Fact or Fiction? Motorcycles are "Greener" than Cars

| by The Volokh Conspiracy

By Jonathan H. Adler

The LA Times reports on a "Mythbusters" investigation into whether motorcycles are a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation than cars, at least with regard to their fuel consumption and emissions. The investigation involved road-testing vehicles of each type from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s while monitoring the vehicles’ fuel consumption and emissions. The results:

Motorcycles were indeed more fuel-efficient than cars and emitted less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, but they emitted far more smog-forming hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, as well as the toxic air pollutant carbon monoxide. For the most recent model year vehicles tested — from the ‘00s — the motorcycle used 28% less fuel than the comparable decade car and emitted 30% fewer carbon dioxide emissions, but it emitted 416% more hydrocarbons, 3,220% more oxides of nitrogen and 8,065% more carbon monoxide.

So, if you’re primarily concerned about greenhouse gas emissions — and don’t need to transport passengers or much luggage — motorcycles might reduce your environmental impact. But if you’re concerned about traditional air pollutants — the kind that can affect people’s health here and now — motorcycles are far worse. This should not surprise, as automobiles are subject to far more stringent emission control requirements — and it’s that much easier to add emission controls to a car than a bike as well.