Is EV mandate the end of touring motorcycles?

As it is now after 12:00pm on April 1st, we can confirm that this was indeed one of Mark’s now famous (or infamous) April Fool’s jokes. – DW

The federal government’s announcement this week that it will be illegal to sell gas-powered motorcycles and scooters in Canada by 2030 took most of us by surprise.

It’s been welcomed by advocates for electric vehicles, but roundly criticized as impractical by the motorcycle industry and riders alike. There are many similar government mandates around the world that call for a ban on gas-powered cars, but those deadlines are usually 2040 or beyond.

Here in Canada, then-Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced a couple of years ago that Canada has a target to sell “100 per cent zero-emission vehicles by 2040.” Zero-emission means all-electric, with nothing coming out of the tailpipe to pollute the air.

At the time, I asked if that target included motorcycles, and I was told, and I quote from the phone conversation: “Well, obviously. A motorcycle is a vehicle.”

Then last year, British Columbia announced that it will be illegal to sell gas-powered vehicles in the province by 2040. This decision seems to have spurred the Liberal government to twist the throttle for bikes 10 years sooner.

Twist the knife, more like. This could be the end of touring motorcycles. Electric motorcycles do not have the range of electric cars, and until batteries become either smaller or denser, there’s no way to increase that range. With a car, you can just add more batteries under the floor, but with a bike, there’s nowhere to put those extra batteries.

Even Jochen Zeitz, Harley-Davidson’s CEO, admits that electric motorcycles are still just urban vehicles until battery technology can radically improve. Harley’s electric Livewire currently has a maximum range of 235 kilometres in the city, but that shrinks to little more than 100 km on the highway – and that’s riding at the speed limit.

The Zero SR/F is better, but it still means feathering the throttle. When our friend Sabrina tried to ride a Zero from Toronto to Montreal a couple of years ago, she had to recharge four times each way and the five-hour journey took more than a dozen hours. The poor woman was exhausted.

Remember when our friend Sabrina tried to ride a Zero from Toronto to Montreal? Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well.

Yes, a lot will change for battery technology in the next nine years, but it’s not enough time to do the job properly. Why are motorcycles and scooters being forced to adapt by 2030, while electric cars get an extra decade?

The Ministry of Transportation was of little help answering my question. “Climate change is very real and the sooner we can address its many challenges with realistic alternatives, the sooner Canada and the world will become better places to live,” wrote a spokesperson in reply to my e-mail.

I tried to contact the Ontario government to ask if motorcyclists have any recourse – after all, Premier Doug Ford rides a Vespa, as I reported last year, but I received no response. So I contacted the federal Ministry of the Environment directly to ask the question.

Back in 1991, I studied Intensive French in Quebec with a much younger Jonathan Wilkinson, who is now the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The two of us were friends for a few months then, though it helped that we were not allowed to speak English so never had much of an idea what the other was saying. I hoped he might remember this and take my call.

Mark, squatting on the beach in Quebec in 1991, with Jonathan Wilkinson at left and another friend, all of them trying to communicate in French.

He’s a good guy – he phoned back that afternoon. “Bonjour,” he said. “Are you still a journalist with the Ottawa Citizen?” “I moved on from there,” I told him. “I went to the Toronto Star, and then The Globe and Mail. Now I’m with Canada Moto Guide.”

“Hmmm,” he said. He remembered that I rode a motorcycle that summer, my Honda TransAlp. In fact, he remembered it quite well. “I never was one for motorcycles,” he said. “All that blue smoke and that annoying ring-dingy-dingy. I’m an environmentalist, and those bikes are terrible for the environment.”

I told him those are two-strokes and they’ve been illegal for years. He wasn’t swayed. “I urged my colleague, Minister Omar Alghabra, to bring forward the timeframe for motorcycles because something has to be done, and it has to be done quickly,” he told me. “The times are changing, and the motorcycle industry has to change with them, and there’s no time to waste.”

Our conversation in English just wasn’t the same as those fun times in French 30 years ago, when we talked mostly of poutine and beer. I tried to inform him about the practicalities of motorcycle batteries but got nowhere. He did tell me, though, that he never gave motorcycles much thought until he met me, when he heard me revving the TransAlp to the redline in the parking lot, and saw me laying down rubber on the streets of Chicoutimi.

“Listen, Mark, and ecoutez bien,” he said. “This legislation is going ahead. Live with it.”

And that was that. This will be a decade of great change for motorcycles as the industry struggles to adapt to the government’s urgent challenge. If I played some small part in the decline of gas-powered engines, I apologize. Back then, I was such a fool. Maybe I still am.

3 COMMENTS

Join the conversation!