Save Money Commuting by Motorcycle? Not So Fast!

Posted by Ken


With gas prices seemingly permanently inflated and "economic malaise" looking more and more like our new reality, who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to save some dough while blasting through traffic on a two-wheeled adrenaline rush?

That's the pitch of many a motorcycle salesperson, but let's analyze it closely before getting our hands on the throttle.

Can a car commuter really save money by switching to a motorcycle?

The answer is Yes.... and No.

How Much Money Can I Save
Commuting By Motorcycle?
Describe your commute to find out.
Need to buy a bike?
Bike Type:
Age of Bike:
Need an MSF safety class?
Willing to do minor repairs?
Bike commute trips yearly:
Car commute trips yearly: 100-149
Miles to work:
Car MPG:
Gas ($/gal):
Gear needed (check all that apply):
Helmet Pants Saddlebags
Jacket Gloves Rain Suit

Each trip on a bike is certainly less expensive than on a car, but a few complications get in the way of penny-pinching nirvana.

First off, you may need to invest significant up-front costs before saving a dime.

Next, most bike commuters are unable to give up their car entirely, due to weather restrictions or luggage-carrying needs. This means that bike commuting leads to extra insurance and extra maintenance, negating some of the savings.

Finally, saving money on a motorcycle depends on a set of tradeoffs you may not be willing to make. Can you settle for the adrenaline rush of an underpowered scooter, or are you dead-set on the roar of a power-hungry beast? The answer to that question, among others, determine whether you can be one of the few that manage to save money while commuting by bike.

Check out our in-depth analysis below, and then try out our personalized calculator at right to see just how much you can save — or not.

Up-Front Costs

New bike commuters often overlook expenses associated with taking up this hobby. And, while purchasing a bike is the most significant of upfront costs, it's only just one of many.

The Bike

Obviously, the biggest up-front cost you'll face is the cost of the bike itself. And if you're committed to saving as much money as possible, this is the best place to start.

Used vs. New

Buying a used bike is one of the best ways to save money but long-term maintenance costs must be considered as well. A savvy buyer will get the best of both worlds by buying used but demanding a thorough inspection from a trusted mechanic before committing. Keep in mind, however, that a used bike is likely to need immediate repairs in order to make it road-worthy.

Power vs. Fuel Economy

Sacrificing power in the name of fuel-economy is probably the next most important factor in saving money up front. Bikes run the gamut from light, fuel-efficient models that skimp on power and comfort but enable you to recoup your investment as quickly as possible to fast, powerful gas-hogs that will make your heart race, but will probably never pay for themselves at the pump.

Scooters

At the most cost-conscious end of the spectrum, gas-sipping scooters lack some zip, but their cost and fuel economy are hard to beat. A one-year old, lightly-used Yamaha Zuma, for example, with its tiny 49cc two-stroke engine, can be found for around $1,500. Gas mileage can easily reach triple digits. Speed tops out at around 30 mph.

Sport Bikes

A more powerful sport bike — built for speed at the expense of some fuel efficiency and comfort — offers the thrill of riding a "racing motorcycle" and can still be had inexpensively. The Kawasaki Ninja 250, for example, is widely recognized as an easy-to-handle, stylish bike that provides plenty of power without breaking the bank. A recent-year model can be had for under $3,000 and can get up to 70mpg. Sport bikes will raise your insurance premium, though, so be aware of this hidden cost before settling on one.

Larger Bikes

Larger cruiser bikes satisfy the most power-hungry rider, but should not be confused with the fuel-efficient bikes above. The Honda Shadow 750, for example, is reliable and regarded as a good bike for riders new to such power, but at a road-tested 40mpg, it's not necessarily a gas-saver. A two-year old Shadow sells for around $5,000.

Saving money while commuting by motorcycle sounds too good to be true. And, in most cases, it is.

Gear

Being seduced by high-end, snazzy gear is one of the quickest ways to chew up the cost savings of commuting by motorcycle. Of course you'll need a sturdy DOT-approved helmet and a tough, breathable jacket that will provide some measure of safety as well as protection from the elements. Gloves are a must-have as well.

But, beyond that it becomes a tradeoff between safety, style, and cost. Sturdy and comfortable riding boots can limit fatigue on a long journey, but can be quite expensive. Ditto for riding pants. An all-weather riding suit will enable you to commute during cold and rainy months, but can easily cost over $1,000.

A new rider interested in saving money should be able to shop around and find a jacket, gloves and helmet for under $300.

Education

A new rider will want to take a safety course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). Learning effective safety techniques is the best reason to take one of these classes, but a nifty side benefit is that it enables you to lock in a significant discount on insurance. The cost of the course — up to $300 — will be more than offset by the insurance discount.

Ongoing Costs

Most new riders hope to recoup their initial investment over the long-haul as they save tons of money on gas. Mileage is better on a bike, no doubt, but it's only part of the story.

Gas

This is where the big savings could come in. A scooter that gets 100mpg can save nearly $1000 per year on gas, assuming it's used in place of a 15mpg car for a thirty mile commute 200 days per year at $3 for a gallon of gas. But what happens when you change that to a 30mpg car, 100 days per year of motorcycle commuting, a 10 mile commute and gas at $2.60 per gallon? The savings disappear entirely.

