Anyone who has perused – or been a member of – a motorcycling forum will know this is probably the question most frequently asked and the one most hotly contested. Everyone has a definitive, authoritative opinion on the subject. Most seem to hold the Owners Manual in scant regard, preferring their own schedule based on x years and y experience or what the dealer recommended when they sold the bike to them…
Answers range from every 250 miles (yes really…) from anywhere up to 15,000 miles with every other mileage milestone in between. Such varied advice, and lack of clear / obvious direction from oil companies leaves the rest of us thoroughly confused as to what the right answer actually is. So I thought I’d apply some cold hard facts, years of empirical observation and a dollop of common sense to the subject in the form of this blog post in the hope it will help some riders seeking a proper, definitive answer to this question.
From looking at various forums and messageboards, the most popular interval to change your oil seems to net out around every 2,000 – 3,000 miles. For some riders – this may be as much mileage as they do in an entire year. For others, who commute to work or it’s their only mode of transport, they’ll rack this mileage up in a few weeks. If you change your oil yourself, this becomes a minor annoyance and some added running costs. If you have the dealer change your oil, high mileage and frequent changes will be extremely expensive.
The consensus of every 2 – 3,000 miles has built up largely to a few factors. The “feel good” factor of having their pride and joy always run with fresh oil is a big one. Experience garnered (or passed on) from two or three decades ago when oil technology was far from the level it is today is another. Some run very low annual mileage so they are only looking at one oil and filter change a year anyway. Internal opinions consciously (or unconsciously) refusing to change as technology and performance drastically improves is also a factor. These are all reasons why folks stick religiously to oil changes every 2k or 3k, even the folks who are high mileage riders that hit this oil change interval every few weeks.
Performance and technology is important to mention here. On the oil side, two or three decades ago, regular mineral oil (the stuff pulled out of the ground) was all that was available. This stuff actually did necessitate being changed every couple of thousand miles. Even to this day, mineral oil provides the least protection to engine components, doesn’t perform well at high temperature and breaks down more quickly with extreme use. Motorcycle oils on the market today are vastly superior to this older stuff. They have to be, in response to huge strides made by manufacturers in performance, power and reliability. Simply put, modern machines are far more demanding on their oil than machines of old, and this has resulted in huge strides in oil technology, quality and performance. The best motorcycle oils of today are high-performance, fully synthetic and developed in a lab – not pulled out of the ground. Synthetic oil consists of uniform molecules that are specifically tailored to serve as a performance lubricant. That means it does a better job of reducing wear and holds up far better under extreme use. This type of oil can be run far harder, for far longer, with an obvious impact on oil change intervals. So a note here – if cost is a factor and you use mineral oil in your bike, you should stick to the 3k oil change interval. That said, fully synthetic oils these days are much cheaper than they used to be (under $10 for a quart of one of the top brands) so the lines are definitely blurring between mineral and synthetic.
It’s no surprise to learn that with all these performance gains from oils and motorcycles, the definitive place to look for oil change intervals for your particular bike is NOT the dealer that sold you the bike (who have a vested financial interest in getting you to service your bike with them as often as they can convince you it needs doing). It’s – you’ve guessed it – your Owners Manual! I am always amazed at how this document is so mis-trusted, derided and dismissed on forums and boards by owners of motorcycles. It just doesn’t make any sense. The Owners Manual is written by the people that designed and built your bike, so it makes sense to TRUST IT and to follow the maintenance schedule laid out by them. They are not going to suggest a maintenance schedule that harms or damages the bike in any way. If fully-synthetic engine oil really needed changing every 2,000miles before it damages the engine and gearbox, they are hardly going to suggest changing it every 7,500miles… All that’s going to do is destroy your bike and along with that, your confidence in their engineering and their brand. Your Owners Manual really is the definitive authority on oil change intervals for your motorcycle and your riding habits and conditions you ride in. Period. You don’t need to question the information contained within it on forums and messageboards. You certainly don’t need Tom, Dick and Harry to chime in with their (usually incorrect) opinions either.
I have had 4 bikes over the years. The Japanese ones all recommend an oil change interval every 7k or 8k miles. The oil change interval written in the Owners Manual on my current bike (2015 Kawasaki Versys) is 7,500 miles. The HarleyNight Rod was 5,000. Despite the variations in numbers between manufacturers, this is always on the condition that a good quality, fully-synthetic 4-stroke (or V-Twin if applicable) oil is used. The Versys has the same engine as the Ninja, and redlines at 10,000 RPM all the way up to 13,500. I ride around 2,000 miles a month. My daily commute is 100% freeway, so I’m either running at low speeds through congested traffic, or up near three figures (or slightly over :-) when it clears and I get out of the city so the oil definitely gets hammered. I will own up here and admit that I used to change the oil every 3,200 miles BUT this meant frequent oil changes. I got a little tired of draining oil that I could see even with the naked eye still had plenty of life left in it so I stopped the 3,200 change and now follow the schedule in the manual and do it every 7,500. Even coming up to oil change time after nearly 7,500 miles of use, the engine and gearbox are smooth, with the same acceleration it’s always had. You would be hard pressed to know the oil has done nearly 7,500 miles. Per the manual, you will need to adjust your oil change interval if you do a lot of very short rides, ride in extreme cold, do a lot of stopping/starting or store the bike for long periods of time. The oil should be changed every 7,500 miles or after one calendar year – whichever comes first.
On the Versys, I’ve used Kawasaki’s own fully synthetic oil, as well as Mobil 1′s Racing 4T. I have just bought Castrol Power RS Racing oil which will be up next weekend as the bike is about to hit 37,500 miles.
With regular use, if you use a good quality, fully synthetic oil, changing it more than this is ok and completely up to you. It won’t hurt anything – but to be honest, it really is a waste of time and money. Modern, lab-produced, synthetic oils on the market today are designed to run way in excess of the 2k or 3k intervals most folks follow. Oil change intervals listed in Owners Manuals are actually on the conservative side. If you still have doubts, take a look at the manufacturer warranty on Mobil 1′s synthetic motorcycle oil:
“Mobil warrants its lubricants to be free from defects and that the lubricant you purchased will protect your vehicle’s critical engine parts from oil-related failure. The Mobil 1 limited warranty is valid for 10,000 miles”
So the manufacturer of my bike recommends changing the oil at 7,500miles (which as stated above is on the conservative side) and the oil manufacturer themselves guarantee their oil for least 10,000miles. Considering this, changing the oil at 2k or 3k really is way overkill.
It really is that simple. If you follow what it says in the Owners Manual (not just for oil changes – but all periodic maintenance) your bike will be well maintained and serviced and will give you many years of trouble-free riding.