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In the past 20 years, vehicles have seen a dramatic improvement in their performance. The human population has learned a lot about how to better use electricity and we’re beginning to see the benefits of it. However, many vehicles still require gasoline today.
This is true for motorcycles as well. Without gas, you can’t really get anywhere on your beloved machine. Running out of gas during a ride can be a bit scary as well as extremely annoying, especially if you’re not familiar with the signs and symptoms of it.
What happens if your bike runs out of fuel? A motorcycle that runs out of gas will start to sputter and lose power for several seconds. Some motorcycles might even stop abruptly. You will be able to coast for several feet so it’s important you find a safe place to coast to and park your motorcycle.
Sometimes, we like to push our gas gauges beyond their limits. This can sometimes leave us stranded. Some of these situations were embarrassing and I’ve run out of gas several times. This article will explain what I’ve learned and what you can do to better help your situation.
What happens when you run out gas?
Whether you purposely try to stretch the limits of the fuel’s ability in your motorcycle or you simply were unaware of the low amount in your tank, just know that running out of gas is something that happens to most motorcyclists.
Any vehicle driver will encounter this situation. It’s just a fact of driving something that uses gasoline. Because motorcycles are so different from other vehicles, it can be tricky.
There are two main types of fuel delivery systems for motorcycles. One is a carburetor, the other is a fuel injection. When it comes to fuel delivery, fuel injectors are more modern and efficient. The symptoms of running out gas, regardless of whether you have a motorcycle’s carburetor fuel injector or a motorcycle’s fuel pump, are the same.
The appropriate amount of air is also delivered when fuel is added to the combustion chamber. The spark plug is what ignites the fuel and air mixture and pushes the pistons up and down in the engine. The mixture won’t combust without the fuel. Therefore, the pistons can no longer move and the engine will stop working.
If your tank is empty, your motorcycle will begin to sputter and show signs. Sputtering can be caused by fuel injectors or carburetors that deliver smaller amounts of fuel. It’s similar to sipping those last few drops of a drink through a straw: you get a few driplets then it’s completely gone. However, some motorcycles may just stop working without warning.
You’ll likely still have electrical power for headlights, blinkers, etc., because you still have current from the battery. Don’t plan on using these lights for too long unless needed because the battery can soon drain from lack of charging from the stator.
When the motorcycle looses power, you’ll still be able to coast. You’ll need to coast and steer towards a spot that is safe to park. It may be necessary to park your motorcycle there while you go get gas.
People often worry that their motorcycle is running out of gas because they are worried about other issues. Sometimes a motorcycle may stop working due to an external cause. but if your motorcycle was running just fine prior to it quitting and you’re unable to get it started again, your likely culprit is that you just ran out of gas.
If you have found that an empty gas tank wasn’t the cause of the sputtering, see my other article here for other reasons why a motorcycle sputters. You can check the gas cap to confirm that it is inside the tank.
What to do if your fuel runs out?
Some motorcycles come equipped with a fuel gauge, others don’t have that luxury which leaves the owner in the guessing game most of the time. One of the most important aspects of owning a motorcycle is knowing how much gas you have.
Again, don’t feel bad if your motorcycle runs out of gas. This is something that most motorcyclists have experienced at some point. There are some things you can do to make sure your safety and that of your bike.
You may have your lucky day when you have a reserve setting. The reserve setting draws from a lower outlet that the main setting. Although the main outlet is higher than the reserve outlet, the level of gas is still lower than the reserve outlet. You can put it on reserve, which will most likely give you enough fuel to get to the nearest station. This warning sign was created by engineers to remind riders that they have only enough fuel to get to a station.
If you have a phone handy, you’ll first need to call those you had appointments with that you’ll probably not make it to. This could include a meeting, work, or just a get-together with your family. Once you explain your situation and cover your previous engagements, you’ll then need to contact someone you know for help. It is possible to find a friend, relative, or coworker that can help.
It’s best if that is person is able to go and get gas for you and bring it to where you are. If it is too hot or rainy for you to stand in, ask the station attendants to bring you gas to the nearest station. If someone you know isn’t available and a gas station isn’t near, you may need to call a tow truck.
If you don’t have a phone handy, try to figure out how close the nearest gas station is. If it’s somewhat close, you can either walk there and leave your motorcycle parked and bring some gas back or you can push your motorcycle to the gas station, whichever you’re more comfortable with.
You have the option to track down other vehicles. I don’t recommend you catch a ride with them unless it’s your absolute last resort (you never know with people these days). Rather, ask if you can borrow their cell phone or if they’d be willing to go get you some gas at the closest station.
Are you worried about your motorcycle’s health if you run out of gas?
You may now be asking yourself if your motorcycle is at risk from running out of gas. The sputtering sound it can make before it goes out can sound a bit disheartening so it’s natural to wonder if you did something bad to your motorcycle.
You can rest easy knowing that you likely haven’t broken your bike. Occasionally running out of gas while riding shouldn’t do much harm to your motorcycle. My motorcycle has not been affected by running out of gas more than a dozen times in the last few years. You’ll just have to have patience trying to start it back up when you get some gas in the tank because it takes time for the new fuel to enter the fuel system.
Some people may argue that running out of gas can ruin a fuel injector because the gas is what cools down that system and can overheat if there’s not fuel running through it. While it is true that gas does cool down a fuel injector, you do need to remember that the motorcycle quickly stalls when there’s no fuel. A fuel injector can’t overheat when the motorcycle isn’t running.
How to Avoid Running out of Gas
To avoid this type of situation, there are some things you can do. If you aren’t already doing some of these, I highly recommend that you start. Since I’ve started practicing some of these, I’ve never had an issue with running out of gas on my motorcycle.
The first thing I’ll recommend is to never let your tank get lower than halfway. It may seem extreme but the second half a motorcycle tank is used up a lot quicker than the first.
Don’t assume that because your gas gauge light just came on, you still have several miles left before you really do need to get gas. Any time that light comes on, immediately get gas because those gauges on motorcycles aren’t as reliable as you’d like to think they are.
Before every ride, look into the tank. Gauges can tell only so much, but it’s much more of a confirmation looking inside the tank and seeing physically now much gas is left inside.
What type of gasoline do motorcycles use for their engines? Ethanol-free, higher octane gasoline should be used for motorcycles (no less that a 91 rating). Ethanol can clog your motorcycle’s carburetors. It is an additive that is added to gas. You can read my article for more details.
Do you have the ability to fill your tank while the bike is still in motion? Although it is possible for the motorcycle to be started while you fill it, it can prove dangerous. There is a greater chance of static electricity building up on the motorcycle, which could lead to an explosion. It’s best to leave your bike off when fueling up.