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Living Better on Less Energy: Fuel Economy History Was Made in California

By Craig Vetter

Tags: Craig Vetter, fuel economy, Diesels, bio-fuels, AMA Vintage Days, Ohio, Craig Vetter,


bannerFor the first time in history, a Diesel motorcycle showed up to challenge my streamliner and me. Three Diesels showed up, actually. What makes this unusual is the fact that you cannot buy a Diesel motorcycle.  You have to make one. 

Let me first tell you about the Challenge.  They are motorcycle rides run in “Vetter Conditions,” meaning riders must sit in a comfortable position and able to carry a useful load like 4 bags of groceries. They must ride like this in a 100-mile (or so) trip at 70 miles per hour into a 30-mile per hour headwind.

Note:  When you stick your hand out at 70 mph into 30 mph headwinds, it feels like 100 mph!  Your engine consumes fuel as if you were going 100 mph.


The Quail ride route began and ended at Carmel, California.  The route was 133 miles over the 2,300 foot Cahoon mountain pass – mostly at 60-70 mph.  The return was on California’s Highway 101 at 70-75 mph, into fierce, 30+ mph headwinds. This is normal riding on the central coast of California.  OK… I admit it.  It was pretty challenging.

At the end of the day, it finally happened.

Two vehicles broke into the 100-mpg club and I wasn’t one of them.  They were Diesels. 


Fred Hayes, on a Diesel motorcycle he designed and built consumed bio-fuel at the rate of 128 mpg.  At $4.53 / gallon, it cost him 3.4 cents to drive a mile.   

Fred developed these machines for our military to burn standard JP8.  But they like recycled McDonalds, too. Beginning with a gas motored Kawasaki that gets around 55 mpg, Fred’s semi-streamlined Diesel version burns less than half that amount. This is an historic event but more history is about to be made:  Fred plans to ride his Diesel from LA to the next Vetter Challenge in Ohio, a distance of 2000 miles.  At 3.4 cents per mile, fuel will cost him $70. Fred Hayes’ Diesel is a fine example of “Living Better on Less Energy.”


One other Diesel, made by Treven Baker of Santa Cruz got 110 mpg.  It was an inspiration to the crowd and received the coveted Quail Innovation Award. Treven installed a 20 hp Hatz 2 cylinder Diesel from a military air-compressor in an old BMW motorcycle frame, finishing it the night before.


Treven later told me that a spring on the governor limited his speed to 72 mph. Unfortunately, the group was moving way at 75 and this meant that he disqualified himself.  I told you this is REAL riding. The third Diesel, another Hayes, had starting problems, disqualified himself and had to race to catch up. Even though, he got 91 mpg.


I don’t give awards to second place but Alan Smith got 93 mpg on his semi-streamlined gasoline powered 250 cc Ninja, consuming $6.43. I did 88 mpg on my streamliner; consuming $6.82 in pump gas.

No Electric Challengers showed up at the Quail but at least one -- being made by Kraig Schultz of Michigan -- will be ready for the July 22 AMA Vintage Days Vetter Challenge at Mid Ohio.


Come meet these intrepid pioneers.  You may simply ride along with us and see how it is done.  Maybe you will be ready to challenge us next year. 

  So… Gasoline… Diesel… electricity?   What have we learned? 

Diesels work in motorcycles. Ex-McDonalds bio-fuel can propel us the distance.  Will there be enough for everybody? (By the way, I rode behind the Hayes Diesels for a half hour and never smelled anything funny)

The 250cc Ninja is a serious challenger. I am going to have to start over with a new machine. Too many people beat me.

Streamlining is easy to say but hard to do. What would these bikes do with real streamlining? It is my job to make streamlining easy with a kit. It will be like a model airplane kit of old.

I will continue to provide Craig Vetter Fuel Economy Challenges where we can challenge each other, encourage each other and learn how to live better on less energy.

  Do you want to win? 

Harvest your energy directly from the sun, store it and travel on it. Nobody has challenged us with this kind of power. 

I hope they do soon.


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6/17/2014 12:53:12 AM

Hi Craig, I have been previously fooling together with my personal calendar in addition to by means of golly, could possibly very good possibility I can get to your current occasion throughout Iowa. We've geared OPTIMUM a lttle bit taller (via tyre in addition to tire change) which enable it to head out 75+, and so i can tag along at the rear of y'all on the experience in addition to take pics. I like what exactly you will be performing right here.

jack mccornack
7/2/2011 12:08:55 AM

:-) I wouldn't be coming to challenge you, I'd be coming to cheer you on...and maybe get the inspiration I need to build my own econobike. For now, most I can ask is to hang with the other wannabes in the press corps tail following the real action. Besides, at this point "there's a good chance I can get to your event in Ohio" is all I can promise. Still, I'm pretty darn gung-ho about what you and the Vetter Challengers are doing; to me this is a big event and I want to see it live and in person.

