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Mythbusters: Motorcycles Pollute More Than Cars

By September 30, 2011

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Bikes Pollute More Than Cars

According to the latest episode of Mythbusters, you can scratch environmentalism from your reasons to ride: after comparing three bikes and three cars from the '80s, '90s, and '00s, it turns out that motorcycles produce more polluting carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitric oxide emissions than their four-wheeled counterparts. The (minor) silver lining? Bikes are more fuel efficient and produce less carbon dioxide than cars.

This isn't the first time we've heard such news, and given the ever-increasing governmental pressure on automotive emissions and the relatively lax state of affairs with motorcycle regulation, it's no wonder bikes are spewing more pollutants into the atmosphere... but does that make you change your riding habits?

Source: Discovery Channel


Photo Discovery Channel
September 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm
(1) Sloan says:

I didn’t like that they compared a family car to a sport bike. Why didn’t they drive a sports car? The sport bike is built for outright performance instead of practicality as well. And I wondered about the emissions controls too. My VFR and my wife’s ST have catalytic converters and O2 sensors, and my VFR even has the California emission controls on it. It would have to get better results than any of the motorcycles they used wouldn’t it?

September 30, 2011 at 4:39 pm
(2) Joe says:

I’m with Sloan, I don’t think this is a fair comparison for some of today’s bikes. Even HD’s have O2 sensors in ALL of their bikes they make now.

September 30, 2011 at 10:14 pm
(3) Pete says:

It’s more than a fair comparison…it’s exceedingly generous. Go ahead and compare a sport bike…any sport bike, to a ZR1, or a brand new Shelby GT500…pick the 49 State legal car of your choice, never mind a California legal car. The bike is so dirty, a car test facility would refuse to test it…it would damage the equipment.
The ONLY reason our sport has not been legislated in to non existence, or burdened with strangling pollution control equipment, is there aren’t enough on the road to make a significant impact.
170 hp out of 60 cubic inches pollutes like crazy.

October 1, 2011 at 2:28 pm
(4) j.rotten says:

Cars are built to be ‘environmental friendly’ or something like it. Bikes are built to be COOL!

If legislation gets pushed through to limit bikes because of dirtiness, we’re gonna see a surge of electric bikes hit the market… which is fine with me =-)

October 1, 2011 at 5:02 pm
(5) Joe says:

If you live in the USA there is a good chance the electric your going to charge your new electric bike with Rotten was made from burning coal and oil and all those plants are FAR DIRTIER then all the gas vehicles combined. Electric vehicles does NOT = green.

October 2, 2011 at 11:15 am
(6) Pete says:

Good point Joe!
I think electric cars & bikes should come with their own solar panels. Then they could priced that much further out in the stratosphere.

In the ‘developed world’, for lack of a better term, motorcycles exist for one purpose – fun. It will be a long time before electric bikes or cars are fun. Spending that kind of money for a 100 mile range at a ‘fall asleep’ pace is not in my future.

October 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm
(7) Peter says:

Just a typical way to fudge statistics to favor one point or the other. Motorcycles are much cleaner to manufacture, us far fewer parts and natural resources to produce than the smallest car (Electrics are particuly dirty manufacturing wise)

Motorcycles are far lighter and as a result use far less gas, oil and other consumables. Thy only require 2 much smaller tires to recycle VS 4 for a car. Motorcycles are far more recycle friendly than even the smallest car and orders of magnitude more so than the electrics.

October 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm
(8) Pete says:

No one is fudging stats….
By no means is a motorcycle a guarantee you will use less gas. Ask the guy on the 1000cc sport bike, or the GL, or the HD if their bike uses less gas than their Civic or Corolla.
Some might, but I bet lots of bikes cost more, or at best, the same to run, than a lot of cars.
All that said, despite less fuel used, at least on a smaller bike, bikes still pollute several times more than any new car you choose to name.

October 3, 2011 at 8:04 pm
(9) KB says:

It’s clear the MB team was biased in the selection of the motorcycles. They should have compared all new bike and cars with type 3 catalytic converters, O2 sensors, ecm to control the air to fuel ration, evap canisters, water cooled, etc, etc. I thought the MB team was determine to eliminate myths!! It’s clear, they created one of their own. We all should demand a redo with vehicles that have the same emissions controls.

by te way, the so called bubble bike with the modern controls isn; watered cooled nor does it have the same controls as modern cars. Also, how can they obtain true reading of the amount of pollution when the gases can collect inside the bubble. Bad MB – Juat Bad or Just biased?

