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Yes, motorcycles use less fuel than cars, here’s the proof

Motorcycles consume less fuel than cars. You may think this is obvious, because they are smaller, weigh less and have smaller engines. But do they really? We are going to find out.

It isn’t as simple as it sounds. Often we hear people complaining – or boasting – about a car that uses less fuel than a motorcycle. Well, if you compare the official type approval test figures of a Diesel car with the real-life figures of a big motorcycle, especially when that is used by a rider who likes to go fast, you shouldn’t be surprised then when the bike ‘beats’ the car. However, when you compare you should do that with things that are comparable: apples with apples and oranges with oranges, not apples with oranges. And comparing apples with oranges is just what is being done all the time with motorcycles and cars. Even when you compare type approval test figures of cars with those of motorcycles you compare two different things, because there are big differences between the test cycles for cars and motorcycles. And even with the same test cycle there would be differences because of the different build, nature and use of the vehicles. Does this mean we cannot compare? No! Thanks to the German website we can.

On car drivers and motorcycle riders can, after registration and submitting details of their vehicle, enter information like mileage, fuel consumption, sort of use they make of the vehicle (mostly highways, urban, rural or mix) and even the use of winter tyres. Early March 2016 the database counted 524,869 vehicles of 367,429 users who entered 1,936,1874 updates of their fuel consumption. This makes the numbers very useable. In fact, the database is a gold mine for everybody who wants to know more about real life fuel consumption of cars and motorcycles. Interesting also are the list of least fuel consuming cars and motorcycles. The ICCT (International Council on Clean Transportation) used this database, amongst other databases, to investigate the gap between type approval test cycle figures and real world figures of fuel consumption by cars and marked it as very reliable. FEMA used this database to make a realistic comparison of the fuel consumption of cars and motorcycles.

There are several ways to select cars and motorcycles to compare with each other. You can look at size, engine capacity, price, weight, type of vehicle, etc. The first two or three choices aren’t too difficult, but sooner or later questions arise, about the comparability, about relevance (how many are sold, ride around?), about actuality (is it still in production, if not how long is it out production?). We decided not to go there, but to focus on the ten best sold cars and motorcycles in Europe in 2015. From the ten best sold cars we took both the petrol and the Diesel version and we looked at the fuel consumption as registered in

The 10 best sold motorcycles were:

  1. BMW R1200GS
  2. Yamaha MT07
  3. Peugeot Kisbee 50
  4. Honda SH150AD
  5. Yamaha X-Max 400
  6. Yamaha MT09
  7. Piaggio Zip 50 2T (China)
  8. BMW R1200RT
  9. Honda SH300
  10. Kawasaki Z800

The 10 best sold cars were:

  1. Volkswagen Golf
  2. Ford Fiesta
  3. Renault Clio
  4. Volkswagen Polo
  5. Opel Corsa
  6. Ford Focus
  7. Nissan Qashqai
  8. Peugeot 208
  9. Volkswagen Passat
  10. Peugeot 308

In the graphic you will not see the brands and types of the vehicles, because it isn’t about the brands and types themselves, it’s just about the ten best sold. The motorcycles use between 2,8 and 5,7 litres fuel per 100 kilometres with an average of 4,4 l/100km. The petrol cars used between 6,5 and 9,1 l/100km with an average of 7,6 l/100km and the Diesel cars used between 4,9 and 6,6 l/100km with an average of 5,6 l/100km.

In real-life the motorbike uses over 1 l/100km less than a Diesel car and over 3 l/100km less than petrol cars. Because fuel consumption and the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) are related, motorbikes have also less CO2 emission.

CO2 is one of the greenhouse gasses and is therefore seen as an important contributor to the climate change. This does not say anything about other emissions. According to a study from the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission in 2013 motorcycles in general have a, compared to cars, high emission of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (HC).

However, motorcycles have, certainly compared to Diesel cars, a low emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which is seen as the most dangerous polluting exhaust emission at the moment. The motorcycles that were sold in 2015 all had to comply to the Euro 3 standards for motorcycles. The new types that have received type approval this year have to comply to the Euro 4 standards for motorcycles.

From 2017 all new sold motorcycles will have to comply to these Euro 4 standards. The Euro standards for motorcycles should not be confused with the Euro standards for cars and cannot be compared with each other, because of different values, different test cycles and completely different vehicles. The present standard for cars is Euro 6, which is implemented in September 2014. For motorcycles the present standard is Euro 4, which is implemented in January 2016.

Written by Dolf Willigers