Oil Analysis–What Can It Reveal About A Bike?

In a post earlier this year, I changed my SUV’s oil and sent a sample in for oil analysis to Blackstone Labs. Encouraged by the results (hearing that, based on oil condition, I could extend the car’s oil-change intervals was a big plus) and curious to see how my motorcycle’s oil would stack up, I got another Blackstone oil test kit.

My Suzuki DR650 is a simple, refreshingly primitive machine, but it does suffer from clunky shifting; I was hoping that adding full synthetic oil, making the change from the conventional oil I’d always used in these single-cylinder bikes, would smooth the shifting process. The conventional 10w40 oil in the bike was only 1,000 miles old, but the time seemed right. Further, I wanted to see how much wear and tear the conventional oil had suffered, to see whether any engine problems might be developing, and get the lab’s recommendation for this particular machine’s oil-change interval.

I prepped all my tools and supplies and set them out.
New oil, test kit...all ready to go

Got my DR650 set up with some cardboard to catch any drips (and cushion the ground for me) and an oil pan.

My DR650 ready to change oil and get a sample

I loosened the drain bolt and started the flow of oil.

Loosening the drain bolt

Ideally, the oil sample for Blackstone Laboratories is neither from the very beginning of the oil change, nor the end. So, I waited a couple of seconds, then put the sample bottle into the flow of old oil from the pan, got a good sample, and let the rest of the oil drain into my pan.

Catching an oil sample in the Blackstone sample bottle

With the sample collected, I capped it and set it aside. Changing the filter was next.

Removing the filter plate

Replacing the oil filter

Once the new filter was in place, I added the oil I’d chosen: Motorex 20w50 full synthetic oil. A bit fancy for a thumper, but again, I was looking for smoother shifting, as well as longevity.

Adding fresh synthetic oil

Sure enough, the fresh synthetic oil did smooth the bike’s shifting to some degree; I miss fewer shifts. Still, I was curious about how the old conventional oil stacked up.

I packaged up the oil sample, sent it in to Blackstone, and waited. In a week or so, the results were emailed to me:

Oil Analysis Sheet, DR650

They were good, and showed the thumper’s engine, rough gearbox and all, to be in excellent shape. Since I’d opted for the extra TBD analysis ($10 more, for a $35 total), I got not only an analysis of the oil, but viscosity analysis and suggestions for how far I might push my next oil change. The lab suggested doubling my interval from 1k to 2k miles; I’ll go 3,000 and see how that changes my results.

All in all, a satisfying experiment; I am trying different oils, conventional and synthetic, in my bike, and getting accurate data to support it.

For more info on how to recycle the oil and filter you’ve just changed, check out the rest of the Riders Recycle site.

Riders Recycle and Trust for Conservation Innovation Team Up to Seek Off-Highway-Vehicle Grant, Seek Public Comment

Riding Hard at the Local OHV Park

March 2nd, 2015
Contact: Heidi Lypps, Program Manager, Riders Recycle
Email: heidi at ridersrecycle dot com

The Trust for Conservation Innovation (TCI) and Riders Recycle have teamed up to apply for a grant from the California State Off-Highway Motor Vehiclular Recreation (OHMVR) Division this year, to support our educational outreach efforts at Stanislaus County’s OHV Parks, as well as in Mendocino County’s Stonyford OHV area. The Education and Safety grant application asks for support in bringing our educational program to these parks and trailheads, reaching out to riders about the importance of oil, filter and tire recycling. We also hope to offer oil-change and maintenance/safety demonstrations and classes in these areas, and to give away oil/filter recycling tools to visiting OHV enthusiasts. A free tire dropoff event is planned for Frank Raines OHV Park in Stanislaus County.

For this year’s grant cycle, The public review and comment period for the Grants and Cooperative Agreements Program begins Tuesday, March 3, 2015, and ends Monday, April 6, 2015. This period provides an opportunity for the public to review and provide comments to the preliminary applications submitted to the OHMVR Division for consideration during the 2014/15 grant cycle.

The public can submit comments here. We enthusiastically encourage you to write a brief note in support of our oil, filter and tire recycling educational project, coming to an offroad trailhead near you!

An off-roader takes home an oil-recycling kit

A little background on the California OHV grant program: The OHMVR Grants and Cooperative Agreements Program supports well-managed off-highway vehicle recreation in California by providing financial assistance to cities, counties, districts, federal agencies, state agencies, educational institutions, federally recognized Native American Tribes and nonprofit entities (like the Trust for Conservation Innovation). TCI and Riders Recycle have applied for grants from the California Department of Parks and Recreation OHMVR Division this year to help fund and coordinate its off-highway vehicle (OHV) program. The grants support OHV management activities such as education, law enforcement, resource protection, planning and monitoring, visitor services, and maintenance on public lands throughout the state.

