Harley-Davidson Sportster Oil Change, Oil Brands and specifications

So you need – well, you want – to do an oil change on your Harley-Davidson Sportster? Great! Let’s go!

Since I’ve bought my sportster last year, I only did minor work like fixing the tires and the brakes before I then registered the bike for the road.

Since I can now legally ride it on the road, I can warm up the engine – and hence, I am ready to do an oil change 🙂

As always with oil, the internet is full of:

  • people asking for experience with oil brand X or Y
  • people answering in the least scientific way possible, saying that they have had “good experience” with a certain brand without no real foundation for that 🙂

That means you end up with recommendations that are based upon things like “feeling” or “opinion” – most likely not the best advice possible: I mean, if someone tells you that he was satisfied with a certain oil, what is that based on? The smell? Packaging? Do you feel the quality of motor oil while riding? Most likely not, as actually, most modern engine oils are really on a rather comparable level.

I will however not dive into all the details of the almost religious process of choosing a motor oil; instead, I’ll list the specifications, the amounts needed and some proven brands to choose from. Partly, this is for my convenience after researching this for the oil change on my Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200C:

(The information should apply to any so called “EVO Sportster” – these are the bikes with the “more modern” motor that’s still frame-mounted. My bike is a 2001 Sportster Custom (so a XL1200C), that means all data in this list will be accurate at least for the model years 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 of any 883 or 1200 sportster.

Update: the data should apply to any Evo engine built 1991 or later – so the full list should be: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003.)

First, the Specifications according to Harley-Davidson (taken from the manual):

  • Engine oil, total amount 3.0 quarts = 2.84 liters in the oil tank
  • 20W-50 as first choice for any normal conditions (above 4°C or 40°F) – although 15W-40 and 10-W40 are listed as alternatives if 20W-50 should not be available.
  • Depending on temperature, different qualities are recommended. Please note that the temperature stated is the minimum ambient temperature:
    • SAE 10W40 – below 4°C / 40°C
    • SAE 20W50 – above 4°C / 40°C
    • SAE 50 – above 16°C / 60°C
    • SAE 60 – above 27°C / 80°C

The manual states that if you can’t get a hold on original Harley-Davidson oil, diesel-certified oil shall be used instead. That again is a bit weird, but makes sense considering 20 or more years ago, not many “V2 specific” oils were broadly available and diesel oil is a bit better in absorbing particles and dirt than generic products. I’ll still opt for a non-diesel-specific oil, as many manufacturers now have oils specifically for “big V2” aka. Harley-Davidson.

So, for the shopping list, all that would mean:

  • 3 quarts of engine oil for an oil change, so if you change the oil filter (I believe Harley-Davidson’s oil change set contains 4 quarts because you can also use that engine oil for the primary + gear)
  • replacement o-rings for both the engine as well as the primary
  • oil filter (I prefer the K&N Oil Filters, as they have a nut on top that makes removing them easy)
  • your decision on synthetic vs. mineral oil (really, the main concern should rather be to change the oil regularly and not the oil brand or whether it’s synthetic or not)

Here are some links for your convenience:

If you need help with that oil change – or if you are not sure whether you can do that by yourself, I recommend checking Youtube. There are loads of how-to videos available and as you’ll see: The Harley-Davidson Sportster is really easy to work on. This oil change for sure was the easiest I’ve ever done…

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