Thursday, November 10, 2005

Maybe This Will Get a Few Tree Huggers Off Our Backs

Check out this little tidbit about the new breed of high tech synthetic and organic base 2 stroke oils being made in an effort to clean up the emissions of snowmobiles, outboards, jet skis, dirtbikes, ATVs, ect. I have personally witnessed the difference made by synthetic oil in a 2 stroke engine as far as exhaust is concerned. Ride behind somebody on a "weed eater" some time and you'll know right away if he's running synthetic or not. If you're gasping for air and your eyes are watering profusely, he's running mineral based oil. Synthetic gives off a slight hint of that tell tale "2 stroke aroma", but not nearly enough to be obnoxious. You practically have to go up and sniff the tailpipe to smell it unless there's absolutely no wind.

Now most ATVs, a lot of dirt bikes, several outboards, some personal watercraft, and a handful of snowmobiles are being made with 4 stroke engines, which is mostly a good thing. Not only are 4 strokes more environmentally friendly, they're a lot more reliable (debatable, just my opinion), last longer (also debatable), are affected far less by variables such as temperature and altitude, and they run cheaper since they burn less fuel. But 2 strokes still have some distinct advantages that just haven't been duplicated in a 4 stroke platform as of yet, and likely won't be due to the inherent differences in the theory behind how engines operate. Modern technology has tackled some seemingly insurmountable obstacles regarding internal combustion engines and 2 stroke engines are no exception. Some surprisingly clean burning 2 strokes are available now, with more on the horizon, but more on that later.

4 stroke snowmobiles, primarily, just haven't taken off quite the way many people, including the manufacturers, had originally hoped that they would. The reasons are complex and many, but mostly revolve around the little green monster called power to weight ratio. 4 strokes as a general rule just don't make the amount of power per pound that 2 strokes do, and the power that they do make is produced in a different way. The rpm specific narrow power band of a 2 stroke is just seemingly tailor made for the way that snowmobiles operate. Add that to the fact that 4 strokes take a little longer to "spool up" than 2 strokes do since they have more reciprocating mass, and there's just no replacement for that instant snap of 2 stroke torque.

Snowmobile CVT clutches are designed to keep the engine at a nearly constant speed while varying the gear ratio in order to vary the speed of the sled based on power output related to load, a situation that is just simply better suited to a 2 stroke. Couple that to the fact that most of the little 2 stroke "inconveniences" that all of us have been dealing with for years have been virtually eliminated on the newer sleds, and it's no wonder that the few high performance market targeted 4 stroke machines available just haven't been big hits with consumers. The overly portly 4 strokes are just not very appealing to anyone but the geriatric trail touring crowd that are still hoping that Yellowstone Park will get opened back up. Don't hold your breath folks, the tree huggers won that one.

Now 20 years ago, just about any sledder would have most likely jumped at the chance to ride a 4 stroke sled that was as close to traditional power to weight ratios as the 4 strokes that are being made today. The only trouble with that little scenario is that 2 stroke technology has advanced in the last 20 years as well. The old air cooled, carbureted sleds were extremely finicky when it came to air fuel mixture, a requirement that changes drastically with changes in altitude and temperature commonly encountered on a typical ride. The modern sleds address this problem quite well. Liquid cooling made the engines a little less sensitive, but 2 strokes are notoriously finicky about jetting. With the advent of various automatic altitude compensation devices, up to and including electronic fuel injection similar to that found on cars, the days of constantly reading spark plugs and fiddling with carburetors in a quest for the optimum jetting only to have the temperature change and make you start all over are gone, but an interesting little side effect of these systems is reduced emissions. You will never hear anyone complaining about a sled that smokes less as long as it's getting proper lubrication and isn't in the process of reducing itself to scrap aluminum.

Reduced emissions were the primary reason for the move to more 4 stroke machines in the first place, that and longevity and fuel economy, and reliability, but in spite of the explosion of 4 strokes in every other form of power sports, 4 stroke snowmobiles just haven't caught on, and for good reason. Not only are the 4 stroke sleds heavier, which poses a big problem on a snowmobile, they just simply lack the performance necessary to keep people interested, and they're more expensive. In spite of the numerous efforts by snowmobile manufactures to produce a viable 4 stroke sled and therefore placate at least a few of the "greens", ultra high tech 4 stroke engines just haven't seemed to solve the problem.

