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Harley Is Always Running Out of Gas

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Beth Stackpole
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Running out of gas no fun
Beth Stackpole   2/24/2012 8:02:38 AM
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Running out of gas is never fun and I would imagine less so on a motorcycle, especially if you find yourself in inclement weather. What could possibly be the reasoning/oversight behind this design flaw? Are you saying the gas gauge is faulty on all units of the same model number or that you were lucky enough to get a lemon?

David12345
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Re: Running out of gas no fun
David12345   2/24/2012 10:13:46 AM
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My understanding is that all the fuel sending units in this model bike for several years have this problem and are virtually guaranteed to fail at some point. This bike came out in 2001.  I have a 2005 with the same syle sending unit.  My sending unit failed in 2008 and is still bad. I'm not sure what year they went to a new type of sending unit, perhaps when they went to the 5.2 gallon fuel tank around 2007?

David12345
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Re: Running out of gas no fun
David12345   2/24/2012 10:49:14 AM
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I'm not sure I made it clear.  My understanding is that the new style sending unit is improved and does NOT have this problem, BUT the new style sending unit is not compatible with the bikes frrom before the change.  Are people with the preceeding model years just expected to have a non-functional gas gauge or scrap-out the otherwise beautiful bike? 

This might not be such an issue if I didn't need to stop every 70 to 80 miles to make sure I don't run out of gas.  That's a lot of short hops.  (Even electric cars, that have been criticized for a short range, have more range than that.)

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Running out of gas no fun
Rob Spiegel   2/24/2012 1:21:10 PM
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That's difficult, Dave. I live in a state (NM) that has long patches between gas stations. There are stretches when you can't even find a radio station, AM or FM for many miles at a time. You could easily find yourself stranded with such a short travel capacity. 

David12345
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Re: Running out of gas no fun
David12345   2/24/2012 1:36:10 PM
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I hear you. In 2006, I rode that motorcycle to my uncle's ranch at DeHaven, New Mexico (65 miles southwest of Clayton).  With the nearest gas station 65 miles from that ranch, I didn't have the range to go from the gas station to the house and back to the gas station.  For that trip, I had a 5 gallon jerry jug of gas in addition to my pack of clothes. (I'll send a photo.) I needed that extra fuel in New Mexico and on the Oklahoma Turnpike. 

I also carried several quarts of H-D Synthetic 20W-50 Oil.  Most service stations do not cover that need. At higher speeds out west, with higher RPM, I guess the oil blows by the rings to where it consumed about 1/2 quart every 700 miles or so.

On a positive note, the fuel injection did a wonderful job of compensating for the altitude changes.  The horsepower of that bike was helpful merging into high speed traffic after short or inclined entrance ramps, or getting away from that one pack of wolves in Tennessee!

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Running out of gas no fun
Rob Spiegel   2/24/2012 1:40:20 PM
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Wow. That's terrible you have to carry a spare tank of gas to get across those long rural patches. Interesting that the fuel injection is sophisticated while something as simple as a reasonably large fuel tank slipped through the cracks. Wolves in Tennessee, huh?

David12345
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Re: Wolves in Tennessee
David12345   2/24/2012 1:58:41 PM
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Yeah, who'd a thunk it! Just about 3 miles north of Piperton, TN near Shelby County (where you find Memphis), I had three big wolves making the pack move on me.  I was doing about 35 mph on a 2 lane road through a marshy area.  The 1st wolf ran in front of me causing me to hit the brakes to avoid hitting him.  The 2nd wolf ran across behind me and nipped y rear tire (as if the bike had hamstrings I guess). The 3rd wolf was coming right at my side. A handful of throttle, with 120 horsepower on a bike, put them all behind me!! 

My buddy, that I rode with when I lived in Collierville, TN, lives in Piperton, TN.  He explained that the development in Shelby county was flushing the wildlife to the less desired real estate such as that marshy area.  The wolves, a cougar, and a ferrel dog pack were being hunted to make the area safe again for the local residents (and their pets).