October 4, 2011 at 11:04 am
(10) mikedard says:

What you must remember is your lawn mover pollutes more than everything else! That’s right off of the EPA’s website.

October 4, 2011 at 4:09 pm
(11) Pete says:

Almost everything…we may have just found something that pollutes a little more. A least the mower cuts grass when it makes noise.

October 5, 2011 at 11:57 am
(12) Nate says:

While I don’t think they doctored any numbers they missed the bigger picture. I read an article on what I’m about to express but can’t for the life of me find it again.

Sure the Motorcycle puts out more of those particular pollutants. The total environmental impact of the motorcycle vs that of a typical car is a better thing to look at. The pollutants generated in the production of a car are exponentially higher than that of a motorcycle. When you look at the pollution impact throughout a car and motorcycles lifespan, the motorcycle produces signfificantly less pollutants.

October 5, 2011 at 12:11 pm
(13) mred says:

AFAIK? elctric veghicles pollute MORE than conventional petroleum driven vehicles .

Not the vehicles themselves but the centralized electric generating staions produce more pollution than the bikes or cars would by reason of their need to meet tha demand of the generating capacity to recharge the batteries of electric driven vehicles.

all we`re doing is relocating the pollution from the individual vehicle to a central location.

Its all smoke and mirrors .there is absolutely no less pollution in the atmpsphere it just comes from a central location is all ,in stead of the individual vehicals

October 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm
(14) Peter says:

I love motorcycling, but it is true that bikes are worse than new cars for sure. What is especially bad is when we modify them. Ever ridden behind a Harley that has been re-jetted or re-mapped for after market pipes……Phew-ee!
Another thought I’ve had is although we enjoy the big group rides, the inefficiency is so bad. You might have 50 100 cu. in. or more bikes spewing out their pollutants, whereas a bus with 50 people would have a 400 cu. in. engine that’s better regulated. So it’s a bad 5000 cu. in. engine versus a 400.
They discontinued the VW Beetle in North America because it’s air-cooled engine couldn’t keep up with the standards. One day water-cooled bikes with catalytic converters and emission controls will be law, mark my words.
I know folks will debate all I’ve said because they feel their riding is somehow threatened, but it is what it is.

October 5, 2011 at 1:28 pm
(15) Paul says:

Were the bikes tested equipped with catalytic converters? Some have them some don’t.

October 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm
(16) Brett954 says:

Well I will have to admit that I didnt want to believe this at fist but makes sense. Bikes are extremely high performance. Big bang in a little package. Do I care that it emits more?? No. There are more SUVs on the road than motorcycles that defeat the purpose of even talking about comparing vehicles and cars. Plus, I live in Cali where we can split lanes and dont sit in traffic. LA’s daily stoppage on the 405 has got to be killing the ozone but I can slip through on my bike, decreasing the amount of toxins release and decreasing the amount of traffic on the road.
And last but not least, if the government starts controlling bike emissions then fine. Because by then Bike manufacturers will have better technology to incorporate the emissions controls and still retain performance. History has already proven this so. One this I will ask, better yet demand, DO NOT INCREASE MY REGISTRATION ANYMORE AND DO NOT REQUIRE MY BIKE TO BE SMOGGED! There is no reason for it, just the govt trying to get more of my money..
rant done…

October 5, 2011 at 3:14 pm
(17) droschke7 says:

the amount of methane gas produced by cows is what’s causing Global Warming should we therefore stop eating beefburgers? nothing is as green as it seems and you can prove anything you want using “facts” or the ommision of “facts”

October 5, 2011 at 3:34 pm
(18) Joe says:

Some good points brought up by everyone. mred said it best to me, I don’t get the Electric vehicles are green thing. Pete brought up some good points too, bikes are not real green right now but they have made a lot of improvement in 20 yrs and lets not forget that cars didn’t get better over night either. Pete, I know you are not trying to attack HD or anything but all 2011 and 2012 HD’s now come with O2 sensors (closed loop systems) and even if you change the pipes the aftermarket pipes have to have holes for O2′s. As far as jetting or mapping I see this a LOT with the sportbike crowd in my area, they of course do this to gain more HP just as HD riders do.

October 5, 2011 at 3:58 pm
(19) Bonnie Cousins says:

Pardon me while I roll up my pant-legs as it keeps getting deeper..& I think you all know what I mean….if not I can tell you.

