Oil for the common man:

With all the talk about ratings and magical additives included in oil these days, I wanted to get with the guys at Bel-Ray (Andrew Hodges and Chris “Dang” McAvoy) to see how they could simplify things.  Changing oil is a necessary evil, and not a task I personally enjoy.  Working at Western Power Sports I sell many different brands of oil and have experienced the oil manufacturers tell me they have an unbeatable formula only to have an oil competitor explain the previous company was lying and they have the scientific data to prove otherwise.  Now, if you talk to motor builders they all have their favorite brand and a story as to why, maybe a bike that ran with no coolant or their impeccable reliability record.  What does all this mean?

 Do formulas matter if I change my oil regularly?
-    Yes! Regardless of whether you are changing your oil after 100 miles or 10,000 miles, you still want to have a good quality oil in your bike. Changing it after relatively short intervals does give you the option of running mineral oils without fear of oil degradation being a problem, but even then, it is still advisable to use a high quality product. Friction is there from the first revolution to the last, so an oil that provides excellent wear protection is a good idea no matter how often it is changed.

Why do I need motorcycle specific oil, car oil is cheaper and I change it every ride?  
-    This is a common preference I see and I definitely get the thinking behind it, but there are some aspects that I don’t believe riders doing this are fully considering. 

Let’s assume you manage to find a high quality automotive engine oil that does not contain friction modifiers (which are deal breakers for a wet clutch) but still provides good gear and clutch protection (assuming this is for a bike with a shared sump). 
1.    I agree with your comment in your introduction that changing oil is a chore so having to change it every single time I ride sounds like a nightmare.
2.    The cost of buying oil and a filter every single ride does not sound inexpensive no matter how cheap the oil is, so I doubt there is really much money being saved compared to a motorcycle specific product that can be changed much less frequently.
3.    Inexpensive automotive oils typically meet the absolute minimum standards for automotive use, so even a “high performance” car oil’s additive package is likely a bit underwhelming compared to a fully formulated motorcycle oil.
4.    Automobiles exert much less physical shearing on their oil compared to most motorcycles because their engines and transmissions are separate. Therefore, most automotive engine oils do not perform in shear resistance tests as well as motorcycle specific oils should. Viscosity loss due to shear can be a very bad thing for engine life so the product chosen should be verified for shear resistance in gearboxes.

Does my motorcycle specific oil brand matter if I change it every ride?
-    If the choice is between two brands that perform equally, then no the choice won’t matter. However, if one brand has better performance then the other, the choice should be clear. 

Brand choice does matter, but there are many good brands to choose from. I have an obvious bias for Bel-Ray products, but my personal belief, because of the testing we do here, is that Bel-Ray products are the best in the market. Our approach to formulating and testing has provided us with decades of success and excellence. The methods we use to evaluate and develop our products have given us some of the best performing products we can find on the market today. So if you are trying to choose a brand, I am more than happy to shamelessly recommend Bel-Ray to you.

What oil is best for bikes without separate gear oil?  Will a full synthetic make my clutch slip?
-    The best oil to use in a bike with a shared sump for the engine and the transmission is a JASO rated engine oil. All JASO rated engine oils have to meet the minimum API standards for their respective performance levels so engine performance is guaranteed. However, the JASO regulations include additional performance requirements including clutch performance. There are four levels of performance in the JASO regulation, but only three of them are for combined sumps with a wet clutch: MA, MA1 and MA2. The only difference between MA, MA1, and MA2 is with regards to their results in a clutch friction test, but that difference is important. 

o    MA1 has the lowest amount of friction
o    MA has a medium amount of friction
o    MA2 has the highest amount of friction

MA1 and MA oils have a lower amount of friction between the clutch plates which results in more slipping between clutch plates. Slipping the clutch to some degree is important to control power delivery, but I would much rather prefer to rely on my own use of the clutch lever than the oil limit the power delivery. Therefore I prefer MA2 oils, which have the strongest clutch engagement properties. These oils give the least amount of slipping and strongest engagement. Without slipping, less wear and overheating occurs in the clutch so it will extend clutch life as well.

