What To Do When You Run Out Of Gas

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What To Do When You Run Out Of Gas

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

Prevention
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.

First Aid
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.

  • Justin McClintock

    Those stainless water bottles that are all the rage in some circles actually make a good backup gas can as well. 20 oz. or so of gas may not seem like much, but it’s enough to get most bikes to go another 3-5 miles or so. Just make sure you label it if you put gas in it so nobody tries to take a nice cool drink from it!

  • Fava d’Aronne

    How about simply carrying an extra tank of gas for long trips? Simple and fail proof. And you have peace of mind irrespective of how far apart the gas stations are. I ride a xr1200x, and the tank is very small. Carrying a 1gallon tank in my saddle bags when I travel never let me down

  • bat flag

    Rotopax… expensive and can be hard to find a place to mount, but they’re sturdy and easy to take on and off.

    • yakimushi

      MSR fuel bottles are good, and can strap in among your gear or maybe your subframe unobtrusively. And Touratech sells a mount (of course).

      • Disqusdmnj

        Carry one myself on long rides!

      • James Jamerson

        Thanks for the tip, I’m going to pick up one today!

      • charlie

        Or with some inexpensive bungee cords

    • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

      That’s a pretty set up.

    • Thomas Høj Jørgensen

      You have my curiosity. What bike is that?

      • Flying Couch

        I’m not bat flag, but I think that’s a Honda 599.

      • bat flag

        It is a 2004 Honda 599 / Hornet. It’s nearing 60k miles and does not look nearly so pretty in person… it’s amazing what narrow depth of field and high contrast can hide in a photograph.

    • bat flag

      The 599 has a fairly short range (~130 miles), and even if I don’t often use the extra gallon, it puts my mind at easy to know I have an extra 45 miles in reserve. I’ll explore side routes far from gas stations that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  • Blake Harrison

    If you’re on a KLR650 you can lay it down on the left side where the petcock is. This will allow some of the possible left over fuel from the right side of the tank to drain over. This has saved me twice when I tried to push the distance. You should get another 10 miles or so out of it. Or at least I did. Haha.

    • Lee Scuppers

      You had to lay ‘er down!

      • Blake Harrison

        It was in love. I saw she was thirsty. Lol :-D

  • Dave

    Also, carry a $50 with your registration. Some people won’t help without a bribe, and there are still gas stations that don’t take cards.

  • Jason

    “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.”

    DO NOT do this if it is hot outside unless you are planning on riding away immediately. I’ve ridden with plenty of people that have done this when they fill up just before stopping for lunch. When they come out of the restaurant their bike it sitting in a pool of gasoline.

    WHY? Gas in underground tanks is usually about 55-60 degrees F. If you fill your tank to the absolute brim there is no room for expansion. The gas warms up to the air temperature (90-100 F) and it expands as it heats up. The gas has no where to go so it gets pumped out of the tank vent / charcoal canister.

    • Lee Scuppers

      I can’t recall riding with you, but your friends sure sound like me…

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      So long as you ride away right away and aren’t stopping for 20 or 30 minutes, this isn’t a concern. I fill up every bike I ride like this, ride in all weathers and on all sorts of bikes and have never once had a problem. The gas doesn’t expand a huge amount between ~65 degrees and ~95 degrees, at least not more than you’ll burn while riding.

  • Braden

    I somehow managed to run out of gas multiple times with the Guzzi. Weirdly, it came down to the fluctuating optimism of the gas light. Once I got 32 miles down the road after the light came on before puttering to a stop. Another 17. Another 25. Even with what I thought was a consistent throttle hand.

    +1 on the fueling up. My buddy’s Hyper 796 had all these little nooks and crannies you had to work the gas into, which is kind of important with a max of 3.1 gallons.

  • enzomedici

    I still don’t understand why it is so hard to put accurate fuel gauges on motorcycles. They can design traction control, ABS and everything else, but they can’t tell me how many miles I have left before I run out of fuel? Seriously, WTF?

    • Gonfern

      Bike fuel tanks aren’t baffled like cars. There too much fuel moving around to accurately measure. Where would you take the measurement from. I’ve run out of gas once from my own stupidity. Didn’t reset my trip and forgot how far I went. Otherwise, learn the range of your bike and set your trip odometer every time you fill up

  • Heeno

    The edge is definitely dull

  • Mike Hubbard

    Yep, Rotopax is the way to go.

  • ExperienceIsTheBestTeacher

    Another day, another dumb RA article
    Seriously if you fill the tank to the brim with cold gas and then ride the bike, as the engine heats the tank the hot expanding gas will just go out the overflow line.
    Also if you park the bike with the kickstand. But on the other hand the $20 worth of gas you bought will mysteriously turn into $25 worth :)
    another argument for not riding on hot sunny days

  • Piglet2010

    Rather than sucking on a tube to siphon gas, get a squeeze bulb siphon pump – mine was $5 at the local farm supply store.

    If you are going to suck on a tube, get clear PVC tubing (about $0.20/foot for 1/4-inch diameter at the hardware store) so you can see where the gas is in it.

  • Archie

    “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.”

    You really do scare me sometimes Wes. Do you realize what happens to plastic when it’s exposed to petrol over time, right? What are you doing different to everyone else that makes this even remotely safe? The plastic quite literally MELTS after about 5 to 20 minutes, depending on fuel octane, air temperature and the plastic grade. You’re essentially making a time-bomb then strapping it to yourself or your bike.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      No you aren’t. I’ve seen a buddy use the same water bottle as a jerrycan for three straight days of dual sport riding. I’d never trust one that long, but it’ll get me an extra few miles here and there, when needed.

