Friday, June 26, 2009

Combustible Supply Critical

I ran out of fuel yesterday on my way back home from the Bainbridge ferry terminal. In preparation for my upcoming trip, I was testing the limits of my V-Star to see how much I could get from a tank before I would run out.

Of course, this plan doesn't make a lot of sense to everyone, you might wonder, if I was trying to run out, why didn't I have extra gasoline with me so that I could refuel when it ran out. The piece of information you are missing is that, since it isn't easy to put fuel gauges in motorcycles, they have a reserve switch which keeps you from using the last quarter to half of a gallon in your tank until the switch is engaged. This usually gives you 10 to 20 miles to get to a gas station if you manage to run out inadvertently.

Not only was I testing my range, I was also testing to find out whether my reserve worked or not. My original plan was to run the tank down to the reserve, then head for the closest gas station. Since I know Bainbridge and the 305 corridor very well, I know that I should be able to reach a gas station from any point on my trip.

When I first started the motorcycle, I turned the choke on full, then when I got on to leave the parking lot, I turned it to half. Just as I left the parking lot, I accelerated slightly and felt the bike lose power a little. I should have known better, but I attributed this to the choke being on and turned the choke off, to which the throttle seemed to return to normal. I suspect that it was low on fuel and the choke was simply making the draw a little too aggressive for how much fuel I had left, the pump probably couldn't keep up with the demand.

So I continued down the road about three miles, passing the intersection to turn for fuel without giving it a second thought. The bike began to bog down again and I knew it was about to run out of gas. Not to worry, I flipped the switch to the reserve position. The motorcycle continued to bog down on power, just barely moving itself forward.

If you have ever run out of fuel, it's not the feeling you would expect. You don't suddenly stop without warning, you usually try to accelerate and notice that the engine dies as you push the accelerator harder. If you have a manual transmission, you downshift one gear at a time as the engine slowly winds down after each gear. By the time you stop, the engine stalls and you are out of fuel completely.

I pulled over at a gravel turnout on Madison, about a mile from the Valley Rd. intersection, got off my bike and checked to make sure I had the switch in the right position. Since I knew that this was a possibility, I had already been mentally prepared to call one of my friends or family members from the nearby area. First I tried Peter, who did not answer, but was able to reach Ron who came promptly with a full gas can. As it turns out, he wanted to stop by Burton Motorsports soon, and I was on my way there at the time.

I put about half a gallon in the tank, fired it up and rode to the Shell station in Suquamish. I filled up my tank there, and also Ron's gas can, so that I could see how much fuel I used. It came out to about 4.6 gallons, since my tank only holds 4.5, I obviously put a little extra in Ron's gas can, but what this tells me is that unless I greatly overestimated the amount of fuel initially in Ron's can, my tank ran itself entirely out of fuel, which means that the pet cock may be broken or leaking.

If I was mistaken in my fuel reckoning, then the pet cock is just clogged. I'm not sure that the problem concerns me enough to worry about replacing it before the trip since I got the information that I really need, being that I know 200 miles is the cut off point for my range, so if I always refuel at or before 150 miles, I shouldn't have to face any problems.

As an added safety measure, I may keep a small bottle of gasoline in the central storage compartment of my bike, but generally speaking, in many of the areas I'll be travelling through, the extra 20 miles that a reserve will get me or an extra 1/5th of a gallon in a spare bottle will probably not be the difference between making it to a gas station or not making it to a gas station. If I run out, I'll just have to push it and hope that a kind motorist pulls over to lend me some fuel. In any case, I usually drive on the extremely conservative side with fuel, I usually refill with plenty of fuel to spare.

I got to Burton's before closing time so that I could pick up my new cruise control for the throttle and talk to Burt about my replacement tires and still managed to get home an hour earlier than my normal arrival time.

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