Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Do Engine Oil Grades Mean?

20W50, 10W40, 15W45, 20W40 ... what the hell does all that mean?

There are many components of a bike that most riders don't know about in detail. It is not due to ignorance, since the details of the component rarely come into play. For example, who knows the chemistry of the brake fluid, eh? If anybody out there does, let me know, I really am curious about the thing.

Engine oil grades are an essential element of that set of unintelligible gibberish about bikes. We have all seen the 'recommended' oil grade for our own bike, and we have just stored the info at the back of our clustered mind. Many would, understandably, have completely forgotten the oil most suited to their bike. And let's be honest, the service center just keeps replenishing it, and they know what they need to know about it, so why bother?

Well, the Rambler doesn't call himself a biking geek for nothing. Here's some info I managed to drum up about what the numbers either side of the 'W' really mean. Incidentally, the 'W' stands for winter, which is, for some reason, the point of reference in oil grades.

The first number in an engine oil grade is a mark of the minimum temperature in which the oil can work. The number isn't an actual reading in any standard temperature scale, but rather a rating.

The lower the number on the left, the colder the temperatures the oil can sustain. If you intend to change the oil in your bike because you are moving to a consistently cold area, changing the oil from a 20WXX oil to a 10WXX oil is the best thing you can do for your bike.

The second number, as you may imagine, stands for the other end of the scale: the highest temperatures the oil can function in. This number denotes the amount of change in the viscosity of the oil due to temperature.

If you are going to something related to racing, performance, stunts, or anything else that requires the engine to retain a high amount of heat for a long time, switching to an oil with a higher "second number" is what you should do.

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