The Proper Way to Break In a New Motorcycle
Most new vechidles, including motorcycles, have a recommended break-in period. It’s usually the first 500–600 miles, and the common rules are:
- Go easy in turns. New tires are very slick for ~200 miles.
- Keep the engine below 80% of it’s rev capacity. No redlining.
- Vary the engine speed often. Don’t idle for prolonged periods of time, and avoid the cruise control.
- Shift often and smoothly.
These break-in guidelines exist to let parts wear together property — letting piston rings seat and wear the full stroke length of the cylinder lining, for example. They also ensure that the drivetrain is exercised throughout most of its range, which would expose any significant manufacturing defects early so that they can be taken care of before worsening.
Modern engines are manufactured with tolerances so exact that there is rarely a significant problem, but a break-in service is still scheduled at about 600 miles to flush the fluids. It’s one final check that no factory surprises are lurking. A single metal shaving left over from manufacturing can cause major problems down the road.
These early miles are sometimes boring. In town, you drive around mixing your speed and revs, watching the odometer and counting the miles until that first service is done and you can ride the new bike a bit harder.
There’s a much, much better way to break in the engine on a new bike. This is the story of how I broke in a new Triumph motorcycle back in 2012.
I developed a serious case of lust for a middle-weight adventure bike. After a bit of shopping and a few test rides, I decided on a new Triumph Tiger 800XC. They’re brilliant machines, with superb build quality, surprising performance from an 800cc triple, and looks that I really liked.
As adventure bikes, they’re designed to cover almost any ground. That means being able to cruise on paved roads for hours comfortably, and take the less traveled treks across logging roads, trails, and other unpaved countryside. They are’t stump-jumpers by any means; they’re still heavy bikes. But they feature suspension and riding positions that enable off-road travel and touring comfortably.
My idea was to purhase the bike roughly the same distance away as the break-in interval, and choose a route home that was inherently diverse in its speed and riding style to make it easier to follow break-in guidelines. I located an excellent dealer just outside of Boise in Caldwell, Idaho: Birds of Prey Motorsports. They were incredibly good to work with. Caldwell is about 500 miles from Seattle if you ride directly via the interstates. Nothing could have been further from our plan.
Birds of Prey worked out a price for me on an inbound bike that was a en route from the factory but still a couple of weeks away, which was perfect as it gave me time to plan the trip. Before I sealed the deal and booked a flight, I gave my riding buddy Walter a call to see if he was interested in riding back with me. I figured he might ride over in advance. It took him only a few short moments to suggest that I just order two bikes and we’d ride back together. He liked the 800XC as much as I did. My inbound black was soon joined by a new red 800XC.
Deposits made on two bikes, we booked a flight from Seattle to Boise. We left before sunrise on October 12th, and landed under sunny skies.
This made for a funny first leg of our GPS route, as my ride maps don’t usually include flights. But that long straight line is courtesy of Horizon Air. Our salesperson at Birds of Prey met us as the airport and gave us a lift to the dealership.
Both of the new Tiger 800XCs were ready and waiting when we arrived. We had ordered a bunch of accessories for them including aluminum panniers, touring windscreens, crash bars, and a few other items. Everything arrived late, so the service crew was there assembling and installing the night before.
The bikes were as nice as we had envisioned…
We loaded a little bit of gear, and unloaded a little bit of cash, and were ready to ride off on two beautiful new Triumphs. For our ride home, we had a few goals:
- Stay off the interstate, as those are never fun. Zero interstate miles this trip.
- Stay off of pavement as much as feasible, taking in the off-road terrain that these bikes were designed for, while still respecting that we don’t have much recent off-road riding experience.
- Try to be back to work the following Monday, but don’t prioritize it. :-)
It was late morning by the time we left, so our salesman suggested that we get lunch after about 45 minutes of riding. This would let the bikes get up to running temperature to break in the gaskets and seals, and time a stop for grub right at noon. He directed us to a cool diner called the The Garage Cafe.
The Garage Cafe is a former service station in the middle of Notus, Idaho. Notus is basically a few corn fields, grain silos, and this cafe. It’s a pretty cool spot, though, with good food and great Americana charater. We had lunch with local farmers.
Birds of Prey pulled a very classy move: they phoned the Garage Cafe ahead of time and paid for our lunch. The owner refused to take any money from us. Not many motorcycle dealers do classy things like that. Hats off to Birds of Prey.
Back on the road, we took off west out of Notus on highway 26, laughing at Interstate 84 as we crossed it, and dropped down twisty canyon roads to the Snake River.
