WhyBike Motorcycle Blog

Cost of owning a motorcycle - An evaluation

By James - 3/26/2007

A lot of people coming from automobiles see the purchase prices of motorcycles and think that it is an inexpensive form of transportation. It is especially apparent when I talk to high school aged males who see that a summer’s wages can get a brand new 600cc supersport with aggressive looks. Compare that to a used compact and it seems like a no-brainer when choosing your ride. Motorcycles are inexpensive but you can’t just plop down a summer’s wages and ride off into the sunset. There are a lot of other upfront costs that you need to consider as well as hoops you need to jump through.

First is a license. A motorcycle license is not particularly hard to get, but if you take the MSF class which I recommend because it makes it easier, you will need to throw down a couple hundred for that. The other consideration is gear. You can jump in a car in shorts and flip flops but to ride a bike you need protective gear. I budgeted $1500 for the basics, a helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves. I included another $1000 for rain gear.

I wanted to compare how the real cost of owning a motorcycle stacks up against a car or SUV over 5 years. So I tabulated all the costs of owning 4 vehicles, a Suzuki GS500, a Harley Davidson Road King, a Toyota Prius, and a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and put it into the following spreadsheet. I chose an efficient but plausible example commuter in the GS500 and Prius, and then a less efficient but still common example in the Road King and Cherokee.

Costs of owning a motorcycle Excel file

Here are the factors I used to calculate operating costs over 5 years and 50K miles:

  • Purchase Price - MSRP
  • Depreciation - From Kelley Blue Book
  • Fuel Cost - $3.25/gallon, the current price at the station nearest me
  • Safety Gear/Rain Gear
  • Training
  • Insurance
  • Tolls/Parking
  • Tires
  • Maintenance/Service - Average cost from Yahoo Autos
  • Fees, Taxes
  • Repairs - Average cost from Yahoo Autos
  • Opportunity cost is the amount of interest that the purchase price would have garnered if you had left it in the bank.

Looking just at the totals, owning a motorcycle can be half to four times cheaper than owning a car. But there are some differences that new riders will wan to be aware of that are not factors when buying a new car. While the purchase price can be 25% to 75% of the purchase price of a car, you need to buy gear and go through training. This can bring the cost of buying some motorcycles up to the cost of a car.

Here is where the motorcycle is saving you the most money ranked in order of percentage of savings:

  1. Tolls and parking
  2. Depreciation
  3. Purchase price
  4. Opportunity cost
  5. Insurance

Surprising to some, motorcycles are more expensive for some things and other things cost about the same as cars. Here are some of those things:

  • Safety Gear/Rain Gear
  • Motorcycle training
  • Tires
  • Maintenance/Service

Fuel costs turn out not to be that different, depending on vehicle. A Road King compared to a Prius are close but you are actually saving money filling up the Prius. Comparing the fuel costs to an SUV on the other hand can save you a lot. Maintenance and service are also comparable. Where motorcycles cost more is in tires. Even though you only need to replace half the tires, they last a quarter of the miles and cost twice as much. Make sure you have some cash in the bank come 12K miles and you need to replace your tires.

So even though riding a motorcycle can save 25-75% over driving a car, there are some costs that you will incur. Here are the lessons I have learned and you should take into account when you are thinking about commuting by motorcycle.

  1. Maintenance is more frequent, but you can save some money if you do the maintenance yourself, but tools are expensive so short term you won’t be saving money.
  2. Tires are expensive.
  3. The worst traffic is on rainy days, so investing in good rain gear is essential.
  4. Just because insurance is cheap, don’t skimp. A minor crash can cost a lot.

Let me know your experiences with commuting on 2 wheels or 4.

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