Busting the Myths of Motorcycle Savings (Part II)


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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12 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!

  4. Pingback: Busting the Myth that Motorcycles Save Gas (and Money) | Practical Frugal Living

  5. Cassidy says:

    I completely disagree with this author on a few key points. Maintenance is necessary for any vehicle you buy, and must be calculated into the buying cost of the vehicle when you first purchase it. Before I bought my motorcycle, I found myself having to drag my car to the mechanics for an oil change, coolant system flush, regular maintenance checks, etc (adding up hourly rates which was a lot of $$$). Let alone cost of insurance (easily over $60 a month), monthly cost of gas (easily over $45 a week in gas), etcetc. Then, I finally bought a motorcycle. Cost of insurance: $18 a month. Cost of gas: ~$4 every 2 weeks.
    Bought a $100 riding jacket, boots and pants, and I ride it every single day of the year. Rain, sunshine, snow, wind, you name it. I am now fully capable of doing all maintenance myself with tools already on hand saving TONS of money.

    If you want to live as frugal as your articles point out.. don’t own a vehicle, PERIOD. If you are that worried about spending your money wisely, safety, etc buy a bicycle or walk. Seriously, why this is even an argument is a laugh in and of itself. Why do you think people who live in poorer countries only drive motorcycles or scooters? Because cars are WAY too expensive to maintain a ‘frugal lifestyle.’

    A lot of your points make absolutely no sense when trying to consider living a ‘frugal lifestyle.’ do not own anything of substantial value if that is the number one thing you are considering.I have saved THOUSANDS of dollars owning motorcycles over a car.

    Be safe, have fun riding out there! And remember to always wear protective clothing that keeps you COOL in the summer, and WARM/DRY in the rainy and winter seasons. Absolutely no reason to own a car unless you have kids or pets.

  6. Pingback: So What Are Quality Frugal Transportation Choices? | Practical Frugal Living

  7. mike says:

    the author has no clue

  8. Shawn Vargas says:

    It’s obvious that you didn’t enjoy riding your motorcycle. Back in 1986 your 400 lb motorcycle sucking up gas at 40 mpg clips wasn’t that bad since gas back then was around $1. Today, I ride a 2000 Triumph Speed Triple, a 955 cc, fuel injected hooligan machine. I’m the original owner, I had the engine rebuilt once because a faulty spark plug came apart. Cost for engine repair, $1700. 1 clutch, $1200. 5 sets of tires, each about $350. I do my own minor maintenance but the stuff that needs special tools I take to the shop. Gas runs me about $10 to go 140 miles. Lid & leathers yea can be pricey but isnt your life worth it? Is frugal living only about saving money? Or can it be about saving your sanity and enjoying your ride while you are on this planet? I have a car, thats not always practical. The bike fills a need. My need to be happy. There is no price tag you can put on that. By the way,

  9. L Rogers says:

    I did the math back when gas went up to $4/gallon (2007 or 8), and found that a honda rebel (used, mine was $1,675) would pay itself off in gas (by commuting with it to work and back) in about 6 months of commuting. And it certainly did. After those 6 or 7 months, it was pure savings and fun. The only part that I had replaced in 5 years was the battery (anywhere form $20 to $40 online). Now, granted, this is a small bike, and I’m 6′. So if you want to ‘look cool’ and save on gas, probably not for you. But if you’re comfortable in your masculinity and would rather show your problem solving skills (intellect) I’d say this is a great way to save on gas – especially for a person who commutes by themselves daily (as 9 out of 10 cars seem to have 1 person in them).

  10. Sandeep says:

    I’m from Nepal and we pretty much import everything from our Southern neighbor, India. Food, fuel, everything you can think of. Talking about motorcycles, my dad rides a Hero Splendor. You may not be aware of the existence of such bikes, but they exist in South Asia. So, it has a 97.5cc engine and it consumes 1 litre of petrol (or, gas) every 70 kms in the real world. 165 miles per gallon. A gallon of gas here costs 382 Nepalese rupees, which is USD 3.7 (1 USD=NRs. 103). So, 2 cents per mile. Anything that gives less than 70 mpg on a bike is a gas guzzler here.
    Now, the Hero Splendor won’t push more than 70 mph in the speed department but hey, Nepali roads aren’t made for speed. It is a hilly country, the roads are narrow, usually 2 lanes, and there’s no road discipline. Usually, the speed will be around 20-40 mph in the cities and 40-60 mph on the highways. The country is small, 600 miles from east to west and 130 miles north to south.
    I’d like to add that the Hero Splendor is an all time best seller. Catered to South Asian markets, where efficiency is prized more than performance, it ticks all boxes. Efficiency, check, reliability, check, low cost of maintenance, check. It costs around USD 1700 in Nepal, where auto taxes are around 250%. If a car or a bike costs USD 1000 in India, it’d cost around $3600 in Nepal. People can’t afford cars ’cause the cheapest one (Tata Nano) will set you back around $7500. Maruti’s Alto 800 (the best selling car in South Asia) will cost at least 14k. Don’t ask me about Toyotas and Fords. They are premium here. A Camry costs $95,000 and a Corolla costs $65,000. Very few can afford them.

  11. mark Garvey says:

    I am an admitted motorcycle nut. But I disagree… Slightly. With this. I ride a pair of Yamaha scooters. A 250 and a400. While economy is disappointing. It’s still better than a car, even my frugal kia. But. The majesty 400 has huge cargo area under the seat. The morphous too. Insurance is$10 a month for both, licence is$10/year each. Car..$175 year licencing, $98 month insurance. My new kia is a $400/ month payment too.. $20,000 new. Bikes were about$2000 each.
    For 19 years I rode a Honda 125 around town. 110-125 mpg. But no real cargo room. T the thought that a 400cc bike gets ONLY about 50% better economy than a 2400cc car baffels me. I should be getting 200 mpg! Not 50-65!
    The scooter d design is more practical than most bikes. The tuning more mild. As to longevity, I have seen water cooled scooters with 80,000 miles. One guy I know has an 86 Helix that he bought new. It’s a daily driver. My morphous has 260000 and runs like new. Maintained by replacing tires, drive belt and changing oil..(2qts at 3500 mile intervals). I think I it’s frugal….. Enough papaballoon@g

  12. mark Garvey says:

    That is 26,000 mi

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