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We hear a lot about the supposed ill effects of this so I decided to carry out a small experiment. Last September I put an assortment of Amal parts - made of a variety of materials including steel, mazak, brass and soldered copper - into a jamjar and filled it about 3/4 full with bog standard petrol (Texaco 95 octane, which is E5 standard) which I siphoned from the Norton's tank. I then left it on a shelf in the garage.


I'd forgotten about it till yesterday when I came across it. The pictures show the current state after about 6 months. There is no perceptible corrosion, furring, gunk or anything else on the parts. All are exactly as they were when I put them in. The level had dropped by about 10mm so my jar can't have been completely airtight. Note: the distortion is due to the faceted jars Bonne Maman use!


Comments? I added 10mm or so of water to the brew today just to see if that makes any difference.
















It is the flexible fuel pipes which are my big concern, less so the metal components. I have had several fail, fortunately without a fire ensuing, although what detritus was dragged down through the engine from them before their deterioration became apparent, I have no idea.


Interesting, Ian. We all have (and have read) lots of opinions but don't see many experiments. I wonder if they corrode at the random points of contact between different metals?


I accept that rubber type components are badly affected but I suspect that this is not the ethanol but other exotic components in modern fuel such as benzene. I do remember a scare some years ago about Viton (which is proof against current fuels) where it was said that if you touched the stuff after it had been in a fire it eroded skin and flesh down to the bone. Nobody seems to worry about that these days.

I did try to make sure that all the bits touched at least one other, and the float of course has soldered joints so if anything was susceptible I would expect that to be.


When I was assembling my BSA I hadn't got any proper petrol pipe so I used clear plastic brewers pipe, which has been on for severn years with no ill effect.

On the other hand, when the fuel gauge on my 1984 Austin stopped working I found the tank sender was badly corroded /dissolved. But it was 32 years old by then.

On my freinds remote farm they have a bulk load once a year of standard petrol into a plastic bulk tank, which doesn't go "off" over the year.

Just my tup n worth. 


I think most of the corrosion of metals occurs when the liquids have largely  evaporated and air gets to the  remains. The inside of my monoblock chamber  has deep pits. I suspect that other unknown elements in the fuel are also a problem.  


It's not just the petrol feed pipe to be concerned about.  Also the plastic float, float needle, fuel filter.  I choose to use brass floats, but they can have their own problems, such as dents and cracks



I have changed all of the rubber fuel lines on my Norton which had perished and become sticky in only ten to twelve months. I only use Esso and BP petrol now, which I understand have smaller amounts of Ethanol than supermarket fuel. I have noticed that after a winter layup of around three to four months the bike is very hard to start.

Ethanol does not seem to attack metals in my experience, but does leave residue/ brown lacquer in the bottom of the float bowl after the petrol evaporates which seems to partially block up jets on start up when the residue gets disturbed. So if there is not a problem with Ethanol in petrol, how is it that many of my friends with classic bikes and modern bikes, are coming to me with blocked jets in their carburettors to use my ultrasonic cleaner.

I do not remember a single instance in the 50s and 60s of problems like this, and now the government are hell bent on increasing the amount of Ethanol.


I think one of the main problems with ethanol in petrol is that ethanol is hygroscopic (it attracts water vapour and pulls it out of the air), this water then settles out of the petrol/ethanol mix and always settles to the lowest point - which is the bottom of the tank, rapidly followed by going straight into the carburettor. 

So it is the water that is doing the damage and corrosion to metal parts and jets and not the ethanol per se.


I believe the current regs are '' can contain upto'' if it was compulsory we would need to import the stuff, which does not make sense.

There are also two concoctions of ethanol fuel. Some will encounter the stuff at the international rally as the Dutch use a different type of brew, can't remember why though. 

The current UK fuel no matter what it contains leaves a nasty dust behind in the carb, which plays havoc with the carbs if left standing.

Even alloy tanks are now known to suffer, not so much the material but the actual welds are attacked.

I suspect the other additives have some play in the problems, just how do they get the forecourt stuff to run the high compression ratios we see, some now running really high. 


Just to pick up on the point Bob makes (the problem is water), bear in mind that the outlet from the tank is via the tap connector which protrudes up inside the tank so there would have to be a lot of water in there before it were drawn into the carb. 


" I do not remember a single instance in the 50s and 60s of problems like this, and now the government are hell bent on increasing the amount of Ethanol. "

If you were around then you should remember Cleveland Discol which contained up to 20% ethanol (provided by Distillers Company). If ethanol was the problem we are told it is then surely people who used that fuel (which was very popular, especially in the North East), would have noticed it?

On the other hand, modern petrol is a very complex cocktail of odd substances - if there is a problem (which I personally have not experienced) then my view it's more likely to be caused by some of these.


