Busting the Mythbusters’ motorcycle pollution claims

Dailies -



We’re big fans of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters. Not only do they blow a lot of shit up, but the show gives viewers an exciting education in the practical applications of math and science. So, when we heard they were planning to test the environmental impact of cars and bikes, hopefully proving which form of transportation was greener, we got excited. We shouldn’t have. The episode relied on flawed methodology and inaccurate assumptions to draw a poorly informed conclusion. Here’s why, at this point in time, the environmental impact of cars can’t be shown to be less than that of motorcycles.

To recap, the episode’s premise was that many people are ditching cars for bikes due to the perceived reduction in environmental impact that switch brings. To test that impact, three bikes and three cars, representing the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s were rigged with tailpipe emissions measuring equipment, then driven around a little bit. Results showed that the bikes kicked out more nasty stuff like hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide than cars did. The conclusion was then drawn that, “At this point in time, it is not better for the environment to trade your car for a motorcycle.”

What we’re going to do is look at the testing performed during the show (see the full episode here) and the claims made and illustrate why those two together paint an inaccurate picture. The empirical and measurable evidence collected during the show is flawed in these ways:

1. The bikes chosen aren’t high sellers.
The Mythbusters claim that the three used bikes chosen for the test were “some of the most popular models of the last three decades.” That’s simply not true. All three bikes chosen are Hondas. Honda only accounts for roughly 25 percent of all motorcycle sales in the US while Harley dominates with over 60 percent of the on-road market.

The “most popular” road bike from any given decade would have likely been a Harley-Davidson Sportster, not something like the Honda CB1000, which the Mythbusters chose to represent the ‘90s. That bike was only imported into America for two years in such low numbers that they’re so rare you can’t even buy a rear tire for them in the correct size anymore. Bikes like the Honda CBR1000RR are reasonably popular in sportsbike circles, but represent a drop in the bucket even within Honda, which sells far more cruisers than race replicas.

2. The bikes and cars aren’t comparable.
Cars and motorcycles have changed quite a bit since they first became popular mass produced consumer goods in the early 1900s. The four-stroke internal combustion engine has gone from a barely understood novelty to arguably the most refined engine of any kind. By the time the 1970s rolled around, pollution from cars was a big problem. Regulations started appearing in 1973 to regulate smog and, in 1975, SMOG checks became mandatory and horsepower numbers dropped. It was the Malaise Era and it sucked. Look no further than the cars produced during those years to see how drastically things were effected.

Motorcycles didn’t have to deal smog checks like cars did during those years. Racing was popular. People were riding. Ask any seasoned grey-beard about motorcycling in the ‘70s and they’ll tell you this was the golden era for bikes. Motorcycle development continued and bikes got fast. Really fast. First there was the Ninja, the the GSX-R, then the CBRs. Specific output rose to incredible levels. Today, a 600cc sportsbike produces over 200bhp per liter, unaided by forced induction. The most powerful road-legal car ever produced, the 1001bhp Bugatti Veyron, has four turbo chargers yet only manages 125bhp per liter. Today, a sportsbike is literally a racing machine for the road.

Motorcycle emissions regulations are currently trailing cars. Looking at the data gathered by Mythbusters, we see that a 2006 Honda CBR1000RR is roughly double that of a 1990 Honda Accord and is less than half that of a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ceira. That bike has two catalytic converters and a modern fuel injection system, but keep in mind that it’s built to do nothing more than cut fast lap times around a race track.

Two of the motorcycles used for testing are street-legal racers, and the third takes its motor from one. Keep that in mind while you learn about the three cars. For their ‘80s car, the team chose a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ceira. For simplicity’s sake, lets assume that the test car was equipped with the most popular motor offered, the 2.2 liter four-cylinder. With 2,200cc, it only manages to produce seven more hp than the CBR600 for a grand total of 92. It’s heavy, low-tech and about as far from a high-performance car as you can get. For the 1990s, a Honda Accord was chosen. Same story as the Olds: 125 hp from a 2.2 liter low-performance engine, zillions of units sold, utterly beige, forgettable and slow. The 2000-07 Taurus/2006-07 CBR1000RR pairing is the most ridiculous though. One is a cheap rental car, the other is basically a street legal racing machine. And they’re being paired up for emissions testing to definitively decide whether cars or motorcycles are worse for the environment.

Despite popular belief that it’s impossible, there are ways to fit a complete emissions package on a motorcycle. They’ve done it. The new Yamaha Zuma 50, one of the cheapest motorized two-wheeled vehicles, has a cat, FI and full smog controls. It’s not expensive, it’s not hot and it’s not ugly. There is nothing inherently polluting about motorcycles. If they had the same emissions controls as cars, the stuff coming out of the pipe would absolutely be proportional to gas mileage difference.

3. Testing only proved what was already known.
Look at this slide, taken from new EPA motorcycle emissions regulations. Note the vast difference between minimum regulated standards for cars and bikes. These are essentially the same results established by the Mythbusters’ testing. So why test for results which are already legally defined and published? Motorcycles pollute more than cars because they don’t face the same regulations, plain and simple.

