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2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 - Click above to enlarge

We often hear debates about the merits of riding motorcycles and scooters for environmental reasons. For sure, older bikes manufactured before emissions equipment were prevalent are significantly more polluting than most modern automobiles. On the other hand, motorcycles are nearly always more fuel efficient than their four-wheeled counterparts and new motorcycles are pretty clean when it comes to emissions.

Ty van Hooydonk from the Motorcycle Industry Council has some input on the topic, and he highlights points such as the drastic reduction in raw material usage – including metals, plastics and engine fluids – and a major reduction in overall vehicle traffic.

These facts, coupled with the aforementioned low fuel consumption and greatly improved emissions controls make motorcycles, as Hooydonk calls them, "green machines." Somehow, we doubt this will be the last time we hear about this long-running debate, especially since Hooydonk says that motorcycling's green angle "is a message we're working harder to deliver out there."

[Source: Dealer News]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 14 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      The easiest way to make a vehicle more efficient is to make it smaller and lighter -- and removing a couple of unnecessary wheels and that cage does lighten it up!

      My 2005 Kawasaki Vulcan (500cc) got 50+mpg for $5k new. That was great. However, it would have been a lot greener if it had had a catalytic converter or a real evaporative emissions control system. There wasn't even an option to get the "California model" (with the EECS, but without the catalytic converter) where I bought it in West Virginia.

      Another problem: 500cc is considered a monster bike in a lot of the world. However, in the USA, it's entry-level and there are a lot of bikes in the 1000cc engine range, and even up to over 2000cc. To put this in perspective, my Ford Ranger (a compact pickup truck) has a 2500cc engine, and it's easily capable of sustaining 90mph on the Interstate. Those 2000cc bikes aren't getting 50mpg, and I found that even my 500cc bike was overpowered enough that I really only used the first 1/3rd of the throttle -- except when trying to get away from drivers I didn't like on the Interstate.

      I had to sell my Vulcan and I miss it, but I think I'll be buying something like a Honda Rebel 250 next time. Since I can think ahead and do basic energy-management on vehicles, I can travel comfortable with much less power than most people think they need. And I get the satisfaction of being able to use the whole range of the throttle, instead of having feather it all of the time.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I forgot to add that the biggest disadvantage of motorcycles is that they aren't really all-weather all-purpose vehicles. You can ride in rain, or very carefully in the snow -- but I've done it and I wouldn't recommend it to others. Driving rain at 50mph means you'll be spending the rest of the evening warming up and drying out. But, still, being a fairweather biker can save an awful lot of fuel.

        Also, riding a motorcycle can make you appreciate life a lot more. Getting out of your cage can really satiate the animal within all of us. When you're on a motorcycle the only things that matter are the bike, the pavement, and staying the hell away from the oblivious drivers. I found this to be quite liberating, since I generally spend my time in complicated social and technological environments.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Luke, if you're looking at 250s, take a look at the new (to America) Suzuki TU250. I think it's about the best looking thing out there... sort of a retro tribute bike along the lines of the W650 or the GB500, but in a sensible 250 with ... _fuel injection and a cat!_. It's supposed to have pretty sharp handling, and would be a great platform for cafe racer type modification. If I were buying today it would be on my short list, but I still love my SV650.
        • 2 Months Ago
        Wow, the TU250 that's nice -- it looks like they did the same things right as my Vulcan and fixed the things I didn't like about the Rebel. :-)
        • 2 Months Ago
        You might want to take a look at the 2008+ kawasaki ninja 250r as well. I just bought one this past summer for 3 grand, it gets 60+ mpg and has a catalytic converter (it is carburated though). Its definitely a fun bike...
      • 5 Years Ago
      There are cars that get better mileage than most bikes on the highway, but another strong argument is footprint/terminal cost. If we could park at 4 times the current vehicle density, we could do without a huge parking lot in front of every business at a mall, and we could walk between shopping destinations. We could have much more parking available downtown, and spend less time circling looking for a spot. This and more is already discussed in The High Cost Of Free Parking.

      What appeals to me more is that if we could eliminate the large vehicles or more strictly control their use, there would be ample room to add to every little road in every downtown in every old, crowded city a real, full-sized, two-way bike lane. Parked cars take up an enormous amount of space (especially given that cyclists should never ride within the reach of opening doors of parked cars). And let's face it--bicycles are the most efficient form of transportation ever invented, very inexpensive and easy to maintain, and would put a huge dent in health care costs (by reducing the prevalence of illnesses caused by obesity, lack of exercise, and pollution)...