2014/2015 Grant Cycle – Important Dates

Monday, March 2, 2015: Preliminary applications are due
Tuesday, March 3, 2015 to Monday, April 6, 2015: Public review and comment period
Monday, May 4, 2015: Final applications are due
May 2015: OHMVR Division review of final applications
Monday, June 1, 2015: Application Results – Intent to Award posted on the OHMVR Division’s website.
Tuesday, June 2, 2015 to Tuesday, July 2, 2015: Thirty (30) calendar day appeal period
Friday, July 3, 2015: Final awards posted on the OHMVR Division’s website upon resolution of any appeals

OHMVR Division Website
Link to submit public comments on grant proposals
Trust For Conservation Innovation
Riders Recycle Home Page

OHV family fun

Oil Analysis–A Way to Extend Oil-Change Intervals and Know Your Engine?

Recently, I saw yet another contentious motorcycle oil-change thread on my local motorcycle forum. All the usual questions came up–what’s the best type of oil for my bike, conventional or synthetic? Which brand is superior? How long can I stretch my oil-change intervals without hurting the bike’s engine? Of course, some posters passionately advocated synthetic, others insisted that cheaper conventional oil was fine; heck, even the usual Shell Rotella advocates and Amsoil fanboys climbed out from under their rock and held forth. Some guys told our questioner to go read his manual; the old-fashioned types insisted that the time-honored 3,000-mile interval should be his guiding light; the cheap guys said that he could go 8-10,000 miles on synthetic, easy.

It’s true that oil has a tougher job in motorcycle engines than it does in cars; bike engines tend to run hotter and rev much higher than car and truck engines. More importantly, while car engines have separate lubrication systems for the automatic transmission or clutch and the engine, most bikes share a single pool of oil, circulating between the clutch and the engine alike. This means that motorcycle oil endures shearing forces from the meshing of gears in the transmission, as well as increased amounts of particulate and carbon shed from its fiber clutch plates. That’s why, while some car manufacturers recommend oil-change intervals of 9-10,000 miles, most motorcycle makers stick to 3–6,000 miles for their recommendations.

Amid all the arguing, one guy mentioned that several places in the U.S. offer oil analysis, which gives a breakdown of what’s going on in your engine, and can tell you whether or not your oil-change interval is too long, too short, or just right. In addition, oil analysis offers an opportunity to see what’s going on, chemically and structurally, inside your engine. Is the head cracked and leaking coolant into your oil? Is there fuel contamination, or excessive silica, meaning you have a fueling problem or aren’t changing the air filter often enough? Are your pistons and bearings in good shape, or are they shedding aluminum and copper? Each oil sample is tested using chemical spectrometry, testing for viscosity, fuel and antifreeze contamination, as well as suspended particles in the oil that are shed from the various metals and surfaces inside your engine.

Testing the oil gives a representative portrait of what condition your engine is in, and can anticipate engine problems before the vehicle clatters to an unplanned stop in a cloud of smoke 100 miles out of Wichita. Also, part of the test can involve a recommendation for just how long your next oil change intervals ought to be, based on the current condition of the oil. In a best case scenario, you can lengthen your oil change intervals, which uses less oil (and fewer filters) in the first place. You save time and money, and you reduce oil waste as well–that’s even better than recycling your oil (though of course you should still do that, too)!

For more detailed information on just what oil analysis analyzes, Bob Is The Oil Guy has further info.

I was intrigued, and decided to geek out and go for it. I looked up Blackstone Laboratories in Indiana, and emailed to request a free testing kit. It arrived a couple of weeks later.

The package from Blackstone Labs

The package from Blackstone Labs

Inside, a mysterious bottle.

Oil sample bottle

Oil sample bottle

Opening it, I found the contents of the testing kit.

Contents of the oil testing kit: Outer bottle, inner oil sample bottle, ziploc for the inner bottle, absorbent cloth to wrap around inner bottle, report sheet, and window decal

Contents of the oil testing kit: Outer bottle, inner oil sample bottle, ziploc for the inner bottle, absorbent cloth to wrap around inner bottle, report sheet, and window decal

It contained:
* The outer bottle,
* inner oil sample bottle,
* ziploc for the inner bottle,
* absorbent cloth to wrap around inner bottle,
* report sheet, and
* a window decal, to write down the mileage of your vehicle at this oil change.

It turned out that I’d just changed my motorcycle’s oil, but my car (a 2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara) was due, so I decided to use it as a guinea pig. Besides, it was a chance to learn to change the oil and filter on this vehicle and get an oil sample, instead of giving in to the temptation of going to the local quicky-lube place. I picked up some Mobil 1 Full Synthetic, a new filter, a fresh crush washer for the drain bolt, my oil kit, and set to work. Blackstone Labs requests that the oil sample come from a completely warmed-up engine, so I made sure to do the oil change after I’d returned from a mid-length trip.

Suzuki Grand Vitara, set up for an oil change

Suzuki Grand Vitara, set up for an oil change

Oil change supplies

Oil change supplies

I chocked the rear wheels, placed my jack and elevated the front end of the SUV, and put the jackstands under the frame. I put down some cardboard to lie on, some more to catch any spills, and placed my oil drain pan to catch the flow.

I got the oil-sample bottle ready. Blackstone suggests taking the oil sample from the middle of the oil flow once the drain bolt is removed, rather than the beginning or end. This gives the most accurate picture of the bulk of the oil circulating through the engine. When I got under the vehicle to loosen the drain bolt and drop the oil, I kept the sample bottle close to hand.

oil sample bottle

oil sample bottle

Crawling under the car with my socket wrench and oil sample bottle, I loosened the drain bolt.

