Smog Police Gunning For Bikes….

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The smog police have finally caught up with motorcycles –  last bastion (excepting weed whackers) of relatively unregulated internal combustion.

The Environmental Protection Agency has come down hard on bikes during the past couple of years. In 2006, all motorcycle manufacturers had to reduce the evaporative and nitrogen oxide emissions of their machines bikes by 60 percent. That meant the end of carburetors (cars haven’t had them since the late 1980s) and (worse) the adoption of computer controlled engine management (ECMS), the same electronic brain boxes that also control the engines (and everything else, just about) in all new cars.

Most bikes also now come from the factory with catastrophic converters fitted into their cans, too.

All of this is making new bikes more expensive – bad enough – but much worse, it’s also making it much harder for the average owner to perform the tuning and modification that has long been a big part of the fun of owning a bike (just as it used to be with cars, a long time ago). 

Bikes, of course, have been equipped with anti-pollution devices (and “emissions calibrated”) for years. But the gear involved until quite recently was minimalist and – easily defeated. 

Most obviously, the motorcycle industry was able to continue using carburetors – even on large cc sport bikes – until just a couple of years ago. Contrast this with cars, which have been fuel-injected across the board (even the most basic econo-box) since about 1987. Why have carbs been tossed in the bin? They make great power, are simple and easy to tune – but they do not have the ability to meter fuel as precisely as EFI. That means less efficient combustion, which means (drum roll) higher exhaust emissions.

So, they’re history. Even small cc off-road/dirt bikes are increasingly being fitted with EFI. I’m pretty sure all 2011 model year street bikes are injected. 

Of course, computers are necessary to run the EFI; and that means an array of sensors, switches and wiring. Time to add such acronyms as MAP and MAF to your vocabulary. Goodbye jets. Hello fuzzy logic and laptops.

And fatter repair bills when any of this stuff craps out on you. 

The aftermarket has caught up and offers smog-legal replacement pieces – but it ain’t cheap. Not like a set of jets, anyhow.  

Worse, the  added complexity and development/certification costs will be reflected in higher prices for such things as mufflers and full exhaust systems. Many of us will have to turn the job of tuning our bikes over to the $75-per-hour pros – just as most cagers have had to do.

Catalytic converters make it harder (and cost more) to modify the stock exhaust system – formerly another easy (and fairly cheap) upgrade that many bikers did the day after they rode home from the dealership.

It’s also technically  illegal to “modify” the factory system, though it’s still easy to get away with – for now –  because in most parts of the country, the annual smog checks that apply to cars don’t yet apply to bikes.

But inevitably attention will focus on motorcycles – particularly as regards the politically charged issue of “tampering” –  defeating or rendering inoperative any part of the factory-installed emissions system.

Most bike shops will still – with a wink and a nod – gut whatever smog gear a new bike comes with as part of the tuning process and the quest for maximum power. Just as it was circa 1977 when it came to cars.

No car dealer would touch that with a 50 foot pole today, of course. The EPA Gestapo would come down on him real hard, probably close his store and definitely fine him into poverty. 

Motorcyclists will soon face the same constricted reality. Not only will it be harder and more expensive to make any changes to our rides, bike shops will want no part of doing anything that might cause the EPA’s hellhounds to descend. And we may soon find ourselves waiting in line to get “smog checked” alongside the cagers.

The irony of it all is that bikes represent a tiny fraction of the daily-driven vehicle fleet –  less than 3 percent of all registered motor vehicles in the United States. Sure, that number has increased lately as rising gas prices have made bikes more appealing – but motorcycle emissions are still a small percentage of the total relative to cars and trucks. And it should be added that bikes – even high-performance bikes – are all very fuel-efficient, which is arguably itself an “emissions control,” since the less gas you burn, the less pollution you produce. That includes even C02, the “greenhouse” gas the save-the-planet Maggots harp about constantly.  

Does any of that matter to the fuhrers who are targeting bikes? Of course not. Because it ain’t the emissions that matter.

It’s the power that comes from regulating those (supposed) emissions.  


  1. We can but hope. I’m finally totally in favor of emission checks on bike like California does on cars. Between the open-piped noiseboxes and the bikes running so rich that being behind one in traffic makes my eyes water, I’m sick of it. I would no longer oppose requiring all bikes to run unaltered factory exhaust systems, no exceptions.

    • Hi John,

      Why? This strikes me as punitive. Noise is not the same thing as emissions, for one. (And I agree with you that over-loud bikes are obnoxious; but this is a matter of courtesy and civility, not air quality). Second, the emissions of motorcycles are an irrelevance as regards air quality because there are so few (proportionately) and also because a bike – even a big one – has a very small engine relative to almost any car. Subjecting them to emissions checks is therefore . . . punitive. What’s next? Testing outdoor power equipment such as lawn mowers?

      And: Running “rich” – that’s counterproductive. Most bikes are fuel-injected and are programmed for the optimum A/F ratio. Over-rich fouls plugs and decreases performance, which most bikers try to avoid!

      • And yet…almost every time I am behind a bike, it is the eye-watering stench of unburned fuel.Clover

        Engine size is not relevant…I suspect a 15 year old 250cc bike pollutes more in 5000 miles than my 5700cc Magnum did in 90,000. A lawnmower pollutes many times as much as a modern car.

