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LUBRICATION Tech Tips

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ENGINE OIL

While I'm sure everyone knows somebody that will swear that it doesn't make any difference, my feelings are basically: DON'T RUN CAR OIL IN YOUR MOTORCYCLE. Automotive oil breaks down quicker in an air cooled engine than it does in an automobile, therefore the automotive oil that you bought because it was cheap, will actually be worn out much quicker in your motorcycle than it would in a car. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that it will kill your engine, it won't. In fact, if that is all that you can get, it is a hell of a lot better than NO oil. It just isn't any cheaper. If you try to extend the life of the oil beyond what it should be, then it will hurt your motor, because you are actually running with contaminated, worn out oil. You get exactly what you pay for. Motorcycle oil is different than automotive oil. It doesn't really matter what brand you use as long as it is MOTORCYCLE OIL. PJ1, Belray, Harley-Davidson, Spectro will all work. I prefer spectro myself, but they will all work fine and should be good for 2000 miles between oil changes.
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OIL FILTERS

H-D spin-on filters do a pretty good job as long as you buy a good quality filter. We have seen occasional problems with some Taiwanese spin-on filters. On shovelheads and Ironhead sportsters with the filter in the oil tank and panheads with the external canister filter, switch to the new aftermarket style paper element. The old fiber type is know to clog the tappet screen and the new style does a better job of filtering. Triumphs and BSA twins use a washable screen in the sump that does a fine job of keeping out rocks, gravel and larger pieces of road kill, but not much else. They need all the help they can get in the oil filter department. Triumph 250's used a nice remote filter with a replaceable cartridge that can easily be adapted to a twin. Better yet, install a remote spin-on filter such as our #40-0098 oil filter/cooler kit ($49.00). Depending on the climate where you live, an oil cooler may be something you want to add to your bike. If you ride a Harley, there is a large choice of filters available from our #31-0090 ($18.95) plain black mini oil cooler to the fancy high priced billet aluminum coolers that don't do anywhere near as good of a job for a whole lot more money or anything in between. Most of these can be adapted to Triumph's and BSA's. Triumph Tridents came from the factory with a very nice oil cooler, which also can be adapted to a twin.

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OIL LINES

One of the most often overlooked components of the lubrication system of a motorcycle are the oil lines. If you have just rebuilt your motor, it is very wise to replace the oil lines. It doesn't make much sense to replace all the bearings, seals, pistons etc., then pump fresh clean oil through old, dirty, contaminated hoses. They don't cost very much and replacement is a lot easier than trying to clean them. Be careful what kind of hose that you use. Black automotive fuel/oil hose will work, but the clear braided does have the advantage of being able to see the oil in it. Try to stay away from unbraided clear, unless you know exactly what it is. I remember a guy I rode with about 20 years ago that used clear hose that he got from a pet shop. Everything was fine at first, but when the bike got up to temperature the hoses swelled up to about the size of a salami. It actually looked pretty funny, but if he hadn't noticed it and pulled over, it could have been pretty dangerous.

Another thing to be careful with, is the way you route your hoses. Many a motors has been fried by a kinked or restricted hose. Always double-check them on a re-built motor or one that has just been re-installed. The first thing you want to do before anything else, as soon as the motor is fired, is to remove the cap on the oil tank and check for oil return. If you don't get return in the first minute or so, shut it off and find out why. Don't assume anything, it'll drive you nuts if you do.

We once found a cigarette filter plugging an oil line. It seems that the owner took the motor out to paint the bike, didn't like oil dripping all over the place when he took the oil tank out with the lines still attached, so he plugged the feed line with a cigarette filter, then forgot all about it when he re-installed his motor. We found it, but by then, it was too late, it ended up costing him a re-build. If he would have checked for return when he put the motor back in, he would have caught it.

One problem that we run into a lot that can be disastrous is when the oil lines have not been put on in the right position. This seems to happen a lot after a motor has been removed to be rebuilt or have the frame painted. This is a sure way to seize your motor very quickly. On Triumph Twins the feed line always goes to the front. Don't assume that the oil pick up lines coming off the motor aren't twisted. Crawl underneath the bike and trace them down all the way to the motor to make sure. Your feed line coming from the tank is the one that the oil comes out of first when you fill the tank. On Triumph Twins the rocker shafts are fed from the line returning to the tank.

