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

(Pick up free oil and filter drainer containers at upcoming Riders Recycle events in Northern California.)

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.

If you’re in San Mateo County, check out our blog post about how to easily recycle your used oil and filters. To find your own convenient oil and filter recycling location, click HERE and enter your zip code.

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

Now that you’ve changed the engine oil, how about those other fluids?

There’s no greasy chain to adjust on a shaft-driven bike. But there is regular maintanence. If you don’t do it, you’re liable to destroy the seals and gears spinning inside. The replacement cost will make you wish your bike had a chain.
That’s why changing the final drive oil on a regular basis is key. Many people recommend it be done at 6,000-mile intervals — or about every time you change your motor oil.

Getting final drive oil into the pan requires ingenuity and good scotch.

Fortunately, it’s even easier than changing your oil.
Here’s what you do on a classic shafty, the BMW R1150RT:
First, gather your tools. You’ll need a torque wrench and a 6mm allen wrench for the filler plug, located on top of the rear hub. A 19mm socket fits the drain plug below it. Get a drain pan and cut a piece of cardboard or other material to keep the oil from draining onto your rear wheel. Also, you’ll need a small funnel and possibly a measuring cup.

Final drive drain plug is attractive, literally.

For oil, almost any GL-5 rated gear oil in the 75-90 weight will do. I am using Castrol 80-90, non-synthetic gear oil ($6.99 per quart at Kragen). Also, you must have two new crush washers. They are about 50 cents each at the dealer.
Start by positioning the drain pan under the drain plug with the cardboard chute in place. Remove the filler plug first. Then unscrew the drain plug and let the oil flow out. Inspect the plug. It has a magnet on it to catch metalic debris and keep stuff out of the works. If there’s a lot of metal on your plug, start saving for a new final drive.
Clean it off, put a new crush washer on it and screw it back in by hand. Torque it to about 17 foot-pounds.
Fill the final drive with fresh oil. It takes 230 ml or about 8 ounces. You may need a separate measuring cup if the oil bottle doesn’t have markings on the side. Castrol gear oil has a narrow tipped end that is perfect for getting the oil into the small filler hole.

Filler up.

Once you’ve filled it, put the filler plug in with a new crush washer. Tighten to 17 foot-pounds also. Dump the used oil in with the other stuff you’re recycling. I put it all in one-gallon iced tea jugs from Trader Joe’s. I like them because they are clear and have wide openings.

Bill’s garage: Oil change for the ’02 BMW R1150RT

As you’ve seen, changing the oil and filter on a motorcycle is a relatively simple task that even a beginner can do. Servicing this BMW sport-tourer is no different. Here’s a straightforward how-to on the bike.

Everything you need except the torque wrench and the beer.

First, assemble your tools and parts. You’ll need four liters of moto-specific oil. I use Castrol 20-50 4T because it’s cheap and they stock it at my local auto parts store. My filter is a Hiflofiltro HF163 ($9.95) instead of the BMW-branded filter at $18.95. In addition, you’ll need two new crush washers and shop towels.

For tools, you’ll need a torque wrench, a ratchet, a 76mm filter wrench, an 8mm allen head wrench or driver, an oil catch pan and a funnel. (Pick up free oil and filter drainer containers at upcoming Riders Recycle events in Northern California.) An aftermarket service manual is a nice thing to have, too.

Knowledge is power. Always have a shop manual nearby.

Get the bike hot and park it on the center stand. No need to remove the fairing. You can reach everything. Postion the catch pan and remove the drain plug with the 8mm driver. The plug is located on the bottom of the engine case. Be careful not to let it fall in the oil.

Drain plug with oil filter on right. Pink Schwinn in background.

Thar she blows!

Discard the old crush washer in a place where you won’t accidentally reuse it.

Clean plug and new crush washer.

Next, grab your filter wrench and ratchet and remove the filter. It is in a recessed spot near the drain plug. If the rubber gasket is not in the old filter when you take it out, check to be sure it isn’t stuck to the case. If so, reach up and pull it out.
Prepare your new filter by filling it with oil and spreading a bit of oil on the rubber gasket to help the seal.

Priming the filter and wetting the seal

Clean off any grit from the engine case before installing the new filter. The filter should be torqued to just 8 foot-pounds or about hand-tight.

You put the lime in the coconut ... or something like that

Going up. Installing the filter.

Clean the drain plug, put a new crush washer on it and install it, torquing it to 23 foot-pounds. Don’t overtighten.
Now you’re ready to fill the bike with oil. It will take about 3.75 liters. Don’t overfill it. It goes in the oil cap atop the left cylinder head. I use a small funnel and pour the oil carefully, so it doesn’t spill on the engine.

Oil goes in da hole.

Check your oil level by looking at the sight glass below the cylinder and behind the fairing. A flashlight helps to see it.
Finally, start the bike and check for leaks.
Pour the old oil in a jug and take it back to the auto parts store to recycle it. For more information on where and how to recycle your own oil and filters in other locations, head to www.ridersrecycle.com or click HERE and enter your zip code. If you’re in San Mateo County, check out our blog post about how to easily recycle your used oil and filters.

High-tech records management system

I usually write the mileage and date on a piece of masking tape and stick it somewhere on the fairing. In 6,000 miles or so, I’ll change the oil and filter again.
You’re done!

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!

    Maybe that Pennsylvania groundhog is right

    Ok. We’re not exactly breaking out the barbecue here on the North Coast of California.
    Because it’s February. On the North Coast.
    But it is warm, with temperatures flirting near the upper 60s. So warm that I fired up the bike this weekend and made a savage run to the beach, heating up the tires and getting a few grins while avoiding Sunday drivers and the fine gentlemen parked behind billboards.

    Winter on the coast -- Highway 1 near Tomales Bay

    Overall, it was a hell of a good day! My helmet is off to Punxatawney Phil. It was positively springlike.
    Other riders took advantage, as well.
    In my blast to Pt. Reyes Station via Highway 1, I saw sport bikes, dual sports and choppers, all basking in their own moto moments. I

    No dog days of winter here

    met a guy on a ’38 BMW R-61 who rode to Marin County from San Francisco wearing what looked like a trench coat.
    He seemed surprised when I asked if he rode “that” over the Golden Gate Bridge.
    “Of course I did,” he said, pointing out that the bike survived World War II and was rescued from a Polish barn. “Why wouldn’t I?”
    He rolled away in a whir of sewing machine noise.
    I took it as my cue and got my modern-day bike up to warp speed, flying north up the asphalt ribbon that envelopes Tomales Bay.
    I scraped a foot peg or two, paused for pics and headed back to may own barn.
    I stopped short of reconnecting the trickle charger. I have a feeling I won’t be needing it.