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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12 Comments »

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  1. The Cato Institute published an article several years in response to the CARB wanting to force automakers to produce more fuel efficient cars.

    Here’s the article: http://www.cato.org/dailys/07-01-04.html

    The gist of it is that as vehicles become more fuel efficient, people drive more. Hence, they really don’t save more money, and they really don’t save the environment.

    Because I have a motorcycle, I probably burn more gasoline than ever before, just because I spend so much time joy-riding. I imagine I’m spending more money now than I was before I started this form of recreation. And that time spent joy-riding increases the frequency by which I buy new tires and oil changes.

    When I was in college, I rode a 400cc Kawasaki as my only transportation, and I didn’t have much time for joy riding. It saved me a lot of money.

    Comment by Steve Johnson — 3/26/2007 @ 3:10 pm

  2. I'’ll have to disagree with some of your extremes on your post. I purchased a 2001 250cc Honda Rebel, used, $1775. The insurance cost for me a YEAR is $190. Compare that to my 2005 Ford Ranger which full coverage insurance is $3,192 for a year. I commute on my motorcycle as much as possible, even through winter (I’m in Georgia so I can do that and I don’t mind riding around in high 20 degree weather at the coldest it gets here). I average about 1,000 miles a month commuting between full time work and school. Because of my goal of riding my motorcyle as much as possible, I dropped my truck down to liability which dropped my truck insurance down to $912/yr. The savings there are astronomical. Gear? You can have good gear for less than $1,000 bucks. You budgeted $1,000 for rain gear. All you need ia frogg togg suit which you can pick up for less than $60 bucks and I’ve gone through everthing short of a freaking hurricane with it on and come out dry as a bone. They fit over over your existing clothes. Gasoline costs are highly reduced; My truck would get 18-20 mpg and with being on a 250cc bike, I’m getting about 74mpg. Do I do more maintainence on my motorcycle than my truck? Yes. Does it cost more? Yes, but with all the money I’m saving, it’s more than made up for it and then some, and I do my own maintainence. If I can’t fix it myself, then it goes to a mechanic. I had to replace my rear tire already with the miles I’ve rode and that was about $150 with tire and labor.

    I highly believe that for anyone who can ditch 4-wheels and try to ride their motorcycle as much as possible, will definitely save a lot of money in the long run.

    Comment by Skel3tor1 — 3/29/2007 @ 9:25 pm

  3. I agree, owning and riding a motorcycle will save you tons of money compared to any 4-wheeled automobile. For the past two years I owned and operated a Venox 250cc motorbike, and my weekly gas bill was $1.78 (8 mile commute daily). I used the bike for all of my non-shopping commutes (like work, going to a movie, or visiting friends)… people tend to forget that the wear and tear on a motorcycle is much different than a car, as well as ’stop-n-go’ commuting… a car will suffer much more from city traffic than a bike will do because of it weight, and the amount of stress put on the engine and moving parts to get a 1-ton car to move from rest. Other things like servicing a bike are generally easier and less expensive. There’s less that can break! I will probably own and operate a motorbike for the rest of my able life because of the cost savings and sure fun of it.

    Comment by Rory Savage — 1/6/2008 @ 11:25 am

  4. Agree a 250cc bike can save money, but don’t think my
    1800cc Wing is cheaper to operate than a car

    Comment by RiderUSA — 2/9/2008 @ 1:30 pm

  5. Can i ask why you didnt include any training cost to own a car when you need to take driving lessons?

    Comment by Efrain Dominguez — 4/7/2008 @ 2:21 pm

  6. $1000.00 for training seems a bit much. I don’t know about other places, but here in Ohio the tuition for the MSF basic riders course is only 25 bucks!

    Comment by NewbieBiker — 5/29/2008 @ 3:49 pm

  7. I think your slightly biased towards cars there.

    I own a 125cc YBR, and it does 90mpg! It can do 65mph on the dual carrage way.

    Whether biking saves cash, depends on what type of biker you are. if you get an R6, then, sure its more expensive that a small car to run, but most people who are trying to save money wont spend 1000 on rain gear would they? Infact, my gear is only about $600 worth, and its totally waterpooth as well as protective (no need to buy water proof gear). I have no complaints.

    Comment by g — 7/17/2008 @ 6:43 am

  8. Been commuting and “joyriding” on 9 different bikes over the last 30 years. I bought my first bike the summer of my junior year in HS. Rarely owned a car, usually only in between getting rid of one bike and buying a new one. I’ve only owned three used bikes - they’re a crap shoot, I buy new w/ warranty. My carbon footprint is the lowest of anyone I know as a result. Everyone travels in their vehicle at one time or another so the idea that one will travel more… I’m not buying it; people who are inclined to travel do so no matter what they drive and if you own a motorcycle your may be more inclined to ride than fly. I can’t imagine the individual carbon print of an aircraft passenger is lower than a motorcycle rider given the same number of miles traveled - only my opinion though so…

    If everyone owned a bike traffic congestion would be a quarter of what of is now and there would be no need to “tear down paradise and put up a parking lot” because there would four times as many spaces as there are now without building even one more car park.

    Last but not least: A motorcycle is not kind to stupid people therefore the “herd” would be culled in a more advantageous way than, say, a random virus. That of course would create even less need for more car parks not to mention certain types of legislation meant to protect stupid people from themselves while annoying those of us with common sense and a fully evolved brain. By the way, I’m in favor of a national repeal of helmet laws to help the motorcycle community cull its own particular herd.

    Comment by Mick — 8/1/2009 @ 9:57 pm

  9. I have to agree on the “training” costs mentioned in the write up. While the cost _does_ vary from state to state (different states underwrite part of the cost to varying degrees. Last I heard, it was free or nearly so in New Jersey, for example), I’ve never seen the BRC training for more than $450, and that was through a private facility.

    As to maintenance, that will obviously vary from bike to bike (like Skeletor and Rider USA, I own both a Rebel and a Goldwing (and a couple of other bikes), but even the most expensive one to maintain– my hotrod Valkyrie– still comes out roughly on par with an econobox par. A bone-stock bike is almost always less expensive to maintain. I’ve never had any motorcycle that suffered issues with front end alignment, power steering, air conditioning, window cranks, heater mower, windshield wipers, and a hundred other little “normal wear” items for a car. Even the sunroof on the Goldwing has never leaked. (okay, that last one was a joke. It leaks plenty. ;) )

    Comment by Duke — 9/17/2009 @ 9:29 am

  10. There is so much that goes into owning a bike that many people do not even realize. I think you nailed many of the key expenses but there are still always random occurrences that are going to run your pockets dry. I had to sell my street bike last year. I loved it in the summer, but had no use besides that being from the New England area. Shame.

    Comment by Tire Tubes — 10/29/2009 @ 1:52 pm

  11. You are double counting by including depreciation in your analysis since you have already included the full cost of the vehicle. The proper way to deal with depreciation is to deduct the resale value from the purchase price.

    Comment by Matthew — 12/22/2009 @ 7:43 pm

  12. Depreciation is how us bean-counters spread the purchase price over a certain number of years, so by including both the purchase price and depreciation you are double counting. The proper way to consider this would be to count only depreciation and not the purchase price, or to deduct the resale value from the total cost of ownership.

    Comment by Matthew — 12/22/2009 @ 7:56 pm

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