How to ride fuel efficiently | Top Tips

How to save fuel without slowing down_01


Save fuel without slowing down

If we want to save fuel, we should ride more slowly, right? Lower speed means less throttle, which means less fuel energy spent pushing us, our breakfast, and our bike through the air, and less to overcome transmission drag, brake drag, tyre friction and our old friend gravity. Slower riding also has the added advantages of being safer for everyone, means we have to stop less often to fill up, and is less likely to cost us £100 and three points.

On the downside, riding at 60mph instead of 80mph means it takes 15 minutes longer to cover 60 miles – and for many of us, time is a more precious resource than petrol. And, frankly, riding slower isn’t as much fun. Who wants to do that?

But is that the only choice? Is going slower the only way to use less fuel? Or can we save fuel without slowing down?
Yes, we can. We might have to change our riding style and technique, and we might even have to change what we wear – but we can reduce our fuel consumption, without slowing down, by 15% - 20%. And that’s like taking 30p per litre off the price of petrol.

So how do we do it?


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Change the way you use your engine

We all have our own engine ‘style’ – the way we use and combine throttle, clutch, revs, gears and brakes; our five engine controls. And those styles can be more or less fuel efficient – which helps explain why two riders swapping bikes on a long ride will find one rider is less ‘fuel efficient’ than another, no matter which bike they’re riding (although there are other factors too – we’ll get to them later).

For example, some riders use relatively large handfuls of throttle at low revs and in high gears to effectively let engine behaviour ‘dictate’ acceleration (similar to the way we’re taught to drive – get into top gear as soon as possible and stay there as long as possible). This is a relaxed, but fairly lazy, way of using an engine.


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Other riders finesse the engine’s performance using smaller throttle openings, in lower gears and at higher revs – using the throttle with graduated sensitivity; like an actual throttle, not like a switch. This is a positive, active and engaged way of using an engine – and it takes more concentration and effort.

Neither method is particularly wrong or right, and most of us will have a natural preference for one style over the other depending on conditions, or how we feel at the time. But the reality is there are a thousand different situations on each ride in which the rider faces a choice about how to use the throttle, gearbox and revs, and what we chose is usually an unconscious, automatic style of engine use born from years of just doing it that way.
(Note – there’s a common misconception that a high-revving engine must therefore mean big handfuls of throttle and a low-revving engine must mean small throttle openings – but, on the road, for most of the time, it’s the opposite. We tend to use big throttle openings when we’re accelerating from low revs – and when the engine is spinning at high revs, the throttle is often barely open (data logged tests on ordinary road riders back in the early-2000s showed most thought they were using full throttle substantially more often than they actually were, if at all)

So which style is more fuel efficient? If you’re following the logic (and good luck with that), you might think the high-revving, low gear, small-throttle opening style is actually more fuel efficient than the low-revving, high gear, big-throttle opening style. An engine with a big throttle opening at low revs is running some way off peak torque and peak efficiency and asking for more fuel than an engine running at higher revs with smaller throttle openings.

It turns out both extremes are less fuel efficient than simply riding somewhere in between. In data logged tests for Bike magazine in 2008, a Fireblade was used under controlled conditions on a closed road at a test centre to find out which of the three engine uses was most fuel efficient. The results (below) showed using either big throttle openings, high gears and low revs or the opposite – small throttle openings, low gears and high revs – were 10-20% less fuel efficient than using mid-throttle openings, and the appropriate gear and revs.


Big throttle, high gears, low revs

Small throttle, low gears, high revs

Mid throttle, all gears, mid revs

Peak test rpm




Time above 90% throttle




Time below 10% throttle




Time above 5000rpm




Fuel consumption




Fuel range on a bike with a 17-litre tank

129 miles

118 miles

141 miles

Cost per 4000 miles*




*based on July 2022 fuel prices

So the obvious answer is not to use the engine in either extreme – don’t flump around using big throttle in top gear at low revs, and don’t buzz around using small throttle in first gear at high revs. Use mid-throttle in the right gear at mid-revs – which, as it happens, is roughly where peak engine torque is; where the engine is running at optimal efficiency. It’s no coincidence peak torque is usually around the national speed limit in top gear for most bikes.

More useful advice would be to pay more attention to how we use the engine – for example, if we’re riding through a 30mph speed limit: should we be in top gear at 2000rpm, first gear at 6000rpm or fourth gear at 4000rpm (the last one is right). And as we accelerate into a national speed limit, should we change down, or just crack open the throttle and let the engine catch up?

Which you choose could save you up to £180 per average riding year.


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Change the way you brake

Brakes are the enemy of fuel economy – speed lost means it has to be regained, which uses fuel. Better not to slow down, if we don’t have to. So if changing the way we use an engine can use less fuel and save us money, so can changing the way we use the brakes. Ragged riding – rush up to corner, over-brake, scrabble around the apex, then give it a big handful on the way out – is less efficient than a smoother, initially slower but ultimately equivalent, flowing pace. So this is about aiming for conservation of momentum in our riding – using the brakes as little as possible, maintaining speed, aiming for a smooth, fluid ride. We’re looking to read the road effectively so we can plan our corner speed well in advance, taking wide lines, peeling in late to get a good view around the corners and an easier run through to the exit.

