I wanted to talk a bit about oil in this post. What oil I use is a common question that comes through my channel. I usually try to avoid answering the question by favoring instead for riders to use the oil they feel comfortable with. Oil preference can be a controversial subject with a lot of riders. It's usually a good practice to tell them to use what they want. It can get argumentative to the point that you avoid conversations about oil. I have tried a few different oils and wanted to go over the list and give my impressions on each.
Screaming Eagle Syn3 Full Synthetic
The first point I want to mention is this oil is not full-synthetic as the labeling states. It is actually a 60/40 blend. According to the “Material Safety Data Sheet” for H-D’s SYN3, chemically, it is a blend of 60% synthetic and 40% petroleum oils. Advertising in this manner is not illegal, but it is deceptive. The Federal Courts have ruled that it is legal to advertise a chemical composition product that includes at least SOME synthetic properties as a “synthetic lubricant.” In the case of SYN3, the oil is a 60/40 blend and not a true, 100% synthetic.
Depending on which sites you visit, there will be varying information on the performance results of Syn3. It commonly falls at the bottom for wear protection and cooling for your motorcycle. I used Syn3 from the moment I rode my new, off the showroom floor, 2012 FLHX until the day I traded it in with 63,000 miles in 2 years. I never had a breakdown due to oil failure using the Syn3. I also changed the oil every 4,000 miles instead of the recommended 5K miles. I kept the crankcase topped off, checking the oil level about every 1K miles.
Syn 3 Doesn't Hold Up As Well
I have found that Syn3 doesn’t hold up like full synthetics and burns off between oil changes. I would have to add ½ a quart every 2K-3K miles to keep it full. That is an entire quart between oil changes. If I had not done this, I would have been grinding metal from lack of oil protection and surely had wear damage and most likely a breakdown. This would severely affect engine longevity. I have to consider the hot Texas summers that we ride in, which get at the 100+ degree mark. That puts heat strain on an air-cooled engine and on the oil that is supposed to protect it. I did have a small amount of sludge and metal particles on the magnet of the drain plug every time from the crankcase and primary.
Mobile 1 V-Twin 20W-50
Depending upon where you read, this is also no longer a true synthetic like it used to be. Federal packaging and labeling laws have made it possible to advertise an oil as full synthetic if it contains some synthetic properties and a larger percentage of those properties than petroleum oil. When I began using Mobile 1 there was an immediately noticeable change in the motorcycle. My wife’s FLSTN especially benefited from its use. She always had valve train noise using the SYN3. After switching to Mobile 1, that noise went away completely. She also had a “whirring” noise from the heads like you could hear the pistons moving up and down in the cylinders using the SYN3. This noise also went away completely after switching to Mobile 1.
My FLHXS sounded more solid and seemed to feel better on the road. Shifting on both bikes smoothed out a bit as well. We used it in all three holes, and it performed well. The other point we liked was availability; you can get it at Walmart for under $10 a quart where we live. It is also sold at Autozone and Cycle Gear. Mobile 1 also completely eliminated any sludge or metal particles on the drain plug magnet. Oil burn-off also decreased quite a bit. I only used about half a quart for top-offs between 4K mile oil changes.
Amsoil V-Twin 20W-50
Eventually, I tried Amsoil. They have a strong presence as one of the top oils. Obviously, test results can be paid for to make yourself seem better than others or to be put in the spotlight of greatness. But I have to admit, it is good oil, and it is a true 100% synthetic. I did not notice any difference in noise or smooth engine operation from the Mobile 1. Both seemed to perform equally well in the crankcase. Both Margaret and I did notice quite a difference in shifting, though. Using the Amsoil V-Twin Primary and V-Twin Transmission oil made shifting incredibly smooth. It still clunks when shifting, but that is due to Harley's intentional positive shift design on the years of our bikes. It does shift smoother while going through the gears, though.
The only drawback we have with Amsoil is their method of distribution. Quite frankly, it sucks. You cannot just walk into a shop and find it. Most motorcycle shops will only carry the crankcase oil and not the primary or transmission oil. Not only that, it is expensive when you do find it running upwards of $16 a quart on average. We never have sludge or metal particles on the drain plug magnet when using Amsoil. I also have very little oil burn-off between oil changes using only an average of a quarter of a quart for top-offs between oil changes. The Amsoil holds up well.
A Way To Save On Amsoil Purchasing
We now use Amsoil on both bikes. During the Progressive Motorcycle Show, we talked to the Amsoil representative about their crappy distribution method. The Amsoil Rep told us we could go directly to their website and, for $10, become a preferred customer. When you purchase over $100 of product, you get a discount and free shipping to your doorstep. This brought the price per quart to around $10, which is competitive with any other oil. And we don’t have to search for it anymore. Having two bikes, it is easy to spend that amount at oil change time when you're doing all three holes. So this resolved the availability issue for us.
Be Vigilant With Oil Changes
There are many other oil brands out there, and I am sure some could be very good. Many of them are super expensive and hard to come by. The bottom line, though, is to be vigilant with your oil changes, don’t miss doing them, and if you are riding in extreme conditions, it's a good idea to change your oil sooner than the manufacturer recommends.