After the recent reporting of the introduction of a new car tax on sales in India, mainly due to the pollution caused by the amount of vehicles on the roads, I had a thought; my move to motorcycling to work rather than using the car, above the actual reasons I did it (mainly enjoyment of riding, but also to cut down my commute time) is it a step in the right direction or just misguided reasoning clouded by my love of motorcycles?
A huge generalisation and doesn’t reflect all things
In a very simplistic way, you could say that if two items use similar materials and are constructed in a similar manner, the lighter/smaller item would generally have the smallest environmental impact. This is of course a huge generalisation and doesn’t reflect all things, but for the purposes of this article, it helps me make my point.
Motorcycles and cars are largely made of steel, aluminium, and plastics, and are manufactured using very similar, if not the same, equipment and processes.
So, as a visual example, motorbikes vary in weight, but are roughly in the weight range of 200 kg as a general rule, or as a median average. By contrast, on average European cars weight around 1400kg. This isn’t an exact science, but I’m pretty sure most people can see where I am going with this. Looking at this as a reasonable example, the car is 8 times heavier than the bike, which represents a significantly larger use of resources and subsequently more embodied emissions.
Motorcycles produce less carbon dioxide
The emissions picture, however, is far less obvious.
“Not all emissions are created equal. Motorcycles produce less carbon dioxide, but CO2 is the puniest member of the greenhouse gas family. Methane, oxides of nitrogen, and hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide are much more sinister. Motorcycles completely outclass cars in their emissions of all of these gasses and there is a substantial argument over the fact that motorcycles produce more emissions than that of an average 4X4.” *
That being said, a basic understanding of chemistry can show these figures could be misrepresentative. The emissions stated in these articles are calculated based on the amount of fuel used; one molecule reacts with air and creates etc, however a 4X4 uses several times more molecules of fuel than a motorcycle would. This results in it producing several times more CO2, methane, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. Various studies and articles I’ve read don’t seem to take this into account and subsequently provide misleading conclusions.
“When all of this is taken into account, the average motorcycle can be said to either pollute between, 1.5 times less to 10 times more, than that of an average car.” **
Over 85% of commuter vehicles only carry one person
Of course there are many other key factors that need to be taken into account to arrive at a more fair and realistic view;
- Using a motorbike results in a huge reduction in commuter congestion. Over 85% of commuter vehicles only carry one person.
- A motorbike used around a seventh of the resources taken to build one car, resulting in a lower embodied carbon impact.
- Bikes tend to be purchased as a “pride and joy” item, so are more likely to be serviced properly and looked after, resulting in better fuel efficiency and a longer life cycle
- Less time is spent in congestion causing emissions whilst not making progress. The comparative CO2 output against other vehicles that can’t filter through traffic will be drastically less.
- Generally speaking bikes use less fuel than cars – 55-81% according to a 1992 study (22/04/2016, http://www.greenchoices.org)
- Bikes have a reputation for being dangerous. DVLA Statistics in fact suggest that motorbikes are less dangerous for other people than cars, and not as dangerous for the bikers themselves as is often thought. (11/03/2016, http://www.greenchoices.org)
Commuting time down 50%
So, the argument is neither a simple one, nor is it clear cut. If you want my opinion, the embodied emissions, coupled with my reduction in commuting time, down 50%, means I am riding to work and back on one seventh of a car and spending half the time I would be to get where I’m going.
That to me sounds like a pretty good reduction in emissions when compared to my old commute.
* (11/03/2016, http://sustainability.uchicago.edu/resources)
** (11/03/2016, http://sustainability.uchicago.edu/resources)