Again, the idea was tested in Bike magazine in 2008 with a Fireblade on a closed road test circuit. Two sessions used a tank of fuel each, and each recorded the same average speed – but the first session involved deliberately clumsy riding, over-braking for corners and then having to accelerate harder, while the second session was smoother and had less braking.


Riding raggedly, clumsy braking

Conserving momentum, high corner speed

Average speed



Time on brakes per lap

36.0 seconds

22.1 seconds

Fuel consumption



Fuel range on a bike with a 17-litre tank

109 miles

122 miles

Cost per 4000 miles*



*based on July 2022 fuel prices

The result was another improvement in fuel consumption – an equivalent saving (in today’s money) of £120 per 4000-mile riding year.


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Buy a modern engine

The way engines get fuel delivered has changed over the years. In the old days of two-strokes and flat-slide carbs, engines were fed exactly the fuel the rider asked for at the throttle. That’s why, if revs were low and the rider whacked the throttle open, the engine would bog-down – as fuel flooded in quicker than the engine could burn it.

The introduction of CV carbs – in which a slide valve opened at a rate dictated by engine vacuum, regardless of by how much, how quickly or when the rider opened the throttle butterflies – meant fuel delivery was now more closely matched to an engine’s needs. The rider who whacked the throttle open at low revs didn’t bog the motor down because fuel was only metered in at a rate at which the engine could cope.

Modern engine management, emissions control and fuel injection has changed the game again. With complete electronic control from twistgrip to combustion, engineers can tailor engine response and delivery to the rider’s demands with incredible fidelity – meaning we have smoother, more flexible and more responsive engines than ever. It also means – and this is especially true with regards to emissions control – engines are now built use as little fuel as possible under normal running conditions (because less fuel going in means fewer emissions). Technology such as anti-knock detectors and lambda sensors mean modern bike engines safely run lower fuel/air ratios – leaner – than was previously possible. Which is why, ridden carefully, a modern bike engine is capable of being much more fuel efficient than a comparative motor running on carbs.

However, modern bike engines also have great big bungs in the exhaust – the catalyst/s – and using a modern bike engine with any gusto means the motor has to work even harder to achieve its optimal performance. And extra work means extra fuel. Which is why, alternatively, ridden carelessly, a modern bike engine is also capable of being much less fuel efficient than a comparative motor running on carbs. An NT1100, being tested for RiDE magazine over a period of 1600 miles, managed a best fuel figure of 49.1mpg (motorways) and a worst figure of 36.7mpg (B-roads) – that’s a huge difference for the same engine; more than you’d see on a carburetted engine.


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Change how you sit and what you wear

We all know aerodynamics has a big impact on performance – the current fad for elaborate wings and spoilers on MotoGP bikes is proof – but that also means it has a profound effect on fuel consumption. And the faster we ride, the worse it gets (which is why slowing down when you’re running low on fuel is easily the most effective way of making sure you make it to the next petrol station). Most of a bike’s fuel energy is used to overcome air resistance; once a bike is rolling, there’s not much else to stop it but air. Air resistance rises as cube of speed, so for every ten miles an hour, air resistance grows thirtyfold – and that means it takes more of the bike’s performance to push through it, which means it uses more fuel.

Aerodynamics are so important, TT racers – who spend a lot of time at full throttle and high speed, and for whom fuel consumption is critical – go to great lengths to make sure nothing is sticking out from the behind the fairing, even down to wearing skinny knee sliders. Because although, from the front, a sportsbike looks sleek and has a relatively small frontal area, bikes are relatively un-aerodynamic – it turns out what’s behind the sleek nose is more important than the nose itself, and on a bike most of that space is occupied by a messy tangle of arms, legs, helmet, rucksack, panniers, open wheels, gaps in fairings and numberplates. All these things mess up the airflow and create turbulence or drag.


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Which is why what we wear on a bike, and how we sit on it, have profound implications for fuel consumption. In 2007, during a test ride of a Suzuki Hayabusa for back-to-back full-tank stints on a motorway in identical conditions, a rider riding in a racing crouch in one-piece leathers managed over 160 miles more before the fuel light came on, compared to the same rider wearing set of loose-fitting waterproofs sitting in a semi-upright position, who could only make it to 120 miles. This led to a controlled test at a private test ground in 2008, riding a Fireblade around concrete banking at a steady 85mph. Fuel consumption was measured at 47.8mpg for a rider in one-piece leathers in a racing crouch, compared to 39.9mpg for the same rider at the same speed wearing baggy waterproofs. That’s a saving of over £170 per average riding year – although you’d have to ride flat on the tank in tight riding gear to get it!


Rider in one-piece leathers, racing crouch

Rider in baggy waterproofs, sat upright

Average speed



Fuel consumption



Fuel range on a bike with a 17-litre tank

179 miles

149 miles

Cost per 4000 miles*



*based on July 2022 fuel prices


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Using less fuel without slowing down is possible – but only if you’re prepared to adapt the way you ride. Conscientious use of throttle, engine revs and gears to keep the motor in its most efficient operating range, preserve speed by using brakes as little as possible, and improve aerodynamics by wearing less baggy clothing and sit in more of a racing crouch – all these things will save fuel – and, if you’re diligent, by a noticeable amount.

Or, you could just knock a few mph off your average speed instead.