How to Avoid Running out of Gas on a Motorcycle

Rider filling a motorcycle at a gas station
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It's a lot easier than you think to run out of gas on a motorcycle, but many of these instances are avoidable—even when riding long distances on bikes with small tanks. Here are a few tips on how to avoid the buzzkill of getting stranded because your motorcycle ran out of gas.

Don’t Trust Your Gauges

As much as onboard technology has improved over the last few years, it's still not quite perfect. Even modern bikes from major manufacturers with sophisticated systems that display an estimated range, riders have had their motorcycle sputter and die miles before the system said it would. Even less accurate than digital "distance to empty" displays are analog gauges—and these have even more vague warning lights that illuminate when you're running low on fuel. If there's anything to be learned from all this technology, it's that trip computers are there to offer a rough—not precise—guideline of how much we can eke out of each tank.

When in Doubt, Refuel

Especially when you're riding roads you're unfamiliar with, it's a good rule of thumb to not push your luck with riding range. Gas stations may be found on nearly every corner in a big city, but as you get to the outskirts they become increasingly sparse; even if you've got a half tank of fuel remaining but think you might not encounter another gas station soon, take the extra five minutes to top off your bike.

Use a GPS

Most navigation systems can locate the nearest gas station, and some even have advanced fuel planning capabilities that can sort stations by price and/or distance; if you ride with a GPS, get acquainted with its features and use them to your advantage.

Pack Supplies

If you're riding across rural stretches where gas stations are few and far between, you might consider carrying a siphon in case you become stuck and need to draw fuel from another rider.

Lots of long distance motorcyclists go one step further by carrying backup fuel in a jerry can or a plastic jug; needless to say, you'll need to exercise caution while traveling with auxiliary fuel. Careful with those ciggies!

Retrofit an Extra Capacity Tank

If you've got long distance ambitions but don't own a touring bike, look into the aftermarket before you trade-in your ride. There are plenty of reputable companies that manufacture higher capacity tanks; investigate your options and find out if you can retrofit your ride with a bigger tank.

When the Inevitable Happens

What happens if you do run out of gas? Some motorcycles are equipped with petcock valves, which enable you to switch to a reserve portion of your fuel tank for a few extra miles of range. They're usually located on the left side of the bike below the tank (so your right hand can stay on the throttle.) If your bike has a petcock valve, it's a good idea to acquaint yourself with its position ahead of time so you can quickly switch to reserve if your engine starts to sputter.

If you don't have a petcock valve and you run out of gas, you'll have to act fast. Your immediate goal is to get to the shoulder or median—whichever is closest. Use your turn signal as well as your arm to signal that you're changing lanes. Surrounding traffic may not be able to anticipate your urgent need to get off the highway. If you don't take initiative when your bike shows signs of fuel starvation, you'll be caught stranded in the middle of the road—a very dangerous situation to find yourself in.

Once you've successfully coasted to a stop on either side of the road, activate your hazard lights, step away from your bike, and stay as far away from traffic as possible while you use your cell phone for roadside service or signal for help.

If you decide to abandon your bike and walk to a gas station, ask for a fuel container you can fill up and take back to your motorcycle. If the station doesn't sell fuel cans, buy a bottle of water and drain it. You won't want to let a drop of water into your fuel supply, so rinse the empty bottle with fuel before filling it up; that way, you can ensure nothing but gas gets back into your tank.