Motorcycle.com

“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.

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.

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.

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.