Cross-country motorcycle trips can offer all sorts of adventure.  I also earned three "Iron Butt" endurance riding certifications, and helped my cousins branding cattle on that trip.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Wolves in Tennessee
Rob Spiegel   2/24/2012 2:04:55 PM
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That's very surprising. Not a good time to run out of gas or have a chain problem. Must have been an unforgettable experience. I didn't know there were sill wolf populations in the wild in the United States.

David12345
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Re: Wolves in Tennessee
David12345   2/24/2012 2:19:10 PM
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Yes.  Reliability is always nice, but sometimes reliability is REALLY important.

Charles Murray
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Re: Wolves in Tennessee
Charles Murray   2/24/2012 5:45:19 PM
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I agree. Reliability is one thing when it sends you back to the shop for minor fixes, but it's another altogether when it puts you in a position where you're trying to calculate in your head how much fuel you have left. I've had cars that didn't have working fuel gauges, but the entire cars were worth about $100. In a $26K bike, that's not acceptable.

Tim
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Re: Wolves in Tennessee
Tim   2/24/2012 9:17:56 PM
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I had one of those $100 cars.  It was a 78 Chevy Malibu.  Not only did the gas gage not work, it also had a separation in a weld seam at about the 3/4 full point of the gas tank.  Replacing the tank was cost prohibitive, so I kept it about 1/2 full at a max and a mileage log to keep track of when to put 5 more gallons in it.  On the plus side, it had a V8 350 in it that put out plenty of horsepower when it was needed.

jmiller
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Re: Wolves in Tennessee
jmiller   2/27/2012 8:33:24 PM
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I agree it's unacceptable and the worst part is you don't look cool with a one gallon tank of gas stapped to the back.  From my 4 wheeling days I learned to be way to reliant on the back-up gas tanks.  Now that i'm out on a little farmette I have had to make way to many trips back from wherever the tractor runs out of gas with my head held down in shame because I forget to check the gas

David12345
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Re: Fuel Gauge not Working
David12345   2/28/2012 11:30:04 AM
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jmiller,

Now you've gotten to the root of the problem.  You're right, it doesn't look cool with a one-gallon tank of gas strapped on the back.  LOL. 

It may not be safe, but the real issue is the cool factor.  Ya spend all that money on a Harley to look cool . . . and bam you're either a sap pedestrian or carrying a nerdy gas can.   :-)

jmiller
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Re: Fuel Gauge not Working
jmiller   2/29/2012 8:16:02 PM
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Trust me it looks just as unmanly to be carrying a gas can across the field to a tractor without gas.  I think it might be a little joke all the rednecks say about the cityboys, "You might be a city boy if: you've ever walked 1/4 mile back to the house to get a can of gas for your tractor.

David12345
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Re: Fuel Gauge not Working
David12345   3/1/2012 8:45:22 AM
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jmiller,

I suppose it looks particularly uncool as a city dude carrying gasoline back to your dry diesel tractor!  LOL.

Mydesign
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Re: Fuel Gauge not Working
Mydesign   3/1/2012 2:27:57 AM
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David, you might be true in certain cases. In certain cases, spare parts cost more and compatibility is a major issue. The absence for reserving gas is a design flaw and in such case there should be some mechanism to point out the fuel level.

David12345
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Platinum
Re: Fuel Gauge not Working
David12345   3/1/2012 8:48:37 AM
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To Mydesign,

Yes, without a reserve, the motorcycle has "a mechanism to point out the fuel level" designed in.  Unfortunately, it just doesn't work reliably as designed.

jmiller
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Re: Fuel Gauge not Working
jmiller   3/1/2012 11:22:31 PM
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I do wonder why on small engines like this they do not have a reserve engine as a standard feature.  Kind of one of those requirements to be in the marketplace.  Unfortunate.  But true.

David12345
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Re: Fuel Gauge not Working
David12345   3/2/2012 8:23:46 AM
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Harleys still have gravity feed and fuel reserve petcocks with carburated models. I believe that is true of all carburated Harley models.

