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Common Tread

How much does your motorcycle weigh?

Nov 26, 2019

At face value, it's a simple question: How much does your motorcycle weigh? 

Spend enough time looking at motorcycle specs, though, and you’ll notice that some manufacturers give “wet weight” and others publish “dry weight.” And this frustrates me endlessly, because finding a motorcycle's weight should be really, really simple. But it ain’t.

Dry weight is what the bike weighs without fluids. That's without gas, oil, coolant, final drive fluid, or sometimes even the brake fluid and battery! Wet weight is measured with some or all of the fluids in the bike. For example, a wet weight might include all fluids with a full tank of gas, ready to ride. Or it might be full oil, coolant, and so on, but only a half tank of gas. If you don't already see the problem, there's no standardization for what these measurements mean.

And that's mildly insane. I can’t believe I have to have an opinion on weighing stuff, but here’s what I think.

We need some definitions for wet and dry weight

Currently, each manufacturer decides how they’ll prepare their bikes before measuring. As a result, one manufacturer’s idea of wet weight may not be the same as another’s.

Let's revisit the gas tank. Some manufacturers weigh at max capacity, and others weigh half full. A gallon of gas weighs about six pounds. So a four-and-a-half-gallon tank that's half full weighs 13.5 pounds less than a full tank. On a 400-pound bike, that’s a drop of nearly 3.5 percent! While that might not seem like much, every bit counts as motorcycles get more advanced every year.

I'm not saying one method of weighing that gas tank is objectively better than the other. We just need to pick one. (My instinct would be to weigh with a full tank. In the half full method’s defense, a half tank should theoretically be the average weight of the gas while you’re out riding, so long as you're actually running the tank down.) The present situation overly complicates something that should be as simple as weighing a bunch of bananas. Instead: "Oh, excuse me, I actually weigh them without the peels."

Dry weight has its own issues. In the most common example, some manufacturers leave the battery in the bike when measuring dry weight. Others don’t. Batteries can be pretty hefty, what with all that lead, so this makes a significant difference. So we need to know: battery or no battery? A little standardization would go a long way. Riders rely on these numbers to compare motorcycles to each other, and those comparisons suffer in our current Wild Wild West of Weights.

Wet weight is what most people want to know

The average rider probably just wants to know a bike’s wet weight. “What does it weigh, gassed up, ready to go ride?” Alternatively, “How much do I have to lift when I drop it on the trail?” Or, “How close will we be to our trailer’s limit when we tow our bikes to the track?” 

You’ll never ride your motorcycle with all the fluids drained out of it, so what’s the point of dry weight, besides making bikes look lighter on paper?

Lemmy argues that dry weight is helpful when comparing motorcycles of two different classes. Let’s say you’re trying to decide between two bikes: a middleweight naked bike and a sport-tourer. Dry weight eliminates the sport-tourer’s large fuel capacity from the equation. Maybe the bikes are more similar than the wet weight would suggest. And nobody's forcing you to fill that tank to the brim. Personally, I don't find myself making comparisons like that. I'd rather know wet weight, but you know what?

There’s no reason why they can’t publish wet and dry weight

We wouldn’t have to choose between the two types of weight if manufacturers published both figures. How hard could it be? Weighing is not an arcane science, and with a little standardization, consumers would have some useful information to work with as we decide between bikes. Yes, riders could weigh the bikes themselves and publish their findings. Shouldn't have to, though. That's ridiculous. Maybe we're all taking this weight thing too seriously.

riding the Yamaha Star Eluder
Sure, some motorcycles weigh a lot more than others, but comparing spec sheets only goes so far. A test ride is the best way to find out how heavy a motorcycle feels. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Weight is important, but a test ride is better

We can talk about spec sheets all day. (And some days on Common Tread, we do...) They help us understand some very basic things about the motorcycles we obsess over. But even if manufacturers provided standardized wet and dry weights for all new bikes, it still would not tell us, at a glance, which bike is best. Measurements can only tell us so much. It’s the ride that counts. Weight is a crucial part of a bike’s “feel,” sure, but it’s only one of many factors involved. Together, all the bike's attributes bring us to enjoy the motorcycle... or go look for a different one. Numbers narrow our search, but the ride seals the deal. 

Please join me for my next rant, in which I wonder why dealers think I’d ever buy a motorcycle they won’t let me test ride.