Loosening the drain bolt

Loosening the drain bolt

As I removed the oil drain bolt and the hot oil splashed out, I waited a couple of seconds, then held my sample bottle under the flow of oil–trying not to burn myself!

Drain pan and sample bottle full of used oil

Drain pan and sample bottle full of used oil

When my sample was secure and the oil drained, I removed the oil filter, then replaced it with a new one. In the 2001 Suzuki Grand Vitara, the filter is mounted on the side of the engine case, making filter removal and replacement an exercise in messiness and creative contortionism.

Replacing the oil filter

Replacing the oil filter

To check the recommended oil-change interval on your own car/truck, refer to your manual, or check out CalRecycle’s Check Your Number website. Sadly, no motorcycles, but it’s still a useful resource.

Once the filter was on, I put a fresh crush washer on the drain bolt, torqued it down, and added 5 quarts of oil (Mobil 1 full synthetic 5w30, to be exact). I started the car and ran it for a few minutes, then stopped it, waited 5 minutes, and topped off. I took a short spin and checked the oil level again–it was fine.

My filter went into my oil filter drainer, the oil drain pan I capped and wiped down, and took both into my local auto parts shop for recycling–of course! For where to recycle oil and filters in northern California, visit Riders Recycle. CalRecycle has a zip-code lookup tool for all CA oil/filter recycling locations.

With my oil sample captured, I wiped down the bottle and bagged it, wrote down the relevant information on the enclosed sheet, wrapped the whole bundle up in the absorbent mat, closed and taped the outer bottle, and dropped it off at the Post Office in a tyvek Priority Mail envelope.

Oil sample, ready to package up and send in to the lab

Oil sample, ready to package up and send in to the lab

After 10 days, I got the oil analysis report back, attached to an email! With a little excitement, I printed out the info sheet.

Oil Analysis report

Oil Analysis report

Aside from the elevated copper levels (which are, I’m told, usually the result of an oxidizing oil cooler shedding copper, and not worrisome when other metals are not elevated), the results were darn good. Even with the analysis being based on oil that had gone 3,600 miles (I’d gone 5,000 miles between changes), the levels of metals and other contaminants in the oil were within expectations. The viscosity of the old oil held steady as well, ensuring that the internal engine parts would still have their necessary lubricant film. There were no traces of fuel or coolant in the sample. In the end, the lab recommended that I extend the Suzuki’s oil-change intervals to 7,000 miles. That saves a fair bit more oil from entering the waste stream, uses fewer filters, and, happily, saves me some effort and money, while not harming my engine. Just the result I’d been hoping for.

A number of companies offer oil analysis. I used Blackstone Laboratories, which has a good reputation and charges $25 per basic sample, and $10 extra for a TBN (total base number) test, which tests how many of the oil’s additives are still working in your sample. The TBN tells you whether you can extend oil change intervals, and recommends a particular mileage, and added to the standard test, comes out to $35 total. Since a synthetic oil and filter change costs $83 at my local oil changer, and I paid $41 for 5 quarts of synthetic oil and a filter, I saved $8, got a view into the working condition of my engine, and got scientifically-backed advice that will save me money and time in the future, and got a chance to to save resources and reduce pollution and oil use. Seems like a win all ’round.

When it comes to oil, as with anything else, reducing is even better than recycling.

Blackstone Labs

Oil Analyzers, Inc.

Oil and Filter Change: Yamaha V-Star 650 Cruiser

To prepare for an oil change on my neighbor’s 2004 Yamaha V-Star 650 cruiser, I gathered up my tools, laid down some cardboard to catch spills and drips, prepped my recycling containers, and readied the fresh oil and filter. She rode the bike enough to warm it up, then rode it over to my place, so the oil would be nice and warm, and flow out easily when drained.

The V-Star, ready for her oil change, tools and supplies at hand

The V-Star, ready for her oil change, tools and supplies at hand

getting ready

getting ready

Supplies needed:
* 3-4 quarts of 20w50 viscosity motor oil (my neighbor chose Castrol motorcycle-specific synthetic oil). If you choose regular car oil rather than motorcycle oil, the round label on the back should NOT read “energy conserving”. If it does, your clutch may slip from the extra-slippery additives in the oil, intended for use in cars and trucks.
* Fresh crush washer
* Fresh Filter
* Rags/paper towels for cleanup
* ziploc bag to recycle filter after draining
* Latex or nitrile gloves to protect your hands from toxic oil

Tools Needed:
* Socket wrench and/or 17mm metric wrench
* Size 4 and 5 allen wrenches
* funnel
* oil pan
* container for recycling oil

(Find out how to get free oil and filter drainer gear and recycle your oil and filters in San Mateo County, San Francisco, Alameda County, Sonoma County, Napa County, Marin County and Sacramento.)

Yamaha has been making the V-Star 650 motorcycle, with only cosmetic changes, from 1998 to the present. The oil and filter change procedure for all these bikes is substantially similar for all of ’em.

To get the oil pan under this low-slung cruiser, we propped the kickstand up on a brick, giving a little extra room to push the pan beneath the engine.

