The Mythbusters motorcycle pollution episode

Dailies -



You’ve likely already heard about the episode. Jamie and Adam set out of exhaustively determine the level of pollution emitted by both motorcycles and cars in an effort to see which is greener. I’m going to be watching this at the same time as you guys, so it’s too early to comment, but their methodology — traditionally a Mythbusters strong point — allegedly has a lot of problems. Regardless, here’s the full episode.

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via Autoblog

  • Jesse

    Yeah, saw this last week, and I was more than a little confused as to their attempts of aerodynamics. And.. um.. venting the exhaust into the bubble with the rider.

    • Dave

      My ten year old pointed out the exhaust venting into the bubble thing. She said, “well it doesn’t matter how much mileage it got, because the driver will be dead”.

  • Ian

    I predicted the same results as they got. I don’t want to ruin the outcome for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, but the final outcome seemed pretty obvious to me.

  • nick2ny

    Basically, I think that there are so few motorcycles, and that they’re ridden so few miles, that it doesn’t really matter (not to mention the fact that cars are clean nowadays to the point of being ridiculous, so a motorcycle that is even 20 times as bad could still be relatively clean.

    I wrote up more thoughts here:

  • another Nik

    A car idling in traffic is putting out infinite pollutants per mile and getting zero mpg.

    • ursus

      There are other consumables too, not to mention the embodied energy and embodied pollution a car represents compared to a bike.

      • ursus

        Oops, forgot the embodied energy and pollution of the additional infrastructure needed by cars:

        • Case

          I didn’t watch the embedded clips but there are many externalities associated with driving a vehicle. Motorcycles have the advantage over cars in almost all of them except health care costs associated with crashes and traveling in inclement weather.

          Emissions are only a part of the story, and if you include the factors you list here along with all the other costs it is quickly obvious that, in general, motorcycles are more efficient than cars.

  • Glenngineer

    “but their methodology — traditionally a Mythbusters strong point”

    Bullshit. I loved Mythbusters for a while, but as an engineer, watching them reach the wrong conclusions with flawed experiments killed me, especially when the right answer could be reach by first principals.

    • David

      Sure, but it wouldn’t make for entertaining television.

      • John

        I just shake my head when people point to mythbusters for validation. I have to remind myself that it is entertainment, not science.

        • 80-wattHamster

          It might not be rigorous science, but taking a hypothesis, running an experiment to test said hypothesis, and drawing a conclusion is the root of the scientific method. As David said, being that thorough would be boring TV. And shoot the budget.

    • Emmet

      +1. I find the people who reference Mythbusters tend to have no idea what they’re talking about

  • Gene

    1. I’m just hoping the current backlash against the EPA gets stronger.

    2. That’s the best Jamie can do for riding gear?

    3. What was up with the weird rope rig and the rocket? They couldn’t just zero the gun on the tip of the rocket and shoot it with their remote trigger?

    4. Nobody’s mentioned Kari’s grown some major chesticles? Or is that just me?

    • Dave

      I noted the distinct increase in boobage on Kari as well…

    • Eric

      I wouldn’t get used to them; she just had a kid recently (last year I think).

      • matt

        you have too much information

    • $Lindz$

      Re: 3. You must have missed the part about the dual-stage rocket in the RPG and how the detonator is triggered by g-forces from the 2nd one kicking in, which places it approximately 60 feet away from the firing position…

    • tomwito

      I don’t know why everyone is so against the EPA? After working 17 years in the environmental engineering industry, the amount of contamination I have removed out of the soil and groundwater is unbelievable. And that’s just the company I worked for, there are hundreds of other companies doing the same. Damn near every gas station has a plume of gas/diesel under it contaminating the groundwater but who cares?

      • Gene

        I wouldn’t be against the EPA if they kept their hands off my carburetion/fuel injection.

        I’m tired of the ultra-lean low speed fueling that makes me have to do expensive mods just to tool comfortably and safely around a parking lot without the bike bucking like a bronco.

        I know they’re going to use this global warming/CO2 stuff to try to expand their kingdom and their power. So far they’ve been stalled on that.

        • tomwito

          So we all have to breath contaminated air and drink contaminated water so you can have consistent low speed throttle control? Well since you put it that way, FUCK the EPA!

          • Grant Ray

            Tom, not all of us hate the EPA.

            Gene, you should consider laying off the Exxon cool-aid. You want quick proof of that whacko global warming/CO2 stuff? Go talk to the older scuba divers in the Caribbean and ask them about how the coral has been rapidly browning and dying over the past decade or so due to rising sea temperatures. Hell, go dive and see it for yourself.

            • tomwito


            • Gene

              Well actually I don’t really give a damn either way about global warming, or about pollution.

              I do know that I will keep riding my RZ350, I will keep buying Power Commanders for my FI problems, and I will keep buying non-ethanol fuel at the store in Bithlo.

  • Mike

    Clearly the problem is that there aren’t enough emissions controls on motorcycles.

  • Mark D

    Motorcycles may emit more pollution than cars, but I’m pretty sure their lifetime carbon footprint is a lot smaller.

    And even if it isn’t, well, I’ll send a check to Green Peace for the difference…

  • matt

    Improved and bigger catalytic converters solve some of the NOx and CO problems, but not the unburned HC, that’s all engine/ignition/injection. Little engines present different problems than larger car/bus/train size ones for combustion zone design.

    Biggest issue is that moto regulations haven’t pushed manufacturers in directions to solve these issues. So they really haven’t solved them. They can. Motivation is key.

