Scooterists – is it time to quit smoking? | OPINION
Clean Air Zones are coming whether you like it or not. Sticky asks if there is anything scooterists can do to help themselves.
Birmingham City Council has just announced a Clean Air Zone which will make a daily charge for drivers of older vehicles to enter the city centre. The estimated starting date for this is January 2020. That’s the bad news, if you drive an older car.
The good news – if you ride a scooter or motorcycle – is that in 2018 Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) secured an exemption for 2-wheeled vehicles to the Birmingham scheme, so you can still ride your scooter into the centre.
MAG won the ruling on the basis that scooters and bikes are part of the solution to transport woes, not part of the problem; which is a perfectly valid point. Every scooterist owes MAG a vote of support for their efforts. If you appreciate that they are fighting for our freedoms then you should join them here.
COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU
Like it or not Clean Air Zones will be springing up rapidly in other cities and towns. Myself and Iggy have been writing about this for many years, both with SLUK and for magazines before that. No doubt we were dismissed as doom-mongers and ignored by most. Finally, now the axe is starting to fall, we are being proved right. Not that I’m happy about it.
Look at the places already getting on board:
- LONDON – as of April 2019 you will not be able to ride a pre-2007 scooter into central London without paying a daily charge of £12.50. At the moment historic scooters (approx over 40 years old) are exempt.
- MANCHESTER – the proposals for the city include an exemption for 2-wheelers built post-2007, but it’s not clear when charges for older bikes will be implemented. This is still worth fighting.
- LEEDS – is also planning to introduce a Clean Air Zone.
If you look at these restrictions as strict and onerous, you should instead consider that we are getting off lightly. Old bikes and 2-strokes are already banned at certain times in certain European cities, like Milan, and there is no option to pay to access. These are absolute bans.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Apathy is a very British trait. Where the French don yellow vests, burn sheep and generally kick off when they feel aggrieved, the Brits are a nation of pint-grumblers. Or at least we were, before Facebook.
We now believe that a strongly-worded social media post or meme actually might change something. When viewed against all the cat pics and paid-for political propaganda there’s no chance. It achieves very little to sit on your arse in front of a screen except to increase the size of your arse.
The issue here is that we are in the wrong; certainly in the eyes of any environmentalist. LCGB members riding through Germany in the last couple of years told me of townsfolk putting their hands over their children’s mouths and getting angry as the smoking Lambrettas rode through any town centre. Air pollution is really a hot topic. While we might love the smell of 2-stroke in the morning, right-on millennial citizens most certainly do not.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Simple answer – minimise exhaust smoke.
I’m a 2-stroke Lambretta and Vespa rider and I don’t want to stop any time soon, but if we don’t do our bit then the net will tighten and there will be nowhere to ride them.
The fact is that all engines kick out pollutants. The last 20 years of technologies such as catalysers and Diesel Particulate Filters are all just sticking plasters on gaping wounds. They just hide the pollution problems. They don’t solve them.
Every exhaust puts out some pollution. The problem for 2-stroke scooter riders is that people can see and smell ours. The smoke is blatantly obvious, but often it doesn’t need to be.
You can make simple adjustments that will improve both the way your scooter rides and your environmental footprint.
Here’s an interesting fact.
Most visible smoke emitted by a 2-stroke exhaust comes from over-richness of the carburettor, not from the oil mixture you use.
That’s easy to prove too. If you turn your choke on, your scooter will almost certainly smoke more, but whatever oil ratio you run is totally unaffected. The choke is simply adding an excess of fuel.
When you see smoke, what you are actually seeing is the results of incomplete combustion. Put simply, the efficiency of your engine is not good enough at those revs to burn off all of the petrol and oil; so particulates of both exit the pipe as visible smog. What stings your eyes when waiting to exit the IoW ferry is not burnt gas, but unburned hydrocarbons (fuel) from rich engines.
If you’ve got a scooter that runs smoke-free on the motorway but smokes like a cheap hooker as soon as you get into town, then it is very likely that your carburettor is poorly set-up or worn out.
VIDEO – How to correctly set your Air or Mixture screw.
At low throttle openings, the carburettor uses the pilot (‘idle’) jet circuit and the carburettor needle to set the fuel/air mixture. If you ride behind a scooter that smokes heavily at traffic lights, it is likely that it is simply set too rich. Too much fuel and oil is being added to the air at low throttle openings resulting in incomplete burning and tons of smoke.
You can clearly hear when an engine is too rich on low throttle. Instead of a clear ‘zing’ as you open the throttle, the revs respond slowly with an audible slow, chuggy ‘bleurggh”.
