Use any old motorcycle oil in your bike, it all meets the spec anyway……Doesn’t it?

Does my oil meet the spec

Why should you use a proper motorcycle oil in your pride and joy, surely all oil meets the spec anyway?

So often the terms ‘oil is oil’ and ‘it all meets the spec’ are bandied about in conversation, both actual and virtually. Forums are awash with opinions on oil and lubrication, motorcycle arenas are especially prone to this and it never ceases to amaze me the utter, misguided, bollox that passes for expert internet opinion in this area. So here is my opinion (and actually, I really am an oil expert!).

Let us get one thing clear in our minds. Your modern motorcycle engine is a wonder of precision manufacturing. It is designed to run at speeds and loads that former generations only dreamed of.
The oil clearances are measured in fractions of a thousandth of an inch, they matter. Luckily the materials and manufacturing processes are now so good, that you, the owner, can get away with a certain amount of abuse and neglect. To a point, then you are looking at needing to buy expensive parts and probably paying someone a pile of money to fit them.
Usually, a bit of quality lubrication may well have forestalled this painful event.


‘There is no part that comes in a bag with a part number on, from Honda et al, that costs less than the difference between ‘cheap oil’ and the better alternative. NONE.’

But I can trust what’s written on the label can’t I? I mean, why would some companies lie about the specs…………

‘Meets the spec’ is an interesting term. When and where does it meet the specification we desire and what does that specification mean. The spec we are all familiar with are the American Petroleum Institute ones (API). The European equivalent is the ACEA. Both are found in the small print on the back of most bottles of oil. The JASO specs are important for motorcycle oils as they are more bike specific. They all set out a minimum performance level for an oil, in a number of set tests, under set conditions.
All fine and dandy you may surmise, but there are a couple of other things to consider.

Firstly, there are many ways to make an oil to meet the demands of a test, some cost more than others. The temptation is there to design the oil down to the minimum standard required to ‘meet’ the test. Obviously the best way is to make a quality lubricant, it will far exceed the standards needed but will cost more.

Also, consider this, does the oil in the bottle actually match the stuff that passed the tests? Surely, nobody lies and just prints whatever is required on the label, do they (think about it for a minute, big business put horse meat in your burger to cut costs, despite there being checks on the quality all down the line of supply)?

There are no such testing regimes in place for the oil industry. It is cut throat and the temptations to save a few quid by omitting some of the dearer components from the blend are ever present. Most of the oil on the shelf in your cut price motor factor has been contract blended and packed down to a very tight price.
Even some of the brand names are not always as honest as we like to believe either. The industry is ‘self-regulated’ and, to my knowledge, nobody has ever been hauled over the coals for selling recycled sh*t as synthetic. The industry knows who does it and does nothing and no government department, trading standards or similar does anything (but would you really expect any different!)

Secondly, the most important time for the oil to meet the required specs is on drain down. Think about it, all the time the oil is in the engine it is doing the job of keeping the metal components apart, it is important it does that right up to the point of exit and replacement. If it is ‘worn out’ it should have been replaced earlier.

A good synthetic will last well, a cheaper mineral based lubricant will be out of spec a lot sooner. Not a real problem, as long as you change it when it needs doing. The problems usually show up when the manufacturer specifies a fully synthetic with a drain period of say 10k miles and the owner reads the 10k miles but is blind to the oil spec. Happily fits a cheap mineral alternative and……………In the days before synthetics, oil changes were done at 1500 miles, there is a reason for that. Why would you run an engine on oil that is not doing it’s job?

The way to stay safe is to supposedly only use a product from a known manufacturer, but some high profile brands do not blend or pack, they are triumphs of image marketing over bottle content.

A company with a manufacturing reputation to maintain will be doing their best to make sure the bottle you buy is the bottle you need.
Save money somewhere else, but spend a couple of quid extra on your true love and keep the whirring shiny bits on the inside of the engine.


This article was written for us by someone who works in the motorbike oil industry (but didn’t want to give there name!).
Bar a few spelling and punctuation adjustments, we haven’t added or removed anything from the article that was given to us as it does reflect our thoughts and suspicions about the oil industry.


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