Rider choice and new motorcycle design suffers as Europe rail-roads unjustified new rules

Wide-ranging new rules on the design of motorcycles will start to bite from 2016 after European Parliament voted to accept them – without any evidence to justify some critical changes and with most MEPs unable to read the proposals in their own language until 24 hours before the vote.

Calls were made before and during the debate to recognise the need to allow full consideration of the proposals.  Several aspects of the proposals and the procedure are the subject of a long-standing complaint to the office of the European Ombudsman.

The Motorcycle Action Group is asking the UK government to take these concerns in to account ahead of a formal vote by EU member governments.

The purpose of the new rules was supposed to be to make future motorbikes safer and greener (the rules do not directly affect bikes already on the road), but critical opportunities were sacrificed and consumer groups’ wishes ignored says the Motorcycle Action Group.

“This once-in-a-generation opportunity to allow motorcycle-production to evolve while protecting consumer-choice has been squandered” says MAG.

The new rules have been hobbled by a very lazy and outdated attitude toward biking, which is seen as dangerous and polluting, rather than a very flexible and enjoyable form of space- and fuel-efficient mobility whose vulnerability has much to do with the actions of other road users and highway conditions.

The regulations explicitly recognise there is no causal-link between horse-power and safety, yet without providing evidence to justify the need, the rule makers say manufacturers of medium-power bikes must design-in measures making it difficult to modify engine and transmission components; high-power bikes are exempt from these ‘Anti-Tampering’ rules, but where components are shared with other models the design of larger bikes could be affected.

There are further fears that the availability of alternative parts will be reduced as a result of these rules and remains to be seen whether new Type-Approval rules for after-market parts will ensure reliability and value for money without seeking to restrict the scope for modification and home maintenance.

Despite many (perhaps most) collisions happening so quickly that a rider cannot start to apply their brake in time, the Commission and Parliament insist that future bikes must have Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS).  ABS can be difficult to optimise on motorcycles and won’t work in all conditions, but the new rules fail to ensure that every new model has a temporary override switch and Europe has failed to put the same effort put in to raising driver training and licensing standards in order to avoid other vehicles colliding with motorcycles.

Similarly, the new rules require future bikes to have headlamps permanently lit. This can camouflage and distract attention, motorcycle lights can appear to flash on uneven road surfaces falsely-signaling to another road-user that the rider is giving right of way. Control over lighting must rest with the rider so that they can adapt to changing light conditions and other factors that affect their safety. 

“The Eurocracy must stop treating riders as reckless rather than vulnerable, and start to treat motorcycling as a legitimate and effective way to use the road“ says MAG.

Other aspects of the new regulations are welcome, although even here there are potential concerns.

Fuel efficiency and CO2 labeling will help riders make savings at the pump and pave the way to reduce the cost of UK road tax (VED) for bikes.

Pollutant emissions are to improve, matching current car emission controls by the end of this decade: Euro 4 standards apply to new bikes from 2016 (mopeds from 2017), Euro 5 standards apply from 2020.

Durability testing should lead to more reliable bikes, longer warranty periods and quality standards that car purchasers typically expect.

On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) systems will monitor malfunctions in emission control warning of the need to make repairs, but there are concerns that OBD technology will present barriers to home maintenance and modification.

The new rules open-up access to manufacturers’ Repair and Maintenance Information (RMI); this should benefit owners as well as independent service and repair businesses.

New Market surveillance requirements promise to protect consumers from sub-standard products but it is still unclear whether these will be applied in a way that allows riders to make informed choices about performance and value for money.