How Brussels could kill the motorcycle – POLITICO
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The EU is about to end the age of the combustion engine, which is very bad news for motorcyclists.
The European Commission plans to set high emission requirements that only zero-emission vehicles will be able to meet. The policy so far only covers cars and vans, but drivers fear the Commission may end up picking them up – although motorbikes are absent from the huge Fit for 55 climate package Released this summer, the bloc’s 2050 target to cut transport emissions by 90% includes all parts of the sector.
A ban on internal combustion engines “That would be a disaster…and would lead to the death of motorcycling as a hobby for many,” said Michael Lenzen of the German Motorcyclists’ Association (BVDM).
Although motorcycles represent only 2% of the European car market, the sector has reason to be concerned. Traditional motorcycles tend to be more fuel efficient than cars and emit fewer greenhouse gases, but they’re still big transmitters pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.
When the UK announcement its own plans to decarbonise transport by 2035 this summer, these included Class L vehicles, a category that covers motorcycles, by requiring them to be “totally zero tailpipe emissions” by 2035.
“While cars and vans outnumber motorbikes on UK roads,” said the UK Department for Transport, “motorbikes represent a large and significant vehicle population, with 1.4 million vehicles registered in 2020. – and we don’t want to see them continue to run on fossil fuels as the rest of the vehicle fleet is cleaned up.
Bans are already starting to happen in some cities, with Paris, London and Barcelona the introduction of access restrictions for certain types of motorcycles. “And it is to be expected that these will be tightened even more in the years to come,” said Rolf Frieling, president of the German Biker Union.
Two-wheeler electrification is something that can be done for motorcycles and scooters used for daily urban commuting, where distances are not long and recharging is easy. This is not the case for those who leave at sunset on the open road.
“If I want to go to France and do some nice curves but have to take a one-hour charging break every 150 kilometres, that’s no fun at all,” Frieling said. Add to that carrying a charging cable and various plug-in or payment systems, he said, and a ban on internal combustion engine vehicles would effectively “kill” motorcycle tourism.
Runners generally agree with this review.
Most would give up driving rather than switch to a zero-emission vehicle, according to to a survey conducted by the Federation of European Motorcyclists Associations (FEMA) in September. Although 47% of respondents said they would switch to a zero-emission motorcycle, 89% were unwilling to pay more for a motorcycle than for a conventional motorcycle.
A group of motorcycle and scooter manufacturers – including Honda, Yamaha, KTM and Piaggo – formed a consortium in September to establish a standard for interchangeable batteries, which would allow a dead battery to be replaced quickly rather than waiting for a recharge. But this is largely intended for small motorcycles.
ACEM, the industry lobby, called on the Commission “to consider the use of (electric) powered two-wheelers in urban areas as a valuable contribution, alongside public transport, walking and bike”.
There is some activity at the higher end of the market, with bigger and faster bikes aiming to appeal to traditional motorcycle enthusiasts.
The Tesla of the industry is Zero, an American startup that only makes e-bikes, but traditional manufacturers like Harley Davidson, with its new LiveWire line, are also making a name for themselves in the market.
The problem is that many of these e-bikes are very expensive – one Harley sells for over £30,000 – and have limited range. A LiveWire has a claimed range of 150 kilometers of mixed driving and takes an hour to fully charge. A Zero ZF14.4 costs over €16,000 and has a range of 145 kilometers at highway speeds. It takes 2h30 to recharge.
In 2019, the iconic motorcycle duo of actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman rode LiveWires from the tip of South America to Los Angeles. the Pin up, while entertaining, highlighted the fantastic logistical limitations of long-distance e-bike travel.
The market is still very small. Last year, 1.5 million two- and three-wheelers were sold in Europe – and only 75,000 of them were electric, according to at FEMA.
It is easier to electrify a car than a motorcycle. The inherent limitations of small two-wheeled vehicles make it much more difficult to transport large numbers of heavy batteries, said Ralph Mayer, professor of vehicle systems design at Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany. A four-wheeled car can carry a large number of heavy batteries, giving some a range of 500 kilometers or more and relatively quick recharge times.
A battery can weigh around 100 kilograms, which affects the behavior of a motorcycle much more than that of a car. Mayer expects “further evolutionary steps, but nothing revolutionary” from the lithium-ion batteries currently in use, saying they “will not reach the spheres offered by liquid fuels in the foreseeable future.”
Jörg Hübler, professor of intelligent machine systems at the University of Mittweida, said an additional problem is that fast charging stations, not all of which can be used by motorcycles, are mostly located along highways. “Fast charging should be possible in almost every corner of the country, especially for motorcyclists,” he said.
These technological and economic obstacles lead the industry to seek government assistance. “We receive no state subsidies,” said the BVDM, “and this is absolutely unequal treatment. If you really want to promote electromobility for motorcycles, then you also have to make sure that there is the same conditions as for cars.
The industry hopes there could still be some wiggle room in upcoming EU rules allowing internal combustion engines using fuels produced from renewable energy sources.
“The combustion engine itself isn’t the problem, it’s the fuel,” Mayer said, pointing out that alternative fuels can already be engineered to provide optimal combustion. Producing alternative fuels does not take resources away from agriculture, he added, but rather recycles leftovers.
Clean fuels would also be an answer for millions of older gasoline-powered motorcycles. “Simply replacing the entire fleet would be unwise,” Mayer said. “It would be a scandal to scrap working vehicles.”
It’s unclear whether this aligns with regulators’ thinking.
All in all, for two-wheeled gas-heads—people addicted to the throaty growl of a motorcycle engine and the prospect of spending all day in the saddle—none of this is good news.
Motorcyclists have a “certain love of combustion engines,” Lenzen said, “which is certainly more pronounced than among motorists.”
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