4. Burning less gas is its own environmental benefit.
If you’re determining the total environmental impact of a form of transportation, then more data needs to be taken into consideration than simply tailpipe emissions. The entire point of this episode seems to be that, despite using less gasoline, motorcycles emit more harmful substances. But, that argument fails to take into account the impact drilling, shipping, processing and other factors involved in the creation of that gasoline have on the environment.

We can find no quantified, immediately digestible data as to the environmental impact of producing, refining and shipping a gallon of gas, but according to UC Berkeley , doing so results in “considerable pollution.” Energy is required to remove gas from reservoirs, transport it to refineries, refine it, then ship it to users around the world. One-fifth of the energy in a barrel of oil is consumed during this process. At its source, this results in air, water and soil pollution, while accidents like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill further damage the environment. That was the largest ever in US waters, releasing 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Less oil production would logically result in less pollution caused by oil production and related accidents. Lower fuel consumption logically requires less oil production.

There’s also the environmental impact of our reliance on foreign oil and the subsequent political ramifications. In 2010, The Guardian estimated that the current Iraq War’s carbon footprint to-date was 250-600 million metric tons of CO2. That figure only includes carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, not that resulting from explosions or other sources. Again according to The Guardian, that’s nearly as much as a “limited” nuclear exchange.

There’s 8 million registered motorcycles in America. Figuring a conservative average of 35mpg and an ambitious annual mileage of 10,000, our total annual fuel consumption is 2,288,000,000 gallons of gasoline a year (in reality, it’ll be much less). The US produces 84,498,960,000 gallons of gasoline annually. All that pollution from gasoline production and from wars being fought over foreign oil isn’t being caused by motorcycles.

5. Lifecycle cost of vehicles not considered.
By their own admission, the Mythbusters did not take into account the environmental impact of vehicle production, stating, “We looked into cars vs. bikes and the resources they take to build. The broad category, the idea of looking at a figure like this; we can’t measure everything a factory is doing. We tend not try not to represent those figures heavily in the show. The research that we did showed that because bikes are produced in smaller numbers than cars, there are inefficiencies in the manufacturing process that make bikes as or less efficient than cars to manufacturer. That it actually takes more resources to produce motorcycles because they produce so many less of them and they lose the economies of scale.”

The problem is, production (along with tailpipe emissions) is only one of many factors to take into consideration when calculating the total life cycle environmental impact of a vehicle. There’s also the cost of infrastructure and the need to maintain that infrastructure, as well as the end-life cost of vehicle disposal. Bikes neither cause congestion, nor damage roadways. That’s why many toll roads and bridges reduce or waive fares for bikers.

One mile of single-lane highway construction consumes 12,000 tons of raw materials and has a carbon footprint of 1,200 tons of CO2. There’s no way to calculate the impact on the environment of chopping down trees and blowing up hillsides to create that mile of road. There’s 4 million miles of highway in the US, most of which is more than a single lane.

That highway construction is just one example in the infrastructure required to keep cars moving, which includes parking facilities, gas stations, bridges, tunnels, traffic lights, law enforcement, emergency response etc. In nearly all of those examples, the burden created by motorcycles is lower. Bridges, for instance, don’t have to be designed to take the weight of a bike and motorcycles don’t necessitate the construction of vast, multistory parking structures.

6. The test cycle was unrealistic.
The test cycle used in the show was the same standardized one developed and used by the EPA. During the test, vehicles go the speed limit and don’t sit stopped in traffic. In reality, people drive faster than 65mph and cars sit stopped in traffic. In Los Angeles, for instance, drivers spend 70 hours a year stuck in standstill traffic, each of them wasting 53 gallons of gas in the process. Regardless of how efficient and clean cars are, they’re getting 0mpg while they burn gas and pump out exhaust while they’re stopped. Motorcycles, on the other hand, at least in California and outside the United States, keep on going unhindered by congestion.

7. The effect of maintenance wasn’t considered.
In addition to the CBR600 and CB1000 Big One being rare and somewhat high-performance machines, it should be noted that they’re old. The Cutlass Ceira and Accord are also old. As vehicles age, things like valve guide seals, catalytic converters, piston rings and emissions systems wear out, all contributing to emissions. Bad valve guide seals and worn out rings let oil escape from the motor and enter the exhaust, resulting in high HC levels. An old, used up catalytic converter lets a lot more CO, HC and NOx flow straight through. There are a plethora of creative emissions controls, many of them fragile and failure prone. The high NOx readings of the CBR600 and Cutlass Ceira could easily be caused by excess carbon buildup in the combustion chambers. Carbon buildup increases compression, which means more NOx forming heat, and keeps heat from transferring effectively to the cooling system, which means hotter combustion and more NOx.

8. If decreased fuel usage doesn’t help, then why add a fairing?
Despite achieving much higher fuel economy numbers than the cars in the test, motorcycles were still shown to emit more harmful gasses. So what, then, did the Mythbusters hope to achieve by adding a fairing? Testing showed that the bikes needed stricter emissions controls, not increased fuel efficiency.