If it was 95 octane, so called "super" unleaded then you can't be sure how much, or if any at all, ethanol is in it. You need to use ordinary unleaded as a test because that will almost certainly contain 5% ethanol.



Ian.... I do remember Cleveland Discol and it did contain Ethanol and I also know that Henry Ford ran a car on 100% Ethanol . However. That does not explain that the majority of people in the classic car and motorcycle world think there is a problem with Ethanol in the present day.

I take your point that petrol is very complex issue but I stick to what I said in my earlier post:-

" I do not remember a single instance in the 50s and 60s of problems like This"



In the 50's and 60's we used our bikes daily The fuel was therefore always fresh, it got used up quickly and did not have a chance to absorb moisture, even if it did contain ethanol, like Cleveland Discol. We didn't keep bikes for years, and if we bought one and a fuel pipe looked a bit dodgy we just changed it. Now, we don't use them much, fuel sits around in them, most fuel contains ethanol, so the issue is different these days. 

Let us not be in denial about ethanol. It is a solvent, it will damage the petrol-proof paint on your fuel tank if it remains in contact, it does dissolve fuel pipes, and bikes do catch fire.


... doesn't mean it's true.

Remember when we were all told that unleaded would destroy our valves and valve seats? I spent a fortune having them changed on my Commando, which definitely didn't need that. Subsequently I ran a Triumph Stag as my daily driver, covering 70,000 miles on unleaded with its original valves and seats. At first I religiously checked valve clearances every 500 miles but rapidly got bored with this. Just before I sold it I checked them again and all were within .002" of what they started.

I don't deny that modern petrol is nasty stuff, but remember it also contains all sorts of weird substances. However, I believe that ethanol has this reputation because it is seen as a "green" initiative (sadly it isn't really) and for some unknown reason many motorcyclists are climate change sceptics so latch on to any passing bandwagon.

If I could afford it I would repeat my experience with pure ethanol and / or vodka.....

Not so George, the extension, on the fuel tap, is to leave enough fuel for “Reserve “ supply.  If you never use Reserve, then, it would be possible for water to build up, in the bottom of the tank.  However, this is more likely to be due to condensation, rather than using ethanol fuel.  There are two easy solutions.

1. Completely drain the tank, once a year.

2. Fit a clear bodied fuel filter (as used with outboard motors) immediately below the fuel tap.

Since these are not aimed at the motorcycle market, the price is not expensive.

As for fuel pipe, anyone obsessive, about ethanol, can buy clear “ethanol proof “ tubing from RGM.

An interesting experiment. As I understand it corrosion requires both oxygen and water to activate. The ethanol is hygroscopic, that means that it will take moisture from the air, the oxygen is of course present in the air. A sealed jar is not representative of fuel in a petrol tank, which if only part full will contain a lot of air. The petrol tank expands on a hot day and contracts at night allowing a small volume of air to be circulated over time. The components are then subjected to both water and oxygen. Worth repeating the experiment with a part full jar and a small hole in the lid.  The drop in petrol level in the sealed jar is strange, it also happens in unopened bottles containing spirits, ie whisky, brandy etc over a period of time.


... but of course what has evaporated will be replaced by ambient air as in a petrol tank.

Corrosion doesn't need water as such but does need oxygen and an electrolyte (which in the real world is often water based). Pure distilled water will not work as it does not conduct electricity, but as soon as some impurity (for example salt) is added then it will conduct and corrosion starts.

I do take what you say about expansion / contraction but cannot believe that a significant amount of water will be absorbed by the ethanol. I have seen a graph elsewhere (see pic) which shows that ethanol, although hygroscopic, only absorbs a very small amount of water. But I don't know its provenance.

As mentioned earlier I have added some water to see what effect if any this may have but I expect to wait some weeks or months to observe anything. I will of course report back in any case.


Does anyone know if it is still possible (2019) to buy petrol that does not contain ethanol?

If it is indeed available it might be nice to compile a list of petrol brands/grades that are ethanol free.

I am investigating the possibility of doing long journeys and avoiding ethanol, ready for when I get my Commando back on the road.

Hello Charles, It is possible to buy ethanol-free petrol as long as it is Esso Synergy Supreme+Unleaded 97octane and you don't buy it in Devon, Cornwall, Teeside or Scotland. This was the position as recently as June this year (2019) - see the thread with Esso below.  Robin

Dear Mr Robb,                                                                                    6th June 2019

 Thank you for your email.

I can confirm that the Esso super unleaded petrol (Synergy Supreme+ Unleaded 97) is still ethanol free (except in Devon, Cornwall, the Teesside area and Scotland) and we have no current intention to add ethanol to Synergy Supreme+ in other areas of the UK.

