The type of fuel you use in your motorcycle will affect not only its performance but also its effectiveness and longevity. Using a kind of fuel that is not adequate for your motorcycle can lead to all sorts of problems and unpleasant consequences.
What that means for any motorcycle owner is that they should know what kind of fuel or gas their motorcycle uses.
What kind of gas do motorcycles use? Motorcycle manufacturers recommend owners to use unleaded fuel in their motorcycles. Pure unleaded gasoline will provide the best performance. However, motorcycles today use E10 fuel with an octane rating between 87 and 94. Using the right type of fuel allows the motorcycle to work better and more efficiently.
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When it comes to motorcycle fuel, there are many myths and caveats that can often be heard.
In this article, I have gone in detail about everything you need to know in order to make sure your motorcycle is using the right kind of fuel.
How to choose the right kind of gas to use for your motorcycle
Your first step in choosing the right kind of fuel for your motorcycle starts by checking your owner’s manual.
In your motorcycle’s manual, you will find information about the type of fuel and its octane number that you should put in your motorcycle. Although there are some general guidelines, motorcycles will vary, and it is always best to go by what the manufacturer recommends.
High octane vs. low octane motorcycle gas
Usually, motorcycle manufacturers recommend owners to use fuel with an octane rating between 87 to 94, depending on your motorcycle.
It is important to follow the instructions you will find in your manual. The right octane rating has been decided on by the manufacturer’s engineers after thorough testing and calculations.
A common myth is that a higher octane number will make your motorcycle go faster. This is not true. A higher octane fuel does not provide more energy when ignited.
The octane rating refers to how compression the fuel can take before self-combusts. In other words, if your motorcycle engine creates more compression, it will need fuel that has a higher octane rating. And if the engine generates less compression, then it will need fuel with a lower octane number.
So now you may be wondering, “Okay, I get it, but what happens if I use fuel with the wrong octane rating?”
If you are not using fuel with the right octane rating, you are risking damaging your motorcycle’s engine or at least reducing its performance.
Fuel with lower octane rating will self-ignite sooner in an engine that creates more pressure—an engine that has been rated for a higher-octane fuel, which can withstand more pressure before igniting. This will lead to engine knocking, engine damage, and reduced efficiency.
As you can see, the octane rating of your fuel does not correlate to actual speed performance. Using pure 84 fuel and 104 fuel will feel just the same in terms of accelerating and overall power.
However, a higher-octane engine is usually a more efficient engine.
You really do not gain anything by going with a higher-octane fuel. So if your motorcycle can take 90, then feed it some good 90 octane fuel.
(And if you are wondering what the “(R+M)/2 Method” label found on many gas station fuel pumps, this refers to the method used for calculating the octane rating.)
Regular fuel vs. ethanol gas
The other important aspect of any fuel is whether it has ethanol in it, and if so, how much. Ethanol—also known as Ethyl alcohol—is alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages.
Adding ethanol to gasoline is not something particularly new. Around the 1920s, give or take, people started adding ethanol to the regular fuel.
Ethanol is a cheap way to increase the octane rating of fuel, but it produces less energy than gasoline upon ignition. The data shows that ethanol has about two-thirds the energy of standard gasoline. This means that the mpg of your motorcycle will be 3% to 4% lower on E10 fuel compared to ethanol-free fuel.
See article: How is motorcycle fuel consumption calculated?
Ethanol-free fuel is, hands down, the best fuel for motorcycles. It offers the best performance and efficiency.
However, today the majority of the fuel that gas stations sell has ethanol in it. Fuel with added ethanol will be marked with the letter ‘E’ followed by a number representing the percentage of ethanol in the fuel. E10 will, thus, mean the fuel has 10% ethanol, and E15 fuel will have 15% ethanol. So if you see E100, for example, this will be pure ethanol, and E0 is pure gasoline.
Ethanol is considered corrosive to certain types of metals and plastic—a problem well-known with older motorcycles. However, with newer models, these problems are not so common anymore.
However, ethanol also attracts water, which is one of its biggest disadvantages—especially when leaving your motorcycle sitting for a long time. Leaving your motorcycle sitting for prolonged periods of time will cause the fuel to go bad and the ethanol to absorb water, this can cause some serious corrosion and damage to the engine, fuel system, and more.
Ethanol can cause other problems, too, like increased average engine and exhaust system temperature
That being said, motorcycles are, generally speaking, doing good on E10 fuel, however going higher than 10% ethanol is not recommended. The majority of motorcycles are not designed to run fuel with 15% ethanol or higher. In certain cases, the manufacturer will even void your warranty if such fuel has been used.
This has caused some concerns about the possibility of wide adoption and expansion of the E15 fuel.