There’s also the question of the effectiveness of the homebrew fairing created for the show.
Craig Vetter figured out that proper streamlining delivers astounding results a long time ago. Back in 1985, a motorcycle using one of his off-the-shelf fairings got 477mpg. Squeezing 70.9, or .1mpg less than the EPA estimate, out of a WR250 using a homebrew fairing sounds like a waste of time.

9. If bikes are so poisonous, then why was it safe to breath exhaust fumes?
Throughout the show, the harmful effects of the chemicals being emitted by the bikes are repeated and expanded on. But, when it came time to test the faired WR250, Jamie was able to pilot it without losing consciousness despite exhaust fumes being emitting into the fairing with him. If the tailpipe emissions from motorcycles are so bad, then why was Jamie able to tolerate them for an extended period of time?

This seems to suggest that, while the cumulative effects of many miles on motorcycles could add up to significant pollution, simply riding a single one does not create enough emissions to harm a single human being. This was a good opportunity for perspective to be applied, how do motorcycle and car emissions compare to other forms of pollution and to a human body’s ability to deal with them?

10. Testing for poisons, not pollutants.
There’s a lot of things coming out of an exhaust pipe, just about all of them bad, but only one is causing global warming. CO2 is the real bad guy and there’s plenty of real, actual, scientific evidence to back that up. When we look at things from this point of view, the results are completely different.


NO and NO2 specifically. These chemicals are important trace elements in the Earth’s ozone layer. At ground level, where we experience NOx from cars, trucks and motorcycles, it also helps to make O3, which is toxic to humans. It can also combine with water to make nitric acid (and acid rain). Fortunately, when it ends up in the ground, the soil converts it to nitrate which is of use to growing plants. Oxides of Nitrogen are not a major cause of global warming.


According to the EPA, only 29 percent of Hydrocarbon pollution comes from on-road mobile sources, or cars, trucks and motorcycles. As only a tiny, nearly negligible portion of vehicles are actually tested, and even then, only for just a few minutes, it’s impossible to even get a + or – 1% estimate as to how many of those HCs are coming from bikes.

Even still, HC are not what’s ruining the planet. They contribute to ground level smog and are toxic to people, but when the source of them is cleaned up, they go away. Talk to anyone who lived in Los Angeles in the ‘60s and ‘70s and they’ll tell you how unbearable the smog was. Today, it’s all but gone. Hydrocarbons are not a major cause of global warming, but they have been linked to asthma.


Carbon Monoxide is toxic to humans and lethal at high levels. This is what kills people when they run a car in an enclosed garage. Still, even with all the gasoline burning vehicles we have running around, the largest producer of CO is the Earth itself. CO is not a major cause of global warming.


Carbon Dioxide is a big deal. Though it’s what we exhale and what trees breathe, our industrialization of the world has steadily upped CO2 production since the 1700s. The extra CO2 produced by the production of electric power, new products, vehicles, etc throws off the Earth’s carbon cycle and is the largest contributor to global warming. It’s not directly toxic to humans, but if we don’t do something to curb CO2 production, global climate change will continue to get worse, polar bears will die and ice caps will melt. The largest contributor of carbon dioxide in the Mythbuster’s test was the modern Ford Taurus produced between 2000 and 2007.

Through these 10 points, we see the following:
- A representative sample of motorcycles was not chosen.
- The motorcycles that were used in the test are in no way comparable to the cars used.
- An unacceptable amount of unknown variables are introduced into the test by the question of maintenance.
- All testing achieved was rough verification of emission levels defined by law.
- Total environmental impact was neither tested nor factored into assumptions.
- Testing didn’t replicate real world conditions.
- A portion of the testing went on a tangent unrelated to emissions.
- Unintentionally, poisonous gasses were shown to have little effect on the short term health of humans.
- Test results were weighted towards chemicals harmful to humans, not ones harmful to the environment.

Together, all this represents a serious lapse in science. The results of the testing aren’t repeatable as too many unknown variables — maintenance, vehicle condition — enter into them. The hypothesis, that motorcycles are more damaging to the environment than cars, was sweeping, yet only tested on a single variable — tailpipe emissions. The results of that single variable testing still showed that cars are more damaging to the environment because they produce more global warming-causing CO2, yet the conclusion was weighted to diminish the importance of that data.

Because of this, we have no choice but to declare the premise, “At this point in time, it is not better for the environment to trade your car for a motorcycle,” busted. A more accurate conclusion would be that a race replica motorcycle capable of speeds approaching 200mph uses less fuel and emits less CO2 than a rental car, but does emit more NOx, HC and CO, chemicals which haven’t been shown to be major contributors to global warming. But that wouldn’t have made good television, would it?

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    mythbuster smack down. well done.

  • Gene

    Frigging awesome. In depth, highly researched, well thought out, and concisely written. Kudos and a beer!

    • ursus


  • robotribe

    “Together, all this represents a serious lapse in science.”