October 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm
(20) Peter says:

Regarding my comments about HDs being re-jetted or re-mapped for after market pipes, and being stinky, I was using them as an example as it is common practice for more oomph. What I said applies to all bikes that do this conversion. Even though the new bikes may have better O2 sensor stuff, the majority of bikes are not 2010 or 2011. Since most bikes are older or just plain old, even new rules won’t stop the old stinkers I guess. They will be grand-fathered just like old cars.
I can see it’s the emerging powers that are going to really damage the atmosphere. With a coal-fired power staion a week being built, plus unrestrained nasty vehicles spewing out stuff, they are like the West was from the indutrial revolution forward until our smartening up in the last few years.

October 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm
(21) Rider says:

Who gives a RAT`S Butt–Drill for more oil build more coal and natual gas plants and nuke plants–be free of all the money sucking oil countries–we have it all and we can use these eviro nuts as fire wood–RIDE YOUR BIKE

October 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm
(22) Peter says:

“Rider” ….I think you might need to change to de-caf…:-)

October 5, 2011 at 7:55 pm
(23) Joe says:

Peter, your comment 20 and 22, couldn’t have said it better!!!

January 30, 2012 at 8:12 am
(24) Marty says:

I used to own motorbikes when I was a kid, but once I qualified for my car licence, I pissed the motorbikes off!
I still ride bicycles though.
I think motorcycles have all the disadvantages of motorcars & bicycles and none of the advantages.
Even the humble pushbike you can carry small items, like shopping groceries, small furniture pieces etc, because you are travelling so slow(average 30km P/H), whilst a motorcycle, you have to dress up like a spaceman and play with the traffic and you can’t safely take any items, at the high speeds you are forced to make.
The later model cars/vans have unleaded fuel & LPG gas options, that you can’t fit on a motorbike, and you can safely carry larger & heavier items, even at higher speeds, without creating danger.
When I did a motorcycle safety course when I was younger, the training instructor said motorcycles are only good for one thing and that’s- FUN!

July 1, 2012 at 12:22 am
(25) Yogibushi says:

I beg to differ here….in the idle test for emissions mc’s are allowed 1800 ppm hc’s

All other
vehicles the lowest rating required was 220. And that was very low compared to other vehicles with. A higher tolerance.
My motorcycle 1100cc was at 178 ppm…so below what is allowed for even the most efficient and newer car..
Another myth blown in Reverse!!!

January 2, 2013 at 1:11 pm
(26) Tom says:

As much as I love the show Mythbusters, I don’t believe everything they say. Remember their show is about entertainment. Scientists do calculations before doing any laboratory investigations. That being said,
what is the data really showing? Motorcycles produce less emissions than 20 years ago and so do cars. As for being “green”, how is it possible that an electronic car that has up to 10 batteries inside is more environmentally friendly than a car with a single battery with a combustible engine? If you say batteries produce less emissions you’re correct, however the PROCESS to make those batteries is worse than the output of a vehicle.
If you REALLY want to help the environment, ride a bicycle, take the train, or walk. Let Mythbusters do what they do well, blow things up! Ride safe brothers and sisters.

January 2, 2013 at 9:59 pm
(27) Rider says:

Hey Joe how the he__ are you doing, hope you had a Merry Christmas And a Happy New Year. The main reason forthe so-called global warming is cow farts, horse farts and hot B.S. air and farts FROM Washington DC. Joe I`ll give you a break and not put down H.D. this time.

January 3, 2013 at 4:22 pm
(28) Mike Johnson says:

Interesting and thoughtful analysis for the most part.

Although my bike is quite smelly when starting up,
it does get at least triple the mileage of my car.

Does this tip the scales in the bike’s favor environmentally, when all effects are taken into account?


March 4, 2013 at 9:49 am
(29) spookiewon says:

I never make the argument that my bike means I use less gas, because it doesn’t. I use my bike for things most people use their cars for, including routine shopping trips and camping, but even fully loaded for camping it gets twice the gas mileage my car does. And I ride three times as far on each trip. When I go shopping in the car I drive directly there and directly back. No matter the intentions when I leave, once I get on the bike, I take the scenic route. I absolutely do make up any fuel savings and then some with increased mileage. I just do. Not that this bothers me. I ride for the pleasure, and making routine trips on the bike just lets me enjoy the mundane more. But I can’t delude myself into thinking I’m riding to save the environment, or even to save money. It just doesn’t work out that way.

March 4, 2013 at 9:58 am
(30) spookiewon says:

Marty, you’re thinking transportation. We don’t ride for transportation, we ride for fun. When we seem to be riding for transportation, we’re just injecting some fun into an otherwise routine task. What I hear you saying is that once you could drive a car you “pissed off” fun. That strikes me as kinda stupid.

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