It’s a sickening sensation. The low-fuel light has been on too long and the next gas station is nowhere in sight. Maybe it happens in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Maybe on a congested metropolitan four-lane. But when that nagging amber glow gives way to the eerie silence of a dead engine, it makes you feel like a 92-octane idiot. Aside from the exasperating inconvenience and potential danger of being stranded on the side of the road, running out of gas is bad for your bike. Riding around with just enough gas to get where you’re going sounds semi-reasonable when a gallon costs $4-plus, but that’s not such a great idea either.
Running around on fumes forces your engine to digest more of the accumulated crud that settles to the bottom of the tank. Those sediments can clog your fuel pump, filter or injectors, and generate pricy repairs. Running out altogether compounds the problem by drawing in the dregs. Plus, it turns you into a slow-rolling roadblock for oncoming traffic. Getting hit is bad enough. Getting hit because you left the gauge on empty too long is worse, mostly because it’s preventable.
In a perfect world, we’d all top off as soon as the gauge shows a quarter-tank: less chance of anything mucking up the fuel system, and more time to shop for the best price on our chosen grade of unleaded. Loading an app like GasBuddy (free at https://market.android.com) into your Smartphone lets you shop around without wasting time or money. Beyond that, it’s a good idea to know your bike’s average appetite for fuel.
Back when motorcycles came with carburetors and a petcock, switching to reserve would get the dead dinosaurs flowing again—hopefully long enough to ride into the next station under your own power. Reserve lights and LCD gauges can be easier to ignore and less than 100 percent reliable. Reset the tripmeter every time you top off if you don’t already, and remember how many miles it’s showing when the gauge/idiot light signals low fuel. Looking up the amount of fuel remaining in your owner’s manual and doing some mental arithmetic helps you better estimate your actual range.
Planning helps as well. Filling up close to home after work lets you roll out with a full tank the next morning with one less thing to think about. And whether you’re headed to work or cross-country, know the route. Check the map. Check the Web. And if you hate pushing a big, heavy motorcycle as much as we do, sign up for a roadside-assistance program that includes emergency fuel, and keep that cell phone charged.
Using less fuel cuts the odds of running out, so all the usual rules apply, starting with regular maintenance. Anything that makes your engine work harder—from a grimy chain to a clogged air filter or low tire pressure—also makes it thirstier. That includes parasitic drag from helmet visors, loose gear flapping in the breeze, bulky luggage or anything else the wind can get hold of. They’re little things, but little things add up.
Here’s the prime directive: Never, ever, under any circumstances ride past an open gas station when the fuel-gauge needle or that little yellow light on the dash says you’re running low. Tattoo that somewhere inside your skull and, with any luck at all, you’ll never have that empty roadside sensation again.