Are we witnessing the end of motorcycles with combustion engines or do they still have a future, now that several national governments have indicated that they will ban the sale of new vehicles with an internal combustion engine in the near future?
In this blog FEMA’s Dolf Willigers explores whether the motorcycle with an internal combustion engine has a chance to survive.
There is much talk these days about the ‘energy transition’ or electrification of vehicles. Usually this affects mainly cars, which is of course a matter of numbers, but also powered two-wheelers and other light vehicles are mentioned. The majority of the messages promise little good for the future of motorcycles that are fitted with an internal combustion engine. But is this right? Are we witnessing the end of motorcycles with combustion engines or is there still a future for them?
The European Commission’s ‘Green Deal’ includes some ambitious goals to reduce our environmental footprint that will certainly affect motorcycling too. According to the European Commission, transport accounts for a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve climate neutrality, it says a 90% reduction in transport emissions is needed by 2050. Also, transport should become drastically less polluting, especially in cities. To fight this, the European Commission “will also propose to revise by June 2021 the legislation on CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, to ensure a clear pathway from 2025 onwards towards zero-emission mobility”.
The urge to build cleaner vehicles already leaves its marks. Newly proposed Euro 7 emission standards for cars are that low, that car manufacturers already have complained that if these standards are implemented it will not be possible for them anymore to produce cars with an internal combustion engine. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned against “excessively strict exhaust regulations for the European car industry” that would effectively be a ban on the combustion engine. The number of cities with a low emission zone (LEZ) is increasing and in many cases, LEZ becomes ZEZ: zero emission zone. Several national authorities have indicated that they will ban new vehicles with an internal combustion engine (ICE) soon (Norway: 2025; Denmark, Iceland, Ireland: 2030; France and Spain: 2040). In Amsterdam, mopeds with a combustion engine will be banned from 2025 and from 2030 all vehicles in the urban area must have zero emission. The prime minister of the United Kingdom recently announced an ambitious plan to reduce emissions. One of the items was to bring forward the ban on new vehicles with a combustion engine from 2035 to 2030. However, there is some good news too: after enquiring to the scope of the new measures our member MAG UK found out that in the UK motorcycles are not part of the ban.
Although electric motorcycles certainly have advantages to ICE motorcycles, there are some disadvantages too. Let’s start with the advantages. Electric motorcycles do not emit greenhouse gasses like CO2 or poisonous gasses like NO. Of course, electricity to charge the batteries has to come from somewhere, that might even be coal plants, so the benefits for the air quality differ from country to country. Next, they are cheaper to run: less maintenance and less fuel costs. Then there is the aspect of access to cities with LEZ zones. Although there still are not many cities that ban motorcycles, with an electric motorcycle you certainly have an advantage when you travel in – for example – London or Paris. And last but not least the biggest advantage: the torque from zero RPM which gives electric motorcycles a fantastic acceleration. Everyone who tries an electric motorcycle, steps of with a big grin, because riding an electric motorcycle is real fun and you do not for a moment miss the experience of an ICE motorcycle during the ride.
‘Do not expect to buy a proper electric motorcycle under € 20,000’
The disadvantages are still the limited range of most electric motorcycles, although we could see some progress in recent years. Still, the average range is about 100 to 150 kilometres, which is enough for most commuters and perhaps some leisure riders, but not for long range riders. Especially since the charging capacity of most motorcycles is quite low, which means that it will cost you a lot of time to charge the battery. Did you ever need four hours to fuel your bike? And oh: bring your own cable with you, please. Talking about the battery: one much neglected aspect of batteries is that the capacity decreases, which after some years will affect the range in a negative way. Estimations differ and it is dependent of the way you use and treat the battery, but 20% loss of power in a few years is not exceptional. This is something that you don’t have to bother about with an ICE motorcycle. The other problem with electric motorcycles is the price. Do not expect to buy a proper electric motorcycle under € 20,000. Of course, your running costs are much lower, but to really benefit from that you have to make a proper mileage.
You can have very good reasons to buy an electric motorcycle and you can also have other good reasons to buy a combustion engine motorcycle. For now, electric motorcycles and scooters are perfect for the commuter or anybody else who usually rides in urban areas and doesn’t need to go far. Or the leisure rider who uses his bike for relatively short rounds and doesn’t care to take a break now and then.
For the traveller who wants to make good mileage on a day or the professional rider who doesn’t have the time to wait until his battery is charged again, the internal combustion engine is still the better choice. Especially since with the new Euro standards motorcycles have become much cleaner and modern motorcycles, especially the smaller ones, have become much more fuel economical. A Belgian motorcycle magazine did a small, non-scientific test with several small and larger motorcycles and discovered that it is possible to ride 100 kilometres on 2.205 litre with a 125cc scooter. A mid-sized 650cc motorcycle used 3.064 litres and even a big Indian Scout Bobber Twenty stayed under 4 litres per 100 km. They compared the outcome of the test with a similar test they ran 17 years ago, and the differences are significant: the winner then would now have finished on place 8 and two bikes of the same brand and type (but with 17 years evolution in between) differ now almost a litre in use per 100 kilometres. From 4.57 l/100 km to 3.647 l/100 km means a reduction in fuel consumption of 20 percent.
‘Brussels based lobby organizations like Transport & Environment are entirely focussed on battery electric vehicles and dismiss everything else’
Electric motorcycles are getting better (and probably cheaper), but ICE motorcycles are getting better, and better for the environment, too. Perhaps hybrid motorcycles could be a solution: an internal combustion engine combined with an electric engine for urban areas. Kawasaki has already developed a prototype. There are some other alternatives too of course: hydrogen powered fuel cell engines already exist, but there is still no hydrogen motorcycle for sale. There are cars with hydrogen fuel cell engines, but they are still very expensive, and the hydrogen infrastructure is developing just very slowly. I wouldn’t put my money on that. Synthetic fuels to replace diesel and petrol exist for some time and are used in mechanical tools like chain saws. Very clean, but also expensive. Still, a possible alternative for petrol in future. Then there are biofuels. After an initial popularity, biofuels got out of focus, but recently waste-, agricultural crop residue-, electricity- and algae-based biofuels attract some attention again as an alternative for both diesel and petrol. Brussels based lobby organizations like Transport & Environment are entirely focussed on battery electric vehicles and dismiss everything else, but biofuels are an important element of the EU’s renewable energy policy, under condition that the production of feedstock for biofuels is sustainable and does not cause deforestation through indirect land use change. For me this can only mean one thing: fossil fuels may be on the way out, but the internal combustion engine still has a chance as long as we are allowed to ride motorcycles with combustion engines and are allowed to enter low emission zones, perhaps on a hybrid motorcycle in electric mode.
Written by Dolf Willigers
Top photograph courtesy of Energica and Honda.
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