“This settlement immediately stops the sale of illegal aftermarket defeat devices used on public roads that threaten the air we breathe,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Harley-Davidson is taking important steps to buy back the ‘super tuners’ from their dealers and destroy them, while funding projects to mitigate the pollution they caused.”

-News Release, US Environmental Protection Agency, 08/18/2016


Somewhere in America I want to believe the last free man wanders on his old olive drab and salt spray pre-AMF Shovelhead named “Suzy.” Suzy was noteworthy for being one of the few Harleys I ever encountered in the halcyon days of the Reagan administration that would run from off-idle to redline – wherever redline is on a rat-bike Harley sans tach – with drag pipes and without any Harley histrionics on the street. Suzy’s good-natured chuffing was due entirely to her owner, Dave Crosby.

Dave, like his bike, was the genuine article and an enigma; a thoughtful man, a Chinese language student, a Navy veteran, and the sergeant-at-arms for his local motorcycle social club. Dave was a puzzle with a full beard and a weird incandescent energy that hinted at a touch of kind madness and odd habits, one of which was dumping Marvel Mystery Oil into his fuel tank before every fill up.

Some 30-odd years later I can’t help but wonder what the EPA would make out of Dave and his odd pre-mix ritual, and his impeccably mannered Harley, manners due entirely to his tuning – or tampering as the case may be today – prowess. And what would Dave think of the EPA’s anti-tampering mandates?

Somewhere I imagine EPA regulators sleep soundly. And citizens in the north await winter and the arrival of their environmentally friendly woodstoves, stoves provided by a motorcycle company from Wisconsin. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Dave would be laughing at me right now.

Time was I would see the name of a major motorcycle manufacturer followed by the words, “Consent Decree,” and I’d get apoplectic. The last consent decree of note I recall led to the demise of three-wheeled ATVs and gave birth to the quad, the thinking being if people were prone to doing silly things on three-wheeled all-terrain vehicles and injuring themselves, perhaps they might benefit from the addition of a fourth wheel – it works for cars after all.

A consent decree is a halfway amicable way to resolve a dispute with a regulatory agency without admitting any guilt, which is precisely what Harley-Davidson did when it agreed to pay a $12 million civil penalty and halt the sale of Screamin’ Eagle Pro Super Tuner and Race Tuner (not the Street Performance Tuner) devices, reclaim and destroy existing units at dealerships, and fund a $3 million air pollution mitigation project to replace older wood-burning stoves with more efficient units working in concert with the American Lung Association of the Northeast.

I, for one, would really like an environmentally-friendly 21st Century Harley-Davidson pellet stove, but I digress.

There was a time during the Paleolithic era when the aroma of two-stroke exhaust and woodfires was appealing to humans. Today’s humans have been regulated to be smarter.

There was a time during the Paleolithic era when the aroma of two-stroke exhaust and woodfires was appealing to humans. Today’s humans have been regulated to be smarter.

This announcement coupled with noises made by government officials was clearly intended to send a message, that message being that the EPA is the final arbiter of just what constitutes permissible tuning on road-going vehicles and all else is illegal tampering. And though the extent to which they will go to enforce those regs remains something of a mystery, the penalties will have teeth.

“Given Harley-Davidson’s prominence in the industry, this is a very significant step toward our goal of stopping the sale of illegal aftermarket defeat devices that cause harmful pollution on our roads and in our communities,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden, head of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Anyone else who manufactures, sells, or installs these types of illegal products should take heed of Harley-Davidson’s corrective actions and immediately stop violating the law.”

“Harmful pollution,” says the Assistant AG, “…threaten the air we breathe,” says the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance. I push back from the breakfast table feeling vaguely guilty; am I a gross emitter? I’m the veritable personification of a lifelong tamperer. I have a box the size of a kitchen junk drawer filled with Mikuni main jets on the coffee table, which is prima facie evidence of something I’m sure.

And what of Dave? What would all these assistant AGs and administrators say about the likes of him? He should be placed in a cage and poked with sharp sticks. When did the act of tuning for peak volumetric efficiency, that elusive 14.7:1 ratio of air/fuel goodness, become such a dire threat to humanity? To what extent do we grossly emit anyway? We are a road-going minority in the most minor of fashions, albeit one that historically has not burned as cleanly as passenger cars.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, motorcycles make up 3% of all registered road-going vehicles in this country, and account for only 0.7% of all vehicle miles traveled.