At least one manufacturer has the foresight to deal with this issue. Ski Doo is currently making a 2 stroke sled that takes advantage of some really interesting technology also being used on automobiles to boost performance and reduce emissions. Traditionally, the air/fuel/oil mixture on a 2 stroke engine enters the cylinders through the crankcase via ports in the cylinder walls which are opened when the piston reaches the bottom of it's stroke. While this provides the necessary air movement to get the charge into the combustion chamber, it's just not very efficient, not from an emissions standpoint anyway. The fuel has to move too far and sit idle for too long and therefore begins to deatomize out of the air and recondense. This is necessary in order for the oil in the mixture to do it's job but this liquid fuel and oil often ends up being "blown out the stack" if you will, and accounts for much of the residue that is such a harmful part of 2 stroke exhaust.

With the new system being marketed by Ski Doo, the fuel is injected via typical automotive type fuel injectors directly into the cylinders at the precise moment that it will be best atomized. The result is more complete combustion that when coupled with modern synthetic or organic based lubricants will undoubtedly produce emissions far closer to that of a 4 stroke, possibly even the same, since these machines burn markedly less fuel overall. Less fuel means less smoke, less smoke means cleaner air, who wouldn't want that?

Now many environmental groups would like to convince everyone that people involved in power sports of any type are enemies of the earth, with no consideration for the environment whatsoever, this is simply contrary to the evidence that is all around us. The fact that Ski Doo and other manufacturers would spend the R&D money necessary to come up with a machine like this is just proof that given the opportunity, power sports enthusiasts will pay for the technology necessary to protect the environment. Snowmobile manufacturers are obviously convinced anyway, or else they wouldn't be spending all of this money on research to come up with cleaner machines. It's just too bad that there had to be so much negative publicity first in order to spur them to do it. Sometimes change is difficult, but that doesn't mean that the changes that come about are always bad. In this case both the environment and outdoor power sports in general benefited tremendously.

Products like the oil I linked you to earlier are also proof, the fact that these products sell and sell well is more evidence yet. People will pay more for environmentally friendly products as long as they're readily available and don't have too many undesirable side effects. Synthetic and organic base oils burn far cleaner in 2 strokes than traditional mineral oils, all the while providing better engine protection and longevity. It's a win win situation for everyone, not the least of which is the environment.

These oils are also typically far more expensive than mineral based oils. Expensive to the point that it's difficult to entirely justify them based on the nominal gains in engine longevity that they can provide, to me this is further proof that power sports enthusiasts are willing to spend extra bucks in order to preserve the legitimacy of their sport, and to protect the environment as well. No one wants to ride in a decimated wasteland.

We go riding in remote areas not only to enjoy the thrill of getting there, but to enjoy the peace and solitude provided by these areas once we are there. Environmental destruction is far from the agenda of this rider, and I think it's a long ways away from those of my fellow enthusiasts as well. Now if environmental groups would get off of their high horse and notice efforts like this, maybe we could all work together towards truly saving the environment, from it's real enemies, like profiteering corporations. What good is a healthy forest if no one can get out and enjoy it, or use the resources it provides? I like wildlife just as much as anyone but if deer can live in town like they do around here I really don't see what harm is going to be done to them by an occasional passing ATV or snowmobile. Let's apply some common sense and come up with solutions that are fair and beneficial to everyone, that way we all win, and maybe the deer will go back home to the forest and quit eating your garden. They don't eat my garden, gee I wonder why. ;)

5 comments:

Pirsig said...

You probably have an 8 foot fence around your garden - How do you feel about flyovers in the Grand Canyon? I woudl guess you don't object, because you don't seem to comprehend the disruption of solitude of one power sled on an otherwise quiet trail does. If it were only the noxious exhaust... by the way, law enforcement people will tell you that there is a very high correlation between drinking and snowmobiling - we're not just talking about different forms of recreation here - we're talking about different kinds of people who don't blend well - the drinking/smoking noisemakers, and the quiet tree huggers you so despise.

Justin said...

Well persig, first of all thank you for your comment.

As a matter of fact I do not have an 8 foot fence around my garden. I don't have a problem with deer eating it because not only am I smarter than a deer and therefore use natural methods to repel them, but I, as everyone that reads my blog regularly knows, eat deer. That comment was meant mostly in jest however so please don't read too far into it, it was merely meant to be funny to anyone that knows me.

