On March 23rd, I reported on a new bill introduced by California State Senator Fran Paveley (D) intendig to require all motorcycles (beginning with model year 2000) to be tested by July 1, 2011 under the California State’s vehicle “smog check” program. Below is a letter from best seller author Tom zimberoff (Art Of The Chopper 1 & 2) challenging the justifications for such a bill.
The Honorable Fran Pavley, State Senator 23rd District, The Capitol, Room Nº 4035
Sacramento, California 95814
Dear Senator Pavley,
My letter pertains to SB 435 and what was characterized on your Web site as a loophole in California law, singling out motorcycles for further emission regulation and enforcement. If this bill passes, well, many motorcycles probably will not. Is that necessary? Practically everyone who rides a motorcycle has an abiding respect for ecological issues. It’s a matter of self interest for us, just as it is for everyone; perhaps more so because one of the joys of riding is to inhale the myriad scents in the air as they change continually with passing landscapes. There is no comparable experience for hermetically cocooned and air-conditioned automobile drivers. But I digress.
I challenge your figure of “5.2 tons of smog-forming pollutants” (in California daily) resulting from motorcycle use. It is preposterous, Djakarta, Bangkok, or Tehran notwithstanding. The California Air Resources Board says motorcycles generate six thousandths of one percent (0.006%) of the emissions generated by all road vehicles. For example, there are more than seven million registered cars and trucks in LA County; fewer than 125,000 motorcycles. Of the latter, the preponderance are ridden only once in a while or on weekends. And that number includes scooters: hardly motorcycles at all. Those who ride for sport exclusively will be affected disproportionately by your proposed legislation. That’s not only discriminatory, it’s bad fiscal policy.
California has already adopted the strictest emission standards in the country. No one has proven that motorcycles pose an increased threat to air quality under the status quo. It doesn’t make sense to expand a bureaucracy and its administrative costs because, even though you might fine every scofflaw biker in California, you won’t add more than chump change to the state budget. On any given day the cookstoves in hundreds of McDonald’s and other fast-food franchises spew more carcinogens into the atmospheric miasma than all of the motorcycles in LA County combined by an order of magnitude. And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts the smoke innocently spewed by your own backyard barbeque out-pollutes the grand total of all motorcycles on the road on any given day in your district. Now, add up your neighbors’ grills.
In all fairness, consider this hypothetical situation too. Would you legislate the length of snow skis so they become less than optimal for an exhilarating downhill run just to discourage enthusiasts of that sport from felling swaths of forested slopes and piling into their cars by their millions to head for the hills? They could still ski, but where would the fun be? What difference is there in principle? Suppose you can pass this proposed legislation. Would you smog-check, say, motorboats? How about sailboats with auxiliary engines? How about diesel trains or ocean-going ships docking in LA, Long Beach, and Oakland? I’m all for that. But how about lawnmowers too? If we took all motorcycles off the road it would not contribute to a significant reduction in air pollution. When we achieve President Obama’s goal to ween ourselves from conventional, combustion engine propulsion for cars, as I trust we will, motorcycles should be exempt. However, they can and should be augmented with bikes employing newer, cleaner technology for those who wish to ride them: most likely riders who commute to work. Nor should fire-breathing, gas-guzzling, hydrocarbon-emitting sports cars be restricted (and they will not be) because they cause no significant adverse impact. Sports cars and bikes are as much a part of our American heritage and culture as a Boy Scout campfire — and less polluting.
The motorcycle is a simple machine. And perhaps not everyone appreciates its transparent beauty. Its internal organs and circulatory systems are exposed to view, supported by an exoskeleton of steel. There is nothing under the hood because there is no hood. In other words, the allure of the motor itself is a great part of its appeal to riders, just as much as their prerogative to simulate the sensations of flight on two wheels. Already, the state defiles its allure by compelling it to bristle with oxygen sensors, cables, converters, computers, and other unattractive gewgaws which hardly improve air quality. Why, now, would you want to make them perform even more poorly for the few who really care about such things? Please don’t try to undermine the joy of riding a motorcycle as much as the joy of simply beholding its beauty has already been diminished by careless legislation.
There are so many more reasons for you not to fight this battle, Senator Pavley, not the least of which is that for every driver who opts out of a car for a less-polluting motorcycle (smaller engine size, shorter transit times while engine running, better gas mileage, etc.) there is also probably one fewer driver clogging our streets and parking spaces, not to mention killing and maiming other drivers and the riders of bicycles and motorcycles. I would hate to see common sense precluded by political polemics at the expense of a minority. So, finally, let me apprise you that, with respect to the complexities of a car, virtually anyone who rides a motorcycle has the wherewithal to remove a loophole-plugged exhaust system with no more than a screwdriver and a wrench. In less than an hour the offending pipes can be replaced with legal, factory-stock equivalents — just in time for a smog check. So, please don’t make honest citizens take up civil disobedience just to indulge your political fantasy. Riding is our passion and our obsession. If you persist in pushing SB 435, I will do my best to mobilize our community to oppose you with utmost vigor.
Tom Zimberoff (Author. Art of the Chopper (Volumes I and II; Bulfinch Press), Curator, Art of the Chopper at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.