I recently received a call from a very good friend informing me that he has bought a new bike. Not being an enthusiast, his demands from the machine were limited to regular commute to his office, market place and an occasional trip to outskirts within 100 kilometers. When I reached his place, his bike looked as new as it could. Having taken the delivery a few hours back, the bike was gleaming and sparkling with all its glory.
He started the bike and then in a display of utter neglect, revved the bike hard enough for its nuts to fall off. Not just that but he also ensured that he redlined in the lower gears while demonstrating the potential to me. Thankfully, I was only a spectator standing a few meters away. While the display of his riding prowess and that of his machine were ignorable, what is not worth ignoring is the fact that his bike might have endured some of the toughest moments of its life.
So then I decided to compile and list down all known facts and myths about running in of a new engine. Here's our 2020 guide to Running-in of a motorcycle. Here are the points that we will be covering in this guide.
- 7 tips to break in a new engine to get more performance
- Do modern engines need running in?
- Best Engine break-in techniques
- How long does it take to run in an engine?
- Does high rpm hurt engine?
- How do you break in a new engine for maximum power?
7 tips to break in a new engine to get more performance:
These are for people who don’t want to read too much and just jump in / ride away.
- Warm up the bike till RPM is steady.
- Go 500 RPM above the manufacturer’s recommended RPM limit in each gear (you may not be able to do it in top gears because of traffic. That is ok.)
- Slow down without using brakes (use engine braking)
- Do this 3-4 times
- Go 6-700 RPM above manufacturer’s recommended RPM in each gear.
- Slow down without using brakes
- Change engine oil and oil filter between first 80-100km.
This is different than what manufacturers suggest. So why adopt this method? Read on.
Do modern engines need running in?
Breaking in or running in is a term that means conditioning something for optimal performance. After reading through a lot of material, I guess this term came from the time when race stallions were broken in or run in. This is a process where the stallion is trained to perform better with its leader/owner. It seems that this term followed into the mechanical world for training an engine to perform better.
The main intention of running in a new engine is to ensure that the components (piston rings and cylinder walls) settle down into fine adjustment. Manufacturing process leave a bit of harshness on cylinder walls deliberately to help oil adhesion and retention. The focus of this activity is to ensure that the rings set in and form the best possible seal in process.
A proper process ensures better compression and hence better power. The difference in terms of feel and power delivery is huge. Ever wondered why the same model as yours runs smoothly and revs hard and some others don't? Beyond tuning and other factors, running in is the single most large contributor.
In the olden days, the manufacturing processes, metallurgy and lubricants were not as advanced as what we see today. Engines manufactured on a mass scale then had different tolerances to what today's advanced machines and practices can achieve. Engines blocks used to be made from cast iron rather than aluminium. In such conditions, it was essential to run in the engine or condition the engine to achieve optimum output. The first few hours of operation in any engine's life are very important both from a longevity perspective and performance perspective. The process of running-in was achieved by carefully operating the engine between specific RPM ranges with varying throttle inputs.
In the new era of aluminium blocks and improved machining, things are a little different. Today, blocks and engine parts are more aluminium and alloy. Softer by nature, engines made from this light metal tend to be easier to run in.
Along with engine metallurgy, the lubricants have also evolved and offer more protection from the first start in the morning to gruelling riding conditions all day.
Running in may result in an engine which has been pampered or done just right or done too much. A pampered engine will run alright but will be reluctant to rev freely, will not offer as much feel (indirectly translated as power/torque). An engine pushed too hard may result in damage to the engine parts resulting in excessive oil consumption, wear and tear and eventually a breakdown.
Coming back to running in, there have been debates on whether engines should be run in softly or hard. Read on. We will be answering this question later in this article.
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Best Engine break-in techniques
A lot of times, fellow riders have asked on what exactly is the correct technique to run in a new bike? Let us first understand the two methods of engine running in and merits and demerits of the soft way Vs. hard way.
Soft way is typically when one follows manufacturer prescribed limits of running in. (like not exceeding 3-4K revs for the first "n" number of kilometers and then the limit goes upto 5-6K rpm for the next few, so on and forth). While the approach itself is pretty clinical, riders sticking strictly to these limits tend to make a common mistake; that of running in on a constant throttle on free roads or highways.
When you run your bike at a constant RPM, piston rings setting in around cylinder walls does not happen. Result is an engine that is termed as a lemon as far as performance is considered. Such engines last quite a while but usually don’t deliver the power they should.
While the last statement is not a rule as such but engines run in this way tend to feel lethargic.
How long does it take to run in an engine?
