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Don’t ban petrol - build better E-bikes instead

BikeSocial Publisher since January 2017.



Dont ban petrol bikes make better electric bikes_01


A recent consultation from the Department for Transport (DFT) proposes a ban on the sale of all new petrol motorcycles after 2035. For motorcycles and scooters under 125cc the ban is proposed for 2030. After those dates you will only be able to buy new bikes that have zero tailpipe emissions, which means electric bikes or maybe Hydrogen (when the technology is commercially viable).

It's possibly the first time in recent history that legislation will force consumers to buy something they don’t want that might cost twice as much and be half as good without an alternative available. This isn’t a rant against progress but let’s not forget that;

  • We didn’t stop using coal to heat our homes because it was banned

  • We didn’t stop using horses for transport because they were banned

  • We didn’t stop sending letters by post because they were banned

  • We didn’t stop using landlines or buying magazines because they were banned

We did all of the above because something better came along that changed our behaviour and, in all cases, the old methods are still allowed, available and still in use.

But… it always takes a while to change our minds because the first generation of new technology is usually worse and less convenient than what already exists.

And so, regardless of what Government thinks, we won’t stop riding petrol motorcycles because the sale of new ones will be banned in 13 years. We’ll just continue to ride old ones until the alternatives become better and cheaper.

So far, the shift to electric vehicles has been mostly in push bikes, e-scooters, small motorcycles and family cars. Eighteen per cent of UK new car sales are now electric and many experts agree that is the level of market share where products switch over from being bought by early adopters to nudging into the mainstream.

But the aviation, shipping and haulage industries are still reliant on fossil fuels and a recent projection from Bloomberg suggested that while 70-95% of bikes, cars, buses and light commercials could be and are likely to be zero emissions by 2050 (when many countries have agreed to be Net Zero), the haulage industry will be stuck on 29%. And right now, there’s no proposed solution for aviation other than synthetic fuels.

Green synthetic fuels are made by using renewable energy to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen and then combine the hydrogen with CO2 from Carbon-capture to make liquid compounds such as Methanol, which can be transported and stored safely and easily before being made into high grade, energy dense fuels for conventional ICE engines.

The production is massively inefficient, but, like all new things, it’s getting better. In countries like Chile that has more wind than its wind-powered electricity grid requires there’s an opportunity to use that surplus to power the first stage of the synthetic fuel process more economically. MotoGP has committed to use 100% synthetic fuels by 2027.

Without synthetic fuels there won’t be planes or commercial shipping in 2050. Synthetic fuels might be more expensive, but their energy density means they can also give many more mpg and, if the cost of keeping our ICE bikes for leisure (while we commute on an e-bike) accepts that, I think many of us will come round to the idea.

Motorcycles do fewer miles and have a considerably longer lifespan than cars so, we could still be riding the petrol bikes we buy in 2034 for a long time. Maybe we’ll become like Cuba, where decades of economic sanctions mean many residents still drive patched-up 1950s Cadillacs. In which case, the smart move is to buy a 1990s Honda now because they’ll be the last bikes still running after 50 years of this nonsense.

In the UK we have two major lobby groups fighting for motorcycling. The National Motorcycle Council (NMC) brings together most of the groups representing riders (including the BMF) to amplify the voice of its various members. The other is Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), which has a 50-year heritage of standing up for riders’ rights. MAG has a different personality to the NMC and, while we might not agree with all their causes, most of us are very happy they are out there fighting for us. Until recently MAG was part of the NMC but has moved away because it has a different standpoint on autonomy, funding and the Net Zero challenge. The NMC isn’t challenging the Net Zero legislation where MAG argues against the legally binding nature of a Net Zero target.

Both groups are pushing for the UK Government to broaden its thinking away from just electric bikes as an alternative and that the overall drive to Net Zero should be pro-business and pro-growth.

The NMC suggests that the UK needs to be aligned with other countries and aim for 2050 for Net Zero because motorcycling is a global business. None of the major manufacturers are going to change their timeline-to-Net-Zero to accommodate the UK banning petrol power in 2035.

MAG’s view, based on surveys of their members is that there should be no ban at all on petrol motorcycles ever because our contribution to global warming is negligible. My hunch is that’s a negotiating ploy based on the thinking if you accept or offer up a date of, let’s say 2040, it becomes a negotiation, and you end up agreeing 2035.

Which is exactly what happened recently. There was talk of a ban for all new petrol bikes sold after 2035. The UK’s motorcycle industry association (MCIA) offered that if bigger bikes could remain till 2040, they would accept a ban on smaller bikes in 2030. The DFT accepted the 2030 proposal for smaller bikes but didn’t budge on the 2035 date for bigger ones. One-nil to the DFT.

It’s easy to side emotionally with the MAG perspective, but in the real world, there will be a proposed ban on petrol motorcycles by 2035 because that’s the final date for hybrid electric/petrol car sales. The date for pure petrol and diesel cars is currently proposed to be 2030.

That word ‘proposed’ is important though because the car industry is enormous and global and, while electric cars might represent 18 percent of new car sales, that’s only a fraction of the total car park in the UK and it’ll be a long time before most of us can afford to buy one or have the ability to charge one easily if your house/flat has no designated parking.

The transition from fossil fuel to Net Zero in the UK will almost certainly run beyond 2035 because the authorities understand dates as a negotiating tool in the same way that MAG do. If they had stuck to the legally binding global 2050 deadline, the move to alternative powertrains would be even less enthusiastic.

What we need right now are smart global decisions to be made about the future of personal and industrial transport that look beyond battery-powered electric cars. The haulage and aviation industries are the keys to solving that problem.

Failing that it’ll be the likes of Tesla, Rivian and whichever of the mass-production electric motorcycles makes the right bike first who will change our hearts as well as our minds.

Because, whatever you, me or that gobby bloke down the pub says right now, if Honda launches an electric RC30 tomorrow that does 140mph, weighs 165kg, costs pennies to run, out accelerates a fighter jet, does 250 miles to a charge (which takes five minutes) and retails for £9995, we’ll be fighting in the queue to buy one.

And that’s the point. Again. We motorcyclists won’t easily give up petrol because we have to. The swap to electric will happen when we want to. Just like the adoption of four stroke engines, foot gear changes, ABS and suspension. We will gladly give up petrol when something better comes along.

In the meantime, read the responses to the DFT consultation from the NMC and MAG here.

Image - KarDesignKoncepts


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