Bike industry asks UK government for more time to work on decarbonisation

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Planned 2035 cut-off for all petrol-powered motorcycles is too soon for manufacturers, claims MCIA

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you might have noticed that petrol- and diesel-powered cars are on their way out in Britain, with a ban set to be put on all new sales from 2030. What you might not have realised is that at the moment, that fate is set to hit motorcycling too, with a 2030 ban on 125cc and smaller petrol bikes, and all new petrol bike sales to end in 2035. The UK government is currently consulting on the changes, so the decision hasn’t been set in stone as yet. But at the moment, the cut-off date is planned to be 2035.

There are some serious problems with the proposed phase-out of petrol engines for bikes though. While cars and vans can fairly easily find the space for a large-capacity rechargeable battery pack, and can also cope with the added weight it brings, that’s not the case for motorbikes. The leading large-capacity electric bike brand is Zero, and while its bikes are solid performers, they’re not able to match the capabilities of petrol powered machines yet. Indeed, when you look at the top-selling big bike in the UK – BMW’s R1250 GS – there’s absolutely nothing on the horizon which can match that package for size, weight, performance, range or cost.

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At the moment, the industry is beginning to investigate other options, like hydrogen combustion, synthetic hydrocarbon fuels and hybrid power trains. But none of those offer particularly easy solutions at the moment either. Hydrogen is very difficult to store in usable quantities, and needs super-heavy and expensive high-pressure tanks. Any synthetic fuels which can be produced are likely to be ringfenced for aviation, where there are even fewer options for energy sources. Hybrids offer one answer to the range question – and Kawasaki is launching a hybrid bike in 2024. But they’re set to be phased out by the British government too.

The UK bike industry has been trying to get its message across to the British government, and held a special presentation at Parliament last month. Tony Campbell, the CEO of the MCIA (Motor Cycle Industry Association) has requested a change to the end date for petrol power, pushing it back to ‘from 2040’ for large capacity motorcycles.

“If manufacturers are forced to transition to zero emissions too soon, significant revenue will be lost from selling existing and near future ICE motorcycles,” said Campbell. “That will have a knock-on effect when it comes to developing and manufacturing zero emission products. The complexities and nuances of different vehicle categories must be fully considered, as what’s feasible for some segments (e.g. mopeds) is not feasible for others (e.g. higher powered motorcycles).

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“Before committing to any investments in new technology, it is critical we receive a guarantee from Government that, in doing so, the necessary infrastructure is in place and policies around driving demand and improving access to our sector have been implemented.

“We’ll continue making our case and building on our already strong working relationship with ministers and officials.”

The UK Department for Transport is aiming to announce its decision ‘in due course’. We’ll report back when it does.

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