The Great Debate: Synthetic or Conventional Oil?
Which is Better for Your Bike?
In the world of internet arguments, there aren't many topics more contentious than those surrounding oil. Brand loyalties passed down from generation to generation, lies told by businesses trying to make a buck on our gullibilities; the arguments can sometimes start as if a person is discussing religion rather than motorcycle maintenance.
The biggest lie ever told was the 3,000-mile oil change. Oil change businesses began this myth in order to generate more repeat customers and pad their bottom line. Every time you left these places you had a convenient reminder to return in 3,000 miles to get your oil changed. This belief was propagated so completely that many people still swear by the 3,000-mile oil change interval.
So, when do you need to change your oil?
The best indicator of when to change your oil is to follow your vehicle manufacturer's recommended interval. This also means you need to use an oil that meets your manufacturer's oil requirements. If you ride in a very dirty environment or run your bike at track days you will change your oil more frequently, but that's the price you pay for that extra fun.
Synthetic vs Conventional
Both synthetic and conventional oils start off with almost even capability. Conventional and synthetic oils also both start in the ground and they use similar base materials. But that's where the similarities end. The single largest difference between synthetic and conventional is the difference in each one's ability to maintain viscosity over a long period of time.
Both synthetic and conventional oils use additives for friction, for temperature, viscosity, cleaning, and more. Because synthetic starts as a purer base – having been distilled, purified, and broken down to its base molecules, as opposed to simply being refined – it is more chemically stable. This means synthetic oil maintains its ability to suspend dirt, prevent parts contact, and to flow in colder temperatures better than conventional oils. All of this means less wear and tear on your motor and transmission, less maintenance costs over the long term, and more piece of mind.
So, short answer: synthetic is generally a better choice.
I could keep writing about this for several days but this video from Engineering Explained probably does the best job I have ever seen explaining the difference in protection of new conventional and synthetic oil versus used conventional and synthetic oil. There is something about a visual that words cannot compete with.
This is also one of the best channels on YouTube for explanations of very complex issues. Not to mention they have a thermal video of a burnout – completely amazing to watch.
Did we change your mind?
Did we change your mind about what oil to use? I was already a synthetic oil user before writing this article and watching the video. The video convinced me even more that I had made the right choice. But perhaps you remain faithful to mineral oil; let us know why in the comments below.