Fuel Efficient Motorcycles: Obstacles and Trends

Fuel efficient motorcycles are in great demand in the Asia-Pacific region. That part of the world is also the largest motorcycle market in the world with more than 70% of the global market. Motorcycle engine R&D is directly influenced by demand as well as sales and emission regulations in different parts of the world. If we can learn what’s happening in the Asia-Pacific motorcycle market today, it could help us figure out what the motorcycle market in the U.S. might look five to ten years from now. Fuel efficiency is a major driver for the global motorcycle engine management system market, according to Persistence Market Research, which provides market intelligence to transportation industries.

motorcycle fuel efficiency

North America and Europe are much smaller markets for motorcycles than Asia-Pacific, but the demand for advanced and energy-efficient motorcycles is also increasing in the western world.  Thus, the opportunity is there for engine management system suppliers as well as larger manufacturers in these regions to respond to a consumer demand for increased motorcycle fuel efficiency.

For example, India has a significant demand for motorcycles, and, combined with the need for economizing fuel in often high-density traffic, this region could be one of the most lucrative markets for engine management systems. Urban environments have a big effect on efficiency. First the rider puts energy into accelerating, then, when that energy is wasted in braking as kinetic energy is converted to heat by the brakes. (The exception to this equation is a hybrid/electric car with regenerative braking). The more starting and stopping, the lower the overall fuel economy.

The European and North American motorcycle market mainly consists of sport and touring bikes, each of which is high performing with advanced engine technology. The Asian motorcycle market mainly consist of two-wheelers with engine capacity less than 250 cc.

So What are the Hurdles to Improving Motorcycle Fuel Efficiency?

Jeromy Moore, Porsche racing engineer and former race engineer for V8 Supercar star Craig Lowndes, says it is difficult for motorcycles to match a car’s aerodynamics, because they are too short. “With aero, it will be hard to get a bike’s Cd down as it is quite short so the air has to deflect at larger angles to go around and rejoin,” he says. Moreover, why does a bike use more fuel? The engine simply isn’t as efficient at that load. According to Moore, cars are judged much more heavily on fuel consumption. “They aren’t trying to get 200hp per litre.”

The other hurdle is weight: the combined bike and rider’s weight is an important factor in racing. According to Moore, a 160 lb. driver represents just 8% of the combined racer/car weight. A similar motorcycle rider adds a massive 35% to the gross vehicle mass of a 500 lb. motorcycle. Weight has the biggest impact on fuel economy around town. “In terms of the effect of mass on fuel consumption it depends on the duty cycle,” Moore says. “That is, at constant speed on the highway more weight has an almost negligible effect due to an increase in rolling resistance of the tires.”

How to Begin the Process toward Greater Motorcycle Fuel-Efficiency

A major answer to better motorcycle fuel economy lies in forced induction in smaller capacity and, therefore, lighter engines. Other answers include reducing motorcycle weight with new materials.

One step toward greater motorcycle fuel efficiency is taking place through technology R&D. Companies are focusing on integration of smartphone mobile applications with engine management system to help track the real time performance of a vehicle. Also, aftermarket installation of engine management systems may contribute positively in the global motorcycle engine management system market.

The increase in demand for environment friendly electric bikes and scooters is putting traditional motorcycle engine manufacturers on alert. But, for the time being, most motorcycles around the world lean more towards performance than good old fuel efficiency.

Photo credit: Turismo Emilia Romagna via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA


Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn grew up in Stafford Springs, CT, home of the half-mile tar racetrack. She's an avid Formula One fan (this year's trip to the Monza race was memorable). With a Ph.D. from URI, she draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+