Being cool, custom, and quick does not have to propel you to the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Being cool, custom, and quick does not have to propel you to the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Squint as I might, I am having a hard time envisioning an ecological disaster on par with the eruption of Mount Krakatoa coming from a class of vehicle that constitutes a fraction of a fraction of the nation’s road users. Add to that the fact that the number of bikes modified in a manner that may violate EPA standards constitutes a fraction of that 7/10s of one percent and we are left dealing with a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of all vehicle miles traveled in this country. It seems akin to complaining about ivory-billed woodpecker droppings. There simply aren’t that many ivory-billed woodpeckers to complain about.

Add to all of that the beneficial aspects of enlightened policies like lane splitting in congested urban areas, and HOV lane access in reducing traffic congestion and increasing traffic flow, and it would seem motorcycles would be viewed as part of the solution, not the problem.

The Motor Company itself is moving forward in this era of environmentally-mindful performance, when they aren’t busy buying new-age woodstoves, as evidenced by the recent introduction of their Milwaukee-Eight engines and available EPA-tested and -approved Stage 1, 2, 3, and 4, performance packages. “All four of the Screamin’ Eagle kits are 50-state legal and do not alter the engine’s factory warranty,” notes Evans Brasfield, MO chief Earth Day correspondent.

2017 Harley-Davidson Milwaukee-Eight Engines Tech Brief

This would seem to leave the aftermarket in an uncertain position. Reasonable restraint should be exercised in bringing enforcement actions against aftermarket manufacturers that are simply trying to satisfy real-world customer needs as bikes age or require replacement parts, sustain crash damage, or are modified for competition use on the track or off road. In a world where Harley is compelled to buy clean-burning woodstoves and the National Forest Service conducts prescribed burns on public lands, I would think some sense of cost-benefit calculation could prevail in a regulatory sense.

The overall trajectory of the motorcycle industry for the past four decades would suggest that we will have ever-cleaner-burning engines and ever-increasing performance standards going forward; these goals are not mutually exclusive. And having choked in the orange soup that passes for air in Beijing, I have absolutely no desire to live in any similar poisonous biosphere here. Our EPA has done a laudable job in ensuring that our future includes clean air.

Contrary to some prevalent stereotypes, motorcyclists are avid outdoors people with a keen interest in the environment. It’s the medium through which they travel, experience, and enjoy.

Contrary to some prevalent stereotypes, motorcyclists are avid outdoors people with a keen interest in the environment. It’s the medium through which they travel, experience, and enjoy.

But we have reached a level of regulatory sophistication where damn near everything we emit or consume is certified for compliance from light bulbs to woodstoves. I can only hope that level of sophistication allows for discretion and flexibility on the part of those tasked with identifying future enforcement priorities and setting the bar for future environmental standards. People get passionate over their bikes, and any unreasonable constraints on their modification, with an intensity that CFL light bulb requirements cannot evoke. Our regulations should reflect that fervent desire to maintain a quality of life, as well as the quality of our air.

Go lightly, ride hard, be safe, and look where you want to go.

  • John B.

    Government has become so large and powerful, no one, not even a well-intentioned president, can control it. Articles like this one make me glad of getting old. I want no part of the over-regulated, indebted, and staggering republic we will bequeath to our grandchildren.

    Throughout history, a large and affluent middle class endowed with freedom, opportunity, and personal liberty has been a fleeting anomaly. Nature seemingly abhors it. We experienced freedom and relative prosperity during our younger years, but make no mistake those days are gone.

    • Bruce Steever

      So, your point is, “It sucks, i know it sucks, and i don’t want to participate or help fix it in any way?”

      • John B.

        I’m not sure what “it” means in your comment. The biggest player(s) in an industry (e.g., HD) will invariably attract government attention, in part, because industry leaders can afford to pay enough in fines and other remedies to make the government’s investigation cashflow positive.

        Willie Sutton robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” Same goes for government regulators. They shakedown industry leaders (e.g., HD, Apple, Google etc.) because that’s where the money is. This has everything to do with money, and nothing to do with clean air.

