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There's no standardized test for motorcycle fuel economy, so where are figures coming from?

Motorcycle fuel economy

generally runs out at about 50 miles to the gallon. That's a general figure given out by motorcycle manufacturers, government bodies, individual motorcyclists, your mom, your dog… you get the picture. But specific MPG figures for specific models? They are more difficult to find than a freezer salesman in /Antarctica.

There are lots of reasons why motorcycle manufacturers have been reluctant to give MPG figures for actual models with any consistency. Bikes are already fuel-efficient, so differences in their MPGs aren't considered as important. Besides, actual MPGs vary wildly depending on how a bike is ridden.

Even more significant, there isn't an industrywide standard for motorcycle MPG testing. Unlike with cars, the law in most if not all countries doesn't require motorcycle manufacturers to perform motorcycle fuel economy tests or, if they do, to show us the numbers, since motorcycles make up such a small percentage of overall vehicles and already get such good relative mileage.

But with gas prices nearing $4 per gallon in the US, and an incredible $10 a gallon (yes, ten its not a misprint) and increasing numbers of commuters considering two wheels as a more economical way to get around, manufacturers are beginning to play the MPG card as a means of selling motorcycles in a down market.

In early April,, Yamaha released specific MPG figures for the six scooters in its model lineup. Less publicly, but more significantly, Yamaha is also making MPG figures available for its 27 other street bikes; dealers and customers just need to call Yamaha's customer relations department ([800] 962-7926) and ask for them.

In May, Suzuki will also expand its offering of motorcycle fuel economy specifics in an ad campaign that will trumpet MPG figures for half of its street bikes and scooters, including its SV650 (which boasts 54.8 mpg), Burgman 650 (38.1 mpg), Bandit 1250 (39 mpg) and other models.

Source of the numbers

Since there's no standardized motorcycle fuel economy test, where are these fuel-economy figures coming from? In the case of Yamaha, Suzuki and Harley-Davidson (which has been providing MPG figures since 1982), they're based on the EPA emissions test the manufacturers are already required to perform to sell bikes in the United States.

The Federal Test Procedure, or FTP, is a specific protocol "designed to measure a vehicle's tailpipe emissions under urban driving conditions," according to EPA regulations. The test is run on a piece of equipment called a chassis dynamometer, as opposed to a track or streets, and it involves a series of accelerations, decelerations, idling, cold starts and hot starts designed to simulate urban motorcycling. It covers a distance of 11 miles. The average speed is 21 mph. The average ambient temperature: 75 degrees.

Although the FTP is designed to measure the various pollutants spewing from a tailpipe, the CO2 produced during the test can also conveniently be used to calculate MPG as well. Because of the lack of an officialmotorcycle fuel-economy test, the FTP, it seems, is becoming the de facto procedure by default.

While Harley-Davidson uses the FTP to determine city mileage figures, the majority of FTP-derived motorcycle MPGs don't distinguish between city and highway riding. Nor do these MPGs represent real-world riding conditions, as reflected in the four additional tests required of automobile manufacturers, because they were never intended to measure a motorcycle's fuel economy -- just its emissions. That's why the MPGs offered by motorcycle manufacturers often come with the term "estimated," as well as various disclaimers that will let the manufacturers' lawyers rest easy if real motorcyclists end up with fuel-economy numbers that are less than what the motorcycle manufacturers claim.

The Yamaha disclaimer, is fairly typical as disclaimers go. It says a motorcyclists actual mileage "will vary depending on road conditions, how they ride, and the maintenance of each vehicle, vehicle accessories, cargo that may be carried and the operator's and passenger's weight."

That's a lot of variables, but the reality is that is a very, very short list. In the real world, there are a multitude of possible factors that will affect mileage; these include ...

  • rider's clothing
  • body shape,
  • air temperature,
  • altitude,
  • weather
  • road conditions
  • riding singly or in a group
  • volume of other traffic

    .. and probably a host of other things I haven't thought of.

    So, the motorcycle manufacturers' figures are not likely to match with an individual riders MPG, which begs the question, why bother?

    Demand for efficiency

    The fact is, the motorcycle industry has always responded to market demand, and the market is changing. Historically, the market has always been enthusiast-driven, but now it is growing and changing to include the "commuters and less hard core disciples, who are demanding efficiency, not just horsepower and torque.So the motorcycle fuel economy figures are likely to figure more and more prominently in motorcycle reviews from now on.


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