The Basics on How to Break in Your Bike

Get Off to a Fast Start

By Jerry Smith, Photography by BMW

Your new bike is out in the garage gleaming like a freshly minted penny, and you’re in the house leafing through the owner’s manual for a detailed break-in procedure. But all you find is something like, “Take it easy for the first 500 miles or so.” That’s about as useful as telling a rookie pilot, “Keep it in the air.” It’s sound advice, but sadly short on specifics. Your buddies’ suggestions range from an arcane ritual of rpm limits, mystery oils, and incantations at one extreme to “Ride it like you stole it” at the other. Again, not much help. And yet the way you break in your bike can determine whether it’s a runner or a smoker later on.

Don’t panic. Most of the break-in on a new engine is done before it’s finished being assembled at the factory. Thanks to modern manufacturing techniques and metallurgy, gears and bearings are made to such close tolerances, and from such good materials, that it takes practically no time at all for them to break in. Cylinder honing is much more precise than it once was, too, so the pistons and bores get acquainted right from the get-go. The piston rings need some time to form a good seal with the bore, however, and that’s where you make the difference.

First, go to the page in the owner’s manual that lists recommended shift points in terms of vehicle speed. Now tear out that page and throw it away. Many manuals recommend ridiculously low shift points. If you constantly shift into second gear at 15 mph, for example, start saving up for a bottom-end overhaul; low rpm plus the resulting low oil pressure equals high bearing load. Use the tach for shift points, not the speedo, and don’t shy away from the upper two-thirds of the rpm range. It’s okay to run your new engine hard as long as you don’t overheat it. Let it cool down between bursts of throttle. Cycling cylinder heat and combustion-chamber pressure seats the rings and keeps your engine from burning oil later in life.

Don’t switch to synthetic oil until the rings have had a chance to create a good seal––a few thousand miles should be enough. (It’s worth asking your dealer if your bike came with synthetic in the first place.) When you make the switch, change both the oil and the filter, and do it while the engine is hot so you get as much of the old oil out as possible. Don’t worry about the small amount of petroleum oil left in the engine. It’ll mix with the synthetic and cycle out eventually with future oil changes.

Brake pads and tires aren’t usually mentioned in break-in instructions, but they should be. Treat brake pads gently at first to keep them from overheating and glazing––a few hundred miles ought to do the trick. The same goes for tires, which use the first few heat cycles of riding to finish the curing process and scuff up the tread surface. Increase your lean angle in corners gradually until your chicken strips are acceptably narrow, and use this time to get used to your new bike’s handling

Do the first service by the book, including checking the valves. Even if 600 miles seems way too early, look at it as cheap insurance, and remember that while the vast majority of bikes come from the factory with the valves adjusted perfectly, there’s still a chance you got the one-in-a-million mistake. If you skip the 600-mile check, it’ll probably be thousands of miles before you look at the valves again, more than enough time for a small problem to grow up to become an expensive one.

Check your new bike over for loose fasteners, poorly adjusted levers and pedals, and anything else the dealer might have overlooked (or done incorrectly). Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the bike before you take it home––you’ll feel a lot more foolish if you have to tow it back to the shop and explain how you blew it up or crashed it. Memorize the recommended tire pressures, and learn how to adjust the chain and check the oil and coolant levels. And finally, read the owner’s manual front to back. Don’t be the guy everyone at the shop laughs at because you left the ignition key in the wrong position overnight and drained your battery.

Quick Facts

Even if you’ve already stretched your budget to buy a new motorcycle, order the factory shop manual, too. In addition to telling you how to work on your bike, it has cutaway diagrams that show you how things go together, and torque specs—not typically found in the owner’s manual—to keep them from falling off. It also sweetens the deal when you sell your bike.

By Jerry Smith
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