Fuels rush in: Will my motorbike run on E10 petrol?

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The Government has announced a consultation proposing that E5 fuel be replaced with E10 as the standard grade of petrol in the UK. Under the plan, E5 fuel would continue to be available as a ‘Super’ grade option that will doubtless carry an inflated pricetag, and superunleaded fuel as we know it today will disappear.

Standard unleaded fuel you buy in the UK is called E5 as it is blended with up to 5% bioethanol. This reduces CO2 emissions as it burns cleaner than pure petrol. By moving to E10 (10% bioethanol fuel) the Government aims to reduce these emissions further and work towards hitting reduction targets.

But there can be unwanted side effects when using fuel with a higher ethanol content, especially for those with older bikes. Ethanol can damage plastic or fibreglass fuel tanks, cause old rubber hoses or inlet manifolds to swell or split and react with zinc, lead and aluminium components, too.

Ethanol is also hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs moisture from the air around it, and this can cause problems when fuel is left to rest in tanks for long periods.

Is it safe to use E10 fuel in my motorcycle?

If you ride an older bike this may cause issues, but most modern machines are perfectly capable of running on E10. The fuel is already sold in many European countries including Germany, France, Belgium and Spain, in fact.

The first thing you should check is your fuel tank itself. You may find there’s a sticker you’ve never noticed before with an E5 and E10 logo, indicating that your bike is compatible with either fuel.

E10 compatibility stickers

If you do not have the sticker, consult your owner’s manual or, failing that, contact your dealer. MCN spoke to major bike brands back in 2013 when E10 was first introduced to find out what a switch to higher ethanol fuel would mean for them.

The least-affected brands were Yamaha, Triumph, Honda and BMW. Yamaha and Triumph both said that all models from 1990-on are compatible with E10, while Honda said everything post-1993 is compatible, although carburettor-equipped models could experience poor driveability in cold weather.

BMW said that all their models regardless of the year of manufacture can run on E10 fuel with no adverse effects.

Suzuki models made after 2002 are compatible with E10 and those made after 1992 might be but owners should seek advice.

Ducati said that their Multistrada 620 and 1000 models were not compatible with E10 fuel, with tanks known to expand or leak in markets with ethanol-rich fuel.

And Kawasaki said that models made from 2006-on would be ok on E10 but advised customers not to use the fuel in bikes that weren’t specifically approved.

Piaggio (who own Moto Guzzi and Aprilia) were the least E10-friendly manufacturer in 2012, saying that all motorbikes built before 2011 would not be compatible with the fuel.

The history of E10 fuel in the UK

UK fuel stations have been legally entitled to supply E10 fuel since 2012 but none have opted to do so. This is because none of the retailers want to be the first to supply E10 in case it means customers opt to refuel elsewhere.

And the chances are, they would. Ethanol is less energy dense than petrol, so fuel with a higher ethanol content is slightly less efficient, hitting customers’ wallets as well as engine performance. E10 fuel will also cost more than the E5 we use now. If approved, the changes would come into effect in 2021.

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Ben Clarke

By Ben Clarke

Staff Writer, hick for life, two cylinders max