      Obviously I see green powered vehicles as just one part of a much more complete solution that focuses on appropriate transportation. Driving a car--no matter how green--3 miles on a sunny day to fetch groceries is like using an RPG to kill a mosquito. Cars, buses, trains, planes, motorcycles, bicycles, feet... they all have a place, and I doubt we'll ever have a single perfect mode of transport.

      Motorcycles good! Add one to your transportation arsenal :)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sorry, but this sounds like a load of hooydonk to me.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "bikes manufactured before emissions equipment were prevalent"

      Emissions equipment is still not prevalent on motorcycles except in California. You can smell when a motorcycle is ahead of you in a string of cars, even a 'modern' fuel injected one like mine.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Emissions equipment is required on all motorcycles sold in the United States. The federal rules are less strict than the California rules, but if you smell fumes coming from a motorcycle then something is wrong with the motorcycle or the owner has modified the emissions equipment.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Motorcycles aren't perfect, but their inherent efficiency makes them quite green when compared with cars.

      Mass is the enemy. New cars weigh too much.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Im worried about throttle response for motorcycles. Cars since a couple of years have poor throttle responces for pollution control and fuel economy, they call that torque management. It drive bad but with a motorcycle where you have to have tight control, it can be dangeurous. I heard that this new kawasaki concours 1400 have variable camshaft phasing, a kind of vtec if you prefer, im wondering if that affect engine response in curves. For a good ride, it take direct control all the time with motorcycle, gas, shifting, brakes, direction. All is bolted and calibrated directly, if not, you end up on the ground or in a truck
        • 5 Years Ago
        I drive 10 000 miles a year on a motorcycle and i learn that contrary to a car you have to manage your speed precisely particularly in curves to stay balanced. Every motorcycle have good throttle responce, precise shifting and fast responding brakes. If you remove this with new epa rating, torque management, exhaust gas recirculation, regenerative braking, start-stop engine, etc, then your control of speed in curves and in traffic might cause problems. Even custom motorcycles have tight throttle responce and easy precise shifting. Manual cars sold actually have slow shifting because of pollution control devise. If you put that on a motorcycle, you can have bad reactions because a motorcycle is light and it's you that control the equilibrum at all time. In curves, it's throttle responce and precision on the handlebars that count.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Gorr,

        You'd be well-served by learning to pass in the mountains in a normally-powered vehicle. You need to learn four things:
        1. Manage your speed ahead of time. If you're going to pass someone, you don't run up on their bumper, swerve out into the passing-lane, and then wump the accelerator. What you do is see the car far up ahead (several hundred yards, or even as far as 1/4 mile), decide you're going to pass it, start accelerating so that you're traveling at passing speed by the time you get to following distance of the car. If everything looks good, pop into the passing lane and pass. If something's not right, hit the brakes, and drop back.
        2. Know the road. Where I learned to drive, it was a mountainous rural road with a lot of curves and only a few good places to pass. Combine this with #1 so that you arrive at the car you want to pass at the beginning of the passing-zone. It takes some practice, but once you master this, you have at least 3 times the passing-power you had before. Also, you need to know where the sharp turns are so that you don't go and kill yourself by flying off into the ditch or an oncoming car.
        3. Manage your momentum. After a while, you just know intuitively how much energy the car/bike has in it and you can guess accurately how far you'll coast uphill if your engine fails, or downhill if you let off the gas. This is a valuable safety skill -- you'll be much more able to get over to the shoulder and park your car if your engine quits in traffic. I parallel parked my first car with a dead-engine when the timing-belt broke. (Thankfully it was a non-interference engine.)
        4. Think ahead. Always. Look at the traffic and predict how the cars will move and where they'll be. I can pass a gaggle of boy-racers in a Prius this way, because they're so busy looking at the back-bumpers of the cars they're tailgating to see the big picture.

        It's amazing how just a little bit of skill will multiply the effect of your horsepower. Both our Prius and my pickup truck deliver less than 125hp each, and I can probably get a better door-to-door travel-time than any boy-racer. Riding with me will be less exciting, though, but my average speed will be higher.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Gorr,

        Start-stop technology would have no effect on a motorcycle's dynamics in a curve. It only comes to play when you're at a complete stop.

        Regenerative braking would only come into play if you are braking and / or coasting. If you are doing either of those things in a curve on a motorcycle then the problem is your riding technique.

        "Manual cars sold actually have slow shifting because of pollution control devise"

        Pollution control devices have nothing to do with shifting mechanics in cars with a manual transmission.

        You really don't have to worry about the potential changes to motorcycles as a result of federal smog regulations. The federal governement is constantly in catch-up mode with California leading the way on smog regulations. This means that manufacturers have sorted out smog issues years before 49-state bikes will have to meet the same regulations.
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