Sustainability Hacks: Bio-diesel Motorcycle Speed Record

Sometimes you don’t need a lot of horsepower to win a speed record. In a fluke of no one else competing in the alt fuel class,  [John]’s biodiesel motorcycle set a new land speed record at the LTA event last summer.

[John]’s bike is a junkyard 1978 Kawasaki KZ400. The stock engine was replaced with a Chinese knock off of a Yanmar air-cooled diesel motor. The fuel is regular old vegetable oil. From the looks of the exhaust, we’re assuming [John]’s garage has a rich french fry smell to it.

Compared to highway speeds, [John]’s runs for a land speed record are a little absurd – a nice bonus when you’re the only driver in your class. The first pass of 42 mph was a little disappointing, so [John] removed the fender, tail light and brakes. After all the unnecessary weight was removed, the top speed – and new record – was 56.5 mph.

Converting a diesel car to run on french fry oil is great and a lot better for the environment than burning liquefied dinosaurs. In any event, a green motorcycle is a lot better than 2000 pounds of automobile moving less than 200 pounds of person. Check out a few of [John]’s land speed runs after the break.



30 thoughts on “Sustainability Hacks: Bio-diesel Motorcycle Speed Record

  1. One thing to note is that biodiesel isn’t vegetable oil.

    Vegetable oil has the fatty acid chains attached to glycerine, whereas biodiesel has them attached to methanol or occasionally ethanol.

    Vegetable oil has far higher viscosity than petroleum diesel, tends to contaminate the lubricating oil, and sludges the fuel system and engine internals up.

  2. Anyone have a link to that motor?
    If he could add a turbo to it then he might have highway safe bike there. Turbo’s can actually improve diesels performance. Kind of sad to see a KZ400 used for this. A CB360, Nighthawk 250 or any CM or LTD would have been a better donor. And before I get any hate mail I am just a fan of the KZ line and was thinking that some where somebody has a good motor sitting in a frame with not title and that some where somebody really needs a rust free tank for his restoration.

    1. That motor is one of the many Chinese Yanclones that infest eBay.

      His is a clone of the Yanmar L70, which is 296cc, 6 hp.

      Unfortunately, turbocharging these engines doesn’t really get anywhere – they don’t spin fast enough (they spin 3600 rpm) to have enough exhaust flow to make boost.

      And, because of their industrial nature, overrevving them doesn’t help much either (4000 is really, really pushing it). The only real answer is more displacement (and there are 406 and 418 cc “official” models rated for 10 hp (the 418 being a US emissions model), and the Chinese have taken the design out to 436 cc, at 13 hp), or better yet, a higher revving design.

      Myself, I’m planning out a three-wheel 2F1R (well, the three-wheel layout has some major stability deficiencies, but it also has major legal, aerodynamic, and cost advantages) vehicle around a 654 cc, 16 hp at 3600 Ruggerini twin, that seems smooth enough, and the power curves indicate that 4000 should have useful power. That engine would fit in a UJM fairly well, too.

      1. The RPM doesn’t matter. You will find turbos for much slower turning engines here is an example
        It only turns at 900 RPM.

        The problem maybe finding a turbo small enough for that motor without making it yourself.
        As to other bikes I was thinking of that an EN500 would be better. It has disks all the way around. They is a lot of them, and they have a fairing. Of course he could have gotten a fairing for the KZ400 if he had wanted too.

      2. lwatcdr: It’s a combination of RPM and displacement. There are engines that don’t even turn 100 RPM that have turbochargers, but they’re measured in tens of thousands of liters.

        The problem is that the smallest commercially available turbo, a Borg-Warner KP31, is designed to run on a 799cc diesel that has peak power at 3800 rpm, and peak torque starting at 2000 rpm – and the point of peak torque is when the turbo is spooled up.

        Halve the displacement, and that turbo won’t spool until 4000 rpm. When the engine can’t even [b]reach[/b] 4000 rpm, you have a bit of a problem. ;)

      3. Standard Mischief: The other thing with those engines is, they don’t have a load-dependent timing advance – without that, when it gets into heavy load, it can’t advance the timing to compensate for the extra fuel, and it’ll smoke.

  3. Fuelling with veg oil is only better for the environment after it has been reclaimed from its primary uses. This is a food crop and any increase in demand has to be met by increased production, otherwise some folk go hungry. Market forces tend to steer new production towards less developed countries who in turn tend to hack down their rainforests to supply the demand, e.g. Palm oil production in Borneo. (Or cane sugar for ethanol production in Brazil.)

