Thursday, December 13, 2007

Automotive Oil in Your Motorcycle Engine: What’s the Difference?

If you peruse the shelves of your local motorcycle dealer or specialty shop, it won’t be long until you notice the many choices of motorcycle specific oil, all claiming to be “best engineered for the extreme needs of your motorcycle engine”. You’ll also be sure to notice that the motorcycle oil costs on average between 200-300% more than its automotive counterpart. Are motorcycle oil and automotive oil truly that different, and would one be a fool to put automotive oil in their high-revving motorcycle engine?

Oil companies hawking their motorcycle specific motor oil have been stating the same claims for decades, but could their research back it up? Motorcycle oil manufacturers claim that their oils possess better lubricating properties and retain their viscosity for longer periods and over more miles because they are infused with much more expensive, shear-stable polymers and additives than in most everyday automotive oils. This might have been true when the large automotive engines of the 1970s were the norm, but today, most cars possess smaller engines, higher-revving four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines that have demanded improvements in automotive oil that bring them mostly inline with motorcycle oil when looking at their ingredients. These new automotive oils have been formulated to perform better in today’s smaller engines that are more like the engines in their two-wheeled cousins than ever. Another claim made by motorcycle specific oil manufactures is that since automobiles have begun using catalytic converters (not standard in most motorcycles), laws have limited the amounts of anti-wear agents, namely phosphorous, in automotive oil. It is true that motorcycle oils have a slightly higher concentration of phosphorous in their products, but the concentrations are still below government mandated levels, making them able for use in many new converter equipped models made by companies such as BMW and Yamaha.

The largest claim made by motorcycle oil companies involves viscosity retention. Again, they claim the larger amounts of shear-stable polymers better resist the excruciating punishment dealt by highly efficient, high-revving motorcycle engines. Many tests have been run pitting automotive oil against motorcycle oil concerning this very matter. When analyzing the data, one finds that amongst synthetic motor oils, motorcycle-specific and automotive-specific possessing petroleum derived additives to help prevent viscosity breakdown, the automotive specific blends as a whole outperform their motorcycle oil counterparts in the motorcycle engines for which they were designed! Perhaps the only conclusion to be drawn is that motorcycle oil is marketed towards a much smaller market of consumers, and thus is priced much higher. The truth is the higher cost is not reflected so much in higher quality but in the smaller quantity required by that smaller market.

About the Author: Chris Jent is the chief marketing officer of Triple Diamond Energy Corp. Triple Diamond Energy specializes in acquiring the highest quality prime oil and gas properties. For more information, visit

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