by Steve Bauer
Although fuel injected car engines have been around since the 1980s, the concept of fuel injection in powersport vehicles is still relatively new to powersports, and is one of concern for many manufacturers and dealers in the industry.
Several manufacturers are trying to decide if the cost of adding fuel injection is worth the price, and dealers are attempting to not only learn how to service fuel injected vehicles, but also absorb the costs of the necessary equipment.
Despite these worries, the fact is that fuel injection is here to stay, and its benefits for both emissions standards and vehicle performance can’t be overlooked.
Rick Botting, owner of Total Fuel Systems, which manufacturers fuel injection components for companies such as Cobra Engineering, says fuel injection’s most important contribution to a vehicle is its role in helping to reduce emissions.
“Passing emission standards is a constant struggle with the manufacturers and as the emissions standards tighten, you just can’t achieve the accuracy of the fuel mixtures with a carburetor,” he said. “Unlike a carburetor, a fuel injection system doesn’t rely on engine vacuum and outside control, it allows total control over what the engineer wants to do to get the vehicle to pass emissions.”
Tim Calhoun, U.S. manager of Leo Vince Exhaust Systems, agrees that fuel injection provides a much greater leeway in terms of adjustments that you can’t achieve with a carburetor.
“Fuel injection is a lot more tunable than a carburetor in the fact that you’re able to control when fuel’s added or taken away and how much is added or taken away, and at what point it’s added or taken away, whereas before you had to rely on having the proper needles with the proper taper, etc.,” he said. “There’s a lot less room for error tuning a carburetor and tuning ignition than there is when you’re tuning fuel injection systems.”
The second biggest benefit of a fuel injection system is increased performance, which Botting says not only helps the vehicle perform in any weather or at any altitude, but also provides consistent performance regardless of the situation.
“From a performance point of view, with fuel injection you’re always getting the right air/fuel ratio regardless of the temperature, altitude or barometric pressure that the vehicle happens to be operating in.”
One things manufacturers must consider when deciding whether to add fuel injection to their engines is whether they can build the cost of fuel injection into their vehicles, which has caused many producers of middleweight cruisers and dirt bikes to take pause in regard to adding the technology.
“Adding fuel injection to a bike is costly and complex,” Botting said. “A fuel injection system requires a fuel pump, input from a bunch of different sensors, etc., to be able to properly do its job. Where a carburetor is usually a stand-alone device, fuel injection requires data to come in so it can send data out. In its basic form, it’s really a computer. For the higher line sport bikes and big cruisers, it’s easier for the manufacturer to blend the cost of building fuel injection into those bikes more so than to do it for a V-Star 650 that they’re trying to sell for $5,600.”
Enough training for dealers?
Although fuel injected motorcycles are becoming more commonplace, according to industry experts that Powersports Business interviewed, most dealers don’t have the knowledge or the equipment to properly service or install aftermarket parts on those bikes
One company, S&S Cycle, is reaching out to its dealers in the V-twin segment by offering a VFI (Variable Fuel Injection) training school, which teaches techs not only about S&S’s fuel injection system, but also about the subject of fuel injection as a whole.
“Our VFI training is a two-day school, and if you were a student and walked through the doors here and knew nothing about fuel injection, you’d spend day one in the classroom learning about fuel injection components, learning how to identify different systems by looking at them, learning all the nuances to the parts used in a fuel injection system and then learning what a fuel map is, and how you would build a fuel map in a laptop,” said Howard Kelly, media specialist for S&S Cycle. “Day two would take that fuel map that you built out to a Dynometer that we have here, which would already have a motorcycle on it, and you’d then plug the laptop into the motorcycle, load the fuel injection map and make the motorcycle run. Or if you did a very poor job building the map, then the motorcycle wouldn’t run, and you’d spend the rest of your day trying to diagnose what you did in the map you built that caused the motorcycle not to run.”
Kelly says the school is S&S Cycle’s way of committing itself to what inevitably is the future of the motorcycle industry.
“Our school is a dealer’s entryway into making that commitment to providing service for fuel injection,” he said. “Because, for example, unless you’ve gone to a H-D school, where else do you get fuel injection training?”
What about training for other dealerships that aren’t involved in the V-twin market, or that don’t want to spend the tens of thousands of dollars to purchase a Dynometer?
“It’s tough if you’re a dealer because there isn’t any universal machine you can buy to service different types of bikes,” Botting said. “The problem I see is that if you’re a multi-line dealer who sells four different brands of bikes, are you going to invest in four different computers, and have four different people trained for different systems? To me it’s pretty mind boggling that there isn’t any movement to make this standard.
