How To Choose Motorcycle Spark Plugs
If you have been riding motorcycles for years, you probably remember a time when spark plugs were a bit of pain. That is, in the past, plugs would wear out or break completely without much notice. They also did not have the extensive lifespan that modern spark plugs have. Fortunately, nowadays, you can likely ride most of the time without giving your bike’s spark plugs much thought.
Modern spark plugs are far superior to those from before 1990 for three main reasons. First, technology advancements have led to the production of better spark plugs. Moreover, fuel processing and additives now result in cleaner burn that does not brutally punish your bike’s spark plugs. Most significantly, though, fuel-injected engines help to prevent plug burnout.
Even though your spark plugs are not apt to fail out of the blue, you want to be as prepared as possible. Therefore, you need to know some fundamental facts about these essential items. You also need to know when, where and how to buy replacement plugs. Here, we provide answers to the spark plug questions you undoubtedly have.
What Is a Spark Plug?
If you ride a motorcycle with an internal combustion engine, you have at least one spark plug on your bike. To create power, your bike’s engine burns a mixture of fuel and oxygen. This mixture must ignite for your motorcycle’s engine to work properly. To ignite the fuel mixture, your engine must have a spark. This spark comes from your bike’s spark plugs.
The design of spark plugs is simple. Two electrodes pass a spark between each other. When looking at a spark plug, these electrodes may seem small and insignificant. The opposite is actually true, however. That is, to function correctly, spark plugs generate hundreds of thousands of sparks every time you climb behind the handlebars of your motorcycle. As such, if an electrode is corroded, broken or otherwise ineffective, you are apt to have trouble.
You may be asking yourself, are car and motorcycle spark plugs the same? The simple answer is no. As you know, bike engines are smaller and more compact than car, truck and SUV motors. Furthermore, these types of engines operate at different revolutions and temperature levels. Therefore, while they perform the same function, car and motorcycle spark plugs are different.
What Makes a Good Spark Plug?
As mentioned, spark plugs have come a long way in recent decades for good reason: engines need a steady and consistent supply of precise sparks. Originally, plug manufacturers used copper-core electrodes with a nickel-alloy coating. While this design got the job done, there are certainly better materials for creating reliable sparks. As such, copper-core plugs have largely gone by the wayside. You can, however, still find and use these spark plugs for older bikes that have low-voltage ignitions.
The utilization of platinum electrodes was largely responsible for the demise of copper ones. Put simply, platinum electrodes are much harder than their nickel-plated predecessors. These plugs last significantly longer, allowing you to ride up to 100,000 miles before replacing your motorcycle’s spark plugs. Even better, because platinum plugs operate at a hotter temperature, they more effectively burn off accumulated particles and resist fouling. As a result, you are apt to notice better engine performance from platinum spark plugs.
There is an even harder substance that makes for a high-quality spark plug: iridium. If you have plugs with iridium electrodes, you get even longer performance. As you may suspect, though, these state-of-the-art plugs are considerably more expensive than platinum ones. If you are looking for a long-lasting, high-performance set of spark plugs, nonetheless, investing in plugs with iridium electrodes may make sense.
When Should You Replace Your Motorcycle’s Spark Plugs?
How do you know if your motorcycle needs new spark plugs? With most motorcycles made in recent years, you should replace spark plugs every 15,000 miles or so. There are a bunch of exceptions to this general rule, though. For example, if your bike’s owner’s manual recommends more or less frequent replacement, you should follow its instructions. Also, if you have high-mileage spark plugs in your motorcycle’s engine, you can likely wait longer to replace the plugs.
Similarly, you should closely monitor engine performance to know if replacing spark plugs is appropriate. If your bike’s engine misfires, runs roughly, sputters or loses power, it may be time to replace its spark plugs. Note, though, a variety of issues may cause these symptoms.
How Do You Choose the Right Spark Plugs?
If you are looking to replace your bike’s spark plugs, you may be wondering what are the best spark plugs for motorcycles? While choosing a durable material and an innovative shape is part of the equation, which plugs are right for your motorcycle probably depends on a few different variables.
The most important step in picking new spark plugs is figuring out which type is right for your specific motorcycle. As such, you want to read through your bike’s owner’s manual for guidance. Remember, the wrong spark plugs can cause a variety of problems, ranging from poor performance to engine damage.
The manufacturer of your motorcycle will give you parameters for buying new spark plugs. It is important not to deviate from these guidelines. Once you know what type of spark plug your motorcycle requires, though, you can upgrade to the same plug made with different materials. That is, you can install a platinum or iridium plug, provided the electrode material is the only difference between your installation and the recommendation from your bike’s manufacturer.
What Should You Do Now?
Clearly, you have an incentive to keep your motorcycle in tip-top shape. If you want to preserve the condition, value and performance of your machine, keeping an eye on its spark plugs is a good idea. Fortunately, you likely do not have to worry as much about the plugs on a modern bike as you do with vintage motorcycles. By understanding the critical role spark plugs play in your bike’s engine, you can ensure your motorcycle has what it needs to have a long, happy, healthy and purposeful lifespan.