 With kind regards,

 Nikolett Ujhelyi

End Consumer & Customer Care Assistant

Customer Service, Fuels & Lubricants, EAME

Office: +442071361798

Fax: +442070264728


From: Robin Robb [ Wednesday, June 5, 2019 11:51 AM To: Customer Care /SM <> Subject: Re: Esso- 38071 Enquiry

Dear Estzer

I hope that you are well.

I am writing further to our previous correspondence below. I would appreciate an update from you on the availability of ethanol free unleaded petrol in the U.K. and also any plans that Esso may have as to availability of ethanol free unleaded petrol in the future.

Thank you in advance.


Robin Robb


On 28 Aug 2018, at 09:43, Customer Care /SM <> wrote:

Dear Mr. Robb,

 I can confirm that the below information regarding the Synergy Supreme+ being ethanol free is still accurate.

 Esso super unleaded petrol (Synergy Supreme+ Unleaded 97) is ethanol free (except in Devon, Cornwall, the Teesside area and Scotland) and we have no current intention to add ethanol to Synergy Supreme+ in other areas of the UK.

 With kind regards,

 Eszter B. Kovacs

End Consumer & Customer Care Specialist

Customer Service, Fuels & Lubricants, EAME

Office: +442071361798

Fax: +442070264728


-----Original Message----- From: Robin Robb []  Sent: Thursday, August 23, 2018 8:07 PM To: Customer Care /SM <> Subject: Re: Esso- 38071 Enquiry


Dear Kristof

 Hope that you are well.

 I would appreciate an update from you as the availability of ethanol free unleaded petrol throughout the differing regions of the U.K.

 In motorcycling circles, there is great interest.

 I look forward to hearing back from you.

 Many thanks

 Robin Robb


>> On 13 Sep 2016, at 09:55, Customer Care /SM <> wrote:


>> Dear Rob,

 Thank you for contacting Esso Customer Care.>> 

>> The majority of unleaded 95 Octane petrol sold in the UK contains 5% ethanol as required under the Government's Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO). >> 

>> There is currently no requirement for renewable fuel (such as ethanol) to be present in super unleaded (97 grade petrol).>> 

>> Esso super unleaded petrol (Synergy Supreme+ Unleaded 97) is ethanol free (except in Devon, Cornwall, the Teesside area and Scotland) and we have no current intention to add ethanol to Synergy Supreme+ in other areas of the UK.>> 

>> We would therefore advise anyone who has concerns about the presence of ethanol in petrol to use Synergy Supreme+ - providing they do not fill up in Devon or Cornwall, the Teesside area or Scotland.>> 

>> Kind Regards,>> 

>> Kristof Gergye

>> End Consumer & Customer Care Assistant

>> Customer Service, Fuels & Lubricants, EAME


>> Office: +442071361798

>> Fax: +442070264728



>> -----Original Message-----

>> From: Robin Robb []

>> Sent: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 10:44 AM

>> To: Customer Care /SM <>

>> Subject: Ethanol


>> Hello

>> I am seeking unleaded petrol which does not contain ethanol for my motorcycle.

>> Is any of your Esso petrol free of ethanol at the pump in my area?

>> I live in Chester CH4 7EN in England.

>> Many thanks

>> Robin Robb

>> Tel 07812 768 002


Last year, I laid the bike up (heated wooden shed) over winter with fuel in the tank and it was running fine. Came to start it a few months later and it wouldn't go. Tried checking sparks and blocked jets but still no joy. The Boss suggested it might need fresh petrol, so I emptied the tank, bought a gallon of fuel and it started 3rd kick. I have no idea why it did that, but I have bought and use an ethanol removal additive and the bike is starting with half a kick every time.

Just my experience. :-)


I believe petrol in the UK is seasonally adjusted. 


My neighbor came to me with his Harley a few years back with a fuel leak . At the time the bike was perhaps 3 yrs old, if that. I found the source of the leak was the clear plastic line from the tank . The entire line was weeping. Upon closer examination a perfect helix could be seen around the length of the line . Apparently this tubing is manufactured by wrapping flat material around a mandrel in a helical fashion and fusing it . When new this seam is invisible but the fuel had attacked it and softened it and the seam itself was determined to be the source of the leak. I had a piece of solid black fuel line which I put on for him as a temporary replacement and I suggested that he take the bike to the dealership and have all the plastic fuel components checked which he never did - that temporary line is still on as far as I know . 


As well as the ethanol issue modern fuels are formulated for injection vehicles so they contain less volitile components ie the bits that evaporate and allow a cold carbed engine to start. So they start off with less and so it evaporates through the tank cap breather over winter. Either use fresh fuel and stick the old stuff in your injected car or add some paint thinners and shake the tank before opening the tap to the carb. I use the paint thinners trick and no longer have to dump and replace in the spring. The other trick is to put some tape over the filler cap breather in the autumn and remember to remove it in the spring.


