For those of you who clicked on this because of the Dr. Strangelove reference in the title, I’m sorry, but this actually has nothing to do with the Stanley Kubrick-directed classic.
If you read my blog regularly (or even dabble from time to time), you probably already know that I’m fascinated by mechanical things – usually different forms of transportation. My latest mechanical obsession is the motorcycle I bought a couple months ago (after wanting one for nearly a decade and waiting until I could afford to insure one).
There she is, my ’82 Honda Nighthawk 450. Not much, but she’s mine. And she’s been a ton of fun so far.
One of my main reasons for wanting a motorcycle was the sheer thrill of riding. Ever since the first time I nervously sat on the back of my dad’s bike for a ride, I’ve longed for that feeling of being one with the open road, feeling the breeze in my face, and the excitement of leaning deep into turns. I don’t know if I can explain it, but anyone who rides (or has ridden at some point) will understand. Another reason I wanted specifically a classic bike was that it’s cheap transportation. Fairly inexpensive to buy, insure and put fuel in. Even using premium gas, to fill the tank from empty costs around $12, and for that, I’ll get ~200 km before I have to flip on my fuel reserve.
The thing about my motorcycle (and I can’t necessarily speak for all of ’em) is that when you do get to the bottom of the tank, it’s a little less forgiving.
Most folks know that in your car, once your fuel light comes on, you usually have enough fuel to continue on a little ways until you find the next gas station. While every car is different, the website TankOnEmpty.com has listings of a lot of the average distances cars can travel after hitting empty. Obviously it’s not a guide you should strive to follow, but the numbers have generally been submitted by real people who own the vehicles.
Unfortunately for motorcyclists, there doesn’t seem to be a similar site to tell folks how far they can expect to ride their bikes once the flip on the fuel reserve. A little bit further down, I’ll share the story of how I found out exactly how far my bike will go after hitting empty – but first, how about that time I ran my car out of gas?
My old fuel-sipping Saturn.
It was early 2012, just before I got hired here at The Wolf. At the time, I was working part time at a radio station in Lindsay while living in Peterborough. Every Saturday morning, I’d wake up at 6 AM to get there for 7 to start my shift. Given that I’m still not much of a morning person, I usually wasn’t firing on all cylinders when I woke up. This one particular winter morning, I must have left my wallet at home.
Once I’d finished up my shift at noon, I got in my car and started it up, immediately noticing that my fuel gauge was right at the bottom. It wasn’t until then that I realized my wallet was nowhere to be found either. At that point, I started to weigh my options. I figured I might be able to make it home to Lock Street (where I lived at the time), but I didn’t want to chance it if I could help it – so I started considering my options. I sent a text message to a friend who lived near Pinto’s Corners. Surely she’d be able to lend me $20 to put some gas in my car, and I’d pay her back once I retrieved my wallet. BUT, she was at her boyfriend’s place, in the north end… Which didn’t help me tons. Anyway, I decided to chance it, and try and make it all the way home. I almost did, too. The car sputtered to a halt literally one block away from my house, which was fairly convenient when considering all the awful places it could have died on me along the way.
It went better than it could have, but it definitely threw the rest of my day off. Just weeks before, I had been invited to play drums in a band that rehearsed every Saturday. I ended up having to bail on practice that day thanks to not having a car that was capable of moving at that point. Fortunately, that same friend came and picked me up and took me to fill up my gas can so I could get moving again.
You’d think, having had that experience, I’d learn to not let my tank get that low… But even to this day, I’ll often run the gauge right down to the E, and sometimes even let the fuel light come on still. If you’re in the habit of doing this… Well, I’m not going to tell you not to, because that would make me a hypocrite. Just know that you could potentially cause problems, as there’s often sediment that collects at the bottom of your tank, and as your tank gets to be pretty low, that sediment can get sucked into the fuel filter, causing flow issues and potentially requiring repairs.
Anyway, now onto the story of how I got stranded on my motorcycle!
Photo op at Furnace Falls!
I’ve been riding my bike a ton in the roughly month and a half since I got it on the road. Weather has certainly been a factor in why I haven’t been out more. That and working almost every day mean I get out and enjoy it whenever I can, often cramming a couple hundred kilometres into a couple hours. Because of that, it didn’t take me long to figure out that a full tank of gas will get me somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 km before I have to switch to my fuel reserve. I still had no idea how far that reserve tank would get me, however. Knowing the tank capacity, though, I did try and do the math in my head. 3.2 gallons (or 12 litres) gets me 200 km, for an average fuel economy of 6 L / 100 km or roughly 39 mpg. I knew that the fuel reserve capacity is 0.5 gallons, so I figured I should get about 19 miles or 31 km from my reserve tank… theoretically. I keep track of when I need fuel with the handy trip odometer on the speedometer, as would anyone on a bike without a fuel gauge.
There’s a reason I say theoretically. This week, I found that my math doesn’t necessarily translate over to real life. There are certainly variables you need to take into account.
This past Wednesday, I went on my first motorcycle camping trip with a couple of friends who ride Kawasaki KLR 650 dual-sport bikes. They’re much more capable offroad than my little Nighthawk. The other guys had camped at a site along some snowmobile trails in the Nephton area pretty much right beside Petroglyphs Provincial Park, and they decided to bring me there.
To get there, I had to do a little bit of trail riding on a bike that wasn’t really built for it and is equipped with tires that aren’t really made for off-road use – there were even 2 water crossings to navigate. I managed to keep up with the big boys, though, and we all got to our site together and fairly quickly.
