With a few prevention measures and learning how to get to those last few drops left in your tank, you'll be prepared the next time you're running on empty.
Motorcycles tend to have limited fuel ranges, but also tend to lack fuel gauges. Combine the two and there’s a real likelihood you’ll find yourself running on empty every now and then. Don’t worry; this is what to do when you run out of gas.
Photo: D. Clow
Planning: Headed out on a trip? Take the time to look at the fuel stations along your route and identify any stretches that may exceed your bike’s fuel range. Then, before you reach them, buy a Gatorade or Vitamin Water (both come in nice, thick plastic bottles with good lids), drink it and fill it up with gas. Top your bike up before it runs out and dispose of the bottle, you can’t use these things more than once.
Packing: Throw a few feet of ¼-inch plastic tubing under your seat or in your tool kit. Then, if you run out, another motorcyclist will be able to “loan” you a little extra gas. The trick is to position the feeder tank a little higher than your own. Stick the tube into it, suck until gas starts moving through the tube (get that thing out of your mouth before the gas reaches it!) and shove the other end into your own, empty tank.
Riding: You remembered to close the choke, right? Good! That’ll save you a ton of gas. If you find yourself worrying about range during a ride, begin riding with maximum fuel economy in mind. Slow down to 55 mph, keep acceleration and braking to a minimum and keep the revs low. On long downhill stretches, shift the bike into neutral and coast. Also be aware of any extra luggage and its subsequent impact on aerodynamics and therefore fuel economy. Smart additions like putting a small windscreen on a naked bike can actually make you more aerodynamic and therefore more efficient. Check your tire pressures too, low tires can drastically impact fuel economy.
Fueling Up: Motorcycle tanks come in some odd shapes. When you fill up, fill to the brim, then wait 30 seconds. You’ll likely see the fuel level drop as air works its way out of all the nooks and crannies. Fill to the brim again until you’re confident you’ve reached your tank’s full capacity.
Know how we just talked about motorcycle tanks and their odd shapes. Well, even if your engine just cut out, there may be some fuel left hidden in one of those nooks and crannies. Before you can find it, you’ll need to know where you motorcycle’s fuel pickup is — that’s the location you’ll need to get any remaining fuel to. So look in your owner’s manual or research it online and go forth armed with that knowledge. Then, you just need to shake loose any remaining gas, in that direction.
Typically, you’ll be pulling the bike further over onto its sidestand. To do so, make sure the bike is on a firm, level surface and the stand is securely down. Standing on the left side of it face your bike and grasp the left bar and something around the rear of the bike. The subframe or passenger grab rail works great, but you can make do with the grab strap on the pillion seat if you’ve got a minimalist sportbike. Then, just pull the bike towards you, being careful not to go past the point of no return. You can take the weight of the bike on a knee if necessary.
If it’s quiet enough, you’ll be able to hear the fuel sloshing around. Slosh it towards the pickup.
If you’re on a dirt bike, frequently the pickup tube sits in the tank an inch or so up from the bottom. This allows sand or debris to settle on the tank’s floor, without entering your fuel system, but it also leaves extra fuel at the bottom of your tank. Using basic tools, you can often lift the tank and drop that tube closer to the bottom.
And don’t forget about fuel siphoning, mentioned above. Just don’t attempt it with a modern car, they now come equipped with systems that block siphoning.
The Last Resort
How far’s that next gas station? Is it walkable? Can you push? You really don’t want to find yourself in this position but, if you do, it’s time to start making some smart decisions.
If you’re riding through suburban America, and that Exxon sign is just over the highway embankment, then go get some damn gas. If your iPhone tells you the next station is a 20-minute walk away, then go get some damn gas. If you’re out in the desert/swamp/forest/mountains and you don’t know where or how far the next station is, stay with your bike and wait for help. If you don’t look like a total serial killer, then a passing car or truck will likely stop to help. Do you always stop to help other bikers? Nows the time that karma might pay off.
Even the most remote roads are going to up your chances of finding help from another human versus just traipsing off into the wild. The more remote the road, the more likely another vehicle is to pass. Stay with your bike, with all that gear that keeps you cool or warm or dry and just wait it out. The easiest option is just not to run out of gas in the first place.