The recommended running in period for an engine varies from model to model (right from 500 km to 1600 km). Check in your owner’s manual for details. You need to be careful not to abuse the engine during initial running in period recommended by the manufacturer. However, the first few hours of engine running are of maximum importance.
Does high RPM hurt engine?
Riding your bike at high RPM would never hurt the engine. The red line / rev limiter provided is put in by manufacturers for exactly this reason. As long as you are riding the bike, riding it at high RPM DOES NOT harm the engine.
What harms the engine is revving it up like an idiot in neutral. It is just show off and you are doing no favours to the engine by revving it to redline in neutral. This is a sure way of busting the engine and spending big chunk of money in rebuilding / replacing the engine.
How do you break in a new engine for maximum power?
A technique that has worked for me for all my bikes and that I can share with you is a mixture of the above approaches. Please note that this is something that I have tried and it has worked for me for all bikes in my stable from single cylinder commuter bikes, over-square to under-square engines, carburetted to fuel injected, twin cylinder to inline fours and even to two strokers.
Note: You may try my technique in a ditto fashion or modified at your own risk.
My technique involves checks and procedures. Here it is
Procedure for break in for a new engine to gain maximum power:
- Even before starting the engine, check engine oil level. While this is not needed on new bikes that have just been delivered, but my experience with the kind of PDI done by most manufacturers is horrendous. It is always better to be safe and confirmed.
- Do a proper warm up of your bike. Most riders make this mistake of zooming off once the bike is started. Oil that has collected in the sump below needs some time to work up to all the parts. It is worth noting that even with oil pumps, it may take time for the oil to circulate and reach the working components of the engine head. Most engines that are fuel injected will auto raise the RPM on cold starts and then settle down to a regular rhythm. I usually wait for the rhythm to settle and get my gear in place while that happens.
- Once the engine is warmed up and ticking over, pump the clutch lever a couple of times (just to get the feel), engage the gear and start off at low throttle opening.
- The drill is simple; if the manufacturer has recommended to not exceed 5,000 RPM till the first 800 KM, I do something similar. In each gear from 2nd to 6th (or 5th or 4th, whichever is top), I rev from 2500 to 5,500 RPM and roll down the throttle allowing the engine to decelerate itself using engine braking. This procedure is followed at least three to four times in each gear; first time with a steady throttle input, then with steady initially to hard later, then with hard throttle input.
- Once the above drill is done, I accelerate with a steady throttle input from 2nd to 6th reaching 5,500 to 5,700 RPM in each gear. I repeat this procedure again with a hard throttle input. Once done, I scrub speed (without using brakes) and start all over again.
- Change oil and oil filter at 80-100 KM. Although not documented in the manual or the service center might be reluctant to do it. This is one small change that matters a lot. Put in the same specification oil as recommended by the manufacturer. This is important as a lot of manufacturers put synthetic oil right from the start. The oil debate is beyond this article so I will not talk about it more here. After this, one can change at the intervals documented by the manufacturer in the owner’s manual.
- The rest of running in is similar to the one mentioned above. For each milestone where the manufacturer claims to up the rev limit, I go a couple of thousand RPM above and ensure that the bike revs in each gear for three times followed by free acceleration in all gears to that limit.
So then, what is different in my technique vs. soft vs. hard running in?
Unlike soft running in where bikers maintain RPM and cause the rings to be inflexible, my technique (nothing new really) forces a procedure that causes varying throttle input, piston speeds and there by proper rubbing (if I may term it so) of the ring against the cylinder wall. The rings need to be exposed to both acceleration and deceleration forces and the throttle input and roll off take care of that. The shifting through gears also works out the gearbox and other moving parts of transmission.
The difference is really visible after the first (or second) service and you now have a perfectly run in machine.
- In this procedure, you should NOT maintain constant throttle or speed. Keep varying the throttle.
- Never rev the bike in 1st gear as the piston picks up speed faster than any of the other gears.
- I usually chose early mornings as the right time to log the first few kilometres as it is cool in the morning and the extra heat dissipation of new engines can be countered. Heat is one of the biggest enemies of any engine and early morning running in can prevent heat playing a ruining role.
- Select roads that are deserted and with less/no traffic.
I hope this small article about how to do running in of a new engine would have helped you in understanding the basics of running in and will help you achieve more smiles for miles. We hope our 2017 guide to Running-in of a motorcycle will help you and your rider friends in getting the maximum performance out of your motorcycle.
Till then, take it easy the hard way. Happy Riding!
Disclaimer: This running in technique is designed to get maximum performance out of your bike. We have tried it on multiple motorcycles ourselves. However, users should use their discretion while using the technique.
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