    • James Jamerson

      Back in my minibike days I didn’t have a fuel gauge, odometer, or even a reserve switch – So I always had some backup fuel in a vegetable oil bottle (in my backpack of tools…. it wasn’t the most reliable bike). I used the same bottle for months, put it on the shelf, and then found it again a year later. Literally 13 months later. The gas was no good, but it hadn’t eaten through anything and my garage never exploded.

      I wouldn’t recommend that sort of time frame, but any decently solid bottle (maybe not the cellophane-esque water bottles) should last you a couple days with no problem. They make Dirtbike tanks out of plastic, along with every jerrycan for the last 20 years.

    • Lee Scuppers

      Strapping a time bomb to my bike sounds wicked awesome. Don’t be such a puss.

  • Larry

    If you ever run out of gas waiting to clear customs in Port Huron Michigan, just ask the border agent to call their gas truck. Like a regular gas pump on the back of a pickup. On your way in 10 minutes. True story.

  • Alex

    I’ve done a fair share of road trips. Last summer I rode with my buddy w/ a Harley 48, he carried a 3 gallon tank because he couldn’t make it more than 100 miles without stopping to fill up. Normally I get almost 250 miles till empty, But I ran out of gas on my last motorcycle trip. I was doing Phoenix to LA. Made it all the way to Desert Center, CA which is about 200 miles. I should have known when I hit my reserve way earlier than normal. Lesson learned, always carry a fuel tank/bottle when out on a trip.

    • Clint Keener

      Don’t those 48′s only get 90 miles per tank?

      • Alex

        I was giving it a little credit, we stopped around every 85 miles to fill it up.

  • Nemosufu Namecheck

    Motorcycles manufacturers are finally starting to build bikes with proper fuel gauges and it makes a big difference in your confidence when riding far from gas pumps. If you are buying a modern motorcycle and it still has a choke, “fuel light”, and a/or a reserve petcock then your company has let you down.

  • Truthbot

    Shift to neutral? Seriously so much ridiculous advice on rideapart

    • Tim Watson

      Well that was constructive. If you have better suggestions why not post them rather than just making snarky comments?

      • RumbleStrips

        Snarky. Nice word choice.

      • John

        Is there no such thing as trying too hard?

      • Mykola

        It goes from “(un)constructive” to “entertaining” when you read it in Bender’s voice.

      • John

        Wow, snarky comments are now being deleted by Ride Apart staff.

        This is why I spend more and more time on other websites.

      • Mark D

        Its my understanding that coasting would only help if the bike it carbed. FI bikes cut the fuel under zero or negative load, so unless you are coasting at extremely high RPMs, it wouldn’t be worth the hassle/danger.

    • HoldenL

      I’ve done it. It feels lousy to be that desperate, but yeah, coasting down a mountain bailed me out.

    • Jose Ferrer

      I haven’t actually shifted, but I do pull in the clutch to coast down hills

  • John

    I’m going to recommend going for more gas, but that’s just me.

  • John

    Next on Ride Apart…….”How to properly jump the shark”

  • bat flag

    I’ve never thought to add a rotopax water can. That would save me a gallon of space in the cases, and I would balance out the gas can with a water can on the other side… I think I’ve found my next project.

  • Limber

    I personally wouldn’t “coast in neutral” downhill; 1) it doesn’t save much more gas than quickly up shifting two gears and releasing the throttle (keeping the engine engaged); 2) unless you’re really good at matching engine and wheel speed on your motorcycle, getting back into second gear will happen with a SLAP of metal, and wear down your gear dogs

  • Robotribe

    I disagree with the fill to the brim suggestion. It worked okay for my last two Hondas, but I did it ONCE on the Street Triple and it clogged some breather vent and it ran like crap till the extra gasoline was depleted. Only THEN did I read the manual and find the warning not to do what I did.

  • Damian

    In terms of planning you can’t go wrong in carrying an extra fuel can. One other thing to consider is throwing on a front sprocket with an extra tooth. Lowering the rpm by 500 or so won’t do any harm to mpg.

    • Mark D

      I did this on my XC trip. Loaded down with almost 60 lbs of gear and wide saddlebags, I was still getting 50-55 mpgs at 70-80 mph on an EX500. A lot of the riding was highway droning, but I still think it helped.

  • BillW

    A tow strap can also come in handy if you’re riding with a buddy, and it’ll be very entertaining, especially if you’ve never used one before (don’t ask me how I know. Somehow, I also know that a DL1000 ridden in a spirited fashion won’t quite make the range you expect it will between Mecca and Baker).

    For siphon hoses, get the kind with a “shaker valve”. It takes less space than a squeeze bulb and is way safer then using your mouth.

  • Mo

    Coasting downhill on neutral is not really a good idea cause of two reasons-

    1- It’s better to leave it in a higher gear (very little engine braking); it will use next to no fuel while coasting in gear. Else to keep the engine idling, fuel is used.
    2- Your brakes will have to work overtime, may overheat, start fading and not be able to stop the bike effectively.

    Fuel is used when the engine has to run the wheels. If the wheel keeps the engine running (coasting), modern ecu’s cut off all fuel. Thereby offering the best efficiency. This is true for cars as well.

  • labradog1

    On my old airhead BMWs, I’d pull the fuel lines off of the petcocks, remove two knurled nuts by finger, and remove the tank. The forward bracket on the tank was a comfy handle. Then I’d stick out my thumb. Serious serial killers don’t burden themselves with a motorcycle gas tank, and a tankless bike is much less attractive to steal.

  • Scott

    Nice Bonneville. What is the luggage rack you are using?

    • Murdoc82

      I custom made mine myself. Borrowed the ammo can mounting idea from the BA Moto rack.

      • Scott

        It looks great. Well done. I’ve got a Thruxton and am looking for a rack with pannier attachments like that.

  • Glenn Warnes

    I carry one of these 1lt bottles….and have a fuel limit line for vapour expansion