Leaded vs. unleaded gas
Nowadays, leaded fuel is not being sold, and it is considered illegal. There is, however, lead additive replacement being sold.
In the 1920s, engineers were looking for ways to increase the octane of fuel and prevent engine knocking. What they found was that lead was capable of achieving that, so they began using it.
Lead not only raises the octane rating of fuel but also lubricates the valves and valve seats. The lubrication is achieved by the lead salts that are produced by the ignition of the lead. However, these salt deposits can also cause a wide array of problems. They can foul the spark plugs, corrode the exhaust system, degrade the lubricating oil in the crankcase, and even increase harmful emissions.
Using leaded fuel in an unleaded engine can cause problems with your catalytic converter as well, granted if you have one, contaminating it and affecting its ability to reduce pollutants or completely plugging it up (and choking the motorcycle’s engine).
In 1970 leaded gas was banned and gradually phased out. This means that motorcycles (and other types of vehicles) produced after that period were designed to use unleaded gas. They were built with hardened valve seats, which did not require lead in the fuel anymore.
Overall unleaded fuel is the norm today, and motorcycles are built to use it.
Is premium gas worth it?
A lot of motorcycle riders may wonder, “Should I get regular or premium fuel?”
The important question that needs to be answered here is what exactly stands behind the word “premium fuel”.
In the majority of cases, the only difference may be in the octane rating. Regular fuel will be about 87 octane, and premium may range between 91 to 94.
If your motorcycle manual recommends unleaded fuel with 87 octane, there is no benefit of going with premium fuel. There is little to no benefit of giving your engine higher octane fuel than it has been rated for.
Considering that premium gas is, on average, more expensive than regular gasoline, and how little to no benefit there may be to using it, you will simply be paying more and getting nothing in return.
However, going with a lower-octane fuel is a different matter, and should not be done. So if your motorcycle’s manual says premium—use premium fuel.
That being said, not all fuel is created equal.
What really matters here is the quality and the additives in the fuel. Those will affect your motorcycle engine’s performance and longevity. However, just because it says it is premium fuel does not mean it is of good quality. Both regular and premium fuel can be of poor quality.
Maybe you have heard of the Top Tier gas, which is held to higher standards than the ones by EPA. This kind of gas has a higher amount of additives, which prevent fuel deposits from forming and accumulating on the engine components.
Some premium brands of fuel, even though they are not Top Tier rated, can still be of very good quality.
See article: Is 110 octane bad for the motorcycle?
Is plus gas worth it?
So what about plus gasoline? Is it any better than regular? And how does it differ from premium?
Again plus gas follows the same logic. It has a higher octane rating than regular gas but not as high as premium gas—it falls somewhere between regular and premium gas.
If regular gas has an octane rating of 87 and premium gas 91 to 94, then plus gas will be between 88 and 90.
What kind of fuel you should not use in your motorcycle
So what fuel you should not use on your motorcycle?
- Fuel with high ethanol: Any fuel with more than 10% ethanol should not be used as it can potentially be detrimental to your motorcycle engine and fuel line’s longevity.
- Fuel with low octane number: Fuel that has been rated with an octane rating that is below the one recommended by your manufacturer for your particular type of motorcycle should not be used. The fuel will self-combust before the spark plug creates the spark. This will destabilize the engine’s work cycle and will damage it in the long run.
- Fuel with a higher octane rating: Higher octane fuel is more expensive, but you will not see any benefit from using it.
- Leaded fuel: Unless you are riding a very old, retro motorcycle, leaded fuel is a thing of the past.
- Diesel: With all that being said, let’s not forget that some motorcycles, although few and far between, have a diesel engine. They have been designed and built to run on diesel, so standard gas should not be used with them and vice versa.
- Use summer fuel blend during the summer and winter fuel blend during the winter.
Do you need to add fuel additives to the gas?
Using a fuel additive is recommended if you will be using ethanol fuel.
The fuel additive will stabilize the fuel, which is very important when it comes to ethanol fuel since it can attract moisture over time. This will keep your fuel good for longer and prevent contamination.
Meet Simon, the 46-year-old aficionado behind YourMotoBro. With a lifelong passion ignited by motocross dreams and a Canadian Tire bicycle, Simon’s journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. From coaching underwater hockey to mastering muddy terrains, he’s an authority in thrill and adventure. Certified as an Off-Road Vehicle Excursion Guide and trained in Wilderness First Aid, Simon’s love for bikes is as diverse as his collection—from a robust BMW GSA R1200 to the memories of a Harley Davidson Night Train. By day a respected telephony consultant, by night a motorcycle maestro, Simon’s tales are a blend of expertise, resilience, and undying passion. 🏍️✨