Honda Shadow motorcycle, brand-new, with straight pipes, by Flickr user Jess_Anderson
California was the first state to regulate automotive emissions, due to horrific smog in the Los Angeles basin dating back to the 1920s. And the state has been at forefront of emissions control ever since.
As well as automobiles, California regulates emissions from motorcycles and the small combustion engines in lawnmowers, chainsaws, and the like.
Now it has taken what may seem like an overdue next step: Starting in 2012, it plans to require newer motorcycles registered in the state to undergo periodic emissions testing.
Senate Bill 435, introduced in February, requires all bikes built in 2000 or later to be tested every other year, to ensure they remain within legal emissions limits for their year of manufacture.
As is usually the case (see the supposed ban on black cars), howls of protest have greeted this move. Bikers point out that while motorcycles are 3.6 percent of the state's registered highway-capable vehicles, they account for less than 1 percent of total vehicle miles traveled.
But that's not the real issue. Historically, many bikers have routinely flouted emissions controls by sawing off mufflers and catalytic converters to run "straight pipes". If you've ever been woken from a sound sleep by the deafening roar of Harleys or other bikes, rest assured that those motorcycles have absolutely no emissions controls whatsoever.
In fact, although almost 9 of 10 new bikes sold in 2008 came with catalytic converters, a survey of 2003-2007 motorcycles by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) indicated that 85 percent had been modified in some way.
But once again, California is blazing new ground. In a website "Action Alert", the American Motorcyclist Association points out:
The only two counties to ever smog test motorcycles nationwide, Pima and Maricopa in Arizona, have already shown that motorcycle testing leads to no significant reduction in measured emissions levels. Pima County has already dropped their testing program and Maricopa is awaiting EPA’s approval to do the same.
We're not convinced the Hell's Angels will take to the new laws. But we suspect upper-income California professionals who've carefully cultivated a faux outlaw image after buying a "midlife crisis bike" will grumble, and then in the end, comply.
Or re-register their bike in a neighboring state.
Riding a motorcycle makes you smarter