For the fuel injected models, they do not have a petcock with a fuel reserve.  I guess they would need to develop a new "selector valve" to have a reserve, but not have a shut-off in the inlet to the fuel pump. I am presuming that shutting off the inlet to the fuel pump creates problems with both the fuel pump and collapsing or splitting the inlet tube/hose.  The V-rod does not have a tap-off fitting in the bottom of the fuel cell, so it would require some creative approach . . . perhaps switching between two different level inlet locations with a rod and knob at the top of the fuel pump assembly. 

Contrarian
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Re: Running out of gas no fun
Contrarian   2/27/2012 10:01:46 AM
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I'm still trying to grasp having a 25mpg motorcycle.  (102 miles/3.8gal)  My Evo FXR has a 3.8gal tank and got around 40mpg stock, and closer to 50 after putting on a header and changing the cam.  Granted it's not a tire shredder either but your VRod reminds me of the range I got with the ironhead sporty I had with a 1.75gal peanut tank.  The solution for that was a faux tool bag you put on the forks that held a half gallon or so of gas.  Doesn't seem like a lot but it put me just over 100 miles.  That's long enough between stops when you're riding the likes of an ironhead sporty.

First thought that comes to mind in your case is see if you can secure one of those assemblies to dissect and come up with a better solution (maybe a dead one from a mechanic).  Over the years I've done a few fuel pump/gauge sender jobs on cars and motorcycles and there's never that much to them.  I would bet you might be able to modify and retrofit a different sender into that assembly.

I had no idea VRods were so thirsty.  I appreciate my ~50mpg 80 inch Evo even more now.

David12345
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Re: Running out of gas no fun
David12345   2/27/2012 10:36:11 AM
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In warmer weather, I often get 42-45 mpg with the V-Rod at modest, constant highway speeds of 45-60 mph with gasoline prior to gasoline suppliers adding around 10+% alcohol.  In warm weather, I normally get 33 mpg around town.  Travel in the winter has more fuel enrichment, cold lower-pressure stiff-flexing tires, and an engine that never gets up to temperature for worse specific fuel efficiency. Additionally, alcohol lowers the BTU per gallon and requires a richer mixture for another double whammy on resultant mileage. With winter driving, winter fuel blends, and modern fuels with more alcohol, both Harley's (V-Rod and Dresser) get relatively poor mileage in the winter. This can put the mileage down around 25 mpg.  (Still better than one of our two cars.) Mileage variation may be less of an issue, if I didn't choose to also ride in cold weather.

But that's my point . . . I don't know the precise mileage, which varies depending upon temperature, winter fuel blend, driving style, and fuel injection compensation.  I believe, that's what a gas gauge is for.  Naturally, it is less critical to monitor this fuel level closely, if there is a larger tank for a range with a bigger refill range buffer, OR a fuel reserve that tells you to get fuel NOW.  I do have a redundant back-up low fuel idiot light . . . but it is tied to the same defective fuel gauge sending unit; so, it is on most of the time and useless!

averagejoe72677
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Gold
Re: Running out of gas no fun
averagejoe72677   2/27/2012 10:18:21 AM
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I have a 1995 Sportster which has the factory gas tank that holds 3.2 gallons. This bike has never done better than 35 mpg since new. I installed a performance carb a few years ago and mileage dropped to around 30 mpg. I feel your pain, but I have learned to not to ride over 75 miles or so without filling it up. I reset the trip odometer at each fill up and use that as my gas gauge. A gas gauge is nice to have, but Harley never put one on a Sportster so I have learned to live without it.

 

dox
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Fuel Additive or Custom Cleaner
dox   2/27/2012 11:28:25 AM
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I had an old car with a faulty, but not completely failed, sending unit.  When it started having injector problems I tried the quick fix of Chevron Techron fuel system cleaner.  Not only did this address my injector problems, but I also noticed the fuel gauge became reliable and accurate.  That car needed the additive every six to nine months (and it seemed highly dependent on how often I filled up at KwikTrip) to treat both the injectors and the sending unit.