Another aspect of an oil that needs to serve as both engine and transmission lubricant is the gear protection. Extreme pressure protection is important to protect gear surfaces from damage in high torque applications. So you should look for an engine oil that provides that protection.

-    The concept that a full synthetic oil will make the clutch slip had some truth to it thirty years ago but not in today’s oils. The synthetic base oils and the additives we use today are all evaluated meticulously for their effects on performance and we only use components we know will work in the application we are formulating for.

What oil is best for bikes with separate gear oil?
-    In the engine, once the issue of the combined transmission is removed, there are a lot more options for the engine oil. In general a friction modified product with friction reducing additives is ideal for this type of situation. Similar to automotive oils, an oil designed just for the engine does not need to include extreme pressure additives so the focus of the formula can be on anti-wear and friction reduction. This type of product generally produces less heat, increases horsepower, and minimizes wear compared to a product designed for a shared sump.

The best oil for the transmission is one that enhances the clutch’s performance and protects the transmission from damage. An oil that has good extreme pressure protection without the use of friction reducing additives and a robust additive package to inhibit degradation is the recipe for success for the transmission oil. JASO rated engine oils are typically suitable in this application, but they often have unnecessary components required for the engine that may limit some of the performance in the transmission.

If I run full synthetic, can I wait longer before oil changes?
-    In general yes. A full synthetic engine oil should provide a higher level of resistance to oxidation. Oxidation of the oil is the main factor in oil degradation so reducing the oxidation rate extends the life of the oil. If you have two identically formulated oils with the exception of one being a fully synthetic polyalphaolefin (PAO) and ester blend and the other being a conventional/mineral product, the synthetic product will often last more than double the time of the mineral before a change is needed.

Do I really need a new oil filter every oil change?
-    Is it absolutely necessary? Probably not, but I would still suggest it as a good practice.

 The filter is there to catch wear particles and contaminants in the oil during circulation. Those contaminants are usually things that promote oxidation and accelerate the overall degradation of the oil. So if you change the oil but leave the old filter in place, you are circulating your fresh oil through the crud that was already filtered out and exposing it to those contaminants right away. By doing this you are immediately accelerating the degradation of the oil before any new contaminants can even make their way into the bike. Alternatively, by changing the filter each time, you are removing those things and giving the bike a fresh start each time and maximizing oil life.

I have had an oil brand with the exact same bottle and two different colors, any idea why this would happen?
-    Formula changes are pretty common in our industry. We are somewhat less regulated than the automotive engine oil marketplace so we have a little more freedom to go outside the box and develop and change our formulas. 

Certain additives are naturally colorful, so they may impart some color to the final formula. So formula changes are one possibility that could change the color.

Another possibility is the base oil being used. Common base oil colors range from being as clear as water to as dark as molasses. There are others that have slight green, blue, or red tints them as well. The most commonly used base oils are either clear or some shade of amber, but occasionally those others may be used and they will influence the finished product’s appearance.

If everyone is treating the oil with their own additives, does it matter what base oil they start with?
-    Base oil selection is important no matter what additives are being used. I’ve always likened it to coffee beans (additives) and water (base oil). If you have some great coffee beans there is going to be a big difference between the coffee made with them using clean spring water or dirty sewer water.

Starting with a subpar base oil immediately puts a product at a disadvantage. Likewise, starting with an excellent base oil immediately gives the product a head start. The base oil’s performance is the performance base line and the additives being blended in build on that baseline performance. 

There are performance differences within the petroleum base fluid range and there are differences within the synthetic base fluid range. The distinction between base oils is not just between petroleum and synthetics either. There are wide ranges to choose from in both mineral and synthetic base oils with varying quality levels. A well formulated mineral oil will compare very favorably to a poorly formulated synthetic product, so the total formula is important. Focusing on a single component does not give you a full picture of the oil’s performance.

Thanks for the info guys!