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Is it cheaper to commute by motorcycle?

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Could a commute by motorcycle save you money?I ride a motorcycle everywhere. I commute on it (daily, year-round, rain or shine, in South Florida), run errands on it. Heck, I’ve even brought home 7-foot Christmas trees on my bike.

Yet I still own a car — a 2000 Jetta that I haven’t driven in about six weeks. If you ignore the costs of tires and armored clothing for the motorcycle, the car is cheaper. If you consider the protective gear a sunk cost, keeping the car is a mistake. Let’s talk money.

Fuel economy

My Kawasaki Versys is a 650cc parallel twin that averages 43 miles per gallon of gasoline. The Jetta TDI gets around 43 to 45 miles per gallon of diesel fuel. The higher price of diesel equalizes the Jetta’s slight mileage advantage.

Insurance

Coverage for the motorcycle costs $288 a year. I rode a little more than 7,000 miles in the last year, so insurance comes out to about 4 cents a mile. With the Jetta, I keep track of the odometer whenever I refuel, which is rare. From Oct. 8, 2012, to July 3 this year, I drove the car 476 miles and refueled it once. Yes, one fill-up (and one glance at the odometer) in nine months. Let’s say I average 640 miles a year in the car. And the insurance premium runs — gulp! — $870 a year, so insurance for the car costs almost $1.50 a mile.

Yeah. I know.

Maintenance

Even before I bought my first motorcycle in 2009, I had begun neglecting maintenance for the Jetta. It has always given me problems, most notably with air conditioning that broke three times. The repairs were expensive the first two times. Then I gave up, and the car hasn’t had A/C in years. In South Florida.

The air conditioning on the motorcycle is a refreshing breeze except during the nine months of the year when it’s either raining or the humidity is above 80 percent. Better than being in a cage, though!

The motorcycle eats tires like a cop gobbles donuts. Motorcycle tires are engineering marvels; you wouldn’t believe the feats of grip they’re capable of. Every time I buy a tire, I pay a share of the expensive research and development budget that results in superlatively grippy rubber.

In March, I paid $266.97 for front and rear tires (Bridgestone BT-023s; love ‘em like family), plus $82 to mount them. That was about 5,500 miles ago, and I’ll have to replace the rear soon. (I wear out rear tires about twice as fast as I wear out the front.)

My Jetta has worn the same set of tires since … I don’t know, maybe 2005. Compared to motorcycle tires, car tires last forever. And grip isn’t as critical. If your car’s tires slip on a curve in the rain, it’s not like you’re gonna break bones.

Gear

I share crowded suburban roads with car and SUV drivers who are distracted by their cellphones, Egg McMuffins, mischievous toddlers, Disney DVDs, spilled coffee and the desire to apply eyeliner while behind the wheel. On top of that, I ride …

… um …

aggressively, which increases the risk of accident. And during vacations, I fly up and down twisty mountain roads at velocities that you might consider insane. So I cover myself head to heels in expensive motorcycle gear, all the time.

Motorcycle gear ain’t cheap

Item(s) Price
Arai RX-Q helmet $550
Visors (dark, less dark, clear, antifog) $240
Rev’it GT racing gloves $165
Held Steve gloves $170
Held Air Hero summer gloves $130
Aerostich Roadcrafter Light one-piece suit $750
Armor for Roadcrafter Light $150
Gaerne G.Flow boots $200

Total

$2,355

In four-and-a-half years of riding, I have crashed once. It was my first session on a racetrack, on what’s called a track day — I wasn’t racing, just riding fast. I had a lowsider at about 60 mph while wearing a rented leather suit. I walked away with a minor bruise on the bottom of my left foot. The bike was scratched; I wasn’t. High-quality clothing and armor work, and are worth the bucks.

Oh, and the bike, with luggage and a few accessories, cost $5,200 used.

Living my life, not sleepwalking through it

Now that I have bought the protective gear, I consider that money a sunk cost, so it’s cheaper to ride the motorcycle.

But I don’t ride to save money. I ride because I’ve been a two-wheel fanatic ever since the training wheels came off my first bicycle. I ride because I love the rush of acceleration and the thrill of leaning over in fast turns. And I ride because I don’t want to sleepwalk through life.

