I’m sure you’re familiar with the experience of ‘sticker shock’ – the disturbing realisation that prices have gone up again. Who’d ‘a thought? And despite the fact that I buy fuel all the time, I still regularly get sticker shock at the pump. Why is that ‘$’ wheel going around so fast!
There are many ways to save fuel. A friend of mine once won a long-distance economy run, according to him, anyway, by riding on the white line at the edge of the road. Less rolling resistance than the macadam of the road surface.
I am not suggesting you follow his example, although it could be fun some time… no? Well, here are some other ideas. They’re pretty obvious, but ask yourself if you do them regularly.
I’ve dug up a few different ones, and I’ve divided them into three types: the good, or the things you might well be doing anyway; the bad, or those annoying ones that we probably know we should do but often can’t be bothered with; and the ugly. The last category consists of things that do work, but that probably aren’t going to win me any popularity contests.
1 Fill up cheaply.
In Australia, we have cost cycles that raise fuel prices on weekends. I suspect you, wherever you live, have something g similar. Fill up in the middle of the week when fuel is cheap. If you can, fill up early in the morning when it’s cool. Cold fuel “shrinks” and takes up less room than warm, so you’ll get more for your money. Be careful, though; on some bikes the fuel tank gets quite warm, the fuel heats up and expands and runs out of the overflow pipe! Yes, hello, Ducati.
2 Keep weight down.
Not so much of a big deal as it is with cars, but if you’re cruising around town, take off the panniers with their contents. That reduces wind resistance too, usually. Avoid other windcatchers; if you can, take off the windscreen in town, for example. Get a skinny girlfriend/boyfriend. Hey! Did I write that? I sincerely hope not!
3 Set and check tyre pressures.
Underinflated tyres increase rolling resistance. Fuel consumption increases by some 10 per cent for every 0.4 bar that your tyres are down in pressure. Some people suggest that you increase pressure 0.2 bar over the recommended value in order to reduce rolling resistance; that’s up to you.
4 Don’t warm up standing still.
Modern engines generally do not need warming up at a standstill; it seems that they (apparently) warm up more slowly that way. Even if you just leave the engine at idle in neutral, it can use a litre of fuel in an hour. Just take it easy for a while when you start off; don’t ask for top performance straight away.
5 Use the gears.
When you’re slowing down, for instance for a traffic light, change down a gear or more and use engine braking. Do not coast to a stop with the clutch in. Fuel injected engines use less petrol under engine braking, it seems, than they do in neutral.
6 Ride smoothly.
If you do everything smoothly, including accelerating and braking, you will use the minimum of fuel and you’ll look damn good as well.
7 Lubricate and adjust the chain.
It is an icky job but it needs doing if you want power transmitted with maximum efficiency. Not too tight, not too loose but just right is the rule here. Don’t put it off, just do it – and then keep it properly lubricated. I know a lot of bikes no longer have centre stands, but that’s life. Automatic chain oilers can be a good idea if you tend to procrastinate like I do.
8 Clean or replace the air filter.
Few people worry about this on road bikes. The engine needs to breathe just as it needs to drink. Consider investing in an aftermarket filter; these can be more efficient than the OEM) items.
9 Tune the bike.
Whether you do this yourself or have it done at the shop, do it regularly. The correct state of tune means an efficient engine and minimal fuel use. Keep in mind that reading the exhaust pipe is not as reliable as it used to be when we still had leaded petrol.
10 Lubricate properly.
When all the bits slip smoothly past each other, your engine is happy and rewards you by being a light drinker. So use the correct lubricants (trust your handbook) and change them frequently.
11 Change up early
Yes, it’s fun to rev the bike out, and it’s certainly fast when you change up at maximum torque. But it burns a lot of fuel. Change up when you reach the power band but don’t lug the engine in too high a gear either. This makes for a fairly sedate riding style… sorry. You can have fun or bucks, not both. But you knew that, right?
12 Ride to the design.
I ran out of fuel on the Hay Plains once (think I70 in Utah, but more remote), road testing one of the earliest fuel injected bikes. I made the mistake of assuming that fuel consumption would be more or less the same at 150km/h as it was at 100. I was wrong. The ignition/injection map of the bike was set for speeds below 120km/h and consumption rose steeply if you went faster.
13 Think “economy”.
Don’t accelerate up hills (this is a natural reaction), keep a steady speed. I have seen it recommended that you turn the engine off on long downhills and coast; this may be illegal in some jurisdictions, and on some high-tech bikes it removes braking and other assistance; check before you roll.
(Photos The Bear)