If you own a bike and you are confused about what engine oil should you use for your bike, then this is where you start reading this entire article. There’s always a fuss about what engine oil should you use, synthetic or semi-synthetic or mineral oil. If this is not overwhelming for you then there are oils with different viscosities too viz. 10W-30, 20W-50, 15W-40, and so on. I hope it is clear by now that engine oils are pretty confusing and is not something that you should rely entirely on your mechanic’s gut feeling.

Types of Engine Oil

When it comes to selecting engine oil, there are various things that you need to consider viz. your bike model, driving conditions(mountainous terrain roads, Temperature, etc), and lastly the primary purpose of your bike(Commuting, Racing, etc). Before we derive any conclusion, let me share with you different types of motorcycle oil.

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Mineral Oil

This is the cheapest of all the oils, it offers very little in terms of additives. This oil does not provide superior performance for a longer time. Hence, this oil is ideal for bike owners who are religious about frequent oil changes. These oils are manufactured locally and used by small service stations in bulk. Also, this oil is not suitable for driving conditions with varying loads and varying temperature. Using this oil for mountainous terrain roads may cause engine seizure.

Premium Mineral Oil

This is a refined version of mineral oil, this oil is filtered, packed and sold by superior brands like Castrol, Motul, etc. This oil offers better performance and longevity than its Mineral counterpart. These oils are available in standard, 1L or 2.5L packages. This oil is ideal for bike owners who do not accelerate often and ride their bikes in economy range. These oils cost close to ₹300-400, depending on brands and viscosity. These oils can be procured from a local spare part vendor or online.

Semi-Synthetic Oil

Semi-synthetic oil is composed of Premium Mineral Oil(often referred to as base oil) and additives. Additives(I will mention more details on oil additives below) are chemical compounds that improve the performance of Base Oil for a specific purpose. Hence, Semi-synthetic oil is an engineered version of Premium Mineral Oil to achieve a specific purpose. These oils have superior and longer performance compared to Premium Mineral Oil. It is ideal for bike above 200cc and for owners prone to using their bike as a racing machine. However, this oil is not ideal for driving conditions with very high or low temperature. While selecting a Semi-synthetic Oil also note as some of these oils may cause degradation of rubber seals and cause oil leaks.

Synthetic Oil

Synthetic Oil is developed in laboratories and is chemically engineered to provide better mechanical properties at extremes of high and low temperatures too. Synthetic Oils have properties that are not just limited to temperatures, some of the synthetic oils have properties that inhibit rust, increases lubricity to achieve better mileage, neutralizes oil impurities, to name a few. These are suitable for bike owners looking to achieve superior performance. These oils are suitable for performance engines. Although, can be used for smaller engines, but it’s not worth the cost for smaller engines below 250cc. As you might have figured by now that these oils are very expensive, a standard 1L bottle will cost close to ₹750-₹800 rupees.

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Engine Oil Viscosity

The dictionary meaning of viscosity is

the state of being thick, sticky, and semi-fluid in consistency, due to internal friction.
Let me break it down to you, the substance that flows easily has a lower viscosity than the substance that does not flow easily. For example, water has a lower viscosity than curd. The oil viscosity changes with varying temperature, oils have a higher viscosity(sticky) at lower temperatures and a lower viscosity at its operating temperature. Hence, oils are graded based on the viscosities at different temperatures. For example, a 10W-30 oil means that oil can be pumped inside the engine at two different temperatures. 10W means the viscosity grade at a lower temperature. The lower the viscosity grade, the lower the temperature at which the oil can pass. Hence, a 5W-30 can pass at even lower temperatures, and so on. 30 in 10W-30 signifies the viscosity grade at 100°C. Hence, the higher the viscosity grade, the higher the temperature at which oil can pass. Hence, more the difference between higher and lower viscosity grade better the oil at performing at wider temperature ranges. Refer to the below chart to understand ideal oil grade for your bike. Also, the larger the difference between lower and higher operating temperatures more expensive will be the engine oil.
Engine-Oil-Viscosity-Chart
Engine oils with different viscosity grades and their operating temperature range.

Oil Additive

Oil Additive is a chemical compound that is added to the base oil to improve the performance of the base oil. To achieve specific performance different types of additives can be used. The additives can be used for the following reasons:

  1. As a detergent, to clean oil impurities.
  2. As rust inhibitor, to prevent corrosion.
  3. As an anti-oxidant, to prevent oxidation.
  4. As viscosity index improver, to improve viscosity at different temperatures.
  5. As an anti-wear agent, to prevent engine wear.
  6. As friction modifiers, to reduce friction.
  7. As demulsifiers, to separate water from oil.

It is difficult to have all these types of additives in one oil as these additives tend to reduce the performance of other additives in the mixture. Although, it is a good choice to select engine oil with additives over its mineral oil counter part.

Conclusion

Ideal engine oil for your bike should now be selected on the basis of 4 factors

  1. Purpose of your Bike – Be it commuting, Racing or Cruising; the engine oil can be selected based on the types of oil. Also, Keep in mind your the price of engine oil.
  2. Driving Conditions – On a high terrain road where the temperature is much lower, it is ideal to select engine based on Viscosity grade.
  3. Bike Model – For Bike with a smaller engine(less than 200cc) it is ideal to use premium mineral oil, but if you are willing to spend extra for better performance it is recommended that you go with Semi-synthetic Oil. For bike owner with high displacement engines, Semi-synthetic or Synthetic oil based on the purpose of your bike is recommended.
  4. Operating Temperature – Operating temperatures should be kept in mind while selecting the engine oil, based on the highest and lowest temperature in your city use the above chart to select the oil with viscosity grades that match with your city temperature.

I hope the engine oil selection is now simpler after this. If not, feel free to comment.

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