To get the oil pan under this low-slung cruiser, we propped the kickstand up on a brick, giving a little extra room to push the pan beneath the engine.

After pushing the pan beneath the bike, I got down on the ground on the left side to locate the oil drain bolt. The oil drain bolt is on the rider’s left side of the bike, tucked beneath the frame rail, on the lower left side of the oil pan. I wiggled my 17mm socket onto the bolt and wrenched it loose.

Oil drain bolt on left of oil pan

Oil drain bolt on left of oil pan

The oil drain bolt is reached on the left side of the bike, beneath the frame rail, on the left side of the oil pan.

The oil drain bolt is reached on the left side of the bike, beneath the frame rail, on the left side of the oil pan.

The oil poured out, a small amount of it missing the pan and making a bit of a mess–on the cardboard, fortunately. Oil-contaminated runoff is toxic, so better on cardboard than on your driveway.

Oil draining--most of it into the oil pan!

Oil draining–most of it into the oil pan!

I added a new crush washer to the oil drain bolt and set it aside.

oil drain bolt, with new crush washer

oil drain bolt, with new crush washer

While the engine oil continued to drain, I moved to the filter. The V-Star 650 has a 2-part decorative cover over the oil filter housing, and both pieces need to be removed separately to access the filter. Using my allen wrench, I pulled the 3 bolts from the outer cover and removed it. Allen (also known as hex head) bolts can strip out and cause more trouble than anyone needs, so I used high-quality allen wrenches or socket bits, and used a careful hand to make sure the bolts came out smoothly.

Removing the outer cover of the oil filter housing

Removing the outer cover of the oil filter housing

Outer oil filter cover, removed

Outer oil filter cover, removed

I carefully kept the 3 allen bolts with the outer cover, then began to undo the allen bolts of the inner cover.

Removing allen bolts from the inner oil filter cover

Removing allen bolts from the inner oil filter cover

The bolts holding the inner oil filter cover are different lengths, and each must return to its proper place. Laying them out in a place they won’t be disturbed, in order, is a good idea; poking them through holes in cardboard in a way that matches the orientation of the inner cover is a good way to do it as well.

Inner oil filter bolts, different lengths

Inner oil filter bolts, different lengths

Removing the inner filter cover

Removing the inner filter cover

One of the allen bolts holding the inner oil filter cover is tough to get to–the rear brake pedal prevents access to its head. Try different types of allen wrenches and sockets, and most importantly, press the rear brake down with one hand while putting the tool on the bolt with the other. Again, be careful not to strip out the allen bolt–it’s easy because of the awkward access. The inner cover should be carefully handled when you remove it, too, so you don’t harm its gasket. If it does get damaged, it must be replaced or it will leak.

Pressing down rear brake pedal to access that last pesky bolt

Pressing down rear brake pedal to access that last pesky bolt

At last, I arranged all the different-length bolts in order, removed the oil filter cover, and pulled out the oil, used oil filter.

Success! The old oil filter, accessible after removing the filter cover.

Success! The old oil filter, accessible after removing the filter cover.

With the filter removed, I checked the empty oil filter housing for debris, sludge, or other problems, wiping it out with a rag.

The oil filter housing, empty

The oil filter housing, empty

I placed the oil filter on its spike in my oil filter drainer. They can also be simply drained out over your oil pan, or on a spike or rack in the pan. Whatever method you use, the filter should drain at least overnight before you bag it in a ziploc bag and recycle it alongside your oil.

Old filter, in its filter drainer

Old filter, in its filter drainer

Now, it was time to install the new oil filter.

New filter ready to go

New filter ready to go

I checked all the o-rings and made sure I was inserting the new filter in the correct direction.

Inserting the new filter

Inserting the new filter

Carefully, I held the inner oil filter cover in place, and installed the varying-length bolts around its perimeter in the proper order. I torqued each bolt down gently but securely (the spec in the manual is 10Nm, or 7 ft-lb., so not much), not wanting any to strip or snap, and accessed the head of the last bolt by pressing down the rear brake pedal, as before. I also tightened the bolts in a diagonal or star pattern, so that the aluminum cover would not warp from uneven pressure.

Replacing the inner filter cover

Replacing the inner filter cover

Once the inner filter cover was secure, I replaced the outer filter cover.

Replacing the outer filter cover

Replacing the outer filter cover

With the new filter in place, I slid out the used oil pan and replaced the cap, setting it aside to recycle.

Pulling out the now-full oil pan

Pulling out the now-full oil pan

Making sure that the new crush washer was on the oil drain bolt, I re-inserted it and torqued it down firmly–but not harshly. You want to gently smush the crush washer without damaging the aluminum threads or case. If you use a torque wrench, the manual calls for 43 Nm (31 ft-lb) of torque on the drain bolt.

I opened the oil-filler cap and placed a long-necked funnel in the opening.

Funnel in place to re-fill the engine

Funnel in place to re-fill the engine

The oil capacity of the V-Star 650 is 2.97 quarts; the bike owner had 4 quarts on hand just in case–a wise move.