    Well done and all, but in the end, your above statement says it all: it’s a TV show.

    Anyone who mistakes MYTHBUSTERS as a genuine scientific resource probably needs to have some one explain to them that CSI isn’t a documentary.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s not get carried away here. Haratio Cane is an inspiration for men who want to look moody in sunglasses everywhere. That’s real enough for me.

      • robotribe

        This, plus the fact major surgeries do in fact happen in quip and drama-inducing dim mood-lighting as seen in episodes of HOUSE.

        But hey, who am I to argue with a brilliant doctor with a bum leg who rides a Honda with REPSOL livery?

      • dux


    • Sean Smith

      Dumb Americans watch that and assume it’s 100% true. They even got a ‘scientist’ from UC Riverside to help out with the testing. Nevermind that UCR and him work with CARB…

      The other reason this is a big deal is that it’s supposed to result in a scientific paper. I’d like to blow that to smithereens before it even gets published.

      • Thom

        Thats the problem for certain . 90% of the TV viewing public do see Mythbusters as Science rather than the Entertainment show that it is

        • Scott-jay

          Kinda like Fox News?

          • austin_2ride

            faux news, awsome!

      • robotribe

        Good points, but as with all scientific papers, they’re to be subject to scrutiny no matter who publishes it. So-called “experts” are no less vulnerable to having their methods and credibility questioned as any other “scientist” in any other study; controversial or otherwise. If this study EVER got any serious attention, you can be assured the first voice of opposition will be happy to point out that two contributors made their names as entertainment hosts for a television show; credibility is a bitch.

        Still, I agree with you 100% that dumb Americans will feel vilified for their Chevy Tahoe purchases after viewing this episode.

    • Mike Brooklyn


      Obligatory XKCD

  • Thom


    Thought their conclusions sounded way off

    As well as also thinking their choice of M/C’s was plain wrong for a test like this .

    Kudos Sean , for both the article , research and proving the Mythbusters BUSTED

  • slowestGSXRever

    I’m not so sure about #9… You can snort exhaust for a while before you start to feel it. Plus the dude had a giant hole in the bottom of his bubble, probably got plenty of ventilation.

    I still like mythbusters, but once I saw how they decided to streamline the bike (A giant pseudo-sphere? seriously? have they never seen ANYTHING that has speed record raced?) I realized that this myth was probably out of their reach.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor


    • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

      That’s “Nerds on bikes”(that can ride).

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Takes one to know one.

        • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

          Not the way I see it.
          Sean – nerd/geek.
          Wes – class president.
          Me – jock.

          Motorbikes put us on the same team.

          • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

            Man, I am totally reporting you to the principal for this.

          • Sean Smith

            How come the nerd/geek goes about as well as the jock in sports? ;)

            • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

              Still a geek tho;P

              • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

                Agreed. Anyone that has a set of long underwear for every conceivable weather condition possible, and wears said long underwear every day of the year, wherever he goes, is definitely a geek.

                Adey, if you want to give him an indian burn or something, go for it.

  • Chris

    great article this.

  • Gregory

    Hear hear!

    More like this, please, Messrs HFL.

  • Thom

    Sean Smith Wes and the Whole HFL crew ;

    re; Shower Thought ;

    Methinks Gentlemen you are staring down the throat of the Promotional Opportunity of a Lifetime for the HFL site

    Both Publicly and Privately CHALLENGE the Mythbusters to an HFL vs Mthbusters Televised Smack Down on this whole issue .

    Seems to me Sean has his Ducks in a Row , the facts speak for themselves and from their reputation , the Mythbuster crew isn’t above being proven wrong on occasion .

    JUMP on this one guys while the Iron is Hot .

    This could be a Tipping Point for the popularity of HFL

    • John

      “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

      Why is Shakespearian dialogue used so commonly in internet comments? The frequency of “methinks” in message boards, forums and comments just baffles me. Or is it not exclusive to the internet? Do people really use “methinks” in normal conversation?

      • http://twitter.com/metabomber Jesse

        I drop “mayhaps” in conversation once in a while.

        However, I am a fairly well read dork.

        • Thom

          +1 ( as well as my being occasionally and accurately accused of being a bit of an Elitist as well )

    • http://www.brammofan.com Brammofan

      It might be a promotional opportunity but I think it would end up with HFL looking like pretentious hipsters. We HFL subscribers might know for a certainty that Wes and Grant and Sean are indeed, pretentious hipsters, and enjoy hanging with them in the comments in spite (and perhaps because)of it, but fancy editing by the Mythbusters crew will no doubt lead to the ginger-bearded pair smelling like daisies, and HFL smelling like, uh… unwashed pretentious hipsters.

      • dux

        Are we not pretentious hipsters? – I wanna see a HFL-Discovery Channel Smackdown! WWE RAW style

  • Terry

    I hear the show is fun, but scientists they are not.