        Life’s too short to waste time in a pond filled with government leeches. The big boys like HD can afford to buy peace. Everyone else strives to stay under the radar and get to the bank.

        • Bruce Steever

          And your own point sails over your head, never to be seen again…

          • John B.

            Too cryptic for me Bruce.

          • bigjames

            there is no fixing this mess, look who we are going to end up having for president. Doesn’t matter which one, gonna either suck or really suck, depends on one’s point of view, but suck it will…and Bruce, just what are you going to do about “it”? That’s what I thought, not a damn thing…

        • Donald Silvernail

          +1 on that last paragraph.

        • Ian Parkes

          I personally wish the government a good deal more success in getting big corporations to pay even a tiny fraction of the taxes they are supposed to pay. As a private taxpayer on salary, I don’t have enough money to interest offshore tax havens, which means I wind up paying for the whole damn shooting match myself.

        • CFLAP

          The EPA, state & federal, shakes down anyone who can pay. Been there, done that.

  • Larrie Argent

    I have no idea why someone would even consider race tuning an HD. By increasing emissions beyond the legal limits, said person might get something that approached a basic 600CC sportbike. If you want performance, buy something designed to produce it.

    • john phyyt

      But 600 honda is no longer “clean enough”

    • DickRuble

      don’t try to understand.. said person spent $20K+ for a paint shaker on wheels.. he/she thinks logic is the brand name of a new low seat ..

      • TheMarvelous1310

        I don’t know how you have time to ride, what with all this whining about what other people like. Go hump a Ducati.

        • DickRuble

          Some Ducati bikes do give me a hard on. Now don’t forget to upvote yourself..

          • Larry Kahn

            Motosexual.

    • TheMarvelous1310

      Because it’s mine, and fuck that guy and his Mustang, I wanna outrun him while kicking my legs up and punching the air! Because a 600cc sportbike isn’t huge, chromey and loud enough!

      Seriously though, that’s like asking the guy in the Bentley why he didn’t get a Nissan GT-R. It’s his money, and you sound jealous.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Loud pipes lose millions it seems…

    • DickRuble

      ??.. Without enforcement (when’s the last time you saw a cop stop a motorcyclist for loud pipes?) the only effect will be that the dollars go to the specialized “tuners” and other peddlers of loud pipes instead of HD.

      • Craig Hoffman

        My point is that Harleys with modded exhausts are so prevalent. The ubiquitousness of modded Harleys is probably what put them on the EPA’s radar/hit list.

        • Klstruck

          The only thing that put harley on the epa radar was deep pockets it’s all about money!

          • Chris Wilks

            And where does that money come from in Australia and The USA?

          • Chris Wilks

            rom “OMG’s”!

    • brunssd

      “Loud pipes save attention starved lives!” Or something.

      • Chris Wilks

        Never hear a loud pipe until it passes, I’ve never heard one coming!

        • brunssd

          Exactly. It really disgusts me when a small child eyes my quieter than most cars Honda VFR coming down the street and covers his/her ears, all because a couple million or so rugged individualists all dressed in black leather, black t- shirts and denim didn’t get enough attention as children.

          • John A. Stockman

            I worked in an old-school retail “stereo” store my entire career. When that place finally closed it’s doors due to the influx of big-box audio stores, I took what I learned and started designing and constructing my own loudspeakers. Mass market/popular and recognized speaker brands that used to independent companies are now part of Harman International. Making thousands and thousands of units, build quality is poor (especially the cabinet), shored up by aesthetics and techno-yak-yak. Anyway, studying how sound propagates and radiates from a source is what I do, measuring polar plots and other qualities. Chris’ comment about never heard one coming is correct. How many are still killed and maimed every year by a train, a train they did not hear coming up behind them. NOT hear a train, you can hear them from a mile away. Simple physics explains what is going on, something that seems to evade the mental capacity of the loud exhaust folks. Since the vast majority of threats to your 2-wheel travel come from the front quadrant, 70-90 degrees left/right of straight ahead, learning to pay attention and be aware will do more than loud pipes. If the decibel level of your “sound” makes you safer and more visible, why not get a loud horn and tape the button down? No? Of course.

  • Douglas

    First off, there are NO Ivory-billed woodpeckers left…..anywhere, sadly.

