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

Reader Contribution by Staff
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For 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.