'Mythbusters' answers: Are motorcycles 'greener' than cars?

Consumer Reports News: September 30, 2011 05:23 PM

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Detractors of pricey, fuel-efficient cars, such as the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius, often claim consumers have many cost-effective transportation choices in motorcycles. The two-wheeled vehicles can get mileage that often rivals, or even bests, hybrids without the new car sticker price shock. Still, are they really "green" choices of transportation?

Discovery Channel's popular "Mythbusters" program decided to answer that question in its recent fall TV season premiere show. The hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, compared three popular motorcycles with three popular cars from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Each pair of vehicles were driven on a mixed course of highway and city driving for 20 miles. Fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions were tracked and analyzed by University of California, Riverside (UCR) researchers who used portable emission monitoring systems on each vehicle.

The result? The 1980s motorcycle used 38 percent less gas than its period car counterpart. However, the 2000-era comparison proved a drop in the motorbike's advantage: Only 28 percent less fuel was used than its four-wheeled counterpart.

More interestingly, while motorcycles also showed lower carbon dioxide emissions than cars, UCR researchers note that cars—with their engines' emission control systems—were much cleaner. Emissions of carbon monoxide, the pollutant that causes smog, from the 2000-era motorcycle was 8,065 percent more than the car from the last decade.

"Mythbuster" co-host Adam Savage said at the conclusion of the show:

At best, it's a wash. Motorcycles are just as bad for the environment as cars. At worst, they're far worse.

Consumer Reports' car experts realize that many consumers consider switching from cars to alternative vehicles for a variety reasons. If you're looking for ways to trim your gas budget, check out our guide to fuel economy. Going green? We also have a guide to alternative fuels. And if you're looking for adventure on two-wheels, check out our report on motorcycles and scooters.

Mythbuster Video clip: Motorcycles vs. Cars [Discovery Channel online media]
Mythbusters Video: Motorcycles vs. Cars - After the show [Discovery Channel online media]
Mythbusters Q&A: Motorcycles vs. Cars [Discovery Channel News]
'MythBusters' asks: Are motorcycles greener than cars? [Los Angeles Times]

Paul Eng

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