Does premium fuel give bikes a boost?

Fuel economy service station helmet pulp ulp premium

Using a premium fuel with a higher octane than specified by the motorcycle manufacturer will not improve engine power or economy, RACQ technical officer Steve Spalding advises.

He says the energy content of fuel is the same no matter what octane rating it has.

“We see a lot of claims made about using premium fuels over standard and often motorists/riders believe they get a benefit from their use,” he says.

“The reality is by using a fuel with a higher octane than specified, there is only an economic or performance benefit if the engine management system can utilise the higher octane. Some will and others won’t.”

The anecdotal evidence of riders saying they get more power and higher range from a higher octane than their bike needs may simply be justifying to themselves the extra expense of PULP, Steve suggests.

Steve Spalding DIY bike maintenance Easter safety message duty easter pulp ulp premium
Steve Spalding

Premium advantages

However, there are other advantages to using a PULP fuel over ULP.

“Some premium fuels such as Caltex and BP advertise they have additional cleaning additive packages that can offset the need to periodically buy fuel cleaners,” Steve says.

However, riders would have to work out if it is cheaper to pay the extra price for PULP over ULP rather than buying the occasional cleaner additive.

It may have been an economically wise decision about a decade ago, but the price differential between ULP and PUP has crept up and is now about 12-14c a litre.

“Fuel makers have worked out that people will buy it, not often on an evidence-based reason,” Steve says.

Steve says fuel companies and retailers make the most profit from the sale price of PULP.Fuel petrol servo service station helmet pulp ulp premium

Steve also points out that while ULP also has cleaning additives, it just doesn’t have the additional cleaners in some of the higher octane fuels.

However, it is certainly more convenient to have the cleaner additives in the fuel than having to periodically buy and add the fluid separately.

Steve also says PULP has lower levels of sulphur.

“While these are beneficial in reducing the build-up of engine internal deposits, they won’t make the bike travel further for each litre of fuel purchased,” he says.

“The best advice is to use the fuel specified for the bike.”

Low octane risksDirty fuel premium

Most modern motorcycles recommend a minimum of 95 or 98 RON.

If you fill up with a lower octane rating you run the risk of harmful engine detonation and pinging, Steve warns.

Also the higher sulphur content in RULP can damage catalytic converters and prevent them from working properly.

Some motorcycles have knock sensors that sense detonation or pinging and alter the ignition timing to effetely down-tune the engine.

Knock sensors are a preservation measure in case you are stuck at a remote service station that doesn’t have premium fuel.

Lastly, with E10 being common in services stations, ensure your bike is compatible with it before using, older carburettor models shouldn’t use an ethanol-based fuel.

Click here for more advice on using ethanol fuel in motorcycles.

6 Comments

  1. 12 to 14 cents difference? Not in Queensland, more like 20 cents here. Yes it is an enormous rip off that the motoring bodies could address.
    Be nice if the price difference between pulp and ulp was similar at that between e10 and ulp.
    PS I say e10 is overpriced compared to ulp, an other rip off.

  2. Octane rating is roughly a measure of the self ignition temperature of the fuel. In the days of lead petrol the supplier could just add tetra-ethyl-lead to get whatever octane rating they wanted. Now they need to refine the fuel better to get higher octane ratings. Ie a purer standard hydrocarbon rather than a mix of gunk. So lower octane fuels tend to contain more gunky chemicals like toluenes and long chain paraffins because they can. Hence dirtier burning and less efficient combustion. Its not that PULP cleans the engine, rather that RULP dirties it!

    But don’t be confused by Ethanol. Ethanol has a high latent heat, so when it evaporates it cools the mixture and this raises the octane rating. The ethanol allows the supplier to blend the fuel with even poorer quality petrol.

    1. Ethanol is also highly hydroscopic. Regardless of the apparently higher octane rating, I found my ute gets allbut 10% less total distance on a tank compared to normal 91. Wouldn’t put it in a bike. At all. Interestingly, my old GSXR1100 was supposed to use 91, but it ran smoother and felt more responsive if I filled with 98.

  3. One of my favorite subjects, having worked for a petroleum company and raced motorcycles I have some experience in this matter. Firstly pump gas as you buy it from the gas station will make a small difference, not much. Then you can choose from race gas blends that you buy from a supplier. Finally you can blend a fuel to suit conditions on the day. The best option for a street bike rider is to buy fuel from a modern station that has fresh fuel. There are fuel blends that will make a noticeable difference for a motorcycle in a track day situation. A lot depends on the air temperature, a cold low humidity day will show a 4 to 8 percent improvement in power, fuel only.

  4. My Street Triple R requires 91ron minimum. I’ve always used 91RON, and when testing 95/98 over multiple tanks, there is no additional benefit except the gas stations make more money.

    I don’t get any additional mileage, and the bike actually feels more sluggish on 98RON. I’ll stick to what the recommendations are based on the R&D by the manufacturer.

    1. I’ve got a 1050 Tiger Sport. Commented at first service that it seemed rough using 98. I was told that if they have a triple running rough and it has 98 in it the first thing to do is drain the tank. Can’t tell the difference between 91 and 95.

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