This was some superb riding. There was almost no traffic, excellent fall air, twisty roads, and a beautiful river waiting for us. Varying engine speeds and frequent smooth shifts were easy on this route, so the break-in mission was being accomplished with ease (except possibly the no-redlining rule).
Crossing into Oregon, we broke north into a combination of highways and forest service roads in various states of pavement. It’s here where we finally got the bikes offroad and onto some barely-distinguishable Jeep trails.
Here’s video of the descent to the Snake River, the Jeep trails in open-ranging cattle country, and our eventual ascent to Hells Canyon Overlook.
At the end of the trail, we shot a picture of the bikes and a giant cowpie that was narrowly avoided. Hells Canyon Overlook made for some excellent views!
Just as it was seeming like the perfect day of riding, it got cold. Biting cold, up at the higher elevations on this ridge. As we continued north toward Washington, it started to get dark and got even colder.
And just as it go so cold that it was feeling uncomfortable, it started to rain. Hard. We were suddenly riding through the opening paragraph of Dave Karlotski’s Season of the Bike.
We made a quick stop in Joseph, Oregon to get additional layers on, including rain gear. It was a smooth ride north up into Walla Walla, Washington, our local wine country. This was my first visit to Walla Walla and I loved it.
This wasn’t a night for wine, though. It was a burgers and beers night at a pub on Main Street. We checked into a hotel with around 350 miles on the bikes. Halfway through our break-in period on the first day — not bad!
The next morning brought clear skies and clean air. Walla Walla is a very cool little town to visit. We decided to find a good breakfast rather than ride on empty stomach. Just down the road, we found one of the best breakfast places in the state: Bacon and Eggs. It’s a farm-to-table place with local suppliers and huge servings.
Over the amazing breakfast, we decided that while our previous day’s mileage was great, the miles needed to be more offroad. So within 15 miles of Walla Walla, Walter spotted some nice gravel roads weaving out into the farmlands. We had absolutely no idea where they went, but that’s kind of the point of adventure bikes. We turned off on one and rode into the hills.
The term “open country” makes a lot of sense once you get off of the main roads in eastern Washington. You can ride for hours along gravel roads seeing nothing but grazing lands. A few pickups of hunters passed by, and we waved to a few people with rifles on their backs.
We spent a few hours on these roads, not really sure to where they’d connect. Not having cellular service was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but we got over it. Occasionally I’d get a trickle of data and a map would update, and eventually it became obvious that we were headed generally in the right direction and would come out along a highway. You can see this part of the ride beginning at 1:06 in the video earlier in this post.
The open prarie of central Washington let us know that we were getting closer to home. Eventually we were snaking along the Columbia River, with the dreaded Interstate 90 imminently approaching.
We wound up doing exactly ONE mile on the interstate this trip: the crossing of the Columbia along I-90. The bridge span is right about a mile, and we immediately exited north into the Ginkgo Petrified Forest. This is a cool place to bring your family, with lots of nature exhibits and ancient Washington history.
Just outside the Ginkgo park are a few tourist stops selling petrified wood and housing dinosaurs.
By this time, it had been a pretty full day of riding by most standards. Our bikes were already flashing their “SERVICE DUE!” lights. But Leavenworth wasn’t far off (by “not far” I mean about 100 miles), so we stayed on the backroads in favor of a late lunch of bratwurst and beer. After all, it was October, so Oktoberfest would be going on.
The ride home from Leavenworth via Highway 2 is very familiar, and it was late in the afternoon, so we headed west on 2 into the mountains. Once again, it got cold. And once again, it started pouring rain as we came down the westerly slopes of the Cascades.
Our final ninety minutes of riding were wet, cold, and increasingly dark. But on the Triumphs, it was still fun and they felt amazingly capable. Good suspension, ABS, and a high riding position made the foul weather a bit easier to manage. Walter was even smiling in this photo despite having another hour of downpour ahead of him.
We rolled into my driveway at about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night after two days of great riding on new bikes that we were both extremely happy with.
Triumph’s recovery from the abyss of failed motorcycle manufacturers has become the stuff of industry legend. The fact is, they are making truly wonderful machines again. Build quality is exceptional, their model line-up is diverse, and they’re fun to ride. We were happy motorcyclists.
That break-in period? We had about 800 miles on the bikes by the time we got back to Seattle, so we overshot it by a couple hundred miles. That’s OK, though. The bikes handled it perfectly and were in the shop for their first service a few days later.
Looking back at this ride, there is no doubt that buying a bike across a state or two in order to break it in on some fun, variable roads is the perfect way to ensure that you meet the factory break-in requirements while having a fantastic ride.