This is a cross post with my other blog – Clean Air New Zealand.
The ideas in this post have been kicking around in my brain for a while, but the thing that is spurring me into action is this post at Crikey’s Urbanist Blog by Alan Davies “Can scooters make our cities work better?” That post talks about the Dutch experience of allowing light mopeds onto cycle paths and what Alan is calling Powered 2 Wheelers (P2W), which includes electrically and petrol assisted bikes and scooters.
At their lower speed end P2Ws are e-Bikes, or electrically assisted bicycles, as I’ve been riding for the last 4 years, and these tend to have the same characteristics as bicycles and happily coexist with other cyclists on cycle infrastructure.
At their higher speed end P2Ws are traditional mopeds and motorcycles which belong on the road with the cars and trucks.
And in the middle there is a plethora of products where it is not obvious where they belong. They don’t belong on cycle paths and they don’t belong on roads, as they are too slow to keep up with highway speeds. These include petrol driven motorcycles, petrol driven kick-scooters and petrol driven skateboards, electrically powered scooters (ie moped form, rather than kick-scooters) and electric motorcycles.
Preventing these becoming widespread is important
Why they don’t belong on cycle paths and shared paths is three things: speed, noise and fumes. Electric bicycles can go fast, but in NZ where they are limited to 250W there are plenty of normal bicyclists who ride faster than e-bikes. Fast bicycles have skinny tyres and fit, skinny riders. There are no fumes and only a slight motor hum from electric bicycles. The hum is generally so low it is easy to sneak up on ducks and pukekos without scaring them.
Conversely all those petrol-driven P2Ws just don’t belong on cycle and shared paths. The noise is annoying. It is unmuffled and high-pitched and in an environment where the other users are quiet, they piss with everyone else’s tranquility. Plus 2-stroke emissions are absolutely foul-smelling and foul-tasting, but more on that later. And whilst they may be too quick for cycle paths and shared paths with pedestrians they are generally too slow for general road traffic. Vehicles that go 50 or 60km/hr don’t belong where people are walking and doing 15 or 30km/hr on a bike, and they don’t belong in 80 or 100 km/hr zones either. They need kind of a middle speed infrastructure. Some cities, such as Kuala Lumpur have got special scooter infrastructure where scooter lanes parallel the motorways. But there scooters are much more in use. I think for Australasian conditions building another parallel infrastructure would be be a waste of money and space, considering building the slow speed infrastructure (ie bicycle lanes) is really just in its infancy.
Instead the middle speed P2Ws should be discouraged from sale. The main reason to discourage their use and hence not need infrastructure for them is air quality. Cities that do have large moped, scooter and tuk-tuk use have very bad air quality. They have very bad air quality because of the emissions from 2-stroke engines. In Bangkok I suffered black snot and nose bleeds and after a few days a raspy cough.
I’ve noticed an uptake in 2-stoke scooters in Wellington and Palmerston North, the places where I hang out the most. When I am a pedestrian or cyclist I hate having a 2-stroke motorcycle or moped go past. I hear them, and yes the sound is annoying (very annoying to me, but some people claim to like it, so to each their own) but then I know I am going to be tasting the smoke, and it’s not only smoke, but a suspension of unburnt oil and petrol. The number and amount of carcinogens I’ll be unwillingly ingesting is quite high.
I do find normal motorcycles annoying as well. Trail bikes, because they’re two-strokes, but also the Harley style. With Harleys it is only the great bloody ruckus that comes out of them, but their engines seem to be cleaner (hint they’re not 2 strokes).
When on occasions 2-stroke engines are encountered on cycle paths they are definitely not welcome. I have been known to be belligerent and block the path to mopeds, telling them to “fuck off of the bike path”. There are a number of petrol powered kick scooters, petrol assisted bicycles out there that are getting used on bike paths, and they do not belong.
So that’s my opinion. If it is quiet, clean and slow enough to be on a bike path then good, and if it’s fast enough to be at highway speeds then good, go on the road. If it is in the middle then it’s no good.
Of course the vehicle emissions of highway users need to be regulated to meet air quality goals too. Diesels need to get cleaner, and 2-strokes need to get banned.
There goes the neighborhood
Why 2-stroke engines should be banned.
2-stroke engines are notoriously filthy. This is taken from How Stuff Works.
- Two-stroke engines produce a lot of pollution — so much, in fact, that it is likely that you won’t see them around too much longer. The pollution comes from two sources. The first is the combustion of the oil. The oil makes all two-stroke engines smoky to some extent, and a badly worn two-stroke engine can emit huge clouds of oily smoke. The second reason is less obvious: Each time a new charge of air/fuel is loaded into the combustion chamber, part of it leaks out through the exhaust port. That’s why you see a sheen of oil around any two-stroke boat motor. The leaking hydrocarbons from the fresh fuel combined with the leaking oil is a real mess for the environment.
