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Is it cheaper to commute by motorcycle?

Posted By Holden.Lewis On 12/18/2013 @ 8:30 am In Money Lab | 17 Comments

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 [3], 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?


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