Busting the Myths of Motorcycle Savings (Part II)

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As I mentioned in the last post, motorcycles, for all their glory, are pretty disappointing when it comes to fuel economy and savings.  When you consider their small size relative to cars and trucks, motorcycles, by and large, stink at fuel efficiency.  Add to this their apparent ability to tempt riders to drive like jerks, and their already meager fuel savings pretty much evaporate.  While disappointing gas mileage is reason enough to exclude them as frugal transportation options, there are several other considerations that take them completely out of the realm of practical frugal living.

Consider, for example, maintenance costs.  When I bought my 450cc cycle back in 1986, I just assumed it would also save money on maintenance.  It seemed to reason that a 400 pound bike would wear through tires less quickly than a vehicle carrying ten times the weight.  Likewise, I figured brake pads would last longer with less weight to stop.  I was wrong on both counts.  Instead, it turns out that motorcycles go through tires and brakes much faster.  You’ll find yourself replacing them after 8,000 – 10,000 miles.  The tires, by the way, aren’t much, if any, cheaper than the 50,000 mile tires you put on an economy car.  Ditto for the brake pads and service charges.

Motorcycles also, for some reason, go through other parts at an annoyingly fast clip.  I had a clutch cable break on me after 17,000 miles.  (This little wear and tear occurrence leaves you stranded, by the way.)  I still don’t know what that was all about, but apparently it’s not uncommon.  Motorcycle batteries are awful.  Although they cost as much as a small car’s battery, they are more similar to lawnmower batteries in terms of longevity.  Because their engines are high revving by nature, motorcycles also have a substantially short life expectancy when compared to a car.   That’s why a bike with 20,000 – 25,000 miles is considered a high mileage machine.

If that weren’t enough, let’s go back to our basic definition of practical frugal living: an approach to economy that the average person can follow without disproportionate negative consequences.  In my opinion, the costs factors alone exclude motorcycles from the definition, but so much more makes motorcycles anything but practical.  It’s pretty obvious that they suck in the cold and in the rain.  Depending on where you live, that can rule them out for over half the year.  What people don’t realize is that they also suck in the heat.  Believe me, it’s no fun sitting on top of a hot engine, while stopped at a light on steaming hot asphalt with a fiberglass helmet on your head.  Yes, you get some relief when you are moving at highway speeds, but you had better be wearing long sleeves or copious amounts of suntan lotion.

You’ll also find that a motorcycle gives you virtually no hauling capacity.  You are pretty much limited to whatever you can squeeze into saddlebags, (which will cost you another couple hundred bucks, by the way).  You can only carry one passenger with you, and only if you have a second helmet – at a cost of another couple hundred dollars.

And that brings us to safety, a critical consideration when assessing practicality.  Here too, motorcycles strike out for obvious reasons.  While you can lower your chances of accidents by driving with great care and attention, there is basically no margin for error on a motorcycle because every accident is serious and life threatening.  There are also certain risks unique to motorcycles that you really can’t eliminate.  They are much harder for other drivers to see.  Those highway hazards that pop up out of nowhere, like blown out truck tires and animal carcasses, can easily spill you on a cycle.  A deer darting into your path at night will take you out.   Even small things like loose gravel in intersections can take you down on two wheels.

So there you have it: a candid overview of the many considerations that make motorcycles anything but practical from a frugal living standpoint.  They are just another example of the need to think things through before making lifestyle decisions and purchases.

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3 Responses to Busting the Myths of Motorcycle Savings (Part II)

  1. Pingback: On Deck: the Toyota Prius – frugal or no? | Practical Frugal Living

  2. Nelson J Wood says:

    Most of the stuff in this post doesn’t have anything to do with frugality, just safety and comfort. Plus, several things aren’t even true. Somehow most of the world manages to ride motorcycles, and what’s more, in many poorer nations motorcycles are the primary means of transportation. The poorer nations where this isn’t the case tend to not have very much personal transportation at all.

    Interesting how that works out if motorcycles really are so less frugal than cars…

    But why are service charges even worth factoring in? If you really wanted to be living frugal you would be doing most of the maintenance stuff yourself. Yeah, there might be SOME things you just don’t have the equipment for, but really, it shouldn’t even be a consequential amount.

    As for no hauling capacity, just get a backpack? You could also use ratchet straps.

    Then as for “every accident is serious and life threatening”, well, not really, as long as you are ATGATT. Sure, at high speeds this is so, but if you are all geared up you are pretty well protected from the most common kinds of motorcycle accidents: ones that happen at 20-30 miles per hour.

  3. Ramon says:

    I know this post has been online for a while, but I just feel the need to post another comment backed up by real life experiences and research, as anyone googling the term may be a victim of the misleading content of this article.
    I’ll start by introducing myself as a Motorcycle commuter for 09 years: 233CC Chinese Motorcycle, 600CC yamaha street bike (early 90’s model) and a late 2000′ Yamaha 600 street bike, as well as the driver of two small 1600 cc european cars: Peugeot 206 and Nissan Platina.

    Fuel economy: Daily commuting, no passengers:
    1600cc Car: 9 Km/l.
    600cc Yamaha 600 motorcycle: 18.5 Km/l

    Maintenance costs are pretty much the same story, I purchased dual compound tires a couple of years ago for my motorcycle, and haven’t had the need to replace them yet, and most likely I won’t need to do so in several thousand kilometers, regular maintenance such as chain replacement ,oil, filters and spark plugs are very easy to accomplish in just a few hours with very few special tools, as opposed to my car’s which I can’t do because it requires additional tools I don’t have at hand.

    Living in a city with a 6 month long rain season with floodings, wind and storms, I found spending about $90 USD in rain gear allow me to ride perfectly dry and safe every single day to my workplace and back home in just a fraction of the time it would take me to drive my car. Summer is not so different, there are lots of different gear options for every budget that will keep you safe while, keeping you cool riding at less than 20 Mph, compare that to the added gas and pollution resulting from the car’s A/C.

    As for hauling capacity, well, at least for me a $30 USD backpack from my local supermarket is more than enough to carry all I need for my day to day life.

    I believe safety is more of an issue in a car than it is in a Motorcycle, as a 2 wheel vehicle user is well aware of the risks for his life and the others, while a car driver will many times feel encouraged by the active safety systems in his vehicle to do stupid things like eating, using a mobile phone and what not! (just tune in to truTV and see the amazing car chases!) And believe it or not, because of the physics and characteristics involved in a motorcycle (mass, dimensions, independent brakes, etc), you actually have more chances of reacting and avoiding lethal road risks than in a car.

    Lastly, I must agree with the author “…you need to think things through before making lifestyle decisions” I would also add, do some research, ask people with experience in “both worlds” to avoid biased comments, find alternatives and finally, try by yourself, what didn’t work for someone may be the answer for you!

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