Performance that you can feel
K3 Chris Onwiler
What is the best motorcycle oil? Now there is a can of worms. A thousand internet threads on the subject have given voice to a million opinions. Forum trolls preach and throw lighting bolts at one another, each completely self assured in his own righteous opinion. Manufacturer specs don't help, as their recommendations for the lubricants used in their machines tend to change yearly, as well as from model to model. Oil companies make incredible claims, each touting their brand as the only product a serious rider would consider for his or her precious machine. In the midst of all this confusion, somebody hands you a shot glass filled with fresh, sparkling oil. From the look and smell of the sample you're holding, can you tell anything at all about it? Of course not. So what's a motorcycle owner to do?
Here at TrackdayMag.com, we're as confused about this subject as you are. Fortunately, we know where to go for some common sense advice. We spoke to Randy Mashin, of Tri-R Distributing, which is located in the Chicagoland area. Tri-R is the Midwest distributor for Spectro products so yes, Randy is very prejudiced about which oil you should use. Thing is, Mashin is a career motorcycle guy. We were ordering parts from him over the counter at a Kawasaki shop back in the days when sportbikes had spoked rims! Randy's a gearhead and because of that, he was able to skip the chemistry lesson and give us some really good advice in a format that we could understand, all without bashing any of his competitors. Here's what we learned:
1) Unlike cars which have separate engines and transmissions, most sporting motorcycles use the same oil system to lubricate both. Transmission gears mesh under tremendous pressure and tend to split the molecules in oil, breaking it down quickly. A lubricant's ability to resist this torture is called "Sheer Stability." In addition, there are many configurations of motorcycle engines, each with unique needs. You might ride an air cooled single or a water cooled V-4. Your redline could be 5K or 15K. The diversity is staggering when compared to cars. This is why motorcycle-specific oil is necessary. Also, even when choosing among motorcycle lubricants, you still need to consider an application-specific product to fill your bike's needs. These are the reasons why you should never consider automotive oil for use in your motorcycle.
2) "Oil" is a very simple name for a very complex product. When this chemically blended lubricant is created, the manufacturer begins with a petroleum-based or synthetic stock, to which are added the other ingredients of a specific formulation. This formulation of additives is what separates one brand from another and believe it or not, really good oil is expensive to make! Perhaps the most logical point that Randy made during our discussion was, "If you build an oil down to the price point required by the big-box and automotive chain stores, you can not afford to put the right quantity and combination of high quality additives in it."
3) Consistency can be a problem in oil production. As the assembly line of a mass production facility is switched over from one product to the next, the production doesn't stop. As a result, the beginning and end of each batch can often be something other that what the recipe called for.
With those three points explained, Randy then told us how Spectro fits into the picture. The company has been in business since 1966, with its origins in 2-stroke oils. Spectro positions itself as a "Top-Shelf" lubricant. They do not attempt to compete at the mass-merchandising level, choosing instead to build higher quality lubricants and then sell them at a fair price relative to the protective ability of the product. Constant research, development and testing keep Spectro's lubricants on the cutting edge of today's engine technology. The company's reputation is such that several high profile powersports manufacturers and suspension companies choose Spectro to formulate and manufacture the lubricants which they then sell under their own OEM label. As to consistency, Spectro "batch blends" their lubricants in small runs, much like a microbrewery would do for its craft beers. The result is that each batch of product is quality controlled from the first bottle to the last, with the machinery being carefully flushed every time the product formulation gets switched. Expensive yes, but Spectro doesn't cut corners in the production of their lubricants. Finally, when it comes to application-specific lubricants, Spectro has products for virtually any powersports vehicle that you might own.
It's great to hear this sort of info from a guy we've trusted going back decades but let's face it TrackdayMag.com is about testing and when we go to the track, we're looking for results that we can feel. Randy had just the answer. He said, "Take the worst-shifting bike in your fleet, change it over to Spectro and decide for yourself if it makes the gear changes smoother." This sounded like a no-brainer to us so we did just as he said. Our 2003 Aprilia Mille, which uses a Rotax-built 1000cc V-twin engine, integrated gearbox and a dry sump oiling system, is a notorious box of rocks when it comes to shifter action. This big, hot-running lump is murder on oil, destroying it in just a weekend or two of racetrack riding. You can literally feel the oil's performance falling off in the transmission's shift action. Countless pages of internet forums have been devoted to this shortcoming and there are many "solutions" out there, not to mention dozens of suggestions for "the one true oil" that will make everything all right. In the years we've owned this bike, we've tried them all. Some helped and some didn't, with the result of our experimentation being a bike that shifts decently but not with the level of precision we'd consider normal for an inline four Japanese bike.
Plainly stated, the Spectro oil made a huge difference. Our Aprilia was noticeably smoother shifting, especially when dropping gears while on the brakes. For the first time in our ownership of this machine, we were able to put the transmission completely out of mind and just ride the motorcycle. Forget all the claims, the lab results that we don't understand and the advertising hype. We put Spectro in the bike and it simply shifted better. Additionally, it's worth mentioning that we used regular petroleum-based oil for this test. Mashin felt that our results might have been even more dramatic with Spectro's synthetic product but since we've always run petro-oil in this bike, we wanted to stick with the dinosaur juice so that we'd be comparing apples to apples.
We're convinced. Spectro oil made our Aprilia shift noticeably better. You don't need to accept our word for it, though. Take the Spectro challenge yourself and decide if your own machine shows improvement. We bet you'll notice the same difference that we did.
Keep watching for future articles regarding more information on oils, brake fluids and more. Until then you can view all of Spectro’s quality lubricants on their website at spectro-oils.com or contact Randy in the office at 708-534-2222.
Editor's Note: If you happen to be attending the Sportbike Track Time event held at Autobahn Country Club on May 25/26/27, 2013, you may be able to participate in a grand experiment. Racer Cafe will be trackside and doing oil changes. They're looking for twelve Expert-level riders who'd like to take the Spectro Challenge. Why Experts? Because if you're truly going to analyze a change in performance, you need to be capable of riding your fastest pace with enough reserve attention span to think about something other than your riding. TrackdayMag.com will be there as well, to interview the test subjects and report on the results. Contact Racer Cafe at 630-443-5178 to reserve a spot as a tester. See you there!