This article was originally printed in the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club monthly newsletter.

Mel's Musings - Running Out of Gas II, by Mel Brocklehurst

In the January issue, Steven Rossi's tale of running out of gas, happily across from a rest stop used by fishermen with premix gas [great for upper cylinder lubing], brought to mind an adventure I had last spring.

I had ridden up to Kingsburg, south of Fresno on Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley to celebrate Easter and my grandnephew's birthday on one of those new bikes with an electronic dashboard with a fuel gauge composed of a row of bars that would disappear one at a time as fuel left the tank, plus a warning light. Not knowing better, I assumed that if the tank was good for 160 miles and there were 8 bars, each bar represented 20 miles, so when the last bar winked off, I would have 20 miles to find a gas station [mistake #1], and that the idiot light had replaced the reserve position on the fuel tank petcock [mistake #2] and I knew that the reserve on Japanese bikes was designed to give you another thirty miles. Towns in the Midwest were about 30 miles apart because that was about as far as a horse and rider could get in a day's riding way back when. Well, we all know where that road paved with good intentions leads and where on that road you end up when you make calculations based on erroneous mileage assumptions!

My nephew raises raisin grapes [the same Thompson Seedless you buy in the store, but grown with less water] out on the edge of town. I had forgotten to reset my trip meter when I got gas earlier, so I switched on the ignition and 4 bars lit up, and I figgered I had half a tank of gas, plenty to get me to Woodlake [see mistake #1]. Then my nephew, who is into mountain bicycling, told me of a neat alternate route through the foothills, so off I went...only to see those light bars quickly melt away, and just as I was reaching the highest point on this route, the warning light came on...only 30 miles of gas left [see mistake #2] and no idea how far I was from Woodlake, so I "figgered" to play it safe, shut off the engine, and started coasting down through the sweepers, enjoying a nice quiet ride. When I was back down on the flat valley floor, I fired up and putted on down the road at what I hoped was a nice, fuel-efficient speed. Ultimately, one cylinder would quit firing and then come back on, then another, and of course, finally they all quit and I coasted to a stop about 3 miles from Woodlake.

I had no more than stopped, got off the bike, and got my helmet off when a car pulled up and asked if I needed help. It turned out that he was a computer instructor on his way to share Easter dinner with his folks who lived nearby, and offered to run me into town to get some gas. As you can well imagine, I accepted in a hot second! Back at the bike, he waited to be sure the bike would start and then took his leave. And before I could get my gear back on, another car stopped to offer help!

I should mention that many of the folks who live in this part of the Sierra Nevada's, where most of the roads are two-laners, are really courteous and will make a real effort to let you pass, like using turnouts or waving you by on straight stretches.

About half way home, it suddenly occurred to me that I had become so engrossed with all the hi-tech electronic gadgetry that I had completely forgot that there was a reserve position on the gas tank petcock, and that the red idiot light was a reminder to switch to reserve! Duh! I had been ready to start pushing the bike with 30 miles of gas still in the tank.

Those of you who read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance may remember the part where Robert Pirsig and his son were out for a ride and the bike died as they were riding through a rain storm and Pirsig naturally assumed that wet ignition was the problem, and was so engrossed trying to solve that problem that he couldn't be bothered to listen to his son, who was trying to remind him to try switching to reserve...which ultimately solved the "ignition" problem.

After I got home, I decided to find out what those disappearing bars in the fuel indicator really indicated, and found that all 8 bars stayed on until the tank was only half full, and then winked out at rather random amounts. The red idiot light came on with two bars showing, and the last bar never did go out, so go figure.

Vaya con Dios and May your tank never run dry.

Return to previous page