    Fertilizer requirement also increases, the bulk of which is still made from fossil fuels.

    1. Agreed, it’s amazing how little understanding of these issues there is, even among “hackers”. If fifty percent of all fertilizer comes from fossil fuels, then technically fifty percent of the food you consume isn’t “green”…

      Also consider that even reclaimed waste vegetable oil requires 20% of its volume in ethanol or methanol in order to be converted to a usable fuel. With most ethanol coming from the combustion of natural gas and distillation of corn sugars….

      1. Actually, no, you can run, and this bike is running, PURE used vegetable oil. The biodiesel conversion is nice for a dozen reasons, but if you’re hell bent on staying true to the letter of the sustainability “law”, you can use waste vegetable oil that a restaurant threw out, and skip converting it at all.

    1. I partially agree! Determining which of two options is “better for the environment” can be complicated and the result depends on which variables you consider more important. Another factor: the environmental cost of producing cars vs motorcycles, divided by their respective useful lifespans (environmental cost of ownership, sort of).

      It turns out “the environment” is big and difficult to reduce to a few parameters, neatly ranked by priority. Could we please fund biologists a little better?

    2. Only because they have less emissions controls, and that’s not a given.

      (And, some of the emissions controls on cars are actually counterproductive – turns out, nitrogen oxides actually reduce, not create, smog if the environment is rich in VOCs.)

  4. Actually a car is much greener than a motorcycle. Mythbusters did a recent test comparing the two. Even though a motorcycle is more fuel efficient they produce up to 8000x more harmful gases into the air. Cars have systems to make them give of less pollution. Motorcycles do not have these systems as of yet. Cars are still more economical friendly for the time being.

  5. you know what i learned from all this….
    there is a new episode of mythbusters for me to download

    also cool build….my brother hacked together a “go-kart” out of a 6hp diesel generator engine,…but lack of speed lost interest

  6. Hi there,
    being a dieselbiker myself I can give you a bit more information: My bike, an old Enfield, built in a Yanmar 2V78 (750cc V2 Diesel). Top speed is approx 70mi/hour
    On my trip from Germany to Greece (about 2000km) I had a fuel consumption of 2l/100km which is about 117mi/us-gal, driving at a moderate stpeed.
    I tried also using vegetable oil from a supermarket. The motor runs even with higher power, but the cold start is not easy. Best would be having two tanks: One genuine Diesel tank for starting the motor, one for vegetable oil for criusing.
    There is no danger of mixing the veg with motor oil, mainly it you have a pre-chamber diesel. Having a direct injection diesel you must make sure that there will be a complete combustion of the fuel. Otherwise, it is true, the motor oil can be mixed up with parts of the fuel.
    Most motor bikes are not really such effective a sa car. I’ve been talking to many bikers, and finaly I must say that fuel consumption of a motor bike is higher than with a car. the reason is, the aerodynamics of a motor bike is far poorer than with a car. And you feel this at higher speeds. (there is no speed limit in Germany, not yet!).
    If you are interested in dieselbikes, there are active communities in Europe:

  7. Late to the party but wanted to add a bit. FWIW the majority of Biodiesel currently being produced is coming from non food source materials. Ethanol is another story. It’s not that Bio-diesel IS a sustainable fuel but that it could be. If all the supporting fuel consumption (running the algae farms that may produce BD on power generated from a renewable source, farm equipment Used in growing non food raw materials on BD etc) were powered by Bio or renewable then you see where this is going. As for the soot emissions. CDI diesels are very clean (ok not this bike) but also the particulate emissions aren’t black they are grey and much of it is biodegradable. As for hard carbon soot, though you don’t want to breathe it, it falls out of the air to the ground quite quickly so is not a contributor to global warming, and is fairly inert and absorbed into the soil. The same with un-burnt Biodiesel (It’s biodegradable). Bio isn’t single handedly the savior of the environment, but it also is a domestically produced fuel that can employ farmers (and many other Americans) doesn’t requiring drilling in environmentally sensitive areas or in 2 mile deep waters way off shore, and keeps American $ out of the hands of repressive countries (like Canada :). Most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, our biggest foreign oil supplier after Canada. Just keep all that in mind.

    Oh lastly the tunnel crews here now run all their vehicles on B99 and can leave they trucks running the tunnels without choking. They used to have to shut them off if they stayed in one place for more than a few minutes and they workers no longer come out covered in black soot and smelling like diesel. (they smell a little like French fries (sorry Freedom Fries).

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