Reliability is Not Accidental

Back in 1955 when I completed my Korean War enlistment and left the military, the first thing I did was to buy a new 200cc Triumph Tiger Cub. As my salesman, Jim Keating had predicted, I soon tired of the lack of power produced by the little single and moved my 200lb butt up to a 1955 AJS 500cc one lunger.

From the very beginning I did all my own service and repairs, so oil changes got my immediate attention. In those primitive days before Mr. Honda showed the world how to integrate transmissions and clutches it was necessary to change lubricants in the engine, transmission and primary drive case. Since my AJS had no oil filter, the engine oil needed to be changed often. I followed factory recommendations and used the best motorcycle oil I could buy. As a result of establishing good riding and servicing habits early, my motorcycles in general have lived long happy lives.

A million motorcycle miles later and I have yet to suffer a mechanical breakdown. My two closest calls came in the mid 1970’s and early 1990’s.

In the first instance I partially seized an aftermarket “Venolia” forged piston while plowing through a long deep sand wash half way through a mid-1970’s Tecate 500 mile enduro in Baja. Fortunately the piston resized itself and finished the race giving me another trophy.

In the second instance my stock DR350 sustained a broken ring during a Baja dirt ride with Rod Morris but got me home albeit with greatly increased oil consumption and decreased power.

The only towable breakdowns I’ve suffered were as follows:

  • A stator failure on my1973 Honda SL-350
  • An electrical failure on my 1983 Suzuki GS750E (voltage regulator/rectifier).
  • A fuel starvation failure on my 2004 Kawasaki KLR650A. Note:  This is a dangerous failure in both the DR650SE and KLR650’s caused by the one way air intake valve in the fuel filler cap becoming plugged thereby creating a vacuum in the gas tank.

The long winded point I’m trying to make is that mechanical, electrical and fuel supply problems are rare in modern motorcycles if you only do your part.

The most important thing you can do is stay current on your factory recommended maintenance especially oil and filter changes. If you fail to follow your factory maintenance schedule, use washable “strainless” steel oil filters and lubricate your engine with Shell Rotella truck oil, you may expect your motorcycle to have a shorter more troublesome service life.

Here at Top Gun we presently have three DR650SE’s and three KLR650A’s in service. All were broken in on the best motorcycle synthetic oil (Maxima and Spectro) and none of them burns enough of the slippery stuff to require adding between changes.

Car oils use cheaper group 1 to 3 base stocks. Maxima for instance uses top of the line group 5 base stocks. According to Maxima’s Tim Schaeffer, “group 5 synthetic esters are shear resistant, offer better thermal and oxidative properties and are polar molecules. Polar molecules actually bond with metal and prevent a dry start during boundary lubrication”.  Maybe that’s partly why I didn’t have to change a shim on my last 15,000 mile KLR valve check. It also may be why I haven’t had to adjust valve clearances on my 16,000 mile 2011 DR650SE since the initial 1,000 mile break-in service.

Rod Morris has been using Maxima synthetic oil longer than Todd Vosper and me and the recent break-in results of his two MMP/Top Gun/Vey/Ed Runnels super KLR engines should convince anyone that Jim Hackle of Millenium Technologies was right when he recommended that “a motorcycle engine should live its entire life being lubricated by the best motorcycle synthetic oil money can buy”.

In closing I should mention that my 47,000 2004 KLR650-A stock engine uses almost no oil between 3,500 mille changes despite being equipped with a factory piston and cylinder liner.

Among other things I installed a manual fan switch, and an “E” model factory doohickey complete with MMP adjustable spring and Wexman/Carl inspection port. By using only Spectro and now Maxima full motorcycle synthetic oil from break-in to this day 100,000 mile on both the DR and KLR seems possible.