Fresh new oil

Fresh new oil

I poured in 2 quarts of oil, then figured I should check the oil sight glass to monitor the rising oil level. The sight glass is low on the left side of the bike; it’s easier to have an assistant hold the bike upright while you sit or crouch and look at the sight glass. It’s in the middle of the photo below.

The oil sight glass, just visible on the side of the engine

The oil sight glass, just visible on the side of the engine

I poured oil and checked the sight glass repeatedly, with my helper holding the bike upright, until the sight glass was completely full. I let the oil settle for a couple of minutes, then started up the bike and let it run for 3 minutes to circulate the new oil through the engine and filter. The level dropped somewhat, once I’d allowed the bike to cool for another 3-5 minutes, so I topped off the level and started the bike for another 3 minutes, then waited for another 3-minute cooldown.

Pouring in fresh oil

Pouring in fresh oil

After a couple of running and cooling down cycles, the oil level was perfect–almost to the top of the sight glass.

The V-Star 650, ready to ride. Glad that cardboard was there!

The V-Star 650, ready to ride. Glad that cardboard was there!

Glad that cardboard was there to prevent an oily mess in my driveway! The bike had a fresh oil and filter, and I put my tools away, cleaned up, and sealed the used oil in jugs and the used filter in my drainer for later recycling. I’m lucky enough to have an auto parts store that recycles oil a mile from my home, and that’s where I took the oil and filter for recycling.

Find out how to easily recycle your used oil and filters in San Mateo County, San Francisco, Alameda County, Sonoma County, Napa County, Marin County and Sacramento. If you’re not in those counties, find your own convenient oil and filter recycling location HERE.

Note: Several of these photos were taken by the bike owner, Sue Bennett. Thanks Sue, two hands are better than one!

Marin County–Free Oil Change Kit Program at Marin HHW

Yesterday, the Riders Recycle team toured the Marin Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facility in San Rafael. It’s an expansive place, with areas for household and business hazardous waste disposal, automotive waste disposal (including oil and filter recycling, naturally), a materials processing and handling site, and even a pilot mini-farm program where food waste is separated out and fed to the resident pigs. The sound of roaring garbage trucks mingles with the cries of the peacocks wandering around the grounds–it’s quite a place.


Unlike many other county household hazardous waste places, Marin’s has solid, regular hours; residential dropoff is accepted from 8:00 am to 3:30 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. If you’re a Marin county resident, drive on in, pull up to the residential dropoff lane, and the Marin HHW team, in their sharp Tyvek suits, will even unload your car or truck for you.


Kathy Wall, Marin’s own household hazardous waste coordinator, has partnered with Marin ZeroWaste and Riders Recycle to provide county residents with oil change kits for motorcyclists and motorists. Each one consists of a motorcycle and standard automobile-sized 6-quart drain pan, a double oil filter drainer to keep your filters drained and not leaking on your garage or car floor, a shop rag, a pair of nitrile gloves to protect your hands, and a quality no-glug funnel. Everything you need to change and recycle your oil and filters, right there. A 15-quart drain pan is also available for vehicles, such as diesels, which have a large capacity oil sump; just ask.

Here's the kit--funnel, pan, drainer, gloves, and rags

Oil recycling kits with 15-quart pans

Oil recycling kits with 15-quart pans

When you pull up to the unloading spot, take a look for the free oil change kit sign on the side of the building. There, on the wire-mesh shelves placed against the building, you will find stacks of free oil change kits.

Get your free oil recycling kits here!

Here's where the kits are located--shelves beneath the tarp

You can find the Marin HHW facility’s website here: http://marinhhw.com/
Their physical address is: 565 Jacoby Street
San Rafael, CA 94901
Phone: 415-485-6806

HHW coordinator Kathy Wall shows off an oil change kit.

HHW coordinator Kathy Wall shows off an oil change kit.

Marin residents: Drop by, smell the smells, listen to the peacocks, and pick up a free oil change and recycling kit while you’re there.

Peacock wandering the grounds at the Jacoby Street HHW facility

Peacock wandering the grounds at the Jacoby Street HHW facility

Scooter Time! Change the Oil on That Honda Elite 80

Changing your own oil makes for an easy and satisfying Do-It-Yourself project requiring a minimum of tools and supplies, saves you money at the bike shop or dealership, and helps you learn to keep your scoot purring along in fine mechanical shape. It’s an easy job, and the Elite has no oil filter. The Elite 80 has a little square on its dashboard, usually green, that switches to red every 3,000 miles. This indicates that it’s time to change your oil…though in practice, I’ve seen many scooter mechanics advocate changing the oil every 1,000 miles, just to be sure. In any case, the oil on this little scooter was 2100 miles and over a year old, so I prepped for an oil change.

Supplies you'll need to change the oil on a Honda Elite 80

I gathered all the supplies I’d need–

  • the Honda,
  • a jug of 10w40 oil (plain ol’ automotive oil is fine, as long as it does not have an “Energy Conserving” label on the back),
  • pan,
  • funnel,
  • a cleaner or solvent (I like Winzer MPS-100, but Simple Green is fine too, with a rinse afterward)
  • a jug for waste oil,
  • an 8mm metric allen or hex wrench to remove the oil drain bolt,
  • nitrile gloves to keep my hands clean,
  • paper towels or rags for cleanup,
  • and a new crush washer.
  • With everything I needed at hand, it was time to change some oil. First, to drain the oil in a small scooter effectively, you often need to tilt the machine to help it drain. I placed a board under the right foot of the scooter’s center stand, to help the scoot lean and drain to the left.

