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Old 09-02-2008, 04:29 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Think Motorcycles and Scooters are Great for the Environment? Wrong!

Think Motorcycles and Scooters are Great for the Environment? Wrong! | Hypermiling, Fuel Economy, and EcoModding News - EcoModder.com

"Think Motorcycles and Scooters are Great for the Environment? Wrong!
September 1st, 2008 by Benjamin Jones · 14 Comments

A lot of well-intentioned people have hopped on to motorcycles and scooters recently in an effort to do their part to help out the environment. Sadly, they’re actually polluting a lot more on even the smallest of scooters than they would be driving a car. It seems counter-intuitive because there are so many reasons why two wheels should be better than four:

* Scooters and motorcycles get better gas mileage
* They’re smaller, so they use less materials to produce and ship
* They’re extremely popular in European countries and Japan, which are more eco-friendly than the US

While these things are true and often advertised, they don’t quite paint the whole picture when it comes to the environmental impact of 2-wheeled, motorized transportation.
Scooters and motorcycles can pollute 90 times as much as SUVs

Yes, you read correctly. It doesn’t seem to make sense because of the wildly different sizes and fuel consumption of the two vehicles. In fact, it was the EPA that tested a Yamaha YZR R6 and found that it emitted 90 times more hydrocarbons than a Dodge Durango SUV. Hydrocarbons are the pollutants responsible for forming ozone and smog, which is both a serious health risk as well as an extreme eyesore.

The reason why scooters and motorcycles pollute so much more is because there is much less regulation when it comes to these vehicles. Technical and market restrictions have made it difficult to pass legislation cleaning up motorcycle tailpipes for years. For example, because most motorcycles and scooters are smaller and cheaper than cars, adding modern catalytic converters and emissions systems would add a tremendous amount of weight and cost to most 2-wheeled vehicles. This means that, unlike cars’, motorcycle and scooter exhaust is heavily polluted.

Another consideration is the large amount of two-strokes that are still used and sold. Many manufacturers, like Honda, have made plans to completely phase out the use of two-strokes, but because they are cheaper they will continue to be sold in quantity until legislation can be passed banning them from use. Two-strokes pollute so much more because they run on a gas/oil mix, meaning that every combustion cycle is burning motor oil as well as gasoline. Similarly, the engine’s design allows unburnt fuel to escape through the exhaust and into the air.

Many wealthier nations are starting to place tighter restrictions on motorcycles and scooters as the technology becomes cheaper and their emissions make up a greater percent of total vehicle emissions. However, in countries like Canada new 2-wheeled vehicles can still pollute up to 14 times as much as automobiles, so there still is no perfect solution.
To scoot or not to scoot: a balancing act

If you’re a diehard environmentalist you’re going to want to stay away from scooters. I know from my time as a Honda Metropolitan owner that most riders would get between 90-110 mpg, but I also know that they exhaust was pretty smelly, even though it was a four-stroke Honda.

On the other hand, however, you’d be getting 2-4 times the fuel economy and emitting fewer green house gases. However, the magnitude that these are reduced is tremendously outweighed by the magnitude that smog-forming pollutants are increased. Nevertheless, you will save money on gas, but riding a scooter isn’t quite as safe or air-conditioned as a car.

Personally, I ditched the scooter in favor of my bike for shorter trips and a car with good fuel economy for longer ones. You’ll have to make your own choice, but make no mistake, scooters and motorcycles are not the most environmentally sound transportation choice.

EDIT: Thanks for the heads up from a commenter, because I obviously didn’t make my intention clear enough. As the commenter points out, there are clearly more ecofriendly scooters out there than others, just as there is a huge variety in cars. Hell, you can even get electric scooters (just as you can get electric cars), so it’s not that 2-wheels is evil.

Rather, I wanted to point out that emissions regulations are clearly lagging and that, in studies, 2-wheeled transport contributes more smog-forming pollution than it’s share of actual vehicle miles traveled because the average motorcycle/scoot has worse emissions than the average car."

I remember the last street legal 2-stroke over 50cc, the Yamaha RZ350 ('84-'85) came with 2 cats in the stock exhaust. Yes, they were heavy (22 lbs/side) but they worked and the bike was affordable. Since this was a nice light 2-stroke most of them wound up on the racetrack, and 99% of the rest ditched the cats for a lighter high performance exhaust. But it shows it could be done. Of course, the added cost might put 2-stroke scooters out of reach. Hmmm.

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Old 09-02-2008, 04:50 PM   #2 (permalink)
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In reference to the initial entry, not the reply...

Actually, almost all bikes produced today are 4 stroke, fuel injected and have cataletic converters, at least the "larger" bikes. (over 250cc)

The percentage of polutants that come out of the "smaller" engines is quite high for what they are, but it is still less than the average automobile in total (the total of a 50cc engine is still less than that of a 3800cc buick engine for example). The problem becomes putting more emission equipment on the 50cc engine and adding the weight would require adding more actual displacement to haul the weight and have the power necessary for even calm riding. This can become a vicious cycle.