As for the second half of your comment, I DO NOT despise tree huggers. I only despise the elitist attitude so often held by them. If it hadn't been for the surge in environmental concern in this country and the world in general, our opposing views on recreation really wouldn't matter that much because left to their own devices the large corporations of the world would have raped the environment to the point that neither of us would have any place to recreate. As a matter of fact, I'm probably one of the most dedicated "tree huggers" that you will ever run across, I spend a LOT of time within hugging distance of trees, unlike most contributors to major environmental groups, who I believe have never so much as set foot in a forest, let alone loved one the way that I do.

As for the aforementioned elitist attitude:

we're not just talking about different forms of recreation here we're talking about different kinds of people who don't blend well

My point, as illustrated by you.

What makes you think that "your kind of people", should have exclusive rights to outdoor recreation while "my kind of people" should not? Isn't that perhaps a wee bit elitist? "My kind of people" are more than willing to share the abundance of public land in this country with "your kind of people", so who among us are the ones that are intollerant and not willing to "blend well?"

As for the disruption of solitude, let me offer this.

1 There are trails and areas all over the country that are and have been for some time, closed to all types of motorized recreation, there are none that I am aware of that are closed to non motorized recreation, in other words, you can use "mine", but I can't use "yours", so who's not willing to "blend well?"

2 I too quest for solitude. My ATVs and hopefully my snowmobile take me to places of solitude, much further from civilization than I could get on foot. As much as I wish that I had been blessed with the time and stamina necessary to hike far into the wilderness under my own power, I was blessed with neither. Many of the ATV enthusiasts that I know are totally handicapped, many are war veterans that lost their health in the service of this country, why should these people not be allowed to enjoy the outdoors? Do they not "blend well" with "your kind of people?"

While I'm not completely sure what your reference to drinking was supposed to imply I'm getting the idea that you somehow have a distaste for adults that enjoy an occasional alchoholic beverage. If I haven't consumed enough alchohol to be impaired, how is my drinking hurting you? I admit, I often enjoy a beer or two or perhaps a nip of liquor or wine if the weather is cold while I'm riding. If I exceed the legal limit, however, I am subject to being charged with DUI just like if I were driving a car. Drunk driving is illegal, no matter what the vehicle being driven happens to be. I am definately not in favor of drunk driving, but I am in favor of treating adults, like adults.

And as far as "not blending well", I have happened across many people in the mountains that one could probably label as "tree huggers", I have yet to meet one that acted as elitist as your comment implied. Every one, no exceptions, was friendly and cordial, as I was in return, and we have had numerous lenghthy conversations about our mutual love for the wild places we visit. We enjoy the same things, our mode of transportation just happens to be different. Even had we not "blended well" I would be willing to just move on and let bygones be bygones, I would not start a campaign to ban that person from public property, that land belongs to everyone.

As far as "quiet tree huggers" are concerned, let me describe the hipochrisy in that statement with the words of your beloved Sierra Club:

“Unlike hikers who noisily announce their presence to nearby bears, hunters move quietly through the forest in hopes of getting close to wildlife. Unfortunately, sometimes the wildlife they get close to turns out to be a grizzly bear,” Heidi Godwin, of the Sierra Club’s Grizzly Bear Project, said in a press release.

See, all I'm doing is announcing my presence to nearby bears, what's the harm in that? ;)

Justin said...

Oh, I almost forgot. As far as flyovers of the Grand Canyon are concerned I really do not have an opinion. I've never been to the Grand Canyon but if I ever do go there and I am annoyed by flyovers then I will be on your side, but most likely I would be more inclined to believe that those folks have just as much right to be there as anyone else does. From what I know about the Grand Canyon I'm under the impression that it's a raging tourist trap anyway, much like Yellowstone Park, so I wouldn't exactly go there in search of "solitude" anyway.

Joe Visionary said...

Very good!!

You might also mention that in the same way that hunters are much more tuned into matters like 'environmental carrying capacity', it would probably be the ATV/snowmobile crowd who would protest the clear-cutting that lumber industries routine do.

Yes, I realize that clear-cutting attempts to simulate a forest fire, but actually it's a poor substitute. Far too much of the normal natural subtleties are bulldozed over, much like the whole slashing.

Justin said...

You're exactly right Joe, and logging can be done without clearcutting. There are several selective logging practices that can drastically improve the health of a forest, drastically reduce the risk of forest fire, not drastically effect wildlife habitat or the aestetic beauty of the forest, and still allow for the responsible harvest of timber. Both worlds can live in harmony, we just need to compromise in a common sense way.