So what is in the emissions of 2-strokes:
- unburnt hydrocarbons (HC) – about 30% of the fuel/oil mixture comes out of the exhaust unburnt, the petrol itself being a carcinogen, but also the other nasties found in petrol including benzene, which causes leukaemias
- Carbon Monoxide (CO)
- Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), which react with some of the unburnt hydrocarbons forming ozone (O3)
The volume of pollution is surprisingly quite high. Despite getting way better fuel economy than a car or a gas-guzzling SUV, scooters and motorcycles can pollute 90 times as much as a SUV. (Think MotorCycles and Scooters are Great for the Environment? Wrong! , Motorcycles, scooters big polluters , Motorcycles and emissions the surprising facts.)
Hypocrisy is a moped rider with a face mask
What needs banning
To prevent their uptake and thereby protecting urban air quality I think all 2-stroke engines for transport vehicles should be banned. For petrol driven mopeds 4-stroke technology is cleaner. For dirt bikes and trail bikes (which probably should be controlled anyway and limited in sale to people who have the private land to ride them without annoying the neighbours. as illegal motorcycle riding is a problem in many places) again there are 4 stroke engines. For petrol assisted bicycles there are e-bikes. For petrol assisted skateboards and kick-scooters there are electric versions.
What about other uses of 2-strokes.
Many inland waterways regulation ban 2-stroke engines because of pollution concerns in freshwater. 4-stroke engines are a viable alternative.
For garden and power tools, such as lawn mowers then 4-strokes are viable alternatives, although lithium ion technology has grown up and is practical for many uses.
Firstly on lawn mowers. Choice Australia will no longer recommend 2-stroke lawnmowers because of the pollution and says “A four-stroke motor typically emits half the carbon monoxide and one-tenth the hydrocarbons that a two-stroke produces.” There is no need to sell 2-stroke lawn mowers at all.
Personally I maintain over an acre of gardens and have been progressively spending my pocket money on a certain brand of 18V Lithium Ion power tools. Ryobi, Makita, Bosch and Hitachi are some brands that have such systems of interchangeable batteries and tools.
Depending on the system there are 18V and 36V batteries of sizes generally in the 1.5 to 4 Amp hour range, and then there are power tools and gardening tools available. Makita does make a small bicycle that can use its batteries, but that is an exception. E-bike batteries tend to need to be a bit gruntier than these kinds of batteries.
I’ve been replacing some of my wood working tools and some of my garden tools with one of the systems. I had a petrol Line Trimmer/Whipper Snipper which was noisy and smelly and I have replaced it with an 18V line trimmer. It is so much quieter, not smelly, and also lighter to use. My wife couldn’t use the petrol one, and I couldn’t use it for too long without feeling tired, but the electric one is light and easy. I also replaced my hedge trimmer (ok I cut through the cord), and got a reciprocating saw which is great for pruning, and for me has replaced a chainsaw. I also got a blower vac. I gave away another battery blower which had a lead acid battery which was heavy and had a 10 minute battery life. The new one with lithium ion batteries goes for half an hour. I find with 3 batteries I can have a session in the garden swapping them between the tools and recharging them as needed and I never have run out of battery power. The batteries charge in less than 90 minutes.
There are some tools I’ll never use outside my workshop, such as a mitre saw, so there are some tools where it still makes sense to buy with an electric cord, but I think of all the tools I have used in the garden there is nothing I would ever buy a petrol model of again (and certainly not a two-stroke). There is a chainsaw that Ryobi sells in Australia for it’s 18V ONE+ batteries, but it isn’t sold in New Zealand (slightly different safety laws I think). I do wish that the battery design was standardised between the manufacturers to give more choice amongst the tools. (Imagine how annoying it’d be if there weren’t standard AAA, AA, C, D and 9V battery sizes). I also do wish that there was a household vacuum cleaner that used the batteries as I could vacuum the whole house on one charge easily, and it’d get rid of the hassle of the cord.
Of all the power garden tools only perhaps chainsaws and lawnmowers still might be a legitimate use of a petrol engine. Then for light chainsawing battery chainsaws will be ok. (and if you want to whinge about cutting up the firewood, wood burners should be banned due to pollution concerns anyway). Chainsaws might be the one legitimate use of a 2-stroke engine, as they need to be wielded at many different angles, which 4-strokes aren’t really designed to do. Blower vacs (or lazy man’s brooms) definitely should be things other than 2-strokes. As I said my Li-Ion one works brilliantly.
Lawn-mowers as I have said above need not be 2-strokes, and going on my experience of the rest of my Li-Ion battery tools, when my 4-stroke one finally gives up (or I get sick of the noise and the fumes, 4-strokes pollute as well) then I am going to look at replacing it with a Li-Ion battery one. Then my 1 acre garden is going to have zero petrol inputs at all.
Apart from some very small niche markets, it is very feasible and very desirable to prohibit the sale (and soon after the use) of 2-stroke engines entirely. Prevention is the best cure, and good policy would be to make sure there isn’t a break out of 2-stroke engine sales that will reduce urban air quality and ruin cycle path amenity for the rest of us who don’t make such bad decisions.