Motorcycle Maintenance

Break-In Procedure | Ask the Geek

Zero miles on the odometer. Do you really want to put your brand new bike on the dyno?

Photo Courtesy of Kawasaki

Zero miles on the odometer. Do you really want to put your brand new bike on the dyno?

I just picked up a new Kawasaki ZX-6R and am wondering about break-in procedure. In the owner’s manual it says to keep rpm under 4,000 for the first 500 miles then under 6,000 rpm to 1,000 miles. I have found all kinds of things on the web about break-in, everything from following the manual religiously to a dyno session with pulls to redline almost right away. Who’s right?
Bob Walker
Columbus, OH

There are two important considerations to breaking in a new streetbike. One is that all the various bearings and other internals with mating surfaces need sufficient low-load and low-rpm running time to bed in. High spots on bearing surfaces and other machining imperfections can cause increased friction and excess heat until this happens, so some period of light duty is required. The second consideration is the seal between the piston rings and the cylinder wall. While this area is also subject to high spots and requires some light running time, more important is the long-term seal between the two. A good ring/cylinder seal keeps the compression ratio to what the manufacturer intends, stops combustion gases getting into the crankcase, oil getting into the combustion chamber, and in general provides better performance and fuel economy. Higher loads during break-in put more pressure on the rings to improve the sealing characteristics of the piston rings.

Advocates of the hard break-in are usually looking for this tight engine seal for good performance and are not so concerned with the long-term aspects. This might be fine for a racebike that will be rebuilt every season but not so good for your ZX-6R, which will hopefully last you many years without that kind of attention. Most manufacturers give similar break-in guidelines to what you cited for your Kawasaki, with varying rpm and mileage limits, though 4,000 rpm is on the low side compared with most that I’ve read. The owner’s manual for a new Yamaha YZF-R6, for example, lists 8,300 rpm to 600 miles and 9,900 rpm to 1,000 miles, and it says that you should avoid prolonged operation above those numbers. The Honda CBR600RR manual says simply to avoid full-throttle starts and rapid acceleration in the first 300 miles.

The conflict is that for a good break-in you want low-load, low-rpm running for those mating surfaces that need it, but at the same time you want higher loads to generate cylinder pressure and a good ring seal. With all this in mind, we’ve always recommended the manufacturers’ procedure but with some additional guidelines: Always warm your bike up completely before riding away. This ensures the oil is up to temperature and flowing freely, minimizing the chance of damaging those high-friction mating surfaces. Avoid any use of full throttle or lugging the engine, and don’t rev the engine in neutral or run it for extended periods with no load or very heavy load. Essentially, you want to put varying loads on the engine during break-in but not excessively so; this means no freeway droning and no stop-and-go traffic but instead riding that calls for changing rpm, speed, and throttle—it’s a good excuse to stick to the twisties for the first 1,000 miles.

Some occasional bursts to increasingly higher rpm and load with some hard pulls to redline at the end of the process will ensure that the rings get sealed. And most importantly, be sure to have the oil changed as per your owner’s manual at 1,000 miles, the end of the break-in process.

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