ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 28

Cars, bikes and fuel economy

Over the years, nothing has vexed me so much as questions about my motorcycle's fuel economy. When you tell them the actual figure, they are aghast, and take you for the simple-minded, irresponsible and financially self-destructive son of well-meaning parents.

The two-stroke Jawa 350cc which I rode for two decades is a seventy mpg bike, but not on our roads. To get that figure, you have to be cruising smoothly on fourth gear, a short lived pleasure I have experienced only on those occasions when I happened to be riding northwards beyond Dambulla or southwards beyond Hambantota.

In the urban traffic snarl which is our lot in the Western province, I managed to get 60 mpg, which works out to be about 20-25 km per litre. That was OK for me, but this obviously wasn't enough for most people, whose overriding concern about the fuel consumption figures of my bike eventually began to get on my nerves.

Sixty or even seventy mpg wasn't good enough for many people even then, when petrol was only Rs. 35 per litre. It horrifies them now. They point out that Indian bikes deliver anything up to 80 km per litre or more these days. Why don't I become more sensible?

I am as concerned about petrol bills as anyone else (more so, as you'll find out at the end of this paragraph) but I have never looked upon motorcycles as sensible transport, and am not about to begin doing so at this point of my life. A sensible Indian bike would do perfectly if I had to the daily commuting, say, 20km into Colombo. Since I don't, and since I have been in the habit of riding a push bicycle as 'sensible transport' since my early youth, I can manage to run my gas guzzlers. (Incidentally, I have been trying to promote bicycle riding to my friends for years, but have gotten nowhere. None of them want to be seen dead riding a push bicycle).

In this context, comparisons with cars are inevitable. I remember one fellow ambling over one day and asking me about the fuel economy of my bike. When I told him the facts, he said right away that there are cars which are just as economical, just as the Maruti.

This is a very common comparison. The idea is that you'd be better off running a car. Sadly, I think this is a very third world attitude, because having a car is everyone's dream. It infuriates people to see someone blandly running a bike which doesn't deliver at least 100 mpg, which in their minds is the only basis for running a motorcycle.

I could have told him why I had kept this bike for so long and what a pleasure riding it is and, if comparisons with cars must be made nothing short of a sports car would deliver the same sense of speed and excitement. I could also have told him that I wouldn't be caught dead driving a Maruti.

Instead, I simply rode away. Ignorance must be battled. But, there's no point in fighting uphill battles all your life, becoming psychotic in the process. Instead, shun fools and enjoy your motorcycling. But, now that we are on the subject of cars, let's examine the fuel consumption figures of some of the latest compact cars. I looked up an internet test report and here are some models and figures.

1. Kia Rio 29 mpg city 38 mpg highway 28. Nissan Versa 30 mpg city, 34 mpg highway 38. Scion xA 31 mpg city, 38 mpg highway 40. Toyota Yaris S sedan 34 mpg city, 40 mpg highway 5. Honda Fit 33 mpg city, 38 mpg highway.

Let's be realistic. Only tiny cars meant for urban traffic will deliver those 50 mpg and above figures. Try driving one to Kataragama. The better-built cars, such as the above, rarely top 40 mpg (none of the above do).

I don't want to take the car and bike comparison any further because it would be silly. Cars are cars and bikes are bikes. Ideally, you should have a car as family transport and a bike for the daily commute, pleasure riding, touring, showing off etc. Or maybe you should have a car for the family and showing off, and a bike for all the above plus more - I don't know, I'm just trying to be helpful.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.