    - Who the fuck drives an ’07 Ford Taurus? We’re drowning in SUVs and pickups down here in Texas and I don’t think that’s a unique situation. Sam Elliot’s TV commercial voice-overs for Dodge Dick Replacements tell me that the Manliest of Big Manly Trucks gets ~30mpg HIGHWAY, if you’re lucky. How many bikes can you make for the resource and production costs of each five-ton pigmobile? Given that most times people are riding alone in those trucks, I wonder if a “tons of metal per occupant” ratio wouldn’t be a better metric.

    - Another thing to consider (sorry if I missed this in the article) is fluid usage. Absolute amounts of oil and coolant consumed over time should be lower for a bike. That should be an environmental benefit right there, if true.

    • Thom

      Again + 1

      KC,MO being a haven for the full/midsize Truck/SUV’s

      The one thing I didn’t see in the show was the Carbon Footprint to produce the car vs M/C .

      That’d be an interesting statistic to see


      That does sound like a good metric, actually.

    • 85gripen

      The Ford F150 pickup truck has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for about the last 100 years.

  • Terry

    Further thought -

    I don’t like the comparison by decades. Outside of hip inner cities, who really rides old bikes? Based on what I see around here, I think a more realistic comparison might be late 2000′s models of the following:

    Chevy Silverado
    Ford Explorer
    Toyota Camry


    GSX-R 750 or 1000
    Harley whatever-Glide
    BMW R1200RT

    • Thom

      I’d say for the ” Smack Down ” only 2011 models of both cars and M/C’s

    • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

      That’s a good point, motorcycles have always had lower total milage life expectancies. The point of the show was to compare bikes as a replacement for cars so they should be compared for similar distances overall.
      Shorter life means higher replacement rate, and a newer bike is bound to polute less that the previous one. Lower pricing of the bikes also participates in higher frequency replacements.

  • HammSammich

    Thank you! I still haven’t seen the episode, but as I noted in the previous article, “unless they fator in power to weight and/or power to displacement, then any findings are useless.”

    Although you’ve identified power to weight, I think in this case, power per cc of displacement is a more telling figure since it focuses specifically on the engines. By this measure, the ’06 CBR comes in at .158 horsepower per cc of displacement. For them to accurately compare this bike to an automobile, something like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, with it’s .15 hp/cc would’ve been far more accurate than a dowdy Taurus.

    Mythbusters is infuriatingly entertaining to me. I enjoy watching them blow up stuff, but I find it tiresome to see them continually shift their hypotheses to fit the results.

    • Sean Smith

      That Evo is running 18-22psi of boost. Displacement ceases to matter when you add that into the equation.

      • HammSammich

        Sort of…but you’re ultimately getting some parity in the engine performances between the car and motorcycle then, right? When you compare power to weight, as you note, not even the Veyron compares, so testing is completely pointless. Power to weight also doesn’t affect results at idle or free-revving (although as you’ve mentioned before, it’s not a good idea to free-rev your sports bike ;) ).

        • Sean Smith

          Ha, free-revving is the worst. Even banging off the limiter on the freeway is better for your motor than that ;)

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      The whole point here is emissions controls, that’s the nah-nah-boo-boo Jamie and Adam or using here. Cars have very strict controls on them because of legal mandates. Bikes don’t. Nothing more happened here.

  • randry

    Remember, these are the same guys that polished a terd.

    • John

      that’s impossible, everyone knows that… however, they can be rolled in glitter

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

    “They were wrong, this is how.”

    “In conclusion, they were right. If only they’d considered a bunch of other factors that weren’t the point of the show.”

    Right. /If/ they had been talking about birth-to-death environmental impact of vehicles, they missed a bunch of stuff. But they weren’t talking about that. That is a much, much more complicated question that has to factor longevity, average lifespan, replacement of parts, etc.

    The only advantages for motorcycles would be initial production impacts, road wear and carbon emissions. And carbon emissions will only be an advantage for a while. Cars are blasting past motorcycle economy.

    And you think a Harley Sportster is gonna have better emissions than a WR250?

    • Sean Smith

      The point is that they tried to say definitively that cars are better for the environment than motorcycles and that has yet to be proven one way or another, though there is compelling evidence (and common sense) that motorcycles are the better option.

      • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee (Ninja 250)

        This just reads like a rant because you didn’t like their conclusion even though the conclusion was, by your own admission, correct. They tested emissions. That’s it.

        If you’re upset that they didn’t clarify, “We’re testing only emissions because that’s what everyone thinks of when someone says ‘environment’ and ‘vehicles.’ There are other factors to consider–they’re way too complicated for a TV show that’s supposed to be fun” I would communicate that rather than attempt to “bust” them on something they weren’t even talking about.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      You can’t claim to have tested a scientific hypothesis if you used flawed methodology and bogus claims to have done so.

      “The point of the show” was to determine which method of transportation has a lower impact on the environment. I don’t think they even got close to doing so.

    • HammSammich

      “Right. /If/ they had been talking about birth-to-death environmental impact of vehicles, they missed a bunch of stuff. But they weren’t talking about that.”

      The question asked, according to the show’s website was, “Is a motorcycle more environmentally friendly than a car?”

