Eastern Promise?

The possible ramifications of Yamaha’s Diesel (?) motorcycle patent.

It was an event that went largely unreported in the motoring press. Sure, some sharp eyed staffer on an American website dug it out and put it up for all to see but even then, the majority of print publications ignored it. What am I talking about? Well, Yamaha’s European patent application detailing the positioning of something called an intercooler on, yes, you’ve guessed it, a motorcycle. For those who don’t know, an intercooler is integral to the workings of a modern day diesel engine. Yes, folks, I’ve used the word diesel in the same paragraph as motorcycle and that third word that you’d also expect to see, ‘accident’ doesn’t figure at all.

But lets face it bikes hardly get the kind of press we in the community would like to see because, for the most part, they don’t really appeal to the hoards of mainstream motoring hacks out there eager to make a splash. They mostly see their ‘bread and butter’ in articles extolling the virtues of the latest four wheeled, four door, family friendly purveyor of people and aren’t going to look towards any kind of motorcycle with much enthusiasm are they? Especially, er, a diesel one.
So, there we have it. The dear old motorcycle, even one with a completely different power train, isn’t really something worth writing about. Strange, when the advent of this kind of motorcycle could have all sorts of knock on affects and even herald a pivotal or tipping point where diesel fuel supply to the European market is concerned. Am I crazy? Let me explain.

There are three main classes of vehicle that pound our roads today. Firstly there is the truck. Whether it be a small haulage van or a huge eighteen wheeler these vehicles are essential for getting our necessities to the shops. Secondly there is the car, that all pervading box on wheels that most just can’t do without.
And lastly there is the Motorcycle, that small and some would say inconsequential vehicle that only serves to give pleasure to few and annoy almost everyone else. How wrong they are.
The haulage business runs almost exclusively on diesel and will do for the foreseeable future. And these days, in Europe at least, diesel fuelled cars are now challenging there petrol powered counterparts on an almost 50/50 basis.
But the motorcycle runs pretty well exclusively on petrol, the diesel engine being unsuitable for such a machine. Unsuitable that is, until now it would seem.

With the diesel trucks firmly on one side of the equation and the petrol bikes on the other, that leaves the whole fuel supply balanced with the majority cars sat firmly in the middle and using approximately petrol and diesel in equal measure. Sure, in the real world bikes use a whole lot less fuel than trucks and the quantities used wouldn’t balance out but the point is that if motorcyclists were given the choice and took up using diesel powered machines at the same rate that car buyers have done in recent years then the writing could well and truly be on the wall for petrol. Forget quantities of fuel for a minute, think quantities of people or to be more exact, travellers. Bit by bit diesel, it would seem, is fighting off competition from the like’s of electric and ethanol and coming up on the outside (or should that be inside?) lane.

But, I ask you say, would bikers ever seriously consider buying these oil powered bikes? Well, the motorcycling world is split roughly between the racer and tourer/cruiser markets. Those in favour of riding the latter would, in my view, eventually be persuaded to buy such machines provided they performed to an equivalent standard. If these high mileage bikes began turning in MPG figures of 100 plus then there would be no contest. Traditionally heavy and low revving, the diesel engine has always played ‘second fiddle’ to its higher revving petrol counterpart. But technology marches on and, as many buyers of diesel cars in recent years have discovered, roll on acceleration rather than ultimate top speed is where the fun is. Who knows, even the knee-sliders might eventually be won over?

Knowing what we do, that power to weight ratios make motorcycles what they are, then Yamaha’s thinking looks certain to be along the right lines. Modern diesels are lighter and more powerful than they’ve ever been and it is about time a major manufacturer considered putting one into a two wheeled vehicle. What rider in his right mind would pass up a chance own a machine that generated twice as much torque (acceleration) as its nearest petrol rival and proved to be twice as efficient as far as fuel consumption was concerned? Not many I’d bet.

And there’s another thing. There happen to be three other major players in the Far East, who, through the latter part of the last century, have been battling with each other (and everyone else) for a slice of the lucrative worldwide biking market. Now that Yamaha’s thinking on the future of motorcycles has been made so public can we really expect their competition to sit back and do nothing? If experience is anything to go by that’s the last thing that will happen. Would the likes of Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki pass up a chance to be in at the start of a revolution that could see half of the motorcycling market go the way that the car market did in recent decades? Not likely.

These companies could go one of either two ways. Firstly they could fall back on what they already know regarding diesel technology and apply it to the motorcycle or they could approach companies who have had commendable foresight in this field (such as Ricardo or AVL) and simply open their cheque books.
Honda has much experience to fall back on having learned a great deal from developing common rail diesels for the car market in recent years. It would perhaps be beneath them to even consider buying in this kind of know how. Kawasaki have much experience in heavy industry, much of which is powered by diesel and could possibly get ahead by default by making overtures to HDT, makers of the U.S. Army's multi-fuel motorcycle. It should be remembered that the Japanese giant already has in place some kind of tacit agreement to sporadically produce its KLR 650 (on which the military's bike is based) and it could, in theory at least, leapfrog Yamaha's developments at the stroke of a pen. Perhaps Suzuki, a company with not quite so much experience in this field (as far as we know) might be the only business tempted to hire in outside help from Europe. But would a company which favours producing budget motorcycles really want to invest heavily in a machine that would obviously sit at the more exclusive end of the market?

And then there’s the European competition. BMW have blown hot and cold on the idea of a diesel bike in recent years but if current rumours are true they are again seriously considering doing something after 75% of people registering an interest in the Dutch Track T800 turned out to be BMW owners.
Other motorcycle manufacturers hereabouts, notably Triumph, are not averse to producing unique motorcycles and currently make several large capacity machines that could conceivably be converted to diesel.

It should be remembered that 250,000 cruisers were sold into the European and American markets last year making them the biggest group. Naked bikes totalled 160,000 whilst sports bikes came in third with 100,000 sales. 50% of those cruisers sold had engine capacities ranging between 1400 and 1700cc. Surely there is room there for a diesel powered machine?

It's tempting to say that only time will tell which way any of these giants will go but of course, time has nothing to do with it. Money does. With many car buyers now realising what truckers have known all along, that diesel gives you far better MPG figures, it's a fair bet that motorcyclists will also go the same way once someone gives them the opportunity to do so.

Presently, there is a degree of disharmony evident with bikers being unable to take advantage of a fuel that is increasing popular with other road users. Who better then to right this wrong and 'set the tone' than a company that has three tuning forks as its emblem?

Download Yamaha's Patent here.


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