Cars and SUVs are so safe and comfortable, so plush with luxury and driving aids (lane-departure warnings, self-parking systems), that drivers scarcely pay attention. Getting from one place to another is drudgery for most drivers. The dominant emotions are boredom, frustration and anger. Drivers aren’t mindful; they’re passive, not active. As cars become ever more self-driving, the people behind the wheel become ever more numb to their own experiences.

I believe (and hope) that more and more people will adopt motorcycling to escape the ennui and dwindling autonomy that accompany car-driving. Riding a motorcycle is fun. I grin every day, on the way to work and on the way home. Joy is beyond dollars and cents.

What do you think? Anyone else out there commute by motorcycle? Do you save money doing it?

{ 17 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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17 Responses to “Is it cheaper to commute by motorcycle?”

  1. Money Saving says:

    My mom was a nurse in the ER at a major trauma center in Virginia. She made me promise when I was a teenager to never own or ride on a motorcycle. She’s seen hundreds of people’s lives change forever because of them.

    Just less than a month ago, a huge deer randomly ran into the side of my car and caused $3,000 worth of damage. It hit right on the drivers side where I sit. If I had been in a motorcycle, I’d be dead for sure!

    You may save a bit of money by operating one, but to me the increased safety risk just isn’t worth it. Personally, I’ve known two people that I work with that had major motorcycle accidents. They both were permanently disabled and could never return to work. They were sadly forced to retire!

    I kinda consider it penny wise and pound foolish. I’m sure they’re fun, but it just isn’t for me :-)

  2. cris says:

    While I have seen a few people in Pennsylvania ride when it’s about 16 degrees outside, there isn’t many. The weather here is simply too dangerous to make riding a bike to work everyday a viable way to save money. Realistically, you MIGHT be able to ride March thru October, but you need a car for three months if you work and if you have a spouse or kids, it’s just not cost effective.

  3. rick says:

    my 3-cyl geo metro gets a little better mileage than my 1100cc 4-cyl Honda Magna. Your math seems a little skewed by the fact that you don’t drive the car much (hence the higher insurance per mile rate and the tires lasting longer). Also it seems like you’ve way overpaid for your protective gear. My Scorpion helmet was about $120 and my shades $10. I got a thick leather jacket at a yard sale for $40 and what do jeans and tennis shoes go for nowadays? Point is that driving one doesn’t have to cost that much.

    As to Money Saving: Yes they are dangerous, but are more fun. You feel the breeze on you, you can feel variations in temp between riding in the sun and dipping into forested valleys. You experience the thrill of rapid acceleration. You can see much more of the area around you, especially above you. You have to be highly aware of what’s going on around you and have a profound respect, almost fear, of the situation you are in at all times.

    • Holden says:

      A yard-sale jacket, jeans and sneakers? No way!

      Every motorcyclist hears that “donorcycles” line, and hears about how someone’s sister-in-law works in an ER and ohmygod the things she sees, and everyone has an uncle’s cousin who lost a limb in a motorcycle accident. Yep, we’ve heard it all. I was approached in a parking lot by a guy who pulled down his pants to show me his scar.

      The thing is, these motorcycle casualties were wearing jeans, flimsy jackets, sneakers — clothing without armor, without resistance to sliding on asphalt. In a 30-mph spill, jeans split apart within about six feet of sliding — and then you have another 20 feet of sliding to do, but on bare skin. My suit isn’t the most attractive thing in the world, but it will withstand a fall at speed.

      With the gear I have, I’ll survive the (nearly) inevitable accident unless I’m run over or I fly into a signpost or mailbox.

      I worry a little bit. But I rode bicycles on the street for decades before I began riding motorcycles, and I’m excellent at spotting inattentive drivers and at predicting what drivers will do.

  4. AJ says:

    I commute to the train station 15 miles away everyday on my Ninja ZX6R. Commuting to work in L.A. 70 miles away on the bike has happen twice. Lane splitting in CA. is legal, but doing it in L.A. traffic is more a mental strain than physical and not worth it IMO. But I am also a member of a riding group that takes trips about 2 times a month.
    I am not sure the cost for riding a bike is that much less than a car, but just like commuting the final leg to work on a train, the thought of taking a car off the roads (6 or 8 cylinders for 1 person) appeals to me. And as stated before, it’s much more fun.