      As stated above, this is my biggest problem with the Mythbusters – they change the hypothesis to fit their results by shifting the question they are answering in a sort of media-rich 3 card monte. They started out by asking, “Is a motorcycle really more environmentally friendly than a car?” Their testing apparently proved that motorcycles produce more toxic emissions than cars, and then they erroneously conclude that motorcycles are not more environmentally friendly than cars.

      A cursory google news search for the terms “Mythbusters motorcycle emissions” (without quotes) shows the real impact of this lazy and inaccurate “science.” Media outlets are gleefully reporting this like it’s a nail in the motorcycles coffin with statements like, “In a battle of the “greenest,” cars beat motorcycles in emissions tests conducted on the Discovery Channel show “MythBusters.”

      • Sean Smith

        That’s why I wrote this. No one else even touched on the vehicles they used, and even that was really obvious.

    • KP

      Yeah… I’d maybe have skipped this one. Doesn’t seem worth the time or effort, especially given all of the “This can’t be proven” type statements made. Clearly, nothing has been proven by anybody and we can all go back to the regularly scheduled ws/ss bromance.

    • http://worldof2.com/ jpenney

      “And you think a Harley Sportster is gonna have better emissions than a WR250?”

      Maybe. I don’t think Sportster even have catalytic convertors yet. Going back to hp/L, Sportsters aren’t doing much there. The 1200 cc versions make around 80 which is 66 hp/L. Not a highly tuned motor.

      The WR250 is making 120 hp/L.

  • Frosty_spl

    Jamie is a rider, and seems to be a smart guy. Maybe the producers would only let them skew it their way?

    • Sean Smith

      Working with UCR, who sponsored the show by giving them use of their emissions testing equipment, I think they pretty much had to report what they said.

  • Marlon


  • karl baderschneider

    These guys are showman. For credible emissions and fuel economy testing use Porsche Engineering Group GmbH.

  • Dennis

    Another experiment would be to compare the air in cities that primarily use motorcycles with those that don’t. The problem being that you can cut the air in Shanghai or Mexico City with a knife and eat it with fork. Oops. Or if you look at the United States’ great motorcycling capitol, Los Angeles, the air kind of sucks. Or blows. Or stinks.

    Not saying motorcycles are to blame, but still. It’s hard to say “let’s be just like the cities that ride a lot of motorcycles!”

    Debating cars vs motorcycles is as silly as debating cars vs bicycles. The fact is that the cities that pollute the least are the ones with a proper rapid transit system. Anything else is a distraction.

    • Alix

      Isn’t LA also the car driving capitol of America? That accounts for smog/emissions more than anything else.

    • Zach

      I am gonna claim that there are too many factors at play in air quality besides currently predominant choice of transportation. Population size, population density, local and regional geography, heavy industry…

  • nick2ny

    I have problems with the statements like “Motorcycles emit 416% more hydrocarbons, 3,220% more oxides of nitrogen and 8,065% more carbon monoxide than cars.” (I know that wasn’t an exact quote from the show)

    The thing is, cars have great catalytic converters and produce BARELY ANY of these pollutants. If a motorcycle produces 4g of CO per mile and a car produces 0.1g per mile, then an attention-grabbing headline is that the motorcycle produces 4000% more CO, but if the truth is that 4g per mile isn’t much, then the real story is that “cars produce almost zero CO nowadays, while motorcycles still produce a teeny tiny bit–just 4g per mile.”

    The way they phrased all this makes it seem like motorcycles may produce 50% less CO2, but produce fifty times as much CO. When in reality a TON of CO2 is being saved, and only a teeny tiny amount of CO is being released.

    • Sean Smith


  • moshaholic2

    odd that they came up w/ that conclusion.

    Using less fuel alone is “greener” than a car along w/ the more simple manufacturing of bikes.

    The total energy consumed in production in raw materials for a bike is FAR less than that of a car/truck

    • Elizabeth Keitz

      Yes to that, and how often do you see lines of Motorcycles idling making a traffic jam? Here in LA Cars stop for miles, miles, miles & warm the freeway up for us on bikes on cold days.

  • jason McCrash

    The ting that really shocked me is that they (I assume) took the cars and bikes as is. I would think that a basic tuneup on all would be done to at least set the oil, air filters, plugs, etc as a baseline of being new.
    And as a CB1000 owner, there are 18in rear tires around for it, sport touring treads for sure. Which is why I swapped a CBR1000 rear wheel onto it (bolt on and lighter) to get a 17×5.5in rear. A 17in front is also a bolt on. The rise in tires available is due to some new bikes coming with 18′s, not due to a resurgence in popularity of the “Big One”.

    Like I said in the other post, Mythbusters are no longer busting myths, they are just answering questions about whatever and doing lame movie tie-ins.

