We’re big fans of Cecil Adams’ The Straight Dope, and we’re one of the few scooter-centric media outlets that thinks the ecological hype surrounding scooters is somewhat overstated, but we’re guessing Cecil’s recent “Give a Scooter, Pollute Her” column is somewhat misleading, along the same lines as Willamette Week’s “Polluter Scooters” story from August 2006.
What Cecil’s column doesn’t mention is that few scooters sold today are 2-strokes, and most 2-stroke scooters sold today are designed to conform to CARB and recent E.U. standards, which are, as we understand it, far more aggressive than national EPA standards. Sure, vintage 2-stroke scooters pollute. A lot. And modern 2-stroke scooters generally pollute more than modern 4-stroke scooters. But even a Genuine Stella, the only non-CARB-approved 2-stroke scooter sold in the U.S.(aside from quasi-legal Chinese imports)–even by Willamette Week’s numbers–pollutes far less than an out-of-tune worn out vintage scooter of similar design, and while it has a comparatively high PERCENTAGE of pollutants, it compares favorably when the QUANTITY of pollutants is measured against a higher-displacement vehicle that creates more exhaust.
Unlike the earlier WW story, Cecil’s numbers seem to be balanced for displacement, and support his case. He also generously explains how scooters are beneficial in other ways, but it still seems disingenuous to not mention that most scooters sold in the U.S. today feature 4-stroke engines, vapor recovery systems, and other emissions controls. Vespa claims that their scooters emit about 72% less emissions than an average car (and 78% less than an average SUV). Vespa’s numbers are usually inflated, and they’re not separating out the specific pollutants Cecil cites, but I find it hard to believe that a modern small-displacement one-cylinder 4-stroke engine releases a larger quantity of pollutants into the atmosphere than an SUV. BajajUSA (now ArgoUSA), who recently imported vintage-Vespa-styled Bajaj Chetaks with modern 4-stroke engines, reported amazingly low emissions and did break them down into specific pollutants.
Again, we agree that fuel savings (vs. operating cost) benefits and ecological impact arguments of scooters are often overstated, and we appreciate Cecil’s positive justifications for scooters. CARB and Euro requirements, as well as emissions tests from various scooters, are all easy to find online, but different units and different testing methods make them difficult to compare. Maybe Cecil’s right, butwe’re betting that scooter emissions, especially modern 4-stroke scooter emissions, aren’t nearly as bad as they’re made out to be by stories like this.