Rookie error: running out of fuel!

Honda CX500 rust paint job

Before modern bikes introduced fuel warning lights, fuel gauges and precise computer readouts for fuel consumption and range to empty, running out of fuel was a common occurrence.

The bike would momentarily lose power and you would reach down with your left hand and fiddle for the fuel tap to switch it to reserve, then find the nearest service station.

These days, bikes have all sorts of computerised functions to not only tell you how much is in the tank and range to empty, but to even escort you to the nearest garage.

Somehow that takes the adventure out of it.

Recently, I ran dry on my 2010 Triumph Scrambler which has a warning light, although this one is broken.

As a rule, I reset the trip meter to zero when I fill up and start looking for a servo about 220km.

However, the last time I had fuelled up, I had forgotten to rest the trip meter until about 50km.

So when I decided to take the Scrambler for a ride recently I had forgotten about forgetting to rest the trip meter until 50km.

However, I gave the tank a tentative shake and heard a bit of splashing and was confident that with about 190km on the trip meter, I had plenty of time to find a servo.

But then Murphy’s Law took over and on the longest stretch of road without a service station in sight, the bike began to surge and finally die.

No fuel tap to resort to, I pulled the clutch, dropped down on to the tank and streamlined for as long as possible before coasting to a stop on a long and steady uphill section.

Triumph Scrambler out of fuel
A forlorn sight … out of fuel on the side of the highway

With carbies, you used to shake the bike and maybe lie it down on each side to get some gas out of the tank and into the carby.

That usually doesn’t work with EFI systems with pressurised fuel systems, but I thought I would give it a go in case there was some fuel in the tank that hadn’t been sucked out.

Guess what! It worked.

There was just enough to get me over the rise, then it was a long downhill coast to the nearest service station.

Rookie error solved by old-hand experience.

Tell us about your empty tank adventure.


  1. Fuel Taps, yep I remember them, and the even bigger mistake, of not putting the petcock back on main from reserve.

    Thought I was oh so cocky, after resetting the Carbs on one bike many moons ago. On an interstate run, solo, looking at the odo, thinking, wow, I got this thing tuned perfect, X amount of miles and still haven’t hit reserve. I’ll push on!

    Cough Cough, go for the petcock, to switch to reserve, thinking I’ll make the border easy. Rookie error indeed. Hide bike in bush, walk come hitch hike to the border town, of course, no one picked up a scumbag motorcyclist at near midnight. 1.5 hour walk, find a servo buy a 5 litre petrol can and fuel, 1.5 hr walk back to the bike.

    Perfect way to waste 3 hrs on a tight schedule. Never did that again.

  2. When ever I’m on a trip with the potential to run dry before the next servo I carry a couple of litre bottles of fuel. I bought them in a camping store they’re aluminium and made for carrying kerosene for camp stoves so they can handle petrol and being shaped like a drink bottle they’re easy to tip into a tank.

  3. 2003. Hungover. About a 1/4 of the way across the Anzac Bridge in Sydney, westbound lane, peak hour. Jumped off in a panic, pushed it across the bridge with horns and traffic building up behind me. Got it on the footpath on the other side of the bridge. Guess what I forgot to do in the panic? Switch it to reserve…

  4. Glad you weren’t stranded Mark. I may be “soft” but I refuse to consider buying any bike that does not have a fuel gauge – and it constantly amazes me how many (new) bikes there are for sale without this most basic instrument.

    Unless they are selling some throwback to the 1950’s like a Royal Enfield (although the Himalaya has a petrol gauge), now that we are in the 21st century I expect a new bike to have a decent amount of instrumentation.

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