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WET SUMPING

 

One common problem that scares the hell of people is wet sumping. This is basically when you have too much oil in the bottom of the crankcase and it either blows out the breather or the flywheels throws it up on to the piston skirts and the motor smokes like hell or both.

There are a couple of things that will cause this. Most of the time it is because of a check valve in the oil pump that is not seated This is very common in Harley Sportsters built before 1977, Triumph Twins, and early Norton Commandos. Usually this happens after the bike sits for a couple months. On the Sportster it usually blows a big puddle of oil out of the breather tube attached to the bottom of the cam cover. Sometimes it will smoke, sometimes not, it just depends how much oil is in the bottom of the motor. The Triumph used a couple different breather setups, so the oil doesn't come out of the same place on every Triumph, but they usually do all smoke if the sump is full of oil. Usually if the plugs don't foul, it will clear itself out just by running the motor awhile. If it happens repeatedly at shorter and shorter intervals it is probably time for a new oil pump. On a Triumph Twin, this problem is pretty common after a motor has holed a piston and someone has tried to get away doing just a top end job. It means that the metal that blew out of the piston has taken out the scavenge side of the oil pump. If it ruined the oil pump, just think what it is doing to the rod bearings. I personally wouldn't even think of doing just a top end on a motor that holed a piston. you HAVE to split the cases and clean everything. But some people have to learn things the hard way no matter what you tell them.

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PRIMARY LUBE

Most bikes that run and enclosed oil bath primary chain have little problems with the chains. Early Harleys that use the chain oiler and the constant loss primary oiling system will go through primary chains a lot quicker than later models that used an oil bath. Some later Harley's ran the primary oil back through the engine, expecting the oil filter to filter out all the fine pieces of worn out clutch and primary chain material. This really wasn't a good idea, and a lot of these bikes have had this system changed over so that the primary chain housing must be manually filled and the engine oil is no longer routed through the primary. This usually works well , but if your bike has been modified this way be careful of primary cover leaks. If the primary cover leaks with the stock system, as long as there is oil in the oil tank, the primary chain will stay lubed. With the modified system a leaking primary cover means that if the oil level in the primary cover is not occasionally checked, the chain can eventually run dry. Occasional checking of primary oil level is also necessary on pre 1970 Triumph Twins and all BSA's for the same reason.

 

CABLE LUBRICATION

When lubricating the control cables on your motorcycle, be careful what you use to lube them with. NEVER use chain lube on a cable. a lot of people use motor oil to lube their cables with. Motor oil does work and is a lot better than nothing at all, however, it does have its drawbacks. Motor oil can pick up road dirt, which will make the cable hang up and wear out faster. Motor oil is also pretty messy.

I personally prefer a mixture of powdered graphite and WD40. To do a good job of lubricating your cables, first disconnect the cable at the handlebar end, then take a sandwich type plastic baggie and cut one of the bottom corners of the bag at a 45 degree angle leaving a hole just big enough to stick the upper end of the cable through, tape the baggie to the outside of the cable housing, then hang the cable up by the baggie. Dump some of your favorite cable lube in the bag and leave it sit for a while. The lube in the bag will run down the inner cable lubing it all the way. Remove the baggy, wipe everything off, hook the cable back up and adjust it and your done. You may be surprised how much easier your cables are to pull after you have done this.

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FORK OIL
The chart below will tell you how much oil to put into your forks per side.

Oil drained, fork not disassembled. Dry fork requires .5 to 1.0 oz. more. 20-Weight oil for average conditions. Oil weight can be adjusted for extreme conditions.

Type of Motorcycle Ounces   Type of Motorcycle Ounces
1952-69 Sportster 4.5 1970-78 1/2 FX 5.5
1970-72 Sportster 5.5 1978 1/2-83 FX 5.0
1973-83 sportster 5.0 1983-87 FXRT/FXRD 7.00
1984 up sportster 5.4 1984-85 FXB 5.8
1988 up Sportster hugger 9.00 1984-87 FXR 6.3
1949-78 1/2 FLH 6.5 1987 up FXLR 9.2
1978 1/2 up FLH 7.8 1987 FXRSE 10.5
1980-83 FLT/FLHT 7.8 1988 up FXR 9.2
1984 up FLT/FLHT 10.5