This is one place we are definately flawed in our emission thinking. Rather than giving a percentage that the auto manufacturers must comply with...give a total and let them figure out the best way to achieve that with their engine.

If someone can make a 460ci engine that meets the standards...they would be a rich genius

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Old 09-02-2008, 05:18 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Nevertheless, motorcycles and scooters to represent a greater percentage of pollutants in the air than they do vehicles on the ground or vehicle miles traveled.
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Old 09-02-2008, 05:21 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I'm all about saving the environment. But sometimes the pocket book has to come first.

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Old 09-02-2008, 05:41 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by SVOboy View Post
Nevertheless, motorcycles and scooters to represent a greater percentage of pollutants in the air than they do vehicles on the ground or vehicle miles traveled.
Sure, because there are a ton of older bikes on the road. Even the motorcycle tested in the article was from 2004; there have been two newer emissions standards released since then. (The newest standard is required this year in CA, and by 2010 in the rest of the US.)

Besides, figure in the extra costs and pollution involved in producing the extra fuel for the Durango (Durango is 14/19 mpg), manufacturing the extra 4,200 pounds of hulk in carries around, disposal of the extra oil it carries to each oil change, road repairs, etc., and I think you'll find that a modern motorcycle or scoot is pretty competitive.

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Old 09-02-2008, 07:55 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Couple corrections:
"Scooters and motorcycles can pollute 90 times as much as SUVs"
"In fact, it was the EPA that tested a Yamaha YZR R6 and found that it emitted 90 times more hydrocarbons than a Dodge Durango SUV."

Actually, in fact, the Dodge durango comarison was 57 times worse, not 90 times, 4.19 grams/mile to .073 gm/mile. Per Motorcycles, scooters big polluters

"If you’re a diehard environmentalist you’re going to want to stay away from scooters."

Might want to clarify that there ARE clean motorcycle options and regulations are catching up.

It does make me wonder how motorcycle emissions compare to lawn mower/lawn tractor/weed wacker/snow blower emissions. I know a lot of folks see the older bikes as gateway to a fairly inexpensive electric vehicle.

I should note that 57 times worse still sucks, but there are also many many more environmental manufacturing and material costs in building a durango, as well as the environmental impact in securing the additional fuel required by said same.

p.p.s. 05 Ford Explorer = 0.15 g hydrocarbons per mile

Last edited by dcb; 09-02-2008 at 09:16 PM..
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Old 09-04-2008, 05:19 PM   #7 (permalink)
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The article is (deliberately?) missing any mention of the most important pollutant, CO2. That is directly related to fuel consumption, and it is the one that will in the long run do far more harm than all the rest.
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Old 09-04-2008, 06:24 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I think the only 2 stroke I have ever seen is in my chain saw but I do live in California. Most lakes here won't even let you use 2-stroke water craft. Many of the new bikes sold here meet the newest CARB/Euro III rules. They are water cooled, fuel injected, and have catalyzed exhaust systems. That being said, my motorcycle is carbed, oil cooled, and pollutes a lot. I can smell gas and exhaust every time that I stop - not much different than a classic car (except for the gas mileage).
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Old 09-10-2008, 01:04 AM   #9 (permalink)
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I get into a fair number of similar discussions 'cause I'm driving on the road with a tractor engine. The presumption (not unreasonable) is that my car poluutes worse because it meets agricultural standards, not automotive standards. They seem okay with the idea that a tractor might burn 1 gallon of petrodiesel for every 2 gallons of ehtanol feedstock harvested, and they can put those 2 gallons in their E85 Suburban and go 28 miles, but it bugs them that I'm doing my polluting on the road instead of out in a cornfield. Maybe they'll be happier if I switch to three wheels.
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Old 09-10-2008, 04:31 AM   #10 (permalink)
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SVOboy -

Originally Posted by SVOboy View Post
Nevertheless, motorcycles and scooters to represent a greater percentage of pollutants in the air than they do vehicles on the ground or vehicle miles traveled.
Back when I had my Honda CB 350F in the 1980's, I asked my "Yoda Mechanic" if I could get a catalytic converter for my early 1970's vintage motorcycle. He looked at me funny, as if to say "Crazy, you are".

This thread made me look for emissions friendly motorcycles and I found this (protptype only) :


Compressed Natural Gas engine
- 230 cc one-cylinder natural gas engine, CVT gearbox and differential.
- Pmax 12.5 kW at 8600 rpm, max. torque 15.5 Nm at 6300 rpm
- CO2 emissions 59.5 g/km (test bed values, corresponding to 2.4 l petrol equivalent).


What's your EPA MPG? Go Here and find out!
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