One of the key advantages that proponents of motorcycling will claim when trying to persuade a non-believer to join the church of leather and textiles is that a motorcycle is a much, much cheaper way to get around than a car. They’ll also claim that it’s a lot more enjoyable, but that’s very much subjective. Fighting through rush hour in any large city is certainly exciting in the same way that swimming with sharks is exciting, but I don’t think I’d call it fun.
Of course, cars have many advantages that a lot of people will never be able to see past, such as the way you and three or more friends can stay warm and dry for the entirety of your journey, regardless of the conditions outside. But far too many people jump into a four-wheeled box without ever considering the alternative, not only denying themselves a huge amount of enjoyment, but potentially throwing away a lot of money unnecessarily.
Motorcycling used to be the very definition of cheap transportation. When cars cost more than most people could afford, bikes were the only realistic option for getting you to work. Got married and had a kid? Bolt a sidecar on and all three can travel into the city together, no problem. Cars remained aspirational, something to strive for, that you would buy when you could finally afford one.
But as cars became cheaper, the aspirational aspect remained, and in the western world motorcycles found themselves trying to justify themselves as a fun lifestyle alternative. These days most teenagers don’t even think about motorcycles; they learn to drive a car, buy their first worn-out Peugeot and never look back. I myself came to bikes late, and I can’t believe what I almost missed out on.
Tell a teenager today that motorcycles are the cheapest way to get around and they’ll think you’ve gone mad. At best, they’ll be imagining bearded old men on cruisers or leather-wrapped Power Rangers on screaming sportsbikes, and will completely fail to see how they fit in to that picture. At worst, they’ll know a friend or relative who rides and will be waiting for you to explain how a £16,000 KTM 1290 Super Adventure is supposed to represent cheap transportation.
They might even be aware of the extensive helmet, boot, glove and jacket collection, the aluminium luggage, LED driving lights and the titanium exhaust system that their point of contact boasts about spending thousands upon thousands on. When I was a teenager I wouldn’t have been able to afford a wing mirror for a KTM, never mind a whole bike, matching accessories and riding gear. I’d have assumed that such things were merely the hobbies of those already wealthy enough to own a house and a couple of cars, and would’ve returned to scraping together enough pennies to pay for the insurance on my parents’ Citroen.
In order to reach the next generation of riders, motorcycling as an industry needs to understand that, for most people, transportation is not a hobby; it’s a way to get from point A, to point B. A £16,000 Ducati X Diavel is a very expensive toy, not a realistic alternative to a £6,000 Dacia Sandero.
But what about a £4,000 Honda CBR300R? Both will handle city driving with aplomb and neither will complain too much about the occasional motorway run. You’ll need to buy a helmet and a full set of decent gear for the bike of course, but you can do all that for less than £500 and still have cash left over compared to the car buyer.
I’m not sure why, but insuring a slow car is far more expensive than insuring a fast bike. Rosa’s ten-year-old 70bhp Ford Fiesta would cost me £600 to insure, and fully-comprehensive cover for both my far newer, far more expensive motorcycles costs around £400 combined. A quick look at annual Road Tax reveals that the aforementioned Dacia costs £110 annually just to sit on the driveway, while the Honda owner pays just £39 for a similar privilege.
Let’s assume our individual doesn’t have a license yet. Money Supermarket calculated that the average UK learner spends more than £1,100 in lessons alone, but a quick Google search reveals that going from beginner to fully-licensed motorcyclist via a Direct Access course costs around £200 less, even with all test fees included.
Once you’re on the road, things get complicated, but even including such things as fuel, maintenance and tyre changes, the cost of riding the CBR works out around 15p per mile, with the Sandero double at 30p for each mile driven. At an average of 10,000 miles a year you’d save £1,500 annually by choosing to risk occasionally getting rained on during your commute.
Are you paying to park your car every day? Multiply the cost by the number of days you drive to work and you might be shocked to know that motorcycles can almost always park for free. How much is your time worth? Motorcycles can filter through stationary traffic, and are allowed in bus lanes in many cities. My commute doubled each day I drove a car instead of taking the bike, and the stress of having to deal with traffic can’t be good for us.
Let me be clear; I’m aware that there are many non-fiscal reasons for choosing one over the other. Some people don’t have the choice – if you have to pick the kids up to and from work each day, then obviously a motorcycle isn’t the best choice, and if you live somewhere that sees significant snowfall then commuting by bike is going to be limited to warmer seasons. Motorcycling is statistically more dangerous than driving a car, but mitigating the risk by training with the IAM will help, and the more people ride, the safer we’ll all be.
But most people don’t even consider their options before going with four wheels, a choice that could be unnecessarily costing them thousands each year. And we’re still ignoring all the non-fiscal reasons for riding a motorcycle, such as the sheer enjoyment of experiencing the world rather than watching it pass by from inside a glass box. This is the part most difficult to communicate to non-riders, and yet it’s the one we always try to focus on.
Many riders enjoy motorcycling so much that it becomes a hobby, absorbing additional time and money as all such things do. They buy more gear, bigger, faster bikes (plural, sometimes) and start burning through fuel and tyres for fun as well as because they have somewhere to be. At this point the bike is no-longer just transport, and somewhere along the line they’ve made the decision to make their commute more expensive than it needs to be. That’s their choice to make; for my part, it’s still cheaper than the train.
A vast number of Americans buy huge, heavy, thirsty pickup trucks because they might one day need to transport something large enough to need such a vehicle. Most cars on the road in the UK carry just one person, and as much luggage as would fit in a backpack. Every once in a while you might need to transport more than a bike can handle, but you could hail a lot of Taxis and rent a lot cars for less than the money you’d save by riding a motorcycle the rest of the time.
And if that sounds inconvenient, if you want to have a car sitting on the driveway, taxed, fuelled, insured and ready to go at a moment’s notice, then by all means do so. It’s your money, and you’re free to spend it however you want. You can make that choice, knowing that you don’t need a car, but that you want one anyway. I get it. But understand that you are choosing to pay for that luxury, and it might be advisable to be aware exactly how much that choice is costing you.