        • That’s anecdotal. The facts are what they are. Shall we impose rigmarole based on your nose?

          Engine size is very relevant. A modern fuel-injected 750 cc engine emits a fraction of the emissions of a 2.0 liter engine. You are comparing apples and oranges; it’s either disingenuous or ignorant.

          • I’m sorry, you’re simply wrong. Small engines and OPE are FILTHY. Bikes, until the last few years, are FILTHY.

            When checked, my Magnum (a tier 2 ULEV) blew ZERO across the board. No hydrocarbons, no CO, no NOX.Clover

            • Nonsense.

              Recent vintage bikes have essentially the same emissions controls as cars (O2 sensors, cats and EFI). Referencing an old bike with carbs isn’t relevant to now and also not relevant, period – because of the relative handful of such bikes on the road. These bikes – even if they are “filthy” don’t have any tangible effect on air quality. You simply don’t like them and therefore wish to punish the people who own them.

              Your citing of “bin” and “tiers” indicates you know perfectly well that emissions output is now being measured in fractions of percents.

              • Yes, most bikes have finally stepped into 1990. Many used carbuerators until quite recently. (Some use a carb even now!) Many still use primitive EFI, some ran open-loop until recently. Heck, mine doesn’t have a knock sensor!Clover

                My citing of “tiers” was simply what the emission sticker on my Magnum said. (CARB-certified Tier II ULEV. Not bad for 350hp.)

                • Yes – and 1990 cars were nearly emissions-free, too. Since that time, emissions reductions have been fractional. And it’s neither here nor there as regards the impact of such bikes on air quality, which is negligible.

                  It’s a question of diminishing returns.

                  I have several old bikes – including a ’76 KZ900 with carbs and (you’ll have a stroke) a ’75 two-stroke triple that is really “filthy.”

                  So what?

                  Neither goes out on the road more than occasionally. No harm is being to the Earf.

                  PS: If you’re so concerned about the “environmental impact” of vehicles, why are you driving a big, heavy wagon with a big engine? It’s much more than you neeeeeeeeeeeeed.

                  • I’m not an enviro nut, simply tired of incorrect “facts”. You’ll see nobody more disgusted than me about lots of the EPA crap. (Especially the current diesel emission stuff.) I drive a Crown Vic And ride a Sportster.Clover

                    I have no desire to live somewhere the air is similar to 1970 Los Angeles, Or present-day Beijing.

                    • Well, Clover, then you ought to be disgusted by your “facts”!

                      You assert that your nose tells you bikes are “filthy.” I point out that bikes made since the mid-2000s are (for the most part) fuel-injected and emit virtually no harmful pollution – like modern cars. A fact. You go on and on about “filthy” old bikes. I agree those old (carbureted) bikes emit more than modern ones but point out that they are so few in number that whatever they emit is irrelevant, as far as air quality. A fact, again.

                      You ignore both and continue to imply that (a) all bikes are “filthy” and that these “filthy” bikes represent a real threat to air quality. The idea that you’ll be living in 1970 LA because of a handful of older bikes is neurasthenic – emoting hysteria – and typically Clover!

                    • Even when I’ve been in California I didn’t see enough people on two wheels to make any measurable difference. And most everywhere people are riding mostly modern motorcycles.

                      Too few people for too few miles.

                    • Morning, Brent!


                      But this Clover’s nose is offended. Therefore, bike owners ought to be subjected to time/money-wasting rigmarole, to punish them for offending Clover’s nose.

                    • You write:

                      “I have no desire to live somewhere the air is similar to 1970 Los Angeles, Or present-day Beijing.”

                      Well, good news! You won’t have to. Not because of motorcycles, at any rate – and not because of the absence of emissions testing for bikes.

                      Maybe if legions of new two-stroke triples were being sold. But they stopped selling those here in the early ’80s, a long time ago. Emissions of new bikes and bikes made within the past 10-15 years are negligible on an individual bike level and in the aggregate, an irrelevance as far as air quality. There simply aren’t enough of them in use to make a (bad) difference.

  2. Ah yes.. Obama and his precious EPA Gestapo. Every industry or thing in your country that even breathes is strangulated by regulations. Soon to happen here. The only thing our EPA cares about is noise at this point, providing it’s not pouring out thick smoke.

    On the side of EFI, you can always get a remapped/performance chip. They’d never know.

    • The energy and pollution used to make these anti emissions devices for motorbikes is more than the bikes themselves will generate. The emissions created by the manufacture and shipping and installation of vapor recovery devices for gas pumps far exceeds the energy and emissions created by pumping the gas into vehicles. Ergo, MORE pollution is created by recovering the tiny amount of vapors emitted by pumping gas into your vehicles. Note this fact you clovers.

    • While the US federal government continues to force ever diminishing returns China keeps getting a pass. If people really wanted to protect the planet they would demand China institute 1970s and 1980s cheap and effective emission controls. 1990s stuff if you really want to push. That will have very many factors of ten more benefit and cost less than if by some magic wand the USA went from its present values to zero.

      Nope. China gets a pass. So do others. This tells us the real agenda.


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