  • tpnewsk

    Nice, well-written

  • CG

    Can you use the words “tuned to the test” in a sentence? I vaguely recall that the great auto tuner Smokey Yunick was deeply critical of the EPA tests because auto mfr.s were configuring their cars to be at their minimums in their test cycles, but screw it at any other speed. Thus, a test of a car that has been engineered to meet those specific tests against a bike in which the engineers were able to ignore such criteria is deeply flawed by design. Testing the vehicles at full acceleration or at, say 75 mph, might have turned out numbers much more interesting. Needless to say, that ’86 Olds would have been spectacularly dirty under full throttle.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      That’s an excellent point, yet one more reason why using the EPA test cycle here is total bunk.

    • John

      +1 for Smokey Yunick. I have go back and read his book again, such an incredible human.

  • http://respectthetrade.tumblr.com/ KR Tong

    Soon as you remember that Jamie rides an 1125R the logic behind everything they did is pretty clear. Jamie was expecting a 2000 Honda liter bike to be more environmentally friendly than a Taurus. That way when the victory came, it would be a decisive victory, and Jaimie could laauuugh and wheelie off into the sunset. It would’ve made great TV.

    Unfortunately upon receiving the data proving he might’ve been reaching too high, he went insane and made a bubble bike. I think we all would’ve done the same thing.

    • Sean Smith


  • http://vtbmwmov.org Eben

    I certainly don’t consider any Mythbusters conclusions to be the whole truth, even if it is often the best knowledge available on a particular subject. However, while a lot of your points are really spot on, the “the world would be different if the world were different” arguments are useless. Motorcycle emission standards are less restrictive than car standards, so motorcycles get a pass for having higher emissions. Okay? If everyone rode motorcycles we could save money on bridges? Really?!? Either way, that’s the world we live in. Even if their conclusions are flawed or incomplete in other ways, you can’t fault them for talking in terms of the reality of today.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      The point that emissions of some substances from motorcycles are higher than the same substances from cars due to differing regulations is included merely to illustrate that this testing didn’t reveal anything new. All this was available to anyone making a quick Google search.

      The infrastructure cost of cars, and we’re talking the impact on the environment when we say cost, is very real. Go look at the road outside of your house. Is it all torn up? Yep. What’s it going to cost to fix that?

      • http://vtbmwmov.org Eben

        Heh. I actually live on an unmaintained road and most of the damage to it is from dirt bikes and ATVs, but I agree with the general idea. I’m just pointing out that rationalizing away some facts because that’s just the way the world is doesn’t change those facts.

        If everyone rode a Zuma, the world would be a cleaner place, sure. But if everyone actually packed seven people in their seven passenger SUVs, it might be even better. The world as it is, people ride solo in overweight vehicles and buy antiquated, poor performing or overpowered, generally impractical motorcycles. And everyone depends on tractor-trailer trucks, which do most of the damage to the roads, to support their lifestyles.

        I just don’t see their conclusions as being that ridiculous. Incomplete, for sure. In contrast, that last part of Sean’s article about the actual pollutants is great and tells a much bigger picture. I’m just saying to make sure you don’t move the goalposts to try to win small points.

  • Adrian

    So, unless I missed it….did you send a copy of this really good analysis to the producers of the Mythbusters?

  • David

    While I agree that there were flaws in the testing, this reads more to me like a sore loser’s explanation.

    On video 2 at about 3:17 Jamie sums up that this myth is about the guy who traded in his car for a motorcycle because he believed it was better for the environment.

    Environment may mean different things to different people. Sean is looking at a larger scope of the environment considering running costs and the cost of producing fuel, transporting it, etc. Which is fair enough. But to most people I would argue that environment would mean their localized ecosystem. The air and water in their cities and communities. Based on that, you can’t argue that there’s more junk per liter coming out of the tail pipes of a bike than that of a car and that indeed the bike is dirtier.

    The biggest problem I agree is the unfairness of the test. Vastly different motorcycles from cars and the fact that the testing they performed is one that cars have been tailored to do well against while bikes haven’t been regulated.

    Yes, all in all I think the conclusion is faulty and didn’t even make for very entertaining TV up to the point the bubble bike was built. Ultimately, I might be biased like everyone else in here to want the bike to win.

  • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

    I’m reminded of this Southpark episode:


    • Core

      I laughed so hard…


    Pointing out that the mythbusters asked a bad question is entirely relevant. Defending the results gained from an experiment based on a bad question is correct to do, experimental flaws notwithstanding, but misses the point of why anyone is concerned about emissions at all.
    They will clarify the differences in total environmental impact if they are intellectually honest.

  • Johndo

    Good points in there. Though you do not mention how many bikes out there have slip-ons…increasing polluting gazes even more.

    • Sean Smith

      Ah, the fallacy that a slip-on pipe is somehow related to emissions. Other than increasing sound and sometimes power, a slip-on pipe is actually more likely to decrease pollution because the motor is running more efficiently.

      Don’t tell that to the CARB or UCR though. They’ve worked hard to make them illegal by claiming that they increase pollution.

