Friday, June 26, 2009

Border-border challenge for Enfield diesel

Geoffrey Baker plans to ride his diesel powered Royal Enfield motorcycle from Mexico to Canada on only 10 gallons of biofuel. He tells me is still aiming to start the trip around Aug. 1.

Baker, a freelance writer and web designer in Tucson, Ariz., plans the trip "to promote awareness of fuel efficiency," according to his web site.

"It's time to get serious. If we are to continue to enjoy our lifestyle without paying a heavy price in pollution, environmental degradation, global climate change... we will need to be far more efficient than we are today."

His route will cover as much as 1,700 miles and, at 170 miles per gallon, will prove "we can do it!"

Baker says he already has overcome one challenge: finding biodiesel stations along the projected route.

"With an expected 700 miles per tank range, I only need a couple of stations! Still, I'm planning on stopping quite often for biodiesel so that there is always plenty of fuel in the tank.

"Mostly, it's a camping trip, but I may sneak into a motel every now and then for a good hot shower and a comfortable bed; to say nothing of wireless access so I can upload stories and pictures!"

Baker describes himself as an avid diver, skier and hiker. He is also an avid Royal Enfield enthusiast, and is president of the Royal Enfield Association in the U.S. But he describes his mechanical skills as only those of a "tinkerer." Royal Enfield does not build or sell diesel powered motorcycles in the United States. Baker had to build his own.

He started with a 2000 Military model Royal Enfield Bullet, a diesel generator motor purchased on eBay, and a frame conversion kit purchased from England. Older Royal Enfield Bullets lend themselves to such conversions, because they have a separate gearbox; you can change the motor without affecting the transmission.

Baker makes the work he did sound simple, but he couldn't hide his frustration when he took the motorcycle to the Department of Motor Vehicles to register it.

"Here's how it works," he wrote on the Classic Motorworks Community Forum. "To get a Level 2 registration, you must bring the complete bike to the DMV for review. To complete the bike, I must remove the VIN plate in order to weld in the new engine frame. By removing the VIN plate, I am committing a Class 5 Felony, so I can't do that. So I can't bring in a completed bike. So I can't get a Level 2 registration. Wonderful, isn't it?

"We managed to do a workaround. The head DMV Level 2 technician came out to my car, took pictures of the bike frame, the old engine, the new engine, and wrote down all the plate numbers. Then HE chiseled off the VIN plate."

Here's the budget for the project:

Biodiesel Motorcycle Recipe:
1 Royal Enfield motorcycle, any year. $500-$3,000 depending on condition.
1 diesel conversion kit including engine mount, from Henry Price of PriceParts, in England $800.
1 Yanmar diesel clone, 10hp variety – you can find one on most midsized electrical generators. $450-700.
Some wires and tubing $100.
And a couple months worth of evening project sweat equity.

Mileage, not diesel power alone, is Baker's aim. So he did not stop with the motor conversion but has been experimenting with another energy saving modification: water injection from a reservoir mounted on the rear fender.

Tinkering is one thing; lots of people do it and Royal Enfield motorcycles encourage an owner to experiment. But Baker's proposed border-to-border ride is a real challenge, with very little room for the mishaps normally encountered on any road trip. If he makes it he will have proven a point, if not about fuel mileage, than certainly about his willingness to try.

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