    I thought this was an ok mythbusters. I’m with glenngineer, also an engineer, years ago I was annoyed with the lack of basic science understanding and wrote the show off. This one was ok, especially as a “more complicated than you think” notification to people who prefer the simple answer for paper vs plastic.

  • todd

    way, way too many variables to draw their conclusions.

  • Erok

    Of course emissions are going to be different for a 180hp 1 liter four cylinder vs a 100 hp 2 liter, i mean lets be honest.

    • Dan

      That’s it in a nut really.

  • jason McCrash

    I agree that they used to do cool stuff and now are too linked to movie gags and things that aren’t “myths” but just questions people have. This test was piss poor. Discount all of the old cars and bikes and buy a brand new car and bike, both equipped with full emissions. A Civic vs a CBR, a M3 vs a S1000, etc. Do actual driving, following each other on real streets where there is idling and stopping along with traffic. Cars have had cat-converters in the Us since 1976 for fucks sake.
    Jamie is a pro-bike guy. He has ridden his own Buell in an episode (that last model before they went under) and was fully geared up during that episode.
    Kari did have a kid, she was fat and preggo all last season on the show and is looking great. If you want a laugh watch an old, old episode and take a look at Grant’s teeth before he had them capped. Looked like a baseball hit him in the teeth!

  • robotribe

    Blah blah blah…bikes are evil and they kill kittens.

    Just do like I did and offset it by buying your wife a Prius.

    • Lacubrious

      I purchased the same offset, in black.

    • squirrelgonzo

      LOL…GREAT. Another thing to look forward to when getting married…He has to spend 30K and I have to drive it so’s the hippies will leave us alone… Dammit. Lol… ;)

  • jason

    Just to know, would it be possible to retrofit a cat to a bike?
    I know it is an absurd question, but anyway…

    • Scott-jay

      It is absurd and PETA will be at your door step.

      • holdingfast

        omg. lol nice one!

    • squirrelgonzo

      Kind of like the motorcycle version of Schrodinger’s cat?

      Is this ‘Cat’ made of plush?


  • markbvt

    The biggest problem I had with this segment was that the focus was on motorcycles being greener than cars overall — this because of people who have supposedly chosen to ride a motorcycle due to its environmental friendliness.

    In reality, I don’t know anyone who’s chosen to ride a motorcycle because it’s environmentally friendly, while I do know people who ride their motorcycles as much as possible because they’re cheaper to operate than a car. So I would have been far more interested to see Mythbusters dropping this environmental-friendliness stuff and testing the financial aspect. Because in all honesty, once you factor in tires and other non-fuel consumables, it’s not necessarily such a clearcut conclusion…

    • Mike

      Yeah I think the initial premise was a little thin.

      Regarding cheaper to operate – I’m not 100% convinced, either.. Consider the short lifespan and high cost of tires & the not-stellar mileage on even that late model 600RR in the video. Even my Miata gets the same fuel mileage & tires last about 10x longer, while being nearly the same price for a full set.

      On the other hand, the traffic & parking issues make bike-commuting a joy compared to being stuck in a box.

      And, you know, it’s cool & fun.

      • Chris

        I’ve maintained for a long time that anyone making the case that motorcycles are cheaper to operate than a car is just trying to sell you a motorcycle. Gas mileage isn’t even a convincing argument when you consider that putting two people in the average car gets much better mileage per person than one on the average bike. There really are only two practical reasons to own a motorcycle: Lower initial cost and the ability to filter through traffic, and the second one is mostly N/A here in the U.S. No wonder so few people ride here.

  • slowtire

    No impact consideration of the methane, hydrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide gases produced by beer farts from the barhopper crowd? Bad science.

  • Thom

    I just don’t know about this episode .

    I know what the facts they found were . I understand their conclusions , yet something about it does not ring true .

    Anyone else feeling a bit skeptical about this one ?

    • nick2ny

      I’m not skeptical. Catalytic converters do their job well. That was the conclusion of the episode.

  • John

    The streamlining was a hoot. Makes me want to start bending stuff.

    The new Cycleworld shows an advanced version of street legal streamlining. The MPG is wonderful, even at crazy speeds. Check out the “monotracer” at Sorry they’re Swiss/German and no english translation yet.

    Edit: Oops, looks like Wes already wrote it up in “Wired”!

  • Brammofan

    Blah blah blah wish they included electric motorcycles in the piece blah blah blah.

    • Jesse

      Blah blah agreed. When is “my” Empulse 10 going to be available?

      • Brammofan

        Empulse 10 is so last year… by the time your Empulse is ready, it will be a 12 (or more). Don’t stop believin’.

  • Jesse

    I’m actually still a little confused as to what they were trying to prove.

  • AHA

    Bottom line? Internal combustion powered cars are a bad emissions & fuel efficiency proposition developed into a far better one by technology – lean burn, cat converters, stop start etc. Motorbikes start out with a huge advantage (weight vs. payload, rolling resistance etc) and have been developed almost not at all from a fuel efficiency and emissions stand point. A little progress in this area would literally get us all a long, long way. The demand has to come from riders and that is slow in coming.

  • HammSammich

    I can’t watch the episode at work, but I’ll check it out tonight. I will speculatively state that unless they fator in power to weight and/or power to displacement, then any findings are useless (and since this is Mythbuster’s I’m fairly certain with out watching that they have failed to factor in these issues). If you take a modern 600cc Sports bike that produces 120hp, the correlative automobile wouldn’t be a 2.0L Toyota econobox that produces the same 120hp, it’d be something on the order of a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO or Subaru WRX STi (or even a step above, really).