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Ethanol in Gas and Old Bikes = troubles


Fireden
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For folks traveling in the US Mid West you really need to especially  pay attention to this info.

While traveling over the summer we pulled into a gas station I believe that was in Iowa that had 5 or 6 hoses on the pump which offered 2 or 3 levels of Ethanol laced "Gas" beginning at 85% Ethanol.

One rider was having some issues with his older bike after one such fill up which may have been result of using the wrong hose on the pump.

I am certainly not a mechanic but I try and use Shell gas locally and still maintain that vehicles run better and get increased mileage.

Have a gander at the article by following the link below and decide for yourself.

Happy riding :)

http://driving.ca/auto-news/news/your-corner-wrench-when-to-avoid-ethanol-in-gas

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If he put E85 (which is actually 85% ethanol and only 15% regular gasoline), then yes, problems would be expected - E85 can only be used in engines specifically designed for it.

When it comes to the typical 15% ethanol gas that is basically commonplace now, most bikes newer than 15-20 years old won't have any issue with it.  Yes, some older bikes with lined or plastic tanks can be damaged by it, but they're in the minority.

Here's a little insight on why ethanol is still potentially (but not automatically) problematic for small engines.  It's a bit of a long read, but many years ago when I was working on a lot of marine engines (which can be particularly subject to the issues ethanol gas can present due to the fact they live on the water) as well as discovering that it was a very real issue in the aviation world as well for those with small aircraft that use pump gas, I decided to educate myself on the issues, so for those interested, here's some info.

The issue with ethanol is something called phase separation.   Basically, it attracts water, and if left for a long enough period of time, it can actually attract enough to cause issues with how an engine may run, or in some scenarios (particularly with 2 stroke engines), damage to the engine itself.    Keep reading, this isn't an automatic issue with our motorcycle engines, however....

2 Stroke engines (where you premix the fuel and oil before pouring it into the gas tank) are particularly subject to the potential issues because the fuel itself also carries the lubrication oil that the engine relies on - a droplet of water along with that fuel/oil mixture can, for a split second, wash that essential layer of lubrication oil off parts like cylinder walls and bearing surfaces resulting in scoring and eventual issues if it happens often enough.    It certainly adds to wear.     This is why I was a firm believer in always using synthetic 2-stroke oil on any 2 stroke engine (particularly marine) engines I own - Jetskis, outboards, lawnmower, weed eaters, that sort of equipment.    Synthetic oil is not as effected by a droplet of water or impurities in the gas/oil mixture and it will survive that split second that would otherwise wash away that important lubrication film - so, the issue potentially never occurs.   Yes, it costs a little more, but it's cheap insurance.

2 Stroke engines are also more subject to the phase separation issue simply because they tend to sit a lot more.   Think of how often you start your lawnmower or weed eater versus how much time it spends sitting with gas left in the tank - that's when phase separation occurs and the water attraction becomes an issue, especially when left sitting in a place like a shed or garage where they're subject to a lot of hold/cold cycles (daytime heating and nighttime cooling) that causes the fuel tank on the engine to "breathe" as the air expands and contracts - when it draws in air during the nighttime cooling cycle, it brings in moisture along with it.    

Cheap insurance against that?    For things that consume gas that spend more time sitting than running....buy ethanol free gas whenever possible....particularly for anything 2 stroke that relies on mixed fuel.  And consider full synthetic mix oil as well.    If regular gas is still the only option (a day on the water with your boat or jetskis for example), try to only put as much gas in the tank as you figure you'll be able to realistically use that day and try to burn all of it.  Basically, get rid of the problem - the ethanol itself is seldom the issue (small engines, 2 stroke and 4 will run fine on it contrary to what some will suggest), but if it's left sitting afterwards for any length of time beyond 5+ days that's where the issues start to present.  Basically, it's the potential for phase separation (water) that's the issue, not 15% ethanol gas itself.

Now, with all that said - most car and 4 stroke engines (like most of our bikes) won't have issue with regular 15% ethanol gas since the nature of a 4 stroke engine means that they have a pressurized oil lubrication system that does not rely on the fuel itself carrying the lubrication oil as well.   A droplet of water won't cause the same sort of issues or sudden potential damage that it will to a 4 stroke, and yes, although it's never a good thing to have water in your fuel, it won't cause the potentially rapidly accelerated wear or damage that adds up over time that it can cause on a small 2 stroke engine.

When it comes to our motorcycles, for someone who rides regularly and burns a tankful of gas within a week, the ethanol in our typically 15% ethanol "regular" gas is likely to be little or no issue.   If you're a light rider who may take 2 or 3 weeks to burn a tank of gas, consider buying ethanol free when possible as phase separation (resulting in water in the fuel) can start to become an issue.   

Certainly for winter storage I'm a firm believer in burning as much of the ethanol gas as I can out of the tank and then refilling with ethanol free (with some added stabilizer) for the long winter months - the long period of sitting, particularly with many warm/cold cycles over a many month period of time is a perfect breeding ground for ethanol gas to leave your motorcycle gas tank with a layer of water in it come spring.  At best, that may cause starting issues and rough running until you get that old gas (and potentially, water) burned through the engine in the spring.  At worst, it can cause rust in your tank, undue wear or potential damage to carbs/injectors, or undue wear to bearing surfaces and cylinder walls. 

For the summer months, on most modern bikes that are ridden regularly, don't worry too much about 15% ethanol gas.   Yes, your milage can be slightly less, however it's very slight on a small engine and the extra cost for premium non-ethanol is almost never a win when it comes to any extra milage you may get out of it.

But yes, don't buy E85. ;)  Here in Canada it's very rare to find it anywhere to begin with, but in the USA it's more commonplace.

Lastly, take note that not all premium gas choices are automatically ethanol free like the used to be - Shell super-premium is confirmed ethanol free and reportedly Canadian Tire 91+ is as well, but many other providers like Esso etc now put ethanol in their premium fuels as well.   

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Most people I know with bikes on the 25-30 year old range tend to use high test, as do I. Most gas pumps identify the amount of ethanol in the gas, so check the pump stickers.

here's an issue with gas pumps....unrelated to the former topic.We pay for high test, but chances are good that the previous vehicle used regular. Not knowing the length of pipe and hose, I can't figure the volume, but we pay for at least a litre of regular when we buy high test. The pumps with the separate high octane nozzle are few and far between.

just putting my 103 cents a litres worth in

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hoses are usually 10 feet and there is generally 3 feet of pipe on the downstream side of the meter to the hose. With .75 inch diameter hose there would be about 1 litre in the system.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I stand vindicated! Thanks, Bearcat..higher math was never my forte.I used to know how to count up to nine months really well, though...

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  • 2 weeks later...

I ride a 2006 Yamaha Road Star and it has a carburetor, not EFI. I always run the highest gas I can find and a mechanic told me that the Ethanoyl is extremely hard on  carburetors and the gaskets.

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