    Second, John B hit the nail squarely, for the most part. But the gov’t, per se, is merely the front….the mouthpiece for those behind the scenes who really call the shots on major policies. This whole idea of “freedom”, heavily used in promo especially by the cruiser & touring bike makers, is an anathema to them, and that must be done away with. We (plebeians) are to get used being told specifically what we may & may not do (and later, what we may or may not say/think, and that’s looming near).

    The EPA, administrators, Atty Gens, et al, are merely tools to this end. Do a little research on the Fed, and all other nations’ central banks….you’ll be stunned, then highly po’d. Then check out who really controls the major media (to include school textbook publishing) to effectively put the desired “spin” on things.If you’re not incensed by what you discover, they’ve already gotten to you…..

  • fzrider

    Unfortunately I feel strongly both ways. Very conflicted. On the other hand, after 60+ yrs. one thing I know for sure is that motorcycles will be better, faster and more satisfying in the future despite any regulations. The “good ole days” will be left in the dust of history, but the “fun new days” will more than make up for it. The spirit that makes “us” motorcyclist and business men want our money will see to it.

  • Starmag

    “Today’s humans have been regulated to be smarter.” So perfectly snarky, but I’ll try to top it;

    Brawndo (CO2)- it’s got what plants crave.

    • Michael Lynch

      “Its got Electrolytes”

  • DickRuble

    Yeah… in the same order of deep (abysmal) thinking: what would steam engine drivers of fifty years ago think of the low sulphur diesel mandate? Or what would the trappers of two hundred years ago think of hunting permits? ..

    • Douglas

      amen

  • JMDonald

    The EPA like Nixon who created it have long since used up any usefulness they may have had. Time to phase them out.

    • brunssd

      Yeah, what about my rights to buy a factory fitted coal roller? Dang hippies.

      • Kenneth

        And make captive killer whales jump through hoops for entertainment?

    • Bruce Steever

      Damn all those hippies and their breathable air!

    • JMDonald

      Hippies! I knew it.

  • brunssd

    Don’t dis Marvel Mystery Oil, “It’s a mystery”

  • michael jackson

    my old harleys sound great as I have noticed the new harleys sound just a bit different not so much the loud deep bass thump. Almost campare to a pasteurized sound. I feel bad because in 25 to 30 years no one will understand what a real Harley was. I build my bikes I feel a extension of me in the bike. The factory bike seem dead to me maybe it’s passion the EPA wants to kill off

  • SRMark

    Having held a child who was in the process of dying from an asthma attack from being around smokers I have looked around a bit more than I once did. We do stuff that impacts others. What is reasonable and a freedom to one might not be to another. Before i complain about a loss of freedom or someone infringing on a right I now look a bit deeper. Things just aren’t that simple to me anymore.

    • tom

      “We do stuff that impacts others.” Thank you. This comment (ironically the first) was the most grounded, common sense one. After that the comments predictably devolved into the big conspiracy, black helicopter, big gov’mnt, poor ME and MY rights, nonsense so common on bike blogs. Like guns, nobody is coming after people’s carbs and jetting needles sitting in their garage workbench. I appreciate your realistic, real life viewpoint.

      • Pita Smit

        Agreed.

        • SRMark

          Thanks.

  • Bananapants Ficklefart

    I’m here from the government, and I’m here to help. Now, hand over that exhaust can, and prepare for your TOTALLY HARMLESS zika spraying (hold on while I adjust my gas mask).

  • schizuki

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its
    victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under
    robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s
    cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be
    satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us
    without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” – C.S. Lewis.

    • Douglas

      ….and “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule” – H.L.Mencken

    • John A. Stockman

      One of the best statements ever! Thank you.

    • Ian Parkes

      C. S. Lewis talked a lot of bollocks. ‘Robber barons’ cruelty’ actually doesn’t sleep – far more sweat shops in Asia, than ever. ‘Cupidity satiated’? Nope. Apple decided it could make more money manufacturing offshore, similar multinationals – some of the wealthiest entities on the planet routinely shift money around to avoid taxes, leaving the burden of paying for the stable societies they exploit entirely in the hands and pockets of their customers. And as for ‘omnipotent moral busybodies’ isn’t that the definition of the religious world-view he so tirelessly promoted?

