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British ban on combustion engines: what about bikes?

The British government has announced its intention to ban sales of new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040. Motorcycles have not been specifically mentioned.

The British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF), a FEMA member from the United Kingdom, looks into the matter and asks some relevant questions.

While hybrid and electric cars are beginning to mature, current battery technology means they still have restricted ranges and the charging infrastructure is limited. Similarly, electric motorcycles have a long way to go, and hybrid models are likely to be impossible to implement within a typical bike frame. However, 2040 is still a long way away – time for vehicle and battery technology to mature. Indeed, the government’s decision has been seen by some as lacking urgency despite many cities already exceeding legal levels of nitrous oxide pollutants.

The BMF believes the government’s announcement produces more questions than answers:

What about electricity demand?
A massive increase of electricity demand, which a wholesale switch in vehicle energy supply represents, would place enormous strain on a system which is struggling to meet projected demand. In October 2016, the National Grid’s energy margin had risen to 6.6% – an increase over the previous year’s “tight but manageable” 5.1%. Part of that improvement was the reprieve for the Eggborough coal power plant – the recent investment in renewables has not been matched by a proportionate gain in useful electricity supply.

Can critical infrastructure cope with the change?
There are believed to be around 110,000 plug-in EV or hybrid cars in the UK – the vast proportion of these are hybrids. As of July 28 2017, the supply of charging points – according to – was 13,155 connectors, at 4,582 locations. In the preceding 30 days, 295 new points had been added. If the numbers of charging points increase at that rate, there will be an additional 81,500 charging connectors by 2040. Most internal combustion cars can be refuelled in less than 10 minutes. The fastest electric connectors can typically take 75 minutes (at a fast-charging rate which is not recommended for good battery life). A full charge at home will usually be overnight.

What effect will this have on motorcycle culture?
A recent survey of European motorcyclists by FEMA revealed that if riders were given the choice between buying a more expensive non-emissions bike than an internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalent, 87% said they would not. In fact, 76% said that if ICE bikes were banned from cities, they would find an alternative – most likely a car.

Despite all the unanswered questions right now, one thing that’s clear – whatever happens, this debate will be raging for decades.

What are your thoughts about the announced ban? Tell BMF on Facebook or Twitter.

Written by Robert Drane
Photograph by Wim Taal