craig vetter
6/30/2011 8:32:33 PM

Jack: With your personally-made Diesel powered four wheeler? Of course we'll find a place for you. You will be the first 4 wheeler to Challenge us. See you July 22 in Ohio.Craig

jack mccornack
6/29/2011 11:08:08 AM

Hi Craig, I've been messing with my calendar and by golly, there's a good chance I can get to your event in Ohio. I've geared MAX a bit taller (via wheel and tire change) and can go 75+, so I can tag along behind y'all on your ride and take pictures. I love what you're doing here.. Also, I read your rules and have some thoughts I'll send you, since "These rules are subject to change" implies you may be open to suggestions. Of course, "Craig Vetter will always be the final authority" is a given; I just had some thoughts on keppin' it real. Keep up the good work, man, keep changing the world.

craig vetter
6/25/2011 9:37:09 PM

Hi guys: I responded to this once but must have done something wrong. RE the Vortex generators... I don't know yet. I had planned to use them on the trailing edge of the nose section. The intent is to keep the air from curling in... into my lap. But the air does not curl into my lap.. so there is no problem to solve. RE the Dyson fan, I have no idea how it works but I do know that it needs to be plugged into wall power which means somebody is burning coal somewhere to make the air move. I don't want to burn more fuel. I want to burn less fuel. Rick... I am anxious to see images of Diesels. The next Vetter Challenge is coming up quick in Ohio:

rick block
6/25/2011 7:37:19 PM

It is 6/25/11 and I just left the NSRA(National Street Rod Assoc) meet in Pueblo CO with some pictures of the oddest motorcycle I had ever seen. It was hand made and powered by a small industrial appearing(?)diesel engine that was turbocharged. If you would like pictures, email me @

sean wenger
6/18/2011 10:32:31 PM

And then there was GOOGLE ;)

frank lee
6/18/2011 2:40:06 PM

I think I didn't understand a word of that. :/

sean wenger
6/17/2011 9:33:45 PM

Hello Craig, I saw a picture of you checking out the vortex generators on the back of a semi-trailer in your streamliner production notes, so. A question about a different form of modern technology. Dyson has these new bladeless fans (the fan blades are internal) that use a form of induction to push air through a hoop. The airflow out slots around the hoop push air through the hoop at a ratio of 15/1 (or so they report). Could this method of induction be used to get the air to flow around your streamliner? Also, I am not sure about the physics involved but, it might be able to turn the (bladeless) hoop inside-out like NASA did with the Linear Aero Spike engine. You could have an air tail made of an induced jet-stream. This would reduce the “billboard effect“ buffeting you get from side winds. Pluse, a slipstream accelerator that has a 15/1 ratio sound like its doing more with less. Thoughts? CM

sean wenger
6/17/2011 9:05:39 PM

Just a thought about the Enfield diesels’ lack of power. Were those engines blown? I mean turbo or super charged. Because; if that modern modification can make up the power shortage, they may be what you are looking for. I think Crown Surplus (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) use to have a Royal Enfield in the window a few years back (perhaps they still, have not been by there recently). Not sure if it is what you are looking for but they would be a place to start. The reason I am posting this is because I have a car that runs a turbo Diesel engine and it has boatloads of low end torque. Also I can go 300km on less that $20 of diesel fuel at or above highway speed 110km/h. Down side is that the engine is a little sluggish off the line (normal for diesel in my experience) and I have the turbo lag. I believe the engine would be underpowered if it did not have the turbo. IMHO. Hope that helps.

craig vetter
6/16/2011 8:37:59 PM

Enfield Diesels from India: I don't think they were imported to the US. I don't think they produce enough power to run 70 mph, into a 30 mph headwind.

randall fail
6/15/2011 4:50:07 PM Is a good link to a Royal Enfield diesel motorcycle that has been around for quite a while that I found interesting as well. If anyone knows of the whereabouts of one of these old bikes - please let me know...

frank lee
6/11/2011 2:51:28 AM

Too bad about the SC diesel. In my neck of the woods, there isn't a 70 mph speed limit within 60 miles; thus a machine that can do all the "real" riding around here need only be able to go 55 mph, or 65 on the nearest 4-lanes (35 miles away). We get ferocious winds here too; combine a 30 mph headwind with our legal highway minimum speed limit of 45 and a machine capable of 75 mph in still air would suffice. Adjust that governor spring on the Hatz (or fair it) and it would be golden!

craig vetter
6/9/2011 10:21:24 AM

At the Quail, contenders only had to demonstrate that they could carry groceries. They were not required to take them on the ride. Fred could, indeed, carry the groceries in his saddlebags. Treven was prepared to carry the groceries. Check out his rack. But because he could not stay with the pack, there was no point to demonstrate it. He was already out of contention. For Vintage Days in Ohio, the rules are tightened up. Read about how it will work on: Will you be at Ohio?

jack mccornack
6/9/2011 10:02:36 AM

Cool! That's great news. Where did Fred and Treven put their groceries?