We filled up our tanks before hitting the road to the trail – but I forgot to reset my trip odometer at the gas station. “That’s okay,” I thought. I had a rough idea of where it was at when I filled it up, so I figure I’ll just add 200 to that number and I’ll be fine.
Once we set up camp, fuel was the least of my worries.
The next day, we got up and tore down our campsite, and my friends escorted me back through the trail we came in on and back to County Road 6, where I left to return to Peterborough and go to work while they went and explored a few more trails.
There wasn’t a whole lot notable about the ride home, and that night I was so exhausted from having trouble sleeping on the ground that I had no desire to go out riding again. However, as soon as I finished work on Friday evening, I was back on the bike and riding. Given that I had a fairly limited amount of sunlight left (I finished work at 7 PM), I decided to do a route I’d done before – South from Peterborough down County Road 28 to Bewdley, and from there up to Rice Lake Scenic Drive to go through Gore’s Landing and Harwood, then follow that to County Road 45 in Alderville, where I’d go north through Roseneath to Hastings, then take County Road 2 back toward Peterborough. Like I said, I’d done that route before and figured I wouldn’t run into any issues with fuel.
Of course, if you’ve ever gone out riding solo on a motorcycle, you know that sometimes plans will change when you see a road that looks particularly interesting. That’s what happened to me, and before I knew it I was riding through Baltimore and around the north end of Cobourg. I eventually turned around and decided to explore some of the rural roads of Baltimore before heading back north up County Road 45 to continue my planned route. It was along one of these back roads that I had to switch on my fuel reserve, and start calculating in my head how far I would be able to make it with the remaining fuel I had.
Now if I had turned around and gone back into Baltimore, I could have filled up at the Esso station right there on 45 and not had to worry about a thing. I wasn’t that far away, but at that point, I was more interested in continuing in my planned direction. That was a mistake.
As I rode north along 45, I figured I could stop for gas at the Esso in Alderville First Nation. I did just that, but it wasn’t until I’d got my bike parked and the nozzle in the tank that a couple of fellas there let me know that they were closed. Weird, since the gas pump was still on – but it wasn’t activating to actually pump any gas, so it made sense. They said “I think the one up the road is open until 9,” which was handy, since it was around maybe 8:30 at that point. I continued up the road a bit and spotted what I thought might be a gas station, but it was pretty busy and I didn’t feel like waiting. Another mistake.
Knowing my way, but not being super familiar with the area, I thought there might be a gas station in Roseneath. There is not. I continued to watch my trip odometer climb as I rode through Roseneath, and as I started descending a hill on the other side of town, I had that dreaded feeling you get when you’ve run completely out of gas. The engine bogs down, the bike won’t accelerate, and a sense of panic sets in. I engaged the clutch, and the engine died immediately, so I shifted down into neutral and coasted as far as I could before stopping on the side of the road to weigh my options. By that point, I’d gone about 22 km since switching to reserve, and figured I MIGHT just have enough to get to Hastings. I figured wrong.
At that point, it was a little after 9 PM on a Friday night. I was a fair distance from Peterborough, and a lot of my friends like to drink and might not be reliable for a ride at that time of night on a Friday. To make things more interesting, a thunderstorm was coming up on me from behind at a decent pace. I called my parents numerous times in hopes of the off chance one of them might not have started celebrating the weekend yet, with no answer. Ryan, our producer here at The Wolf, offered to come out and pick me up – but that wouldn’t have helped me with getting my bike home, and he didn’t have a gas can. I looked at Google Maps to see how far I was from Hastings. It was about 12 kms, that would take me about 2 1/2 hours to walk – probably longer pushing my bike. Even if I did successfully push my bike all the way there, the gas stations would be closed by the time I arrived. Finally, in a last-ditch effort, I sent a text to my parents’ neighbour and good friend Greg who often comes over to hang with them. He was able to extend the message to my dad (who had been rototilling in the garden) to call me.
Turns out I got lucky. My step-mom had been working late and had gotten home not long before, so she hadn’t had anything to drink yet. They dropped what they were doing to bring me some gas and help me get un-stranded.
From where my bike died, I pushed it about 1.5 kms before stopping in a township yard-type place where I could get shelter from the coming storm. I sat there for probably 45 minutes, making friends with the pigeons and insects that already called the building I was now sitting under home. At the very least, I was treated to a very entertaining lightning show.
That’s where I was when my rescue party found me. Once I put a few litres of gas into my tank, they told me to go ahead, and they’d follow me until I turned off to go back to Peterborough just to make sure I made it okay. Once we got into Hastings, however, I was surprised to find the two gas stations on 45 at the edge of town were still open – so I stopped and filled my tank there while they carried on home.
I eventually made it home, a couple hours later than I had intended to be, after continuing to get a spectacular light show all the way home. While I wasn’t too worried about getting wet (I’m not going to melt), I was sure I’d get rained on somewhere along the way. The only moisture I felt, however, was from the wet roads once I actually got into Peterborough. The rain had stopped, and I just ended up wearing a little water that was thrown up by my front tire on my legs. Considerably better than being thoroughly soaked. I got damn lucky.
And that was how I learned a very valuable lesson: As soon as you hit reserve, get to a gas station immediately.
I’m sure I’m not the only person with a story about learning how far they could go after hitting empty. If you’ve got one, I’d love to hear it! Share it in the comments!