Everybody who has been around American motorcycles long enough to have an opinion that counts knows what the Harley tax is. The Environmental Protection Agency thinks it means something else.
The Harley tax is the price you have to pay to transform the brand-new Harley-Davidson motorcycle you bought into the bike you want to ride. Some of the tax goes to add-ons like a sissy bar and a set of saddlebags. Some of the tax gets spent on improving the performance of an engine that was designed in 1907 and is based on an engine designed by Glenn Curtiss in 1903.
Your principal goal with an engine is to “open it up and let it breathe.”
The Harley V-Twin is an internal combustion engine. What it does is simple. It is called suck, bang, blow. A perfect mixture of air and gasoline – not too fat and not too lean but just the right mixture – gets sucked into a cylinder. A spark makes the mixture go bang. A lot of that energy is mechanically transferred into making the motorcycle go down the road. Meanwhile in the cylinder, some of the mechanical force blows the exhaust gases out the exhaust pipes. In a perfect world the pipes need to be baffled just enough to keep the exhaust gases going in the right direction.
At its most basic, the performance part of the Harley tax involves opening up the engine intake and exhaust so the engine can breathe. You have to either switch out your fuel injection for a carburetor, or modify your fuel injection. Then you have to replace your factory exhaust pipes. You have to do that because the engine comes from the factory strangled. Because the EPA makes Harley strangle this 109-year-old engine.
The bureaucrats who run the Environmental Protection Agency insist that everyday in every way we must all pollute less. No, the bureaucrats are not talking about the endless plastic bags and water bottles that are about to destroy the Pacific Ocean. They are talking about your motorcycle. For example, between 1977 and 1990, Harley was able to simultaneously increase the displacement of their standard engines and reduce the power of those engines by strangling them – by not letting them suck or blow as hard as they once could.
Carburetors And Tuners
The task of making a Harley-Davidson V-Twin engine run more efficiently used to be simpler when they all came with carburetors. You could just take off the carburetor and drill a hole through the metal plug that prevented access to the fat-lean screw. Or, you could install an alternative carburetor like the S&S (for Smith and Stankos) Super E. Then Harley stopped shipping bikes with carburetors because the whole suck, bang, blow wouldn’t work to EPA specifications unless the process was controlled by a computer. So what that meant was that you had to reprogram the settings on your Electronic Fuel Injection if you wanted the engine to perform at its full potential.
Ironically Harley, among other companies, stepped in to help. The brand that some old men still have tattooed on their arms sold a device called the “Screamin’ Eagle Street Performance Tuner.” The device could be connected to both a motorcycle and a computer and allowed the suck, bang and blow of a fuel injected engine based on a 1907 design to be tuned – to perform more efficiently rather than to work less efficiently. The device gave mechanics the “ability to view the bike’s air/fuel ratio, O2 sensor readings, engine speed and temperature, RPM and vehicle speed, throttle position, spark advance and much more.”
Harley said the tuner was “designed to simplify management of street-legal performance calibrations as EPA-compliant performance modifications are made. It easily allows the rider or technician to view and evaluate engine operating parameters.”
Yesterday, a spokesman for the Department of Justice called the tuner a “defeat device” that violates the federal Clean Air Act. The EPA’s position is that it “is illegal for anyone to modify a certified vehicle.”
Harley was fined $12 million. The motor company was also ordered to contribute $3 million to an EPA project that will replace wood stoves with cleaner-burning stoves. Harley must stop selling the tuners by Tuesday. The company must buy back all the tuners it has sold and destroy all the tuners that are now unsold. Additionally, the EPA has told Harley that it must deny all warranty claims on motorcycles that have been made to run efficiently using the devices.
Cynthia Giles, who is the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, grandly announced, “This settlement immediately stops the sale of illegal after-market defeat devices used on public roads that threaten the air we breathe.”
There is some context to this crusade to make Harley-Davidson motorcycles greener of which most news sources who have reported the story seem unaware.
First most motorcycles in the United States are not Harley-Davidsons. Most motorcycles in the United States are made by Honda, BMW, Yamaha or Suzuki. Harley-Davidsons are American motorcycles made by American workers who support American children. They are symbolic of American ideals in a way that Suzukis are not.
Secondly, all motorcycles in this country amount to less than three percent of all registered vehicles and only 0.7 percent of all vehicles miles traveled. Motorcycles are simply not a significant sources of air pollution. The total volume of methane from cow farts greatly exceeds the total volume of motorcycle exhaust.
And finally, there is a great tradition in this country of shade-tree motorcycle repair. The United States of America is simply a better country when mechanically inclined, amateur tinkerers are allowed to make the engines of their motorcycles run better – not worse. The actions taken against Harley-Davidson and it customers yesterday do not even seem intended to solve a real problem. And they will be and they should be widely perceived to be an admonishment of American individualism.