Plenty of riders, myself included, are interested in trying some do-it-yourself mechanical work on their rides. Perhaps it’s part of the larger American cultural trend towards DIY skills; perhaps it’s the lingering influence of Robert Pirsig’s 1974 classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; perhaps it’s due to the fact that motorcycle shops are expensive (shop rates in California tend to be between $80 and $110 per hour), and motorcycles’ frequent maintenance needs make going to the shop for every chain adjustment and oil change a pricey proposition. For me, the image of the self-sufficient lone rider, contentedly working on her bike in the middle of nowhere, was too good to resist; and after a couple of years of riding, I became an apprentice mechanic at a local shop.
So, with the aim of helping riders learn a little basic wrenching on their bikes (and, hopefully, getting the satisfaction that building skill and learning to maintain your bike can bring), I’m starting a series on changing your own oil and filter, geared to the relative beginner. Recycling your filter as well as your oil is a key part of responsible wrenching, too–so I’ll cover that. I’m hoping to include a variety of bikes in future DIY oil change posts, as well, from cruisers to standards to sportbikes to dual-sports and beyond. Thanks, too, go out to Werkstatt Motorcycle repair in San Francisco; owner Jennifer Bromme has generously agreed to let me use her shop for occasional educational purposes.
The first bike in the series is a common metric cruiser, the Honda Shadow VLX 600. Like most streetbikes, it needs an oil and filter change every 3,000 miles.
Tools and supplies you’ll need for an oil and filter change on the Shadow
1. 3-4 liters of 10w40 oil (look for the small circular label on the back of the bottle; if it says “energy conserving,” it’s the wrong type for bikes; additives in the oil will make your clutch slip. If there’s no such text, it will be fine).
2. An oil filter (K&N brand #303 is recommended; the 17mm nut on the front of the filter is very useful for replacing the filter in the tight space on the Shadow).
3. A sturdy screw-top jug for recycling oil and ziploc for recycling your filter (since I was in a motorcycle shop for this series, I simply placed the oil and filter in their respective recycling drums).
4. An oil pan to catch oil–for the home mechanic, the type with a screw-on lid are convenient for transporting oil to a recycling location.
5. Plenty of shop towels or paper towels for cleanup, and latex or nitrile gloves to protect your hands–used oil is toxic.
6. A new crush washer for your drain plug (The standard size for most Japanese bikes has an interior diameter of 12mm).
7. A 17mm wrench (the Shadow doesn’t have sufficient clearance near the drain bolt to allow a socket, so a wrench is your best bet). If you decide to use a K&N 303 filter, the wrench will also turn the nut on the filter–very convenient. If you don’t use a K&N, a socket and a cup wrench of the appropriate size will work to snug down the new filter, as will a sturdy strap wrench.
8. A sturdy funnel for re-filling the oil.
9. A pair of oil filter pliers–Channelock makes a good variety. Most are adjustable, and they must have a minimum inner diameter of 2″ or so to grasp small motorcycle oil filters. A socket and oil filter cap wrench, or one of the various types of strap wrench will also work.
10. Soap and water, a mild solvent like Winzer’s MPS-1000, or Simple Green solution for cleanup.
Left side of the Shadow’s engine; drain bolt and filter are below, near the kickstand pivot.
Lay out your tools and supplies…here we go.
Location of the oil drain bolt, marked
Location of the oil filter–it’s a spin-on type on the Shadow, as is common with modern Japanese streetbikes.
Position your oil drain pan beneath the drain bolt, and remove the bolt, being careful not to drop it in the oil (remember, left is loose, right is tight).
Whoosh, out comes the oil. It will drain more quickly if the bike has been ridden or at least warmed up before servicing.
Meanwhile, pull off the old crush washer from the oil drain bolt, and put on the new one.
Prep your oil filter pliers, strap wrench, or cup wrench.
Grab that oil filter and twist–in most cases, it will come right off.
Every once in a while, you’ll run into one that’s really stuck; the wily old mechanic’s trick is to hammer a cheap screwdriver deep into the filter and use the leverage of the screwdriver handle to twist off the filter. It makes a mess, but almost always works.
With the filter off, the threaded oil filter boss is now exposed. Hang out for a while and let the oil drain, then clean the area where the new filter’s o-ring will contact the engine if it’s dirty.
Let the old oil filter drain into an oil pan for a while before bagging it. This is the shop’s homemade rebar rack.
Here’s the fresh new oil filter. Rub a bit of oil on the o-ring (on the bottom surface of the filter, where it contacts the bike) before installing it.
Use the 17mm wrench (or cup wrench or strap) to spin on the new filter–it should be snug (hand tight) plus a quarter of a turn.
Now it’s time to put the drain bolt back in. Be careful NOT to overtighten, as you can strip the threads in the drain pan, requiring replacement of the entire unit. I made this mistake on my bike as a rookie mechanic, and I’ll never forget the expense, busted knuckles, tedious gasket scraping, and shame. Save yourself the trouble and learn to torque bolts properly–a bit of practice with a torque wrench and some sample bolts can help you get a feel for 10 foot-pounds vs. 80 foot-pounds of torque on a bolt, as can the mentoring of a more experienced friend or relative. In the case of the Shadow, the proper torque on that oil drain bolt is 22 foot-pounds–not that tight, though you don’t want the bolt backing out, either. With a wrench or a socket, you’ll feel the bolt get snug, then you’ll feel the crush washer give slightly as it compresses (half a turn or so), then firm up a little–that’s when to stop. With care and attention, you’ll develop “wrench feel” for proper torque over time.
Old oil ready for disposal–make sure there aren’t strange objects, sparkly residue in the bottom of the pan, or milkshake-like cloudiness in the used oil–all indicate trouble. This oil is fine, just old and dark.
Since I’m in a professional shop, recycling used oil and oil filters is easy–the old oil goes in the used oil barrel, while the drained filter goes in the used filter barrel; when each is full, our hauler takes them for processing. The old oil is re-refined and used again. When I don’t have access to the shop, I put my oil in a screw-top jug, my drained filter in a ziploc, and either bring them to my local O-Reilly’s auto parts for disposal or set them out on recycling day for my garbage company to haul (my city has curbside recycling, which makes it easy).
To find out more about where to recycle your own oil and filters, check here for local info.
Once the filter and drain bolt are back in and the old stuff disposed of, it’s time for fresh oil. On the right side of the Shadow, unscrew the plastic oil filler cap and fill with fresh oil until the sight glass (the clear glass window that displays the oil level, located near the oil filler cap) is full. Make sure that the bike is straight up and down, on either a center stand or a jack–or simply have a friend hold the bike vertically while you pour oil and check oil level. It’s vital that the bike be straight up and down to give an accurate fill reading.
Cleaning up the oiled areas after the change is a good idea at this point, whether you prefer solvent, Simple Green, soap and water, or another cleanser.
Once the bike is clean and the oil filled, it’s time to start the engine. Run the bike for a couple of minutes, then shut it off and wait 3-5 minutes. Some of the oil will be pulled into the oil filter, and the level of oil in your sight glass will drop. If it is below the filler line, add a little more oil, then start and run the bike again, and as before, shut it off and wait, then check the sight glass. If the oil is up to the proper line in the sight glass, you’re good to go. Look beneath the undercarriage of the bike and check for oil leaks, just in case.
You’ve just completed your oil change–bask in the glow of mechanical accomplishment!
Next time–oil change on a Suzuki V-Strom 650, stay tuned.