    Note the board placed under the right foot of the centerstand--to help the oil drain

    Here, you can see how I tilted the scooter up and placed the oil pan directly underneath the centerstand, with the left foot of the stand actually sitting in the pan. If you aren’t comfortable slinging the scooter around at such sharp angles, you could use a large funnel to catch the oil and direct it over into the pan.

    I located the drain bolt on the left side of the scooter’s engine.

    The red arrow indicates the oil drain bolt

    Other views of the tilted scooter.

    Maximizing oil drainage with oil pan and board propping up the scooter at an angle

    From behind, this shows the tilt of the scooter when placed on a board for drainage

    I used the 8mm allen wrench to loosen and remove the drain bolt.

    Removing the oil drain bolt

    With the drain bolt out (be careful not to burn your hands if the engine and oil are hot), the oil can flow freely into your catch pan.

    With the drain bolt gone, the oil begins to drain

    Remember, if the scooter is warm when you start, the oil will drain more quickly and effectively.

    Allen/hex wrench (metric size eight) with oil drain bolt

    After waiting a while for the oil to completely drain, I moved on to the next step.

    On the other side (the right side) of the scooter, I unscrewed the oil filler cap/dipstick in preparation for filling the scoot with oil.

    Then, I pulled off the old crush washer, added a new one, and replaced the oil filter bolt. Use awareness and careful feel to tighten the drain bolt–you want to slightly compress the crush washer and ensure that the bolt isn’t so loose that it works its way out, but avoid stripping the aluminum threads in the scooter’s small oil pan. Have an experienced friend or family member help you with getting the feel for bolt tightness if you feel hesitant.

    Replacing the oil drain bolt and new crush washer

    Then, with the bolt replaced and the oil drained, I was ready to take care of the old stuff and add fresh oil. I wanted the scooter to be level and perpendicular to the ground to get an accurate measurement of the oil level, so I removed the board from beneath the right side of the center stand.

    Then, I moved around to the left side, and tilted the scooter over to the right to pull the center stand completely out of the oil pan.

    Leaning the scooter so the center stand is no longer in the oil pan

    I leaned the scooter waaay over, and pushed the oil pan out from under the center stand carefully, taking care not to tip it over.

    Leaning the scooter, and now the oil pan is clear of the center stand

    With the old oil safely out of the way and the scooter level again, it was time to pour in the fresh oil. I put a funnel in the oil filler neck and slowly added oil, stopping to check the level with the dipstick frequently. A funnel with a long neck or, better yet, a flexible neck, is needed to reach the filler opening on the Elite 80–it’s pretty far down there..

    Adding oil

    Checking the level (the oil capacity is 3/4 of a quart–not much, be careful not to overfill)…

    Checking oil level--should be to the top of the checkered area on the dipstick

    And with the fresh oil in, it’s time to spray some cleaner on the oily areas beneath the scooter (if you use Simple Green, remember to rinse with water), and then to take care of the old oil. Any sturdy container with a secure cap will do for transporting the oil for recycling–I had a screw-top laundry detergent bottle rinsed and ready to go.

    Draining old oil into a container for recycling

    Draining oil into a bottle--I'll be taking this jug down to my local O'Reilly's for recycling

    The last step is to start and run the Honda for a minute or two, the turn it off, let the oil settle for 3-5 minutes, and check the level on the dipstick again, adding oil bit by bit if necessary. This allows the oil to circulate through the engine and level itself out. Remember, on Hondas and Japanese bikes and scooters in general, you check the oil level by simply setting the dipstick into its hole, not by screwing it all the way in.

    Once you've got the level right, it's time for a ride

    With that, you’re done. Give yourself some props for your mechanical accomplishment, then think about heading out for a ride…your scooter with run all the better with fresh oil!

    Don’t forget, of course, to recycle that used oil. I have curbside pickup in the city where I live, but most areas have a variety of automotive retail businesses and oil changers that will happily accept your used oil for free. For a more detailed answer about where to recycle your oil after an oil change, visit Riders Recycle’s web site.

    Engine Autopsy II–What Happened to this V-Strom?

    Our deconstruction of an oil-starved Suzuki V-Strom engine continues…
    In the last post, I took apart the top end of the engine, finding some cylinder and piston scoring from running the engine dry. Now, to dig down even further into the mystery and find the bike’s exact cause of death.

    This was our last view last time; the clutch and basket were off, revealing the oil pump gear (orange), the drive shaft (top), and the lower cam chain sprocket (left).

    Beneath the clutch

    Grabbing the circlip pliers, I lifted off the circlip, then the oil pump gear.

    Oil pump gear, held on with circlip

    The oil pump had a small transverse pin holding it in place below the oil pump gear. With it out of the way, the oil pump could be lifted out.

    Oil pump, freed

    The cam chain sprocket nut was reverse-threaded, and required some bearing down with the rattle gun before budging.