Fixing this problem can be as simple as setting the air or mixture screw on your carburettor correctly (the one that isn’t the tick-over screw). Often this can be done by ear. Adjust so that the engine has more ‘zing’ just as you start to open the throttle, but not so far that the engine takes longer to settle back to tick-over when you shut the throttle.
IMPORTANT: If the air or mixture screw is at the limit of its adjustment range (check the manual for your type of carb) you may need to change the size of your pilot (‘idle’) jet.
The other issue that causes progressively smokier running on 2-strokes is carburettors that are simply worn-out through years of being vibrated to death and inhaling road grit. A simple check is to look at the condition of the throttle slide. If it shows clear scratch marks or is wobbly in the carb body then a new slide, carb needle or maybe even a complete new carb may be required.
If you can get your carburetion sorted to cure richness at part throttle then it really is a win-win for everyone.
A properly set scooter will:
- Accelerate faster
- Respond more quickly
- Be less tiring to ride
- Use less fuel
- Smoke much less
- Foul plugs less often
- Recoup money spent on parts in fuel savings
As such, isn’t it worth doing something about it, if you have a boggy ride? Be more French and proactive and bit less British and grumbly.
Drive-side seal failure provides a different sort of smoke.
There are other forms of engine smoke emitted as a result of failed drive-side oilseals, allowing the engine to burn gearbox oil. This fault tends to have symptoms of billowing clouds of smoke that trail even when the scooter is moving. The smoke of a blown seal tends to be very white and thick. Burning gearbox oil also has a different smell to 2-stroke smoke.
VIDEO | How to mix oil the modern way
THE GREAT OIL DEBATE
If ever you want to start an argument between scooterists, simply ask the question “what 2-stroke oil should I use and what percentage?”
Make sure to apply a crash helmet before doing so.
The problem with all pre-mix solutions (where you mix oil directly into the petrol tank) is that they can take no account of engine load, unlike an auto-lube system.
Most autolube systems adjust the oil mixing ratio in response to rpm but also to throttle position. This is because when you are pottering around town at low rpm there is very little strain on the components and maybe 0.5% oil mixture is sufficient to prevent engine wear.
Conversely, progressively more oil is added on full throttle as the engine revs increase.
If you mix oil yourself in the fuel tank, then there is no adjustment. Whatever ratio you put in the tank goes to the engine whether it needs that amount of oil or not.
I wouldn’t dream to suggest that people modify their oil of choice or percentage for highway riding. You only get more bother if you start drawing cartoons of Mohammed.
What I would suggest is that people consider adjusting their oil mixture according to where and how the scooter is being used. Innocenti may have suggested 4% of basic-quality mineral 2-stroke oil for general use on some Lambrettas, but if you are using quality low-smoke synthetic oil, only riding in town or following a 45mph ride-out then perhaps your engine could manage on 3% or 2% for a rotary-valve Vespa?
Again, running a slightly lower oil percentage when riding in town will save you money and improve the engine responsiveness. Just remember to use your normal ratio if the engine is being used at high rpm for long periods to maximise protection when it is needed.
Apart from doing your bit on the engine set-up front there’s not much you can do, but that alone could make a massive difference. Sharing this article to other riders (you can use the social buttons on the left of the page) will only help. If you follow someone riding a scooter that trails its own mushroom cloud then tapping them on the shoulder and suggesting they get it looked at can only help.
Finally, thinking carefully about the timing and location of mass ride-outs to avoid Clean Air Zones might be an idea, if an unpopular one. What we must remember is that riding old scooters is soon to become as socially unacceptable as smoking cigarettes.
Cigarettes aren’t banned in the UK because those smoking generally obey the ban in public spaces. They smoke outside and don’t puff like chimneys in restaurants when people are trying to eat their dinner. Smokers in the UK are allowed to keep on with their habit because they’ve learned to act responsibly. A mutually-acceptable equilibrium has been reached.
I’d suggest that scooterists start doing the same, voluntarily. Those who insist on riding scooters into Clean Air zones that are poorly set up and smoke like the Flying Scotsman will stand out like sore thumbs if air quality in those zones improves. Visibly polluting unnecessarily is frankly, very selfish because it will ruin a good thing for the rest of us.
I don’t want to stop riding my 2-stroke scooters, so encouraging people to clean them up now is a good pre-emptive measure.
I prefer that idea to sitting in a pub and banging on about how great it was when we could ride our scooters whenever and wherever we liked…
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