Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Running Out of Gas On A Motorcycle

harley davidson ultra classic electra glideOn my way back home from a motorcycle trip to the Grand Canyon last weekend, I found myself running out of gas.

The engine sputtered as I tried to milk it for as long as I could. I used the brakes to jerk the bike around to get the gas to slosh around.

The engine died while I was in motion, and I pulled in the clutch handle to coast, hitting the start button to get the engine to turn over. It started back up, and I was able to ride for a little bit more, but it petered out again.

With the clutch lever pulled in again, coasting along, I hit the start button again, trying to get it to start, but it wouldn't start. I was losing momentum. I gave up hitting the start button, and just rode it until it came to a stop.

Fortunately for me, I came to a stop about 50 feet from a gas station. I hopped off, and pushed it over to a pump.

You could say it was luck that I stopped so close to a gas station, but then again I already knew the fuel range on my Electra Glide Ultra Classic. I knew I could make it back to civilization after my previous fuel stop, otherwise I would not have put myself into that situation.

But it also requires a little planning to know what the mileage is between this fuel stop and your next.

I ended up doing 195 miles total before running out of gas. And that's somewhat low for the Ultra Classic. It's a 2005 model, with the stock 88ci engine, and a 5.0 gallon tank. I usually get about 40-45 miles per gallon, so I knew I should have gotten at least 200 miles range.

But riding back home on the I-10, I was pushing it between 85-90mph, which I knew was going to cut my fuel range a little short. And then while riding through the Coachella Valley, I was fighting a head wind. So, 195 miles is probably pretty good considering those factors.

My previous gas stop was in Vidal, which is just an intersection of Hwy 95 and 62 in an otherwise empty Mojave Desert of southeastern California.

I was actually riding a more conservative 70-75mph after that gas stop, and had I kept it at that pace, I would've made it home. But as soon I jumped on to the interstate, I chose to ramp up the speed. I think it was the 100+ degree temperatures through the desert, making me want to get home more quickly.

So after pushing my bike to the gas pump, I filled it back up, and checked the pump. I pumped in 5.4 gallons. And Harley says it's a 5.0 gallon tank?

The farthest I've gone on a single tank of gas on this Ultra Classic is 205 miles. And I still could have gone further.

On my trip to Utah last month, we had a guy with us who said he typically refills his tank at around 120 miles. He figures his bike has a top range of about 160 miles. He rides a Honda Shadow 750. So on one leg of the trip, we found ourselves choosing between refilling at 100 miles, or opting to ride on and refilling at 160 miles. We decided to ride on for the 160 mile fill-up. But we kept our speed at a modest 70-75mph.

And the thing is that he didn't know what we were planning to do. That is, the rest of us were planning this out via CB radio, while riding our bikes. This guy was one of the few that didn't have a CB. He was shitting bricks after we passed by the sign that said, "Next gas 60 miles".

But when we got to the gas station, that guy still had a fair amount of gas in his tank, and he figured he probably could have gone about 180 miles. It just goes to show that you'll never know what your motorcycle is capable of doing until you push it beyond your comfort level.

I'd like to hear your "running out of gas on a motorcycle" stories...


  1. I don't think I have ever heard of anyone not running out of gas at one point or another.

    I was blazing down 6 in NV. Straight shot pretty much. 105 degrees. I mapped out a place named Blackstone for a fuel stop. When I got there it was a ghost town. Nothing. 15 miles outside of Ely I drained the last drop. Sat next to a dead coyote for a few hours looking at it's ribcage sticking out of it's hide. No cell phone service. No one stopped...not even the dudes on the BMW's.

    Two road rat's on trikes saved my ass and gave me a good supply of water. Water, yeah, remember to take that crap with you if you don't already.

    That was a carbed scooter and the higher elevations really crushed the fuel economy. Dude, go get some Iridium IX plugs. I never push it over 200 miles on a full tank. Over the past couple of weeks I have been putting over 230 miles on a tank without seeing the gogo juice light showing up, and alot of that is in town riding. I can't believe the difference.

  2. I got lucky. Roughly three days after I got my Suzuki DR650, I ran out of gas. Forgot that I had to keep an eye on the mileage and in the giddiness of a new ride, just kept tooling around. It happened at a fairly busy intersection when I was trying to look cool for the ladies. What wasn't cool was the repeated stalls before I figured out what was happening and then my shove of shame to the curb. The lucky part: I learned the lesson early and it's not likely to happen again any time soon.