“With a fuel injection system, first you’ve got to be able to diagnose it if you’ve got a problem, so that you can fix it and get the bike back on the road and running properly. Second, you have to be able to tune it and adjust it because you’re not going to stop a consumer from customizing their bike with aftermarket products. They’re going to want to give it better performance, changing his exhaust, different style, etc. And the fuel injection systems that they put on bikes for the most part are open loop and don’t adjust for those aftermarket changes. So now the dealers, not only do they have to diagnose the stock system and fix it when there’s a problem, they now have to become savvy on the aftermarket tuning products as well.”
Botting, who’s been involved in designing and manufacturing fuel injection systems and components for more than two decades, believes dealers have been backed into a corner because if a customer spends a large sum of money to customize his bike and the dealer doesn’t have the equipment or knowledge to install or tune it, then the customer wonders where the value in the aftermarket products is.
“The dealers are under attack, because the consumer comes in and says, ‘Hey, I just bought my new Johnny Rocket 650 special and I want it to run right so I want this or that added to my bike,’” Botting said. “But then you have the technicians in the back saying, ‘Well we don’t have a Dyno here or whatever system needed to do this right, do you still want us to put this on since we don’t know if it will run the way it should?’ Because when you go and take $700-$800 off a customer who comes in and buys this stuff, and you throw it on the bike and it still doesn’t run right, the customer is going to say, ‘Hey, I just paid you $800 to put this on so the bike runs better, where’s the value in this stuff?’ A lot of dealers just give up and say go somewhere else to have this stuff installed. I just don’t think there’s enough training for the systems that are in place now.”
Standardized fuel injection systems?
One solution to easing dealers’ worries about lack of training or equipment would be a standardized fuel injection system for all powersports vehicles. Although it might sound like a logical answer, the idea is more wishful thinking than reality.
“The motorcycle industry doesn’t have a standardized On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) system like the auto industry does,” Botting said. “They’re all kind of going at it on their own and every manufacturer is doing it differently.”
Kelly says that different fuel dose requirements for bikes would make it virtually impossible to standardize fuel injection.
“If you’ve got a 14,000 rpm R1, and a 5,000 rpm Royal Star, and the Royal Star is more than 2,000ccs, it might require a completely different fuel dose than the R1,” he said. “So that being a case, how do you standardize it? It’s like saying they should standardize carburetors or cams. Now as far as coding, sure, I think all manufacturers should be required to have some semblance of a thing so that everyone can read it. But to say that they should regulate fuel injection, that’s a proprietary thing designed to go with an engine that helps it meet emissions.”
Calhoun argues that since powersports vehicles aren’t as much of a “need” as an automobile is, there’s less pressure on manufacturers to come together to create a standardized system.
“There are so many proprietary pieces on each motorcycle out there that manufacturers aren’t so willing to share with each other, and there isn’t necessarily a need for them to make it easy for anybody to work on their bikes,” he said. “They would rather you go into a dealership to create that work at a dealership. So I don’t see any driving force behind motorcycle companies developing any type of universal fuel injection system. It doesn’t make good business sense for them. We saw what a nightmare the collaboration between Kawasaki and Suzuki was, just imagine if you had all four of your major Japanese OEMs trying to get along on a project like this. So I just don’t see there ever being any one single type of fuel injection system out there or one single manufacturer system out there.”
Prepare now, benefit later
Since fuel injection is destined to become a staple in the powersports industry, experts say the best way to stay ahead of the curve is to embrace and educate yourself about it, and if you do it will pay big dividends down the road.
“Fuel injection is definitely the wave of the future in powersports. There’s no avoiding it,” Kelly said. “So the best advice I can offer to dealers is to learn as much about it as possible and enjoy learning about it. Because as you do learn about fuel injection, it becomes really an exciting thing to work with.”
Calhoun agrees that the sooner a dealer can prepare themselves to work on fuel injection bikes and align with manufacturers that will work to help educate them on the systems, the faster their dealership will pull in customers looking to service their fuel-injected vehicles.
“I think the most intelligent thing dealers can do is correctly inform themselves of what issues they’re going to deal with, especially with the EPA and CARB, how that affects them, and look for those progressive, forward-thinking manufacturers that are willing to step up and make an investment to address those issues,” he said. “And by that I mean a company that will work with those organizations in order to get certified pieces that can go on a motorcycle. Embrace the technology, because we’re not going back to two-stroke engines, and the sooner you adjust for what’s going to happen in the future with four-stroke engines, the sooner you’ll become a destination dealership that people will bring their products to get serviced.”