Q: I'm considering buying a scooter or even a motorcycle. They seem more eco-friendly than cars, right?
A: What is it about warm summer days that makes many of us daydream about zipping around town on a jazzy little scooter or hitting the open road on a badass cruiser? And with thimbles for gas tanks, they must be way better for the environment than your average automobile, no? Sorry to burst your bubble, but that's not really true.
Sure, you might get more kilometres per litre (Harleys, for instance, are three times more fuel-efficient than your average sedan and therefore emit fewer greenhouse gases), but according to experts in California, even the cleanest 2004 motorcycle is at least eight times dirtier than the dirtiest 2004 car when it comes to pollutants like carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide. And 90 times worse when it comes to hydrocarbons! Whichever way you drive it, a foul, foul affair.
"How can this be?" you cry. Well, cars are subject to much more stringent regulations than either scooters or motorbikes, which don't need to meet Drive Clean standards. And most bike makers have been slow to clean up their act.
Environment Canada says it has pretty much stood idly by up to now because there are just so few of the things on the road, and most are only wheeled out during one season - this one. When you add up all the Harleys and Vespas out there, they only account for 1 per cent of harmful emissions. Still, Canada will be implementing what's called the World Motorcycle Test in 2006 to match California emissions standards. By then, motorcycles and scooters will have to have pollution-curbing catalytic converters. Fuel injection systems and oxygen sensors will also help with emission reduction. In the meantime, there are still a couple of things to watch for. Whether you're opting for a scooter or a hog, whatever you do, steer clear of smaller two-stroke engines, please. Without getting into all the nitty-gritty, two-stroke engines are lighter, shorter-lived, completely unregulated and much, much, much filthier. And although nearly every motorcycle now has a four-stroke , far fewer scooters have made the switch. Scooters, while cute and super-fuel-efficient, are actually the worst option. Unless, as we said, you get one of the four-stroke types, like the Vespa ET4 ($5500) from Motoretta on College. All new models of Honda scooters and motorbikes also have all the strokes you need (available at McBride Cycle on Dundas West starting at $2,550 for scooters and $13,400 for hogs). In fact, Honda's GoldWing 1800 ($26,799) and Interceptor ($13,400) motorbikes already exceed stringent California standards years ahead of schedule. Rev Cycle on Bathurst carries a Ducati that comes with a catalytic converter. Trouble is, most people take it off after they get it home because they think it weighs down the bike. Same goes for emission canisters that recycle exhaust gases on virtually all motorbikes these days. Turns out most riders don't equate top performance with eco-friendliness. But we trust that you, dear reader, would never do such a thing. For a truly earth-conscious option, there's the electric scooter. Vancouver-based Green World Electric Vehicles, the only retailer of the EVT-168 ($3,200) in Canada, will ship to T.O. This zero-emission, retro electro-scooter (out later this summer) can run from 10 to 100km/hour and takes two to five hours to charge.
Now for those who already have a scooter or cruiser but want to ease its eco burden.
If it's got a diesel engine, you can switch to biodiesel in a flash. No need to convert your engine or anything. Either fill up your tank at Queen and Pape (see www.alternate-nrg.com for info) or blend your own oily brew (for recipes go to www.dancingrabbit. org/biodiesel/makeit.html).
Remember, biodiesel will solidify in the cold, so use it in warm weather only.
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