    The nut holding on cam chain sprocket comes off with an impact gun

    Next it was on to the gear shift plate, with the shift shaft running through the transmission below it.

    Gear shift plate--Time to start dismantling the transmission

    Beneath the gear shift plate

    At that point, I was able to pull the shift shaft from the left side of the engine.

    Pulling the shift shaft

    After that was out, I began cracking loose the 8mm case bolts with my trusty T-handle.

    Beginning to work on the 8mm case bolts

    Closer and closer to splitting the cases...

    With some of the easily-accessible case bolts out, it was time to turn the motor over and remove the flywheel. The retaining bolt needed an impact gun to get loose.

    Flywheel bolt--more work for the trusty impact gun

    With some effort, it came off. I moved on to the flywheel allen bolts.

    Removing the flywheel allen bolts

    Fortunately the shop has a universal flywheel puller on hand; I threaded in the 22mm size end and prepared to do battle with the flywheel (also known as the rotor). It’s on there very tightly, and has magnets cast into it, so removing it is a memorably sweaty task.

    Threading in the flywheel puller

    I hammered on that flywheel puller and flywheel with my skinny arms for a while, until the hammer flew out of my sweaty hands and nearly hit my coworker. At last, the flywheel came off with a mighty blow.

    Victory! The detached flywheel

    Removing plate and gears below the flywheel/rotor

    Fascinating slotted insert/worm gear insert beneath the flywheel

    With the flywheel and supporting plate and gear gone, the drive shaft was exposed.

    Crankshaft exposed--note loose cam chain

    Then there were a few loose ends to clean up before splitting the cases; I pulled the oil pipe and the star gear from the transmission.

    Removing an oil line rod to prep for splitting cases

    Removing the transmission star gear

    And now, the moment I’d been waiting for–it was time to split the cases. It was my first time, prying apart the halves of the engine to get into the bottom end, to penetrate the secrets of its demise; and it felt like a rite of passage into the realm of internal combustion. I gently worked in my miniature pry bar and began to tap the cases apart with the soft-faced mallet.

    The moment of truth--splitting the cases

    With a great deal of tapping and gentle prying, the halves began to pull apart.

    The case halves, coming apart

    And at last, the halves of the crankcase fell apart, revealing all that lay within.

    Halves of the crankcase, apart. Note exposed crankshaft on the left.

    I lifted out the crankshaft and the pistons.

    The crankshaft, with pistons attached

    In the other half of the crankcase, the transmission gears and dogs were now visible.

    Transmission gears

    At this point, I began to see sparkly bits of metal deposited on the lower surfaces of the engine–a sure sign of severe lower-end engine damage. Those sparkly bits of metal were torn and sheared off something important…

    Look carefully--metal particles are adhering to the lower surfaces of the engine

    Something exploded into glittery fragments, leaving the residue here.

    More "sparklies," metal shavings adhering to the bottom end of the engine. They're the result of destruction somewhere in the engine, and the scoring I found earlier was not enough to make this mess.

    When the crankshaft came free, the connecting rods (which connect the pistons to the crankshaft) were heat-blackened, showing that they had endured tremendous overheating and abuse.

    Crankshaft and pistons--note heat blackening on the lower sections of the connecting rods, where they bolt onto the crankshaft

    I turned over the crankshaft and unbolted the connecting rods.

    End of the connecting rod, with bolts removed

    One of the con rods was just beginning to melt together (and the the crankshaft), and had to be pried apart with considerable force. It was another clue to the nature of the problem.

    Connecting rod and piston

    And when I finally pried off and set aside the pistons and connecting rods, down in the very belly of the beast, the oil-starvation problem suddenly revealed itself. The connecting rod bearings, which glide between the inner surface of each connecting rod and the outer surface of the crankshaft as it spins, had finally lost its protective coating of oil, and began to spin and melt and disintegrate. The scoring can be clearly seen.

    Connecting rod bearings--scored and melted and damaged.

    This was the source of all those metal flakes in the lower portions of the engine–the con-rod bearings shredding themselves into oblivion. I pried off the remains of the damaged bearings and took a closer look.

    Inner surface of a heavily damaged connecting rod bearing--a classic example of a "spun bearing"

    The truth was in there, and it was ugly.

    Connecting rods with damaged bearings inside

    Cause of death: spun bearings

    So here before us was the verdict: in addition to the scored piston and cylinder, the doomed V-Strom engine died from a textbook case of spun con-rod bearings. It was a sad death, and a preventable one, but it was a fascinating learning process to deconstruct and diagnose the cause of the engine’s demise.

    Remember, oil is the lifeblood of your bike’s engine!

    Engine Autopsy 1–What Happens When a Bike is Starved for Oil?

    Recently, several riders have brought oil-starved bikes into the shop–whether they were new riders or simply neglected to check their oil level for too long, the results have been uniformly disastrous. Motorcycle engines tend to rev high and hot, and like other internal combustion machines, an engine’s metal-to-metal contact points need a consistent film of oil lubrication between moving parts, whether those parts are bearings, camshafts, or piston and cylinder. When the oil level drops below a certain level, it spells certain doom for the bike’s motor–possibly with terrible consequences for the rider. In this case, the V-Strom’s owner ignored the low oil light for approximately 2,000 miles before the bike “began to make a terrible rattling noise” and breathed its last. The unmistakable rattling noise and the sparkling bits of metal in the oil confirmed to us that the motor was in bad shape. Turned out that the engine was damaged beyond repair; we found a replacement engine and installed it, and the rider learned an expensive lesson in responsible bike maintenance.