  5. Master Allan says:

    Money Saving said what I was first thinking and I’m typing this message from work at a large city hospital.

    Too risky. You may save money up front but I’ve seen first hand multiple lives changed. Even though the doctors put the pieces back together again my former boss thought and acted differently after his motorcycle accident. There’s no take back / undo option after a wreck that’s not If it will happen but when.

    Think of it as driving a car on ice during a winter storm. No matter your proficiency behind the wheel all it takes for a crash is a deficient, unskilled, or unfocused driver. I understand the fun issue. I enjoy bicycle riding, the wind in my hair. It took a couple of crashes over the years for me to realize “helmet each and every time”. Only takes one slip on gravel to cripple me or far worse.

  6. I’m glad you wear all that gear. We have a couple of little 125cc Yamaha Vino scooters, and we love them. They can get between 80 and 90 mpg, and Phoenix is the perfect city for scooters: no hills, and the main roads all have a speed limit of 40-50 mph. I find it to save a lot of money, though I wonder if the increased risk of injury (and related costs) would still make it a positive ROI.

  7. SLCCOM says:

    Donorcycles are much appreciated by organ transplant recipients!

  8. Meagan says:

    You make a lot of good points about a motorcycle commute. Interesting article!

  9. debbie says:

    Motorcycling would not be as dangerous as it currently is if CAR drivers paid attention to what they were doing. Almost all motorcylce accidents involve an incident with a car where the driver does not pay attention. I ride a motorcycle and drive a car.

    • SLCCOM says:

      Regardless of who is at fault, motorcycling nevertheless remains dangerous. You can’t wave a wand and make it safe.

  10. VHD says:

    I’ve actually researched the possibility of switching to a motorcycle or scooter from my car.

    However, I wanted to in order to save costs, but all indications (including many enthusiasts) seem to point to the costs being roughly the same or higher with some areas being cheaper while other areas are more expensive. The real difference seems to be, well, how you want to experience driving.

    Unfortunately, I’m not much of a car enthusiast — when I shop for a vehicle, fun/horsepower/acceleration/etc doesn’t even cross my mind. I’m really more of an electronic geek — I’m actually an advocate for autonomous cars and one of the companies I respect the most (Google) is one of its pioneers.

    Riding fast and high with the wind blowing through my hair is certainly fun and I respect anyone’s wishes to do so, but I don’t think I can give up the comfort/convenience of a vehicle for it unless there is a real big financial incentive, which, unfortunately, I don’t think is really there.

  11. Brandon Duncombe says:

    Playing devil’s advocate here.

    What about a bike vs. sports car? Yea there’s some higher costs (though there’s some affordable sporty rides, too), and high insurance, but wouldn’t that provide many of the same thrills with the added safety of a roof and doors?

    I get plenty of thrills out of my semi-sporty ride that I think satisfies my need for speed ™. (mind you, the only powered two-wheeled vehicle I’ve driven is a scooter)

  12. Karl says:

    Great article. I’m surprised they don’t get better mileage. I wonder how much better mileage we can get. If a Prius gets 50ish I would think 150? Or maybe all electric ? Or something like a Chevy volt?

  13. rick says:

    doesn’t that gear get hot in florida? does it really protect that much? Maybe I need to find me some good gear too, albeit cheaper than you did. Also you use a helmet in Fla, where they aren’t required by law–commendable.

  14. Janet says:

    I live in Ohio, I used to live in Florida. I ride to work as much as I can (43 miles each way). My sportbike gets about 50 mpg, my car gets about 23. Yes, I save money in fuel, but that’s not why I ride…I ride for the joy of riding. I enjoy my commute when I get to ride, and I, like Holden, get to work with a smile on my face. Can we put a price on mental health?
    Enjoy your rides Holden!

  15. Tim says:

    I’ll echo you having to factor in risk. Remember, its not you on the motorcycle, but also the numbed out drivers in the cars, who are more apt to be texting behind the wheel, distracted by kids and other people, etc. moreover, the bigger the car, the more invincible people seem to think they are. With that said, I see far too many aggressive motorcyclists. Just because you can shoot the gap, doesn’t mean you should or be allowed to do so.


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