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The latest dirt on “slick” oil treatment for motorcycles

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

bike_week_2012_2If you google "oil additives for motorcycles", you'll find tons of links to various products by a hundred different manufacturers. They make similar claims about the protective qualities of the oil you're putting in your motorcycle.  And why shouldn't they?  Motorcycle owners are a proven market – people who spend big bucks on their motorcycles and are willing to spend  in order to keep them running at their best.  Motorcycle owners and boat owners tend to be similar in this respect.  Both motorcycles and boats have special places in the hearts of their owners.

The problem here is that lots of companies see this fact as a green light to try and part motorcycle owners out of their hard-earned money with oil additives that, when you look at them more closely, are more pseudoscience and psychobabble than they are genuine protection.  A general survey of the motorcycle oil additive landscape finds the majority of products divided into four different camps:

  1. Engine oil with PTFE added
  2. Engine oil with ZDDP
  3. Engine oil with the same additives already found in the oil you buy off the shelf
  4. Solvents and detergents

So if you’re considering buying one of these four, is there anything important you need to know?  Maybe you have no idea if any of them are any good. You're not alone there.  We could talk about all of these today, but that would make for a really long blog post. So consider this the first installment of a short series explaining the ins and outs of these main types of motorcycle oil additives.

1. Engine oil with PTFE added

PTFE is the most popular of the “cool” motorcycle oil additives because it was heavily marketed in the 1980s and 1990s as the “slickest substance on earth”. These are the Teflon additives that you may have heard of.  The rationale is that Teflon in motorcylce oil bonds to metal parts like it does to the surface of that non-stick frying pan you have. Friction and wear are eliminated and your motorcycle will last forever.  The most aggressively-marketed of the PTFE formulations go by trade names like Slick 50, Microlon and QMI.

Will the slickest stuff on earth help your motorcycle?

What does Teflon or PTFE actually do? Does it match the claims made by the oil additives it is contained in? Consider these points of fact:

Dupont, the inventor of PTFE/Teflon, has publicly stated that “Teflon is not useful as an ingredient in oil destined for use in an internal combustion engine".  Dupont went as far as to bar anyone from using it in an oil additive, until a bunch of additive makers got together and won a lawsuit on ‘restraint of trade’. This means that you can’t refuse to sell something to someone just because you think they’ll use it in a way they’re not supposed to.  So Dupont was forced to sell Teflon again, but distances itself from anything having to do with these additives.

NASA research on Teflon in oil concluded it had no benefit and could actually harm the engine because the solid Teflon molecules don’t, in fact, bond to engine surfaces, but simply accumulate in areas of the engine they’re not supposed to.  This means it’s very likely that a product like Slick 50 could just end up cutting oil lubrication off to important areas of the engine and doing more harm than good.

This problem is also compounded by the fact that the solid PTFE molecule actually expands when it gets hot. This means that if the solid Teflon molecules aren’t being screened out by the oil filter initially, once your engine gets up to ambient operating temperature, they’re very likely to get screened out then.

What To Do?

You can save yourself money by passing up the pseudoscience of Teflon additives for your motorcycle.  The manufacturers of these products have very slick marketing campaigns and excellent explanations for how great PTFE formulations are despite this evidence.   When pressed on how to overcome these objections, they can’t really give a lot of clear answers beyond “that’s proprietary”.  So if it seems too good to be true, you should be assume it isn’t true, and spend your money on good quality motorcycle engine oil.

Be sure to watch out for the next installments in our oil treatment for motorcycles series. You can always bookmark this post. We will add links here when the posts are published.

Check out these related posts:

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This post was published on October 16, 2014 and was updated on January 26, 2015.

Topics: Lubrication, Motorcycles