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.