Ethanol-free fuel availability.

As Rob stated previously, our only option for ethanol-free fuel was Esso Synergy Supreme + Super unleaded 97 octane. apart from in Devon, Cornwall, Teeside and Scotland.. I have just returned to Cornwall from a trip I make to Sussex 3 or 4 times a year, when I take a couple of jerry cans with me to fill up with said fuel. This time however, the Esso station on the A27 Chichester by-pass clearly has it marked 'E5'. On to the next one, the Emsworth Services, just over the border in Hampshire; also marked 'E5'. On to the A35 past Ringwood in Dorset; the same. I gave up after checking the Esso station just past Wimborne Minster, also in Dorset; also 'E5'.

I cannot imagine they would mark it so, if it did not contain ethanol. They have not done so previously. It therefore looks as though the game is up, at least in the south, as well as the south-west of the country.

Is it the same elsewhere?



Under new regs that came in this month, you will find all petrol pumps labelled as E5 & diesel as B7 - this does not mean it actually contains 5% ethanol but may do so - all very confusing!


It is odd that there is a requirement to label something, even though the product does not fit the description. It is a bit like 'May contain nuts'...............

When buying my last batch on a previous trip to Oxford, I did not check the label on the pump. What I did soon notice after using it was the paint started to peel off inside the filler mouth. It was patrol-proof paint, but not ethanol-proof. I am not sure if there is such a thing, as ethanol is a solvent. I suspect that batch contained ethanol.

The supply of ethanol-free fuel is running out, and can no longer be relied upon. In recent times Esso, BP & Murco super-unleaded fuels were all ethanol-free. First Murco fell by the wayside, them BP. I suspect Esso is following suit.

Next year, E10............


... now a year on.

I had added 1/2" or so of water which just sat at the bottom despite my trying to mix it with the petrol. When I came across the jar yesterday the components that had been sitting in the water had started to fur up. The parts in the petrol remain in perfect condition.

So my conclusion for what it's worth is that water is the problem - not, as some claim because ethanol is hygroscopic but because any water that gets in via the tank breather etc will just sit at the bottom of the tank / float bowl and do its worst.

It is possible that I've never encountered the problem as these days I rarely if ever ride my bikes in the rain and they live in a nice dry garage.


The new labeling system is just that, ''may contain' The UK would need to import or specifically produce ethanol to add to fuel so pretty much a non stater here in the UK, despite the hype. The ethanol import quantities can be found on the HMRC website.

The other is that many delivery contractors do not like delivering fuel that contains ethanol as the tanker can't be reused for other non ethanol compatible types of fuel unless it is cleaned and dried prior to the next top up. 

Ethanol idea was a good one, but realistically we don't produce enough as a by product to make it work, and why ship from the continent when they can use it there to meet their targets and relief for using it in their own fuel. 

Strangely, the Dutch use a different type of ethanol fuel to the rest of Europe. There are also reports of the ethanol fuel now attacking alloy tanks, the welds are the point of failure when using ethanol fuel, though it takes some time.



IPersonally I think it’s project fear! it is highly unlikely that ethanol, which no doubt is the favoured tipple of many club members, is responsible for corroding anything, especially Aluminium, it’s far more likely to be other additives or poor welding/vibration. My strimmer, hedge cutter and lawn mower all have fuel in all winter and todate have always started in the spring!  But it doesn’t stop me emptying the tanks of my bikes if they are being laid up for a bit (or being robbed to put in the above mentioned lawn mower!)

oh and I bought a Bantam that wouldn’t run, after much pushing and kicking we cleared out the gummed up jets and it ran sweetly after that, that was in about 1975, so petrol could gum up carbs then - the Bantam cost £6 btw. I had to sell my air rifle to pay for it. 


In reply to by robert_uden


The jar jar experiment wont produce the correct result. If you store petrol in a sealed container it will last sooo much longer. The problem as has already been stated in that ethanol {industrial alchohol} is hygroscopic. Ethanol will in fact draw an equal amount of water to its present volume. So if you consider the specific gravity of water=1 against that of petrol=0.793 the denser mass of the water causes it it sit beneath the petrol something known as phase separation. If we now take the other chemical additives to fuel {particularly aromatics} into account the water mixes with these additives to make a 'porridge' which causes problems. If you want to store your machine over winter drain the fuel and put some Sodium alkylate in its place (look for Aspen fuel on the internet}, It is expensive but does not degrade and has a shelf life of 4 years I put it in my fuel injected motorcycle each winter and the bike never has any problems in the new season. I now put it in my classics as well,the cost incurred will far out weigh the problems caused by laying up with modern fuel.


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