Should motorcyclists be worried about clean air zones?

Clean air zones
Image courtesy of Kawasaki

There’s been a lot of controversy about clean air zones (CAZ) recently, with many people worrying about the impact that these zones will have. But what exactly are they, and why are motorcyclists set up for an easy ride through the new landscape of transport in the UK?

What are clean air zones?

Clean air zones are basically areas that have been set in an attempt to improve air quality, in particular to reduce concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in cities. This is because NO2 can seriously affect the ability of the lungs to cope with bacteria, leaving them more susceptible to infections as well as aggravating conditions like asthma. Introducing clean air zones in cities is aimed at driving take up of more modern vehicles with better emission standards, in particular for companies operating buses, taxis and other private hire vehicles, although these standards are usually applied to private vehicles as well. 

This is where the controversy begins, as local authorities can define their own rules for how they run a clean air zone, and, if their plan involves charging non-compliant vehicles, this can cause discontent among the people driving them.

Find more details on what CAZ is here.

Will my bike allow me to travel in clean air zones? 

This is where motorcyclists start winning, because if we look at the conditions for London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone – the UK’s largest and most stringent clean air zone – any motorcycle rated at Euro 3 or above is exempt from charges. This basically means that most motorcycles – and cars, come to that – made after 2007 can be used without having to worry about paying charges. 

There are also a few motorcycles made before that which meet these emissions standards, although you might have to apply for a certificate of conformity in order to dodge the charges. Furthermore, if you’re riding a motorcycle over 40 years old, it’s classed as a historic vehicle and is also exempt from charges.

So aside from a few diehard fans of modern classics, this means the vast majority of motorcyclists don’t have to worry about clean air zones costing them extra money for travelling about their city or town. Indeed, the vast majority of these zones are set up so most private vehicles are exempt, and many cities are discovering they can improve air quality in other ways. 

In effect, clean air zones are just one of the possible responses to handling the problem of air pollution. Local authorities are encouraged to come up with a response that suits each location, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution imposed from above. 

Where are the UK clean air zones?

Clean air zones

There are only three cities in the UK with clean air zones (or ultra low emission zone in London’s case) that charge private vehicles travelling through them: London, Birmingham and Bristol. This is due to a combination of traffic density and geography that means air pollution is more concentrated in these locations, requiring more stringent measures to help reduce it. 

Meanwhile, cities like Leeds have discovered a combination of private companies moving their fleets to electric or hybrid alternatives, and overall improvements in the efficiency of cars, means charging non-compliant private vehicles wouldn’t help them to improve air quality significantly.

What are eco-friendly motorcycles?

If you’re looking for the most eco-friendly motorcycle possible, choosing bikes with electronic fuel injection systems can significantly reduce particulate emissions. If your budget doesn’t run to that, picking a motorcycle or scooter with a four-stroke engine will be less polluting than one with a two-stroke engine. 

Luckily, you’d have to look pretty far and wide to find one of these less efficient bikes now, as manufacturers have been vigorously updating their ranges to make them meet Euro 5 standards. While you might read that motorcycles produce a higher percentage of particulate emissions compared to other vehicles, this assumption is usually based on outdated research from 2008 which has been surpassed by the improvements brought about by the changes from Euro 3, 4 and 5.

Of course there are electric vehicles that reduce emissions at the point of use to basically zero. Sadly, general economic conditions and the rising costs of energy has seen sales of electric scooters and motorcycles drop considerably in 2023. Certainly the increased electricity bills that recharging your bike at home would cause will be putting some people off, combined with the fact the electric motorcycle market is divided between incredibly expensive hi-spec machines and budget offerings that won’t get even remotely close to their listed operating ranges in real world use. 

Although the cost of charging electric motorcycles has increased due to energy costs, it is still considerably cheaper to charge and run an electric motorcycle than the equivalent petrol “cost per mile” from the traditional combustion engine.   

Uptake for electric motorcycles will likely remain quite small, particularly with internal combustion engine (ICE) alternatives remaining more convenient and efficient for most riders, as well as the increasing popularity of electric bicycles for people looking for two-wheeled urban transport solutions.

So while clean air zones aren’t going anywhere, are they anything for motorcyclists to be concerned about? The simple answer is no, and that is unlikely to change. If everything goes to plan, zero exhaust emissions will be mandatory on all cars in the UK and Europe from 2035, and many of the technological improvements that will have to be developed to make this possible will eventually filter down to motorcycle engines. 

Until then, motorcyclists can be pretty sure they’re using the most eco-friendly form of ICE-powered transport.

Looking for electric bike insurance? 

When switching to electric, make sure you get the right insurance for yourself. That’s where Bikesure can help. As a specialist electric motorcycle insurance broker, we compare quotes to find you the right policy for your personal needs. Give us a call on 0800 369 8580 or book a callback at a time that suits you.

Most Popular

August 8, 2023