    Riders–remember to check your oil level and keep your bike filled to the appropriate level! The engine is the heart of a bike, and oil is its lifeblood.

    The engine from a 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650--the same bike featured in the oil change tutorial This one, however, was ridden by its uninformed owner until it was dry of oil

    Another view of the V-Strom engine--note that the front cylinder has already had its valve cap removed in an effort to diagnose the problem.

    It’s painful but fascinating to dig into a ruined engine like this and do a sort of autopsy to discover which parts failed. This is the normally very robust vee-twin engine on the lift, ready for disassembly. It’s a messy, dirty job, so I’ve got gloves on and plenty of rags and a pan on hand to catch spills.

    Vee-twin top view, with water pump and coolant hoses intact

    First I loosened the bolts and eased out the starter motor.

    Out comes the starter motor

    Next, off came the valve cap on the forward cylinder head, and then I removed the camshaft journal covers. In both cases, the caps should be removed in a star pattern to prevent the aluminum from warping as it is removed.

    Removing the camshaft covers

    In order to loosen the cam chain and remove the camshafts, the cam chain tensioner needs to come off first.

    Removing the cam chain tensioner

    At this point, the camshafts are exposed, and the cam chain is loose and can be pulled off, releasing the camshafts. The cam lobes, which rotate and push the valves open and closed, are vulnerable when the bike’s oil runs dry, as are the camshaft journals, which turn inside their bearings in the engine head. Upon inspection, though, the entire surface of both the intake and exhaust camshafts showed no evidence of wear or galling, a testament to the toughness of the V-Strom engine.

    Pulling and inspecting camshafts

    With the camshafts removed, the valve tappets (or buckets) are exposed, easy to pull with a pair of needlenose pliers or a magnet. Since the V-Strom uses a shim-under-bucket valve design, each shim sits on the underside of each tappet. The small shims require care and a deft hand to avoid dropping into the engine, a bad scene if you’re doing a valve adjustment.

    Pulling valve tappets

    Generally, as here, the small shim adheres to the underside of its tappet, and comes out with it.

    Shim, stuck under under its bucket with a thin film of oil

    With the camshafts, tappets and shims gone, the valve ends and the tops of the valve springs can be seen.

    The four valve ends and springs

    The head bolts came out next–that took a breaker bar.

    Using a breaker bar to remove the head bolts

    The intake and exhaust valves showed no obvious signs of being bent, a frequent result of oil starvation.

    Underside of the head, showing intake and exhaust valves

    Now that the head was off, the cylinder and piston face were visible.

    Cylinder and piston face

    With the head bolts out, I was able to pull and inspect the cylinder.

    Jug and cylinder

    The interior of the cylinder shows some scoring.

    Scored interior of the cylinder

    Normally, the piston rides up and down the cylinder in a thin film of oil. But when the oil is gone, there’s direct metal-to-metal contact as the piston begins to scrape and gouge the cylinder–and you can see the results.

    Cylinder scoring

    The piston skirt had signs of scoring beginning to show as well. If the engine had not been shut off when it was, the gouges would have deepened in both the metal of the cylinder and the piston, eventually breaking one or both, or melting them together and seizing the engine.

    Scored piston

    More piston damage

    I repeated the process with the other cylinder.

    Rear cylinder cap removal

    Second piston face

    Cylinder #2 removed

    Rear cylinder looks less damaged than the front cylinder

    This piston, too, showed little to no damage, unlike the front cylinder’s piston.

    This piston looks relatively ok

    Another view of the piston

    The two rear cylinder camshafts were in fine shape, as well.

    Rear cylinder camshafts, undamaged

    After the cylinders were removed, the stator cover was next.

    Stator Cover

    With a bit of convincing with the deadblow hammer, the stator cover and stator came away, resisting as the flywheel magnets attempted to hold the stator in place.

    Stator cover, pulled, showing stator coils on right and flywheel on left

    With the stator cover off, I flipped the engine over to take off the clutch cover on the other side.

    Clutch cover

    The clutch cover came off more easily, showing the clutch basket beneath.

    Clutch exposed

    And next, I unbolted the clutch basket itself and removed it.

    Removing the clutch springs to free the clutch basket

    Now with the friction plates and steels out, the basket lay beneath. I pressed down the folded-up tabs of the washer holding the nut and friction bearing, and took them out.

    Clutch plates out, and friction bearing exposed

    With the clutch basket gone, the deeper parts of the crankcase are exposed (the plastic gear is the oil pump gear).

    Beneath the clutch

    With the top end of the engine (cylinders, valve head, camshafts and covers) apart, and the side covers, stator and clutch removed, it was time to get into the depths of the crankcases and see what damage had been wrought in the engine’s bottom end–which I’ll cover in the next post.