Facts, and 93-octane ethanol, win over riders at Sturgis

Robert White of the Renewable Fuels Association is in his seventh year of promoting ethanol in what can be a hostile environment: the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

But as he wins over more converts — even the burly Harley-Davidson riders — his job gets easier.

“I did have one guy yell at me yesterday morning as I was driving around,” said White (pictured above), a longtime Harley rider himself. The gentleman hurled a few expletives his way. “He said ‘That stuff is terrible, it doesn’t work.’ I said, ‘Well that’s not what Harley says.’ He said, ‘Well they don’t know what they’re talking about.’ I said ‘Yeah, the people that just build your bike, what would they know?’ ”

White, a VP for the Washington, D.C.-based RFA, has met a lot of skeptics during the 75th annual rally, which runs through Sunday. In partnership with the famous Buffalo Chip campground (site of so many cool concerts this week, including John Fogerty on Wednesday night), RFA has been giving away free motorcycle tankfuls of a special blend of E10. But instead of merely 87, 89 or 91 octane like you get at the gas station, this E10 is 93 octane, made by infusing ethanol into existing pure gasoline.

“That’s higher than anything sold in town, and the bikers love that extra octane, so they take it,” White said.

Sturgis2015_banners3Convincing bikers that ethanol won’t harm their engines is an point of emphasis for RFA, because there are 22 million motorcycles in the United States, and groups that represent some of them have complained loudly about the fuel. Even though ethanol blends above E10 aren’t legally approved for motorcycles anyway, the American Motorcycle Association has railed against the increasing adoption of E15 for vehicles. Much of the group’s argument consists of fear that bikers will accidentally put E15 or higher concentrations into their tanks; the jury is still out on what effects, if any, higher ethanol blends can have on fuel lines and engine components in older cars, trucks and SUVs that aren’t flex-fuel vehicles.

White thinks something else is at work with AMA’s obsession.

“I think it’s just simply a membership campaign,” he said. “You can only sell so many memberships trying to protest helmet laws. That’s run its course in most locations. So you have another reason to maybe sign on a few members. There are 22 million motorcycles in the United States, and AMA has a whopping 250,000 members. So they may claim to be the biggest, the baddest and the voice of the motorcycle industry, but it’s almost laughable.”

For this year’s free E10 giveaway (which continues through Thursday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain time), White got the idea to put up actual language from motorcycle warranties on poster boards and display them. The Harley excerpt reads: “Fuels with an ethanol content of up to 10 percent may be used in your motorcycle without affecting vehicle performance.”

“A guy walks up and says, ‘I’ve heard I shouldn’t use this. How can you convince me to do something different than what I was told to do? I just turned him around and I pointed him, he had a Harley-Davidson, and he read the Harley statement. I said, ‘That’s the only people you should be listening to. They’re the ones that built it, they’re the ones that designed it, and they’re the ones that honor your warranty. No one else should have any part in that.”

Rob “Woody” Woodruff, owner of the Buffalo Chip, is convinced. Watch this video with him telling White his 11-year-old Harley has never had anything but ethanol.

White said bikers he’s talked to are concerned mostly with how a fuel will affect their engines. But they’re open to hearing about the other benefits of higher ethanol blends, like the fact that it’s American-made and will reduce the amount of oil the U.S. has to import.

“It all starts and stops with the ‘Is it OK for my bike?’ If you get past that, they really don’t have any problems, and the extra benefits are just bonus for them. … a lot of the bikers are also veterans, or they have some connection or really love the troops. Well, here’s a fuel we don’t have to fight for, we don’t have to protect supply lines. That resonates pretty good too.”

(Photos from RFA/ZimmComm New Media)