      • HammSammich

        Agreed. Of course to be fair, when you disable the cold air injection system, and switch to 135 mains like I did at the same time, you definitely get increased hydrocarbon production (at a minimum)…now, when it’s dark out, I occasionally get some little pops of flames on the overrun. XD

      • Johndo

        humm…I’m no mechanic…but my Fz8 had a 2nd cat in the exhaust…I’d be very surprised if it ran “cleaner” with the Yoshi I installed. I don’t think the extra 5-10lbs in stock exhausts are there just to reduce noise…

        I love bikes, love slip-ons. Just saying I think it changes numbers even more.

        • CCarey

          Most slip ons are installed after cat, if your bike has a slip on that replaces a cat then it probably does make it dirtier. Slip ons installed after cat however have no negative effect on emissions as the stock muffler they replace only cleans up sound emmisions, not pollutants.

  • Brad

    I met Adam at a social function about a year ago. He was a lot of fun to talk to, a total gearhead, and all around good-guy. I challenged him on a myth they’d done which asked if going faster over a bumpy road could smooth out the ride. They used a clapped out POS car, and ran over a washboard road with wine glasses filled with water mounted on a tray inside the car. Their test was to see at what speed could they navigate the road and lose the least water. I gave him a hard time, explaining all of the variables like damping, spring rate, anti roll bars, etc. He laughed, and told me that the producers always remind him “Fifth grade science, nothing more!” Just remember, that in order to make “Good TV,” a lot of their conclusions and explanations get seriously dumbed-down.

    And, before you send your epic tome off to them, you may want to consider doing a little editing. “Effect” is a noun; “affect” a verb. ;)

    • Sean Smith

      I blame Wes for missing that one.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        I’m still waiting for you to learn the difference between its and it’s…

        • Brad

          There their, Wes.

  • Elizabeth Keitz

    The larger public is Pro-Car and looking for a reason to dislike bikes. This is evidenced by large numbers of cars jammed on our streets & Highways everyday and their generally derisive attitude toward bikes. I wonder how much cleaner it is to sit in traffic & idle in a car or to travel while splitting lanes on a bike? Remember car drivers YOU ARE TRAFFIC.

  • http://www.kenta.ro Kentaro rides a NRS and a GSA

    “off-the-shelf fairings got 477mpg” was this supposed to be 47mpg? Great article, I would never read something this long unless it was great. And it was.

    • Sean Smith

      Nope, that’s 477. Aerodynamics are kind of a big deal.

  • zato1414

    Two fudpuckers.

  • mikedard

    ScienceDaily (June 1, 2001) — The air pollution from cutting grass for an hour with a gasoline-powered lawn mower is about the same as that from a 100-mile automobile ride, according to a new study. They need to get off motorcycles, and focus on lawn mowers!

    • Dan

      I think that’s next season

  • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

    thank you for writing this. btw, ‘malaise era,’ someone writes for Jalopnik!

    • Sean Smith

      Ha, I’ve had stuff republished on there and I’ve been a long time reader, but never actually written a piece for them.

  • 85gripen

    Does anyone really know of an example of someone who switched from driving a car to riding a motorcycle primarily because they perceive it to be better for the environment? I’ve never seen a granola biker.

    • Sean Smith

      I’m sure there are a few scooter riders that have made the switch, but I doubt anyone has gone from a car to a CBR1000RR for environmental reasons.

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Wow, Mythbusters busted!

    I would have just watched it and gone along thinking that cars were less polluting… especially since my rip-snorting K6 Gixxer would be fortunate to get 8L/100km on my commute. (That’s 29.4miles per gallon.)

    • Sean Smith

      Wow. That’s pretty RSV4 or R1 territory. That kind of fuel economy is the reason I, 1 ride a 600 and 2, wonder why people say 1000s make better street bikes.

  • rvltng_bstrd

    Now that I’ve been enlightened, I’m running to sell my bike as scrap metal … just kidding, who cares!? My messed up bonneville “manages” 25 miles per gallon.

  • Dan

    Call me late to the party on this, but “science” shows like this aren’t about science at all. The point of the experiment is simply to show cool shit on TV.

    I think the only point worth mentioning really is that all vehicles: cars, trucks, buses, bikes, planes whatever, are built and sold to meet the regulated emission standard by law and nothing more. If given equally free reign, cars and bikes would not be much different. BUT many bikers, especially the new breed of commuters in bright yellow RoadCrafters, often espouse the environmental virtues of biking and are not really fully informed. Fact is you can’t have it all. If bikers want to claim “green” they need to be informed and put their money up OR support similar tailpipe regulations for new bikes as exist for new cars.

    Every biker I know is fine with getting better gas mileage on their bike than they get in a car without regards for what comes out the pipe, especially those who change their stock pipes.

  • Core

    Wow, great article. The full picture was definitely brought into perspective.

  • Matt

    Fella, you’re taking this far too personally. So, bikes produce more pollutants. Well, if you want that to change, write your congressman about bike-emission standards. There’s no need to whine like a comic-book nerd. Just makes us look bad.

  • Kahuna76

    Lane splitting is allowed in my country. I don’t get stuck in traffic so my MC-engine runs fewer minutes than in a car.