  • bigjames

    Bring on the real electrics! All the power from stop, then the EPA will start whining about all the ozone electric engine produce. You know we can’t win, so I think I will go out and start my 88 HD, 51 Servicar, Ural with a 79 BMW engine and 2011 Ural all with carbs, all jetted rich and enjoy the aroma, while I am still aloud to.

  • Joe Thornton

    Liberals, the EPA and other tyrannical numb brained fillers of cat boxes seem to think that motorcycles put out too many emissions. At least that is what the ill informed believe and the money grubbing politicians who want to fleece the ill informed want them to believe. The AMA sold us all out here in California and Harley Davidson left their manhood in a jar on the shelf! It is time for the people to stand up against this propaganda to make politicians and their special interest donors rich at the cost of our freedoms and jobs. Especially in the 8 years of weakness in all areas of the nations welfare, economy, safety, and employment! Al Gore that rotund ball of BS has become a billionaire with all this “global warming, global cooling” nonsensical phony science!
    Now liberals and all democrat see a way to control the masses and believe me thinking people are considered the “masses” to be taken, used, abused, and screwed by these filth!

  • Malcolm Turncoat

    Weirdly though, you guys love it when the cops shoot a black for stealing a Mars bar

    • schizuki

      You’re an idiot.

  • TC

    That’s a thoughtful article. I don’t agree with your logic that the EPA should not bother pursuing motorcycle companies for failing to comply with EPA laws because they are such a small percentage of the vehicles sold and not driven much. VW doesn’t sell a lot of diesel cars here in the U.S., but the EPA sure dropped the hammer on them. HD is the biggest proponent of selling dealer installed aftermarket performance parts, and I bet it is a high profit business for them. As far as loud pipes, don’t get me started. I listen to them roaring up and down the street 7 days a week.

  • JerryMander

    There are 7+ billion people on the planet and 325 million in America. Get over yourself and put legal exhaust on your Harley. If that pig isn’t fast enough for you with 1800 cc I don’t know what to tell you. Try a diet.

  • Chris Wilks

    I was going to contribute to the argument, but stuff it the only thing I have changed on my 17 year old BMW K1200RS is the shocks and it has never let me down, so I think I’ll just throw my leg over it and enjoy the quiet and eco friendly ride. By the way I’ve had it from new. I used to wonder why old guys raved about their “Beemer’s” so I bought one and now I’m growing old with it.

  • Michael Lynch

    So, if I choose to install EFI on my 35 year old CBX, which will make the bike much cleaner than stock, I cannot do it, because the EPA says I am breaking the law? How does one go from 25 MPG in “EPA Certified tune” to 38 MPG in a ” Rejetted” tune and produce more emissions? How do you burn 50% more fuel and produce lower emissions from the same engine. Government Morons at work.

  • Danny

    Interesting the number of reactionary, information-free comments in the thread. And the author of the article misses (or avoids?) some important points too.

    Sure motorcycles only account for only 0.7% of miles traveled… So what? The article is about Pollution. Go stick a sniffer up your tailpipe. You’ll find that that 0.7% accounts for 15-20% of total vehicle pollution. Bikes put out about 20X more toxic garbage PER MILE than a modern SUV. (That’s in the USA alone where our bikes are petty clean).

    Someone else complained that the EPA won’t let him put EFI on his 35 yr. old Honda to improve its mileage. Really? Really? I’ve been riding and wrenching on old motorcycles for over 40 years. Most of my friends are riders. I know exactly ONE person that’s retrofitted EFI onto a street bike. And that was just ’cause he’s a crazed engineer with too much time and money. Besides if you really want to do that AND stay legal, there IS a Permit/ Experimental process in the EPA regs. that allow it.

    So get real folks. Put aside your paranoid ravings about The Government and try to focus on what’s really going on. If the EPA actually infringes your rights, (beyond your “right” to infringe the health and comfort of your neighbors), then take action. Despite the alarmist slogans, it is actually OUR government. If the EPA infringes your”right” to do something stupid and destructive, just thank them politely and go off quietly to bed. -Sheesh!

  • Pita Smit

    No sorry. Plently of other bike makers get plenty of HP/CC without a ‘Harley’ tax after sale for retuning. Secondly defeating a catalytic converter should be a capital offense. Any of you who remember the smog of the 70’s has to agree.