Bikers Need To Read This Before Filling Their Gas Tank Again

The latest chapter in the ongoing fight between common-sense and the ethanol lobby again proves, bikers are the smartest people on the road.

Revolving around the ongoing arguments over ethanol-blended fuels being made available at gas stations, it appears that the idea of subjecting motorcyclists to a 4-gallon minimum fuel purchase at blender pumps that dispense both E10 and E15 is being suggested again.

Wait, don’t click away just yet. Admittedly, this is a dry topic which requires far more effort than should be expected on a Friday, but any biker who will ever fill up at a gas station needs to not only understand the issue, but what this latest move means to motorcyclists.

Fortunately for our readers, Clutch and Chrome will do this as entertainingly and quickly as possible, allowing you to move onto finding sexy-looking motorcycles online, all the smarter and wiser.

Here's a sexy motorcycle pic to keep readers interested just a little longer - Ducati's Diavel

What is with Ethanol and why is it so controversial?

Basically, ethanol is made from corn as well as other crops and can be used as an additive to fuel. Those who promote the additive say ethanol-blended fuels burn cleaner and loosens society’s dependency on oil. This push has led to fuel blends of up to 15 percent for general consumer use.

The big problem with this type of fuel is none of the estimated 22 million motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles in use in the United States are approved by the EPA to operate on ethanol blends higher than 10 percent. Not only is using higher-ethanol blends in those vehicles illegal, they may cause engine and fuel system damage and technically void the manufacturer's warranty.

Even if riders understand this risk, many motorcycle advocates point to the possibility of misfueling when trying to pick the appropriate blend from a sea of pumps. Drivers in Oklahoma found out how worrying accidently pumping high ethanol blends can be when the wrong fuel was delivered to a gas station, leaving customers pumping a thirty percent blend into their cars in August 2016.

These effects are ground zero for the fight between ethanol lobbyists and organizations such as the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) who promote and protect rider’s rights. At the heart of the dispute is the Renewable Fuel Standard volume requirements which dictates what types of fuels and at what volumes will be available in gas stations all over the country. It’s mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency and set every year.

Knew that, so what’s new?

As if all the above wasn’t more information than the everyday rider feels they need to know, another layer has been added to discussion. Just as with the cool, new self-service soda machines found in the latest, hip burger restaurants which offer dozens of flavors with a touch of a screen, over the last few years gas stations have installed ‘blender-pumps’. These mix the fuel according to the blend that’s chosen by the buyer.

Sticking with the soda machine comparison, if readers feel they’ve seen flavors that weren’t chosen coming out of the spout when the soda mix starts, they’re right and blender pumps have the same issue. When E15 is pumped, about a third of a gallon remains in the fueling hose. If the next person using the pump chooses E10 and wants to buy a single gallon, a third of a gallon of E15 and two-thirds of a gallon of E10 is actually what makes it into the tank.

This unwanted mixing raises the amount ethanol in the blend leaving the second user with a tankful full of harmful additive. A solution recommended by ethanol lobbyists is the latest controversy which stomps all over rider’s rights and slaps the face of common-sense. Technically, it’s a re-visited concern, but more about that later.

A familiar sight, a blender-pump

4 Gallon Minimum

In its “E15 & Flex Fuel Retailer Roadmap” for fuel retailers, a pro-ethanol group offers this advice:

“E15 can be sold on the same hose with gasoline (E0 to E10) using this configuration: Require a minimum purchase of four gallons and apply a label stating ‘Minimum Fueling Volume 4 Gallons. Dispensing Less May Violate Federal Law.’”

When this surfaced, groups such as the AMA reached out to the EPA for clarification prompting the following response;

The excerpted portion you highlighted should refer only to the less than 1% of gas stations that have gasoline pumps that that dispense BOTH E10 and E15 from a single hose or nozzle. The 4 gallon fueling minimum for E10 is only required for these “co-dispensing pumps” and is there to protect consumers.

The 4 gallon minimum ensures that engines that are not allowed to use E15 (like those in motorcycles) do not inadvertently get too much ethanol in the tank. To comply with EPA regulations, most stations with co-dispensing pumps simply put up a sign that says the co-dispensing pump may only be used for passenger vehicles and separately offer a dedicated E10 pump for motorcycles and other engines that cannot use E15. Motorcyclists or other types of vehicles and engines that require E10 in volumes of less than 4 gallons should not have a problem finding E10 in any volume they need.

To sum those few sentences up, a rider who pulls into a gas station that uses the new blending pumps has to hope a dedicated pump is available to offer fuel at acceptable ethanol levels.

The irony is, the EPA knows this idea doesn’t work. When it was suggested as far back as 2012, an outcry and questions from politicians as well as motorcycle advocacy groups on how the availability of E10 could be enforced stopped the measure from going into effect.

This isn’t just a question of sides or hyperbole, Clutch and Chrome experienced the issue of availability first-hand when riding from Florida to South Dakota for the 2016 Sturgis Rally. There were some stations where E10 wasn’t available at all and while in most cases it was easy to ride across the street, when it happened on I-90, that empty, long stretch of highway leading into Sturgis, it was a little worrying.

What’s next?

The good news is the 4 gallon minimum doesn’t appear to be an official mandate from the EPA, instead a suggestion from the American Coalition for Ethanol, a lobbying group for corn farmers and as mentioned earlier, corn is the primary ingredient for making ethanol. But, the response from the EPA does seem to endorse the American Coalition for Ethanol’s suggestion, falling back on 'a practice to protect consumers’.

Reportedly, the EPA does mandate stations that dispense E10 and E15 from the same hose must also provide a separate E10 pump for consumers as well, which should give motorcyclists the ability to avoid the E15 issue altogether. However, personal experience has taught us that isn’t always the case. Furthermore, we have no lawyers on staff at Clutch and Chrome, but the suggestion from the American Coalition for Ethanol of posting a sign stating ‘Minimum Fueling Volume 4 Gallons. Dispensing Less May Violate Federal Law’ seems to reside in a gray legal area.

As always, riders need to stay alert when fueling their motorcycle and could make their feelings known by using the almighty dollar, only using gas stations that follow the law and offer appropriate fuel for motorcycles.

Finally, riders should consider supporting groups like the American Motorcyclist Association by becoming a member, which in turn helps fund the group and allows them to continue the fight, literally going face-to-face with EPA and similar agencies in Washington DC as well as rallying politicians to the biker’s side of any issue.

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  • Comment Link Peter terHorst

    Peter terHorst

    05/10/2016

    Thanks for this article Rich.

    E15 labeling is confusing at best and if a rider is looking for a lower price or a higher octane rating, it is easy to see how inadvertent misfueling (i.e. an entire tankful of E15) is possible. Even if just .25 percent of those 22 million machines were misfueled, that's a serous problem for tens of thousands of owners.

    The American Motorcyclist Association also is concerned that forcing higher-ethanol fuel blends into the marketplace will cause E10 -- which most modern motorcycles can use -- to become less available, and that gasoline with no ethanol may become virtually unavailable. The amount of E0 -- which owners of older and vintage bikes rely on -- will go from 9.2 billion gallons to just 130 million in 2016 per the latest EPA rule.

    To be clear, the AMA does not oppose ethanol in fuel, we simply oppose the push to force more E15 into the marketplace because it is unsafe for motorcycles and ATVs and virtually nothing is being done to address inadvertent misfueling.

    Pete terHorst
    AMA spokesperson

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