Tech Tips

How to Break-In Your New Piston Rings

Written by  July 31, 2007

I recently purchased a new motorcycle, and before leaving the dealership the salesperson suggested I read the owner's manual for proper break-in procedures. When I got home, I pulled out my manual and started reading so I could get the skinny on this procedure.

After reading the manual I my friend Larry James at Donnell's Motorcycles what he thought, and he said there is a lot of info on the web about this topic; however, one article in particular stood out to him, which he had read a web site called Mototune USA. After reading his theory I am convinced that being gentle with your engine during break-in may actually be harmful to your engine. I have disassembled several engines and have found the same things that are discussed on this web site.

I have also ridden several motorcycles that just didn't seem to have the power they should and never could understand why this was the case. After reading this article, I can now see why Larry has always told me to ride it like you stole it! We all want to have our engines last and last, but are we being harmful to them right out of the hole? That will depend on your riding style and how much throttle you decide to give your engine when you are starting out and getting the feel for your new purchase. When I first set out on my new bike, I was trying to get the feel for the old girl and just be nice, since the bike I purchased was one I really liked, and let’s face it, it costs a lot of money!

Most of us have a favorite dealership or bike shop we visit from time to time, and I am no different. The guys have kept an eye on my mileage and have really listened to my questions about noises, and just about every other question I may have. The one question I keep getting, that remains constant during my break-in process is: 'Have you redlined your bike yet?' The information in the owners manual is very basic and generic, so just about anyone who reads this article will be like “Oh yeah, I did that;' however, most of us don’t really read the owners manual because we are too busy riding our bikes and showing our friends our new toy! Redlining your bike during break-in creates backpressure in the cylinder to force the rings to seal against the machine crosshatch. The hone marks are done by most manufacturers in a way that the rings will seal against the cylinder slowly, which makes an engine durable and last a long time. When you are talking racing applications, like drag and road race, these are two totally different applications, and because these engines are designed to be redlined over and over, the honing can be different than the stock applications.

Now I am NOT telling you to take your motorcycle and just hammer it like you are running from the law; I am just asking you to think about what your engine is doing during break-in. I am a person who respects the veteran technicians that have been in the trenches for 20+ years and have seen many engines that don’t generate the power they are capable of, and this article that Moto-Man wrote has been proven on over 300 engines, so I feel we should listen to what the man has to say!

Many of us don’t have the resources to get our bikes to a Dynamometer site and have this done; however we can ride a little more aggressively then we normally do, and this will help considerably down the road when it comes to fuel mileage, engine oil consumption, and longer times between tune-ups! Getting the correct info from your owner’s manual is okay as a reference point, but I also suggest you take the time to read technical info that is out there about issues which are common complaints in most service departments. I do like one statement that was geared towards the sport bike world, 'The person who set up your motorcycle probably ran it hard before turning over the keys to the sales rep.' I agree that most sport bikes are usually run pretty hard, and most would agree year after year they are getting faster and faster so you probably wouldn't notice the difference. When it comes to V-twins and other types of cruisers, I feel that initially being more aggressive may help the engine in so many different ways.

This information is meant as a reference only, and only you should decide the break-in procedure you want to use for your bike. Proper break-in not only helps the engine in the long run, but also gives you long piston and ring life, and can also save fuel, which in turn helps our environment.

To all of you that are heading to Sturgis this week, B-Safe, and take lots of pictures!

Dave Miller