With each new surge in gas prices, a frequently asked question is whether motorcycles offer substantial savings in fuel consumption. The related question is whether motorcycles have a place in practical frugal living.
The questions make sense enough. After all, what could possibly be more fuel efficient than a two-wheeler that weighs 1/8 the weight of a car? What better idea for saving gas than losing the unused seating capacity, the empty trunk space, the metal frame and siding, and otherwise reducing your means of transportation to the absolute bare minimum? Surely, 100 miles per gallon is something any frugalist would die for. If that weren’t enough, the thrill of the open road, soaking up the sun on those beautiful spring and fall days, and the rugged, independent image make it a no brainer, right?
As someone who owned a motorcycle and used it as my primary means of transportation for seven years, I can say with complete confidence that the notion that motorcycles save money is a myth. Let me walk you through some of the reasons why a motorcycle has no place in the practical frugal lifestyle.
We can start by dispelling the myth of motorcycles conserving gas. First, I don’t know where this bit about “100 miles a gallon” came from. Maybe the first small machines made decades ago approached this figure. But the best fuel efficiency offered by any major manufacturer’s make these days is the Honda Rebel, at 84 mpg. While that is nothing to sneeze about, it requires you to entrust your well-being to a 234 cc engine, which Honda somehow liberally rounds up to 250. That provides you with just enough horsepower to travel at highway speeds, at a noisy, high revving engine speed and with precious little room for passing acceleration.
After the Rebel, the choices for high fuel efficiency cycles are few. Yamaha Star offers a 250 of its own, which advertises 78 mpg, and the options just get worse from there.
In fact, if you want to put yourself on a motorcycle with more reasonable horsepower, you unfortunately have to jump up in engine size dramatically. In the old days, the major manufacturers offered midsize engines in the 450 – 500cc range. Mine, a Honda Nighthawk 450, belonged to that category. For some reason that I will never get, the major makers now offer no such lines. Instead, you pretty much have to jump all the way up to something in the 750cc range, although Yamaha does at least offer a 650cc Star model these days.
The first problem with these bikes is that their fuel efficiency is terrible – worse, in fact, than a Toyota Prius. They are also tremendously overpriced. The Yamaha Star 650 that I mentioned, for example, lists for $6,990. That’s right – one-half the price of a reasonably priced fuel efficient car like the Hyundai Accent. By the way, the Yamaha Star 250 that I mentioned earlier? Be prepared to spend $4,290 for that small machine.
But let’s go back to the disappointing fuel efficiency for a moment. The Yamaha V Star 650 advertises 49 mpg. Keep in mind, too, that the quoted efficiency is the EPA estimate, which is almost always overly optimistic. I learned all too well the accuracy of that qualifying phrase, “Your mileage may vary,” during my cycling days.
I bought my Nighthawk during my college days, in part because of the fuel efficiency, which was supposed to go over 40 miles per gallon in the city and over 60 highway. Instead, I found myself routinely filling up the 2.7 gallon tank every 90 -100 miles. Admittedly, this was at a time when most of my miles were logged in on a college campus, with very frequent stopping, starting, speed bumps, etc. Even in more traditional city travels, however, it was never the fuel sipper that I was led to believe it would be. This was a major disappointment for me, in part because I rode it responsibly, rarely peeling out or torturing neighbors with senseless revving at every stop.
That takes me to the last point on motorcycle fuel efficiency. If you operate a motorcycle in the irresponsible and downright foolish manner that so many bikers model, your fuel efficiency will drop even further. Jack rabbit starts, weaving around traffic at sharply varying speeds, and gunning the throttle for no reason other than to make noise will do nothing more than waste gas.
So that’s a pretty good overview of why motorcycles are way overrated when it comes to their supposed fuel savings. I’ll write separately on several other considerations that easily eliminate motorcycles as a tool of frugal living, using our earlier definition of practical frugal living. In the meantime, I’m certainly open to comments from riders whose experiences have been different.