Motorcycle Oil Change

A motorcycle’s lubrication system is one of the most important systems on a motorcycle, as lubrication keeps the engine moving.

How to Change Engine Oil on a Motorcycle

Maintenance for Best Performance

Motorcycles will only perform their best if their maintenance is kept up with. With any piece of machinery, maintenance is extremely important for longevity and efficiency. A neglected motorcycle will have poor performance, bad handling and a short life. A motorcycle’s lubrication system is one of the most important systems on a motorcycle, as lubrication keeps the engine moving. If the engine of the motorcycle is the heart of a motorcycle, it is something that should be well maintained. 

The many moving parts in a motorcycle’s engine need to be moving freely and have minimal friction. Some motorcycles, like sport bikes rev up to over 10,000 rpm. Imagine how fast the internals of that engine are spinning at over 10,000 rpm. Engine oil is what lubricates the bearings and other moving parts to keep that engine running and running efficiently. Without oil or with contaminated oil, an engine will overheat and seize, or even worse explode. Oil changes, especially in cars seem to be a topic of neglect, as some owners think you can go way over the recommended mileage. Motorcycles, especially air-cooled motorcycles, should never be neglected in this way as oil is a critical part of the engine running. 

Where to Begin

First things first, fire up the motorcycle and get the engine to operating temperature. This allows any particles in the oil to be stirred up and floating in the oil rather than settled at the bottom of the engine case. Changing the engine oil on a motorcycle is not hard but must be done correctly. A few things needed are:

  • Nitrile Gloves/ Latex Gloves
  • Cardboard
  • Rags / Shop Towel
  • Oil Catch Pan / Funnel / Catch Funnel
  • New Oil (use OEM viscosity and capacity)
  • New Oil Filter (use OEM recommended)
  • New Drain Plug Gasket/Washer (if needed)

Motorcycle Oil Systems

Motorcycles have different types of oil systems. Some use a dry sump and some use a wet sump. Some v-twin (ie Harley-Davidson) engines use a dry sump system where an external oil tank is used. Other engines, like parallel twins and four cylinder engines, have an oil pan integrated into the engine block. On a dry sump system, the oil is drained from the tank using either a plug or a hose that is disconnected. The one flaw of a dry sump system is that contaminated oil will still be sitting inside of the engine. Some manufacturers allow this small amount of contaminated oil to stay in the engine as it is diluted into the new oil. A pump may be able to suck the oil from an inspection access. Another trick is to disconnect the return line to the oil tank. Fill the oil tank with new engine oil. Put the oil return line in to a oil catch pan and start the motorcycle. The oil pump of the engine will start pumping oil out of the hose into the pan. Once the dirty oil has been pumped out of the engine, it will be followed by clean oil. The most important part of this process is that you don’t run out of oil in the oil pan and the engine runs dry. Constantly check the oil level while attempting to pump out contaminated oil. Put the oil tank feed back on and fill the oil tank to the manufacturer recommended level. 

On a wet sump system, the oil drain plug at the bottom of the engine is removed and the contaminated oil is drained. If the drain plug is magnetic, clean off any metallic debris and replace the washer/gasket as well. Fill the engine with new oil to the manufacturer recommended specifications. 

The oil filter on both systems also needs to be changed. These should be hand tight, but if they are not oil filter wrenches, pliers and strap wrenches can be used to loosen them. Clean all the surfaces thoroughly and replace the filter with some lubricant on the rub seal. Spin on to hand tight. If the filter is cartridge type, replace the cartridge and associated o-rings. 

Finishing Up

Start the motorcycle up and let it get to operating temperature. Shut the motorcycle engine down and check oil levels. If the oil level is low, add more oil. If the oil level is too high, drain the excess. Too much engine oil may cause a seal internally to fail. If you have an oil pressure gauge, check to see if the motorcycle is running to manufacturer specifications. 

Used engine oil should be recycled at a local recycling facility or repair shop. An option of using cardboard under the oil catch pan can be used to catch any spills or drips. Be careful not to get any drained oil on any tires. This can cause the tire to slip while riding. After a couple hundred miles check the oil level again and change at the oil manufacturer’s recommendation.  

Never attempt to repair or replace parts on a motorcycle if you are not comfortable or have the proper way of doing the job. Take your motorcycle to a licensed repair shop if the task cannot be completely safely.

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