Monday, September 15, 2008

Which Gasoline for my Motorcycle? (Part II: Brands)

In Part I, I discussed why higher octane isn't "better" than lower octane, and why running higher octane in your motorcycle than is necessary to avoid preignition is simply a waste of money. As threatened in that post, here's Part II, information to help choose among the retail brands of gasoline in the United States (sorry, my international readers are on their own). The following is based solely on research I've done (although I've tried to use authoritative sources), so take it FWIW.

Basic "gasoline" is a complicated blend of (mostly) hydrocarbons of various types. To this stew, various compounds (from dye to smog-reducers) are added, depending upon the application and, in some instances, the geographic location and local government requirements. Generally, for the US retail market aimed at private automobile use, the additives of most interest to we motorcyclists are ethanol 'cuz some motorcycles don't like it much; those used to increase the octane rating (benzene and toulene, which are aromatic hydrocarbons); and, probably most importantly, those that increase stability.

So, how to chose at which gas station we're going to stop when the needle dips low? Well, if you're like me you've waited until the engine is nearly sucking fumes and you're (of course) out in the middle of nowhere, the choice is easy -- the first (or only) station you can find. But assuming we've got a choice, ethanol content isn't a huge factor because within a given area the content is likely all the same. The minimum is 5.9% by law in the US, but in my area all brands seems to be at 10% lately (excepting the rare E-85 of course). And everyone offers the appropriate octane rating we need for our particular motorcycle (see Part I), so that's not a deciding factor, either.

Given a choice among brands, it's really about the stability-inducing and cleansing qualities of the additive package. When gasoline sits around for a while, it oxidizes and various compounds precipitate out -- we usually refer to them as "gum" or "varnish" -- which clog up our carb jets or fuel injectors. The "name brands" usually (but not exclusively) include more or better additives, such as Techron, which is a cleaner that is marketed under various names under license from Chevron. In the US, the EPA has requirements for additive packages, but the requirements have actually declined quite a bit during the Bush years (can you say "lobbying"?). In response, a group of auto makers (BMW, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen and Audi) began certifying North American gas retailers as "Top Tier" if their gasoline meets certain requirements for the additive package. You can find the current list of "Top Tier" brands here. As of the date of this posting, the list includes:

QuikTrip
Chevron
Texaco
MFA Oil Co.
Conoco
Phillips 66
76
Entec Stations
Shell
The Somerset Refinery, Inc.
Kwik Trip / Kwik Star
Aloha Petroleum
Tri-Par Oil Co.
Turkey Hill Minit Markets
Mileage Stations
Chevron Canada
Shell Canada
Petro-Canada
Sunoco Canada

I'm very happy to see Turkey Hill listed as it's a very common retailer of gas and other motorcycling essentials (coffee, ice cream, bad microwaved lunch food) in the areas in which I often ride, including out in the Pennsylvania boonies. Now if only WaWa (I know, I know...it's a Delaware/Pennsylvania thing) would make the list, I'd be all set!


BP isn't on the list -- choose another!

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