Motorcycle Oil Consumption

Back in 2008 Top Gun Motorcycles purchased a new Kawasaki KLR650-E model which turned out to be a lemon.  Initially we had ran into some seemingly fueling problems that turned out to be improper routing of the CA emissions system from the factory. After our normal break-in, we began to notice that oil consumption was high: 850 miles per liter. The factory attempted to convince us that our oil consumption was normal!! HO HO HO !! Throw in an electrical failure that turned out to be a bad ignition switch and we were not impressed.

Instead of continuing to ride a bike with an engine running more like a low powered  two-stroke than a four-stroke, we took the problem to Vey de la Cruz of Vey’s Power Sports, El Cajon CA. Vey determined that the cylinder had warped allowing lots of oil to get past the rings which were running in an oval shaped hole. Vey installed a high quality L.A. chrome moly cylinder sleeve along with a CP forged piston and post break-in oil consumption went from 850 miles per liter to over 3,000 at break-in and increasing when the bike was sold to a happy new owner in Sierra Vista, AZ.

Way back in the 1990’s BMW tried to convince Ron Jensen that his new oil head GS Beemer had acceptable oil consumption at 1000 miles per liter. Ron, who has probably never seen a turnip truck let alone fallen from one proved his case to the Corporation and they installed a new engine into his near new motorcycle.

So, what is normal oil consumption you ask? The answer is, “it depends”. Is the engine air/oil or liquid cooled, does it have a Nikasil liner or an iron sleeve, was it broken in properly on good oil etc. etc. etc.

A million motorcycle miles and 59 years ago I didn’t keep track of oil or fuel consumption. Both were cheap as were parts. In 1990 I began keeping very good records and to become more compulsive about service and maintenance on my bikes.  Since nearly all my 500,000 plus miles post 1990 have been logged on DR Suzuki’s (350 and 650) and KL650 A’s I have acquired a huge amount of model specific information which I’ve been happy to share, beginning in the last century with Dual Sport News magazine, multisurfacemotorcycling.com and now topgunmotorcycles.com.

A couple of decades ago I developed a very accurate way of tracking motorcycle oil consumption and I employ the technique on a consistent basis with any motorcycle I ride. My 26,500 mile 2011 DR650SE engine which I broke in from new goes 31,140 miles on one liter of Maxima Full Synthetic. I just change the oil every 3,500 miles and the filter every 7,000 miles. For those few of you who may believe me I’ll tell you how I got there:

  1. Except for installing a UNI air filter I left the intake and exhaust systems stock.
  2. Following Jim Hackl’s (Millennium Technologies) instructions, I broke the engine in on the best synthetic motorcycle oil I could find; Maxima’s Maxima Extra Four triple ester 10w-40.
  3. Per Vey de la Cruz of Vey’s Power Sports, I never use the choke (enrichener) unless absolutely necessary and then only for very short periods of time (seconds).
  4. I never let the engine idle while the bike is at a standstill for more than a couple of minutes.
  5. I use the correct gearing for the job at hand, and run the engine smack dab in the middle of the power band between friction and pumping losses regardless of what gear I happen to be in at the time

GEARING EXAMPLES:

  1. Pavement mountain riding with Pauline – 14/42
  2. High speed pavement – 15/42
  3. Baja off-road – 14/43 (or 14/44 for two-up)

NOTE: I never choose a constant cruising speed above 5000 rpm or below 4000 rpm (I prefer 4,000 to 4,500 in top gear)

Now, let’s turn to Pauline’s 1993 KLR650-A7 which was purchased new and has 125,000 miles on the clock. I rebuilt the engine for the second time 19,000 miles and several years ago; but at the time we had not quite arrived at the L.A. Sleeve, CP piston era. Despite having a crappy/warp-prone stock cylinder sleeve and a stock piston and rings, I was getting approximately 8,500 miles per liter of the slippery stuff the last time I checked. Since I had not yet gone to Maxima Extra Four triple ester oil I expect that number to improve once I have awakened Pauline’s bike from a 7 year hibernation and put it back on the road soon.

If I were to get serious about reducing oil consumption on the KLR I would just do what Top Gun has recommended for several years now. I’d install an L.A. Sleeve and CP piston and rings followed by performing my usual “Millennium” break-in procedure as described above.

Rod Morris recently had both his KLR-A engines rebuilt. The heads were rebuilt and blue printed by Vey de la Cruz of Vey’s Power Sports and his cylinders were reconditioned by L.A. Sleeve who also fitted forged CP pistons to the bores.

Ed Runnels and I tore both engines all the way down and rebuilt them with new parts wherever needed. Once Ed had completed the reassembly of both bikes including fresh carburetors, oil and gasoline, the break-in employing our usual procedure began.

Rod was astounded by the post break-in results. Despite staying basically stock on the intake and exhaust systems – both bikes gained significant power. The street KLR got some extra porting by Vey during head and valve reconditioning, and Rod can’t believe how good it runs without benefit of re-jetting and other noisy, smog causing intake and exhaust changes that he could have inflicted upon the environment.

What about oil use you ask? Well, Rod isn’t as anal as I am about tracking oil consumption, but he reports no need to add oil between 3,500 mile changes. That’s a long way from the 1,000 miles per liter that BMW and Kawasaki have claimed in the past to be acceptable. I’m sorry folks but three and one half liters in 3,500 miles is not acceptable. I haven’t seen that kind of oil consumption since Al Dietor and I were winning trophies in the Tecate 500 Enduro in Baja circa the 1970’s. But Al had an excuse: His 2-stroke 400 Husqvarna ran on a mixture of oil and gas.

Thanks to Vey de la Cruz, Kevin Cameron, Jim Hackl, good motorcycle maintenance, top quality synthetic lubricants, and correct riding practices, I don’t expect to suffer excessive oil consumption problems. If I do, I know how to eliminate them.