It’s often said that engine oil is the lifeblood of our motorcycles. One of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to maintenance and assuring the longevity of our bikes’ engines is indeed the engine oil. Now, manufacturers almost always have recommended oil change intervals which we have to follow. Personally, we suggest never to go beyond these intervals, and perhaps even change out the oil much sooner, especially if you ride a lot and ride hard.
That said, not everyone is mechanically adept, and it can be all too easy to let the recommended oil change interval pass you by, especially if you ride your bike on a daily basis. With that, here are a few signs that you must watch out for that could mean the your engine is in need of fresh oil. Now, remember, changing the oil isn’t a one-stop-fix when it comes to some of these issues. However, if after you’ve changed the oil, and these issues persist, it could be a good sign that something else is causing your issues.
Higher operating temperatures
Apart from providing much needed lubrication for your engine’s hundreds of moving parts, oil also keeps temperatures down by absorbing the heat from all these moving components. Now, all motorcycles have an optimal operating temperature range, and if you notice your engine running hotter than normal—be it via the temp gauge on the dash, or just from the heat emanating from the engine, it could mean that your oil has degraded to such an extent that it’s no longer able to keep those temps at bay. Changing your oil to fresh, fully synthetic oil should go a long way in improving these temps.
Rough gear changes
Unlike cars whose transmissions are housed separately and make use of their own lubrication system, most motorcycle transmissions are housed within the crankcase. This means that the gears and the clutch all share the same oil with the engine. As such, the engine oil is also responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of the clutch and transmission. Naturally, the smoothness of your transmission is highly dependent on the condition of your engine oil, and notch shifting, false neutrals, and a crusty clutch pack are oftentimes the result of old oil that has lost some of its lubricating capabilities.
Your clutch starts to slip
In a similar manner as to how rough gear shifts could be an indicator of a long overdue oil change, so too can a slipping clutch. Although this is usually a sign of a more serious issue, it isn’t unheard of for a clutch to start slipping due to degraded, or poor quality oil. Sometimes, putting in the wrong type of oil could also cause clutch slip, so make sure you’re putting in the correct type of oil into your engine. For bikes with a wet clutch, it’s usually labeled JASO MA2, which means it’s developed specifically for wet clutch systems. If even after you’ve changed the oil to the correct specifications, and your clutch continues slipping, it could simply mean that your clutch plates are worn out, and due for replacement.
Mechanical engine noise
All motorcycle engines have a certain level of noise while running. Apart from the sound of the exhaust, you’ll often hear the valves and lifters operating with a rhythmic tick. Engines from Yamaha, Triumph, and especially Ducati, are known for this. However, if you notice that your engine ticks much more loudly than what you’re accustomed to, it could mean that your oil has lost its lubricating abilities, and is letting some of that valve train noise through. Remember though, if you hear a loud tapping or a prominent metal-to-metal sound, chances are an oil change isn’t going to fix your problem, and you have a much more serious engine issue.