What mechanical parts are in the fuel tank and how easy is it to remove?  Perhaps a 60/40 mix of gasoline/acetone could be agitated around in the tank to break down the varnish?  Maybe someone has a way of placing an ultrasonic cleaning transducer in the tank for this purpose?  Of course, the cleaning agent depends on the plastics, o-rings and seals used in the tank, pump and sending unit.

David12345
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Re: Fuel Additive or Custom Cleaner
David12345   2/27/2012 11:55:19 AM
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Thanks for two interesting ideas.

A) The fuel injector / fuel system cleaner would be an easy thing to try.

B) The fuel pump/sending unit is held and sealed with a large plastic nut above a gasket or O-ring requiring the special spanner tool to remove without damage.  This special tool is available.  When I get the tool I'll be able to remove the assembly and evaluate my options.  It could be the sending unit strip could be removed and cleaned with acetone with less degeneration than the abrasiveness of the Scotch Brite treatment. I could possibly put the strip into an ultrasonic cleaning tank, but I would be concerned about otherwise breaking-down the construction of that laminated and riveted sub-assembly I have seen pictured on the internet.

Also, I would be concerned about using the aggressive solvents in the entire tank with unknown constructions/materials/seals/hoses in the plastic fuel cell, and fuel pump assembly. That risky choice is playing russian-roulette with lots of potentially incompatible materials in a way that could force the choice to replace all those assemblies, and even screw up other parts of the fuel system such as the fuel injectors.

David12345
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Re: Fuel Additive or Custom Cleaner
David12345   2/27/2012 11:57:07 AM
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Upon further thought . . . I wonder what solvents are used in the fuel injector cleaner?

Bob Salter
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Iron
Re: Fuel Additive or Custom Cleaner
Bob Salter   2/27/2012 2:12:11 PM
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I agree with David12345 and dox about using a gasolone treatment for a wonky fuel gage. It's conventional wisdom on the Corvette C5 Forum to use Techron to cure this problem. It worked for me. Someone posted a picture of a crudded up reostat that is part of the sending unit and speculated that it might be the sulphur in the gas causing it. Later models changed materials to prevent this. Buying a small bottle of Techron and using the correct number of ounces for the size of your fuel tank would be an inexpensive fix if it works, and shouldn't cause any problems if it doesn't.

I won't mentioned carrying around a small bottle of gas to get you to a station due to the danger involved. Oops! I guess I did.

oldtimer8080
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Techron and older English cars...
oldtimer8080   2/27/2012 4:56:29 PM
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Ill add my two cents:

The XJ Jaguar series has both external and internal PAIRS of fuel pumps and senders.

When you add the BOSCH fuel injection system, problems can turn into a major headache that gives the rise to the unreliability of english cars in general.

I have solved ( pun intended ) the problem with adding Techron to each fuel tank at 3 month intervals.

That keeps the fuel senders, pumps ( YES there are TWO! ) and fuel injectors clean and operational.

 

It would be a very poor design choice if HD used inferior composition parts in what used to be a superior designed product.

 

Maybe you should switch to an older  " Fat Bob " or " Police Special "....

 

William K.
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Fuel gage failures on the new Harley
William K.   3/2/2012 9:40:28 PM
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I would NEVER let somebody else work on my bike! That reduces labor costs, plus doing it oneself assures that I will take adequate care to get the fix right. Here is an idea, how about a clear fuel line sight tube running up the tank? No moving parts and therefore nothing to fail, plus being cheap. The down side is needing to stop on a level spot to read it. One other option is to build a system that records injector open time. Since the injection pressure is constant, I think, then the fuel consumed is directly related to the time the injectors are open. So just simply record the injector open time and scale that to gallons used. The only down side is needing to remember to reset it every time that you fill up the tank. 

TOP
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Gold
Range Anxiety
TOP   3/22/2012 9:46:35 PM
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You can buy a Brammo that comes with the same range anxiety, but no sound for about half the price. I guess baseball cards on the electric bikes spokes wouldn't make up for the extra $13,000 in purchase price.

Seriously, if the bike really isn't that old you might be able to return it as a lemon and get your money back.

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