Instapundit is part of my daily routine and a few days ago he linked to an article on futurepundit - Many Commuters Shift To Motorcycles And Scooters. Mr. Parker covers a few news items that talk about more people jump on motorcycles. I personally have noticed more motorcycles on the road and am sort of happy to see them there. However, I’m not sure they will make things better for motorcyclists in general.
People riding motorcycles because they think they are saving money won’t really improve things. Riding because they want to ride a motorcycle would be different. Overall from what I can tell motorcycles tend to cost about the same or slightly more than cars when it comes to commuting. So why are people making the switch? Good sales. They are seduced by the seemingly high gas mileage bikes gets. However, what the sales weasel doesn’t mention is that the care and feeding of the bike is more rigorous. Even with $5 per gallon gas, motorcycles don’t make economic sense. Let me break it down for you:
1. Every 200 miles you need to clean and oil the chain
2. Oil changes tend to cost more, especially if you don’t do them yourself
3. Motorcycles eat tires like M&Ms. I change rears every 3000 miles and front every 6000.
4. You need gear (helmet, gloves, boots, jacket, pants)
5. Insurance (you want all of it)
Next, even if you double your mileage (very easy to do) think about the big picture. Pretending that you do it right and you buy something like a Kawasaki Ninja 500 for about $6000 OTD you will be making payments of about $150 a month. Plus insurance. Plus maintenance. In my case I own my car. I pay about $35 month for insurance, $15/mo for oil changes (every other month), tires last about 20K miles. Sure I get 20mpg so I pay more at the pump. You simply aren’t going to save much swapping. Of course, swapping from your expedition to a Civic makes even less sense if you are in my position (we own the expedition too). Also, my EX500 is paid for, but I carry all the insurance.
Next, forget the economics. Most people are simply not particularly good drivers in reality. They follow to close. They do everything in the car but drive. I really don’t think most people really like driving that much. They like the outcome that driving brings – freedom of movement. But actually driving the car is just a chore. Most people don’t take extra driving classes. The defensive driving thing is just crap and doesn’t count sense it doesn’t require you to actually drive the car.
Jumping on a motorcycle with the above type of mindset is just asking to join the ranks of organ donors. You have to pay attention when you are riding. The consequences of a mistake on a bike are far more severe than they are in a car. People die in car accidents all the time, but it’s just a lot easier to die on a bike if you screw up.
Think about it. If you are like most people; talking on a cell phone, fixing makeup, reading (!), just getting to your destination: then stay in your car. Even if bikes got 500 miles to the gallon it isn’t worth it. One trip to the hospital will evaporate the savings and that can happen in a split second.
Consider the weather. Here in Dallas during the summer we stay above 90 degrees all summer long. Going to work on a bike means planning ahead. You need to pack your clothes in a bag so you can change when you get there. What if it rains? You’re going to be soaked. Ice? Forget it – you’re calling cab now.
If you need a laptop and books for work you are going to need a bag. If you are on a sports bike like me that means a backpack most likely. Say hello to eventual back pain because carrying all that stuff takes a toll on you. If you have a touring bike with bags then no big deal, but your SUV is still way more convenient when it comes to this stuff.
Gear is the next pain. I see tons of people riding with little or no gear on. I really think it’s stupid. Yes, you get hot, but you’re going to get hot anyway. However, if I fall down I won’t have to worry too much about road rash. We won’t talk about all the fixed objects and cars that will break bones and do other wonderful things to you. All the same riding without gear is just asking for a really painful hospital stay. My fall down on the race track would have been fatal on the street without gear. As it was the broken bone I suffered was a freak accident. On the street without gear there would have been damage all along my left side, back and head.
So net net – unless you have the motorcycle virus – stay in your car. A motorcycle won’t save you a single dime. In fact it can cost you your life unless you are paying attention.
So why do I ride and commute on a motorcycle? First, I’m in a tiny little minority. I love driving. I got in to motorcycles because I was doing SCCA Autocross and my car was too modded out to drive on the street anymore. Once I started riding I sold the car and learned to race motorcycles instead. Way more fun in my opinion. In the mean time I took several driving classes to learn autocross better. I learned how far I could push the car and what would happen when I pushed too far. When I started riding I took the MSF class and then I took 4 days of superbike school. I do a few track days a month. I’m constantly trying to do it better.
When I’m on the street riding I’m paying very close attention to what is going on. I give a lot of thought to it. I’ve adjusted when I go to work and when I come home to optimize the amount of traffic I’m exposed to.
The big win on the bike is that I can typically cut ten to fifteen minutes out of my commute. Not just by going faster (which will get you a ticket), but by being able to flow through traffic better than cars can. However, none of it saves me any money. I just have more fun. To me having fun is more important than saving money.
So unless you are really in to driving (like OCD type obsessive about it) then I’d stay off bikes.