  3. I'm a new rider and checked my tank for gas before I left. I believed there was enough gas to get where I needed to go (short distance). I made it there, but on the way back... I was cruising along, and my motorcycle just quit while cruising aprx. 40mph. It really freaked me out because I was on a somewhat busy street and it was getting dark. I coasted to the side of the road, jiggled the bike and heard gas, so was thinking, "WTF?" It started right back up again. I drove another 1-2 miles and it made a strange backfire noise and puttered out. Luckily, I was on a hill and coasted right to my driveway. I started it again, pulled it into the garage, and smoked a cigarette. My bike is a 1998 Harley Sportster 1200C. It is not very good on gas. Or..??? Maybe I just don't understand when the gas that's left in the tank is for reserve? LOL!

  4. Just finished MSF 2 weeks ago, got my license, and a brand new GS500F last week, but because of rain, haven't put more than 10 miles on it.

    Well, the rain cleared up today and I took it out for a bit. Not more than a mile from my house, the bike started riding really rough.

    "What the crap?? We didn't cover this in MSF!!"

    I down shift because I had started losing power, then I saw the RPMs drop to zero and the oil light came on. I hit the starter and it tried to turn over, but wouldn't.

    "Holy new bike!!!"

    Was able to get it home (after stalling twice more), and called the dealer. They said to bring it in, but asked me if I had filled the tank. Now, I know that I had heard gas sloshing around, and because it was brand new, I had ASSUMED they had given me a full tank like most car dealers.


    Peaked inside and yeah there was a little bit of gas, but definitely not anywhere near the top.

    With my head hung in shame, I switched the petcock to reserve, let it idle for a bit, gave the throttle a twist of the wrist - good to go. Took it to the nearest gas station (1/2 mile), no stalling on the way there.

    Because I'm scared of the tank overflowing, as I'm not use to filling it yet, I just keep peaking inside the tank every 10 seconds of filling until the gas was just about at the right level. I turned around and look at the gas pump.

    3.8 gallons.

    I smacked myself in the forehead, switched the petcock back to ON, and rode home...

    ...not stalling once.

  5. Yeah. I was at a stop sign and just started to go a bit when my engine died out. I dropped my GS500F for the first time...luckily I was only going like 2 mph. I wish I had a little more warning. Oh well, it only scratched the outer cover of the engine and the tailpipe a bit. Barely noticable from a distance.

  6. New 2009 Ninja 500R.

    I'm a new rider myself; same thing happened to me. I was riding home from a short trip (8-9 miles to the store) when my bike started giving me a hard time accelerating. Eventually it died out and I was stuck on the side of a dark road with few lights. I thought it was the air filter or maybe I burned out my plugs--but lo and behold, I put it on reserve and the thing rides just fine--all the way to the gas station. I get there and 3.7 gallons go right into the tank--I couldn't have felt more like a moron. I also stalled out again on the ride home because I shifted to 3rd instead of 2nd because of a stale red light--sometimes I'm such an idiot.

  7. I was riding my bike today and suddenly there was this lagging feeling in the back tire. And there was a sudden sluggish bogging down feeling on the back wheel when I tried to accelerate.

    Like suddenly loads of bubble gum or tar had gotten inside the center of the back wheel or something.

    I put air in the tire. And I thought that resolved the problem, and I did put the reserve on.

    And this is a 1980 GS 450 my first bike that I have had for about 12 days now. I went along my way up to the world famous Horsehoe Curve and took pictures of one of my favorite, now closed and defunct, childhood places called Fantasy Forest.

    After taking some photos I got back on the bike, and made it down the mountain. I stopped and parked the bike briefly at a friends, and seasoned biker, workplace to show off my bike. But he was not there. He was on break.

    So I get back on the bike and suddenly the bogging in the back tire when I tried to accelerate again. Then it simply stalls.

    Tried the choke,and it worked for about 15 seconds. Then it went dead. Apparently it was my first time running out of gas on my bike.

    Good thing I was only 4 blocks from my apartment. GOD the FATHER of Jesus Christ was watching out for me. Because it would have been awful to have been stuck up in that mountain.

    Hope this helps another new rider to know that it is a empty tank that causes this condition.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)