of the molecules, making the resultant oil more stable and resistant to evaporation at higher temperatures. Semi-synthetic oils don’t cost much more than mineral oils do, but offer advantages over the latter.

Why does a 2-stroke oil have to be mixed with fuel?
A 2-stroke engine is built and runs differently to a 4-stroke one. A 4-stroke engine keeps most of its oil in its crankcase and oil sump and recirculates this oil to lubricate the engine. With a 2-stroke engine, the process is somewhat different. Here, there is no oil sump as the crankcase deals with the compression and induction of the fuel/air mix. The only way, therefore, to provide oil to the engine for lubrication is by adding it to the fuel. As this oil is burnt with the fuel, it can’t be recirculated. A specific 2-stroke oil is needed as 4-stroke oil would leave damaging deposits behind when it burns.

Is any engine oil better than no engine oil?
Yes, but when it comes to motorcycles, the 'right' engine oil is better than 'any' engine oil!

Why do some engines burn oil?
Unfortunately, some types of engines just use more oil than others due to their design. Here, the burnt oil can leave damaging deposits behind, meaning these engines often need more top overhauls. However, if a touring engine uses more oil than is necessary, changing to a lighter grade of oil often solves the problem.

Can I top up my engine with a different type of oil?
As long as you don’t mix a 2-stroke oil with a 4-stroke oil, you can safely top your engine up with a different type of oil. You probably wouldn’t want to mix different grades, say, a 5W-30 synthetic with a 20W-50 mineral oil, but if you do, it likely wouldn’t do any harm.

Do I need to warm up my engine before riding?
The oil needs to be warm, but, even better, hot, especially when riding at speed. When cold oil is pumped into an engine, cavitation (bubbles of vacuum within the oil) is likely to occur. This, in essence, means that the engine does not receive enough oil for it to run optimally at speed. Warmer, and so thinner, oil ensures that the engine not only receives enough oil, but that all moving parts within it can work optimally. Ideally, use a 5W-40 or 10W-40 oil and ensure the engine warms up properly for a few km before speeding up.

Do I need to regularly change my oil?
If you tend to drive short distances with a low annual mileage, regular oil changes are vital, irrelevant of whether the minimum mileage for an oil change was reached or not. Water vapour and fuel tend to make their way into the oil, and, unless you drive long distances, they never have the chance to evaporate. This can cause damages like corrosion, gear tooth pitting, and ring and bore wear. Long-distance riders with a high annual mileage who use a high-quality oil can afford to be a little more relaxed on the oil changes.

What's the best type of oil to use in a road bike?
Your ideal choice of oil would be an ester semi-synthetic 10W-40 or a 10W-30 that is also shear-stable. The fact that the oil is shear-stable is more important than the fact that it is semi-synthetic. You are still better off choosing shear-stable mineral-based oil than a low-quality semi-synthetic one that isn’t shear-stable. Only for frequent long-distance riders would the cost of a full-synthetic oil be worth it, as it can help save on oil changes and fuel costs.

How does oil 'cling' onto the engine's internals?
Where there is high-speed rotation in the engine, e.g. with a plain bearing, the high speed draws a thick layer of oil between the two surfaces, like a wedge. Here, this oil supports and carries the load of these surfaces. As soon as the spinning stops, however, either due to the slowing down or stopping of the engine, this wedged oil gives way. Where no rotation occurs in an engine, oil cannot form this thick wedged layer to protect metal surfaces. Here, oil provides a thin protective film and often relies on anti-wear agents, detergents, and anti-oxidant chemicals to help protect from metal-to-metal contact.

Questions or Comments?

Got a question or something else to add? Just drop your comment below!

  • Andy says:

    Shame that you haven’t recommended cleaning out the old oil, even though you recognise there are harmful deposits in the system. The British Motorcycle Racing Club, BEMSEE, did some independent pre and post testing on oil and fuel system cleaners, restoring between 5-12 HP. Proven benefits in power, performance, lowered emissions. Clean engines work better!

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