Motorcycle fluids for beginners (what you need to know!)

Motorcycles are expensive and complex. Even something seemingly simple like what oil or gasoline to put in it can be quite intimidating, especially for novice riders.

Thankfully I have you covered, In this article, I will answer these 3 questions.

Do motorcycles take special oil?

A resounding YES! All motorcycles take special oil because everything from the crankshaft to the transmission (including the clutch) is all housed in the same case.

This means that on a 4-stroke motorcycle engine the same oil that lubricates the valves and piston also lubricates the clutch and transmission.

This makes the need for a special type of oil that can sufficiently lubricate hot, high-speed parts like the camshaft and piston but is not too slippery that the fiber and metal clutch plates do not slip after the clutch is disengaged.

What is engine oil anyway?

Engine oil is a substance that is designed to reduce friction and wear on moving parts and also to clean the engine from sludge and varnish.

Manufacturers often use additives to increase the lubrication properties of the oil. It is these additives that you will want to make sure are compatible with a motorcycle.

What about 2-stroke motorcycles?

A 2-stroke motorcycle is a bit different because altho everything is housed in the same case the engine is separate from the clutch and transmission.

On top of that, a 2-stroke engine requires oil that can mix with gasoline and burn away in the combustion process without leaving a residue behind.

To make things even more complicated there are special oils and lubricants for many other motorcycle components such as the cables, chain, belt, or shaft drive gear cases.

Making sure your motorcycle has the correct oil is critical to its operation and longevity. Always check the service or owner’s manual for the requirements of your motorcycle.

Do motorcycles take special coolant?

This is one of those yes and no answers that due to the specific conditions of each type of motorcycle and the fact that they are getting more specialized as the years pass forces me to use a textbook answer but don’t worry I will go into more detail.

The coolant required by a motorcycle varies by application, type, and manufacturer of motorcycle, therefore always check the service or owner’s manual for the correct type.

What is coolant or anti-freeze?

Coolant or anti-freeze is a dual-purpose water-soluble substance that aids not only in lowering the freezing point of the water but also increases the boiling point as well.

Coolant is vital in helping maintain optimal engine temperature, deterioration, and also protects against freezing which is nice if you don’t live in one of those warm southern states.

There are two main types of coolant, one being propylene glycol and the other ethylene glycol.

Propylene glycol coolant

Propylene glycol coolant is the least toxic of the two and is thicker than ethylene, therefore, helping it remain more stable at higher temperatures.

Propylene glycol the main ingredient is a viscous, colorless liquid containing two alcohol groups and has a faintly sweet taste. It is used in solvents, food, and E-cigarettes.

Ethylene glycol coolant

Ethylene glycol coolant, on the other hand, is way more toxic, however, it is thinner than propylene meaning you need less of it to be effective and it is better at depressing freezing making it better for below-freezing temperatures.

Ethylene glycol the main ingredient is is an odorless, colorless, sweet-tasting, viscous liquid known mostly for being the main component in the manufacturing of polyester and of course a coolant.

With that being said every manufacturer adds extra things to help improve their product. It is these additives that will usually determine if the coolant is compatible with your motorcycle.

Now that that’s out of the way let’s talk about the no part of the answer, If your motorcycle is older (pre-2000) then the chances are the coolant running through the veins of it are the exact same as those used in an automobile.

Older motorcycles in general use very similar oils, coolants, and other lubricants, it was very common in motorcycle shops to have 1 giant barrel of oil and 1 for coolant that went in almost every bike.

Nowadays it is a very different story, the specific needs aren’t just a certain type of motorcycle, but can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

This means the coolant in a GSXR can be different from a CBR or a YZF even though they are all in-line 4-cylinder sportbikes.

So in newer motorcycles yes, they do take special coolant so make sure to always check the service or owner’s manual.

Do motorcycles need premium gasoline?

Most motorcycles do not need premium gasoline, however, some do and it is important to know if your motorcycle does or not.

Asking if you should run premium gasoline is a very common question, not only for motorcycles but for small engines of all kinds.

First let’s take a look at what premium gasoline is, why it is different from regular gasoline, and why it matters.

What is premium and why it’s different from regular gasoline?

Premium gasoline is any gasoline that has an octane rating of 90 or higher. Octane rating is a measure of a gasoline’s ability to handle compression without spontaneously igniting.

Basically, this means premium gasoline is more stable than regular gasoline under pressure which highlights the difference between premium and regular gasoline.

Why using premium gasoline matters?

The problem happens when modifications are done to the engine such as adding high compression pistons or machining material from the cylinder head, which increases the engine’s compression.

Although this does increase the power output of the engine it also changes the fuel requirement from regular gasoline to something that has a higher octane rating that of course being, premium gasoline.

Putting regular gasoline into an engine that requires premium, will result in a condition known as detonation and why it is not recommended.

Detonation, in a nutshell, is when an engine’s fuel burns abruptly before it is supposed to.

This condition will likely cause all kinds of symptoms from motorcycle jerking to more notably an explosion violent enough to send metal fragments through the engine case.

Motorcycle manufacturers know this and they know regular gasoline is cheaper, therefore, more likely to be used and as a result, most motorcycles are designed to use regular gasoline.

Final thoughts

Like I said at the beginning of the article motorcycles are expensive and complex and this can make even simple tasks such as adding the correct oil or gasoline can be anxiety-inducing.

However it doesn’t have to be as long as you remember this, motorcycles are becoming ever more specific in their fluid requirements so always check the service or owner’s manual.