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ADV NewsCalifornia to Phase Out Gas Dirt Bikes. What You Need To know

California to Phase Out Gas Dirt Bikes. What You Need To know

Gasoline-powered off-road vehicles to go to zero-emissions by 2035.

Published on 09.27.2020

California is at it again, making news with its ambitious energy directives, including an executive action that would ban the sale of new gas and diesel burning passenger cars and trucks, as well as all off-road vehicles, which includes dirt bikes, side-by-sides and ATVs by the year 2035. Purchase of new medium- and heavy-duty trucks (think commercial) would be phased out by 2045. 

Note this directive does not challenge ownership of fuel-burning vehicles purchased before 2035.

It also fails to mention the fate of street-legal motorcycles like our beloved adventure and dual-sport models, which has our hopes up that the Golden State, which encourages motorcycle riding to reduce congestion on its busy freeways, is giving a further nod to their inherently small carbon footprint. In any case, the motorcycle industry is already self motivating toward e-power, as we reported last week. 


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Further evidence the omission of street legal motorcycles from California’s rigorous plan was intentional is a recent report from MCN that states the UK’s Department of Transportation has confirmed it is not including motorcycles in that country’s similar ban on sales of new petrol and diesel passenger vehicles by 2035. On the other hand, the 13 additional countries committed to phasing out sales of non-zero emissions vehicles by 2035, including China, France and Germany, have not made an exception for two wheelers.

California dirt bike ban
Photo courtesy of KTM

So at least for now, as far as two-wheelers go, it looks like it’s only dirt bikes on the chopping block for 2035. Not great news, but imagining electric-or-nothing adventure bikes feels like a far greater compromise.  

And while it might seem like this directive came out of left field, it’s hardly idle chatter. “As California goes, so goes the country” is an oft-used adage rooted in fact, especially when it comes to the state’s pollution-bashing measures. Just take a look at the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) track record. Back in the fifties and sixties the state had the worst pollution in all of the country and much of the world. Fast forward to the eighties and air quality was back at healthy levels, thanks in large part to California’s very strict rules about emissions levels emitted by new vehicles sold within its borders. 

Remember when there were “California bikes?” What a bunch of hoops manufacturers had to jump through to create a separate version of each model to conform to California’s demands. Today most motorcycles are delivered as 50-state models. How many civilians even noticed?

The point being, California is once again foretelling the future of what will someday be the entire country’s reality. 

California dirt bike ban
Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Still, California’s plan to phase out our beloved petrol-burning dirt bikes, side-by-sides and ATVs has hurdles to jump, some of them self-implemented, such as the caveat that implementation needs to match with “technological feasibility and cost-effectiveness.”

On this note, the governor’s talking points include how his ballsy directive is intended to spur forth the creation of viable infrastructure to support more growing numbers of zero-emissions vehicles already being purchased in the golden state. Just yesterday, in the California Bay Area, I had to chuckle at a long queue of Teslas waiting for a “quick” charge. 

Certainly it’s hard to wrap your head around having enough infrastructure to power just the new vehicles to be sold in the year 2035. For reference, California saw nearly two million new car sales in 2019. And how to make all that juice green enough? 

A possible stumbling block is that Newsom’s order could be challenged at the federal level. California has long led the country in emissions standards, having been granted a waiver to set stricter standards than those of the federal government under the 1970 Clean Air Act. California is currently battling the Trump administration in the courts over its desire to remove the waiver, which could block California’s ability to set tougher state-level emissions standards. Whether this attempt to revoke the waiver will happen, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, a decade and a-half is a lot of good days of grabbing that ol’ petrol-igniting throttle until new gas-burning dirt bikes are phased out in the state. And while the visceral elements of the combustion engine make us feel so alive today, motorcycles in the year 2035 are probably going to be pretty fantastic. They may well prove less expensive in cost and maintenance, too.

And besides, no one said we couldn’t keep a real toy or two tucked away in the garage. Measures like this might put the traditional gas station on the endangered list, but it’s unlikely we’ll see a total extinction of braaping in our lifetime. 

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge
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