October 21 2011 by Jason Fogelson
Motorcycles can be incredibly fuel efficient, especially compared to cars. Still, even the most efficient bikes (and riders) can stand some improvement to make sure that they are getting the most out of every drop of fossil fuel.
Get to Know the Enemy
You won't know if you're improving your gas mileage unless you track your fuel usage. Start keeping a log of fuel purchased and miles driven. Keep notes of driving conditions, special situations and other information that will help you interpret your data. Make a habit of recording data with every fill up, and continue to record data as you make changes to your bike and your riding habits so that you can figure out what works and what doesn't.
Tune It Up
To get the most out of your bike, be sure that it is in top operating condition. Check your spark plug gaps. Clean or replace your air filter. Change your oil and filters. Good maintenance will lead to good gas mileage.
Refresh the Rubber
Worn, underinflated tires will cause a drop in fuel economy, not to mention causing a safety hazard. Inspect your tires, and keep them properly inflated for the best performance. If your bike can handle radial tires, you'll get better mileage than with bias ply tires.
Get Back to Stock
Many of us have replaced our stock exhaust systems with freer flowing pipes, and we've also made changes on the intake side. Along with exhaust and intake changes, we've installed race petcocks and carbs jetted to increase fuel flow to the engine. Guess what? Our bikes are louder, faster -- and less efficient. Dial back the performance upgrades, and tune for efficiency.
Weight is the enemy of fuel efficiency. If you've bolted on any accessories to your bike, and you don't use them, take them off. If you're not using your saddlebags, leave them in the garage. Consider stripping off anything that doesn't make your bike go or keep it going, including passenger pillions, passenger footpegs and mounts -- especially if you always ride solo. The chopper guys used to go as far as drilling "lightening holes" through many solid pieces, removing as much material as possible without weakening the bike. I don't recommend going to that extreme, but I would scrutinize the weight of every part and accessory on my bike, making sure that I'm using the lightest effective option.
Lose Some Weight
No, seriously -- the heaviest accessory that you mount on your bike is your own body. Every pound you can lose will make your bike more fuel-efficient.
Move Toward the Light
Consider swapping out that heavy leather jacket for a textile one with equal protection. Stop carrying that laptop computer -- switch to an iPad. Look into a carbon fiber helmet. Anything you can do that doesn't compromise your safety is fair game.
Streamline Your Ride
The one accessory that I would not be without is a windshield. Choose a windshield that improves your bike's aerodynamic performance, helping it to cut through the air as it travels down the road. Consider tucking in behind the windshield as much as possible, keeping your arms and legs in tight while riding to reduce wind resistance. Be sure that any cargo that you're carrying is also tucked in tight, and not adding to your bike's coefficient of drag.
Ease Up on the Throttle
This is a tough one. Jackrabbit starts use a lot of gas. Make smooth starts, and don't be in such a hurry to pull away from every stoplight. Shave five miles per hour off of your cruising speed, or even ten. Ride at the speed limit, not over. Drop behind traffic, don't overtake and try to lose the crowd. Moderation is the key to increased fuel economy.
Coast Before Braking
If there's a safe way to avoid using your brakes, you'll increase your efficiency. Allow inertia to slow your bike as you approach a traffic light, rather than riding to the light under power and then braking hard. Anticipate the need to slow, and cut your throttle instead of grabbing your brakes. The more work that momentum and inertia do for you, the less your engine has to work.
Turn It Off
If you're going to be stopped at a light for more than ten seconds, consider cutting your ignition, then restarting your bike when you're ready to ride off. Avoid revving your engine at a stop. It sounds cool, but you're just burning fuel while achieving zero miles per gallon.
Study the Hypermilers
Check out the Hypermilers Forum for tips about getting the most out of every gallon of gas. Though the site is designed for automobile drivers, much of the advice dispensed is very useful for motorcyclists as well.