Insurance

Most motorcycle commuters are unable to rid themselves entirely of their cars. Which means that you'll need to pay for motorcycle insurance on top of your car insurance. That's a shame since motorcycle insurance is typically less expensive than car insurance.

Insurance can range from $50 to $300 per month based on a dizzying array of factors including the type of insurance purchased, the bike model, your driving record and age, and the deductible allowance.

Maintenance

Motorcycle maintenance tends to be less expensive than car maintenance. For one thing, many bikers do their own minor repairs, finding the best price on parts and saving all of the labor costs. If you're keeping your car, you'll need to maintain both, of course, but car maintenance costs can be greatly reduced by limiting mileage.

In particular, tire replacement is one of the most significant components of motorcycle maintenance. Many new riders don't realize how quickly tires will wear out on a bike versus a car. Tires can be found online at a discount, though they can be fairly tricky to install correctly.

The Cheboygan County Sheriff's Department pegs motorcycle maintenance at about 10% lower than car maintenance, but that can be further reduced by doing your own minor repairs. Figure on a savings of no more than $200 per year, depending on bike type, miles commuted and whether or not you're willing to do your own minor repairs.

The Bottom Line

Saving money while commuting by motorcycle sounds too good to be true. And, in most cases, it is. A few trial runs with our calculator will convince you that only the most cost-conscious can make it work.

Of course, the calculator doesn't figure in how much fun it is to ride to work everyday. And, for many bike commuters, that's the deciding factor.

27 Responses

  1. rick tait Says:

    hiya ken!

    great article! :) would you mind sharing the formula/algorithm with which you base the above handy calculator?

    also, im not sure how many people would have both a motorcycle *and* a car — especially in these economic times.

    best,
    rick

  2. dave Says:

    YOUR MATH SUCKS.
    Inwhat world did you get the below figuares?
    Lets go to craglook. Helix scooter 500 to 1800 . tops speed 70 mph, 65 mpg.
    How in the world did you come up with 750 in repairs?? Do you think I m going to buy something that bad??
    Gear :750.00, again what world?
    Let’s all go to ironpony.com
    New brand name helment 45 bucks, gloves 15, pants and Jacket another 150 max .

    I m sorry but you just not being real with the costs. I don’t know where or how you came up with your math but it’s not anything like the real math. To quote you ” that a used bike is likely to need immediate repairs in order to make it road-worthy.” How do you figuare that? I walked in, the guy says here the keys and I turn it over. Looks good, runs good, no leak etc. Spark plug is good. Mufler doesn’t show any that it’s using oil or no white smoke.
    YOU DON”T KNOW What your talking about. From someone whom has being buying used bikes for 40 years.
    YOUR Cost.
    timated Initial Costs: $2025
    Bike: $500
    Repairs: $750
    Gear: $775
    MSF Course: $0
    Estimated Yearly Savings: $496
    Ongoing costs compared to car-only commuting:
    Cost Car-Only Net
    Gas: $203 $682 $479
    Maintenance: $207 $300 $93
    Extra Insurance: $75 $0 $-75

  3. Ben Says:

    Looks like you forgot people to live or drive to jobs in a city. What about possible parking savings? A $10 or $15 dollar day parking cost may be avoided by parking a scooter (and maybe a motorcycle) on the sidewalk.

  4. motorcyclebum Says:

    Actually old news. Most of us have known for years that it was more efficient dollar-wise to use a small import. For those of us who are road warriors and commute daily on motorcycles only, your figures are indeed off. When I get on my motor, I am wearing at least $1500 worth of gear. I cant imagine what a $45.00 helmet would do to protect me.

    Saving money is not the point, riding daily is a life style.

  5. Ed Says:

    I don’t see tires in there. I commuted for 5 years on a K75, and usually wound up buying 1 set of tires a year(15k miles per year) at about $300. The only reason it was cost neutral for me was the fact that my car was in a garage, uninsured, untagged, unused.

    But I didn’t do it for the cost savings.

    Good article.

  6. Derick Trammell Says:

    In the past most people who bought a motorcycle rode it for fun, or travel during good weather (summer), and may have riden 2-3000 miles a year. But today more and more riders are riding and using their motorcycles for primary transportation, and thier car is secondary. For my family it has allowed our Ford, Windstar to last another 4 years (we’re hoping for 4 more), put off purchase of a 3rd. car for my teenage daughter for more than a year (we shared it for over a year). My motorcycle cost us about $3800.00 per year for about 12,000 miles per year, or 0.32 per mile. While it has been an additional expense in some aspects, in real cost it has saved us more by avoiding the purchase of a new vehicle ($20-30,000, plus a loan), gas (less efficient), incresed insurance rates, ect. The key to making motorcycle commuting to paying off is buying the right motorcycle, planning for foul weather, and commitment to a long term daily use of the motorcycle for your commute except in freezing or near weather (below 40 degrees).

  7. Uberflibs Says:

    It’s funny how it works out. When I first started commuting, it was on a $400 honda. Which transmuted into a $1000 dollar bike… which then was traded up to a 3000, etc. Now I ride a bike that costs as much or more than my car, and I’m wearing riding gear that costs 3 times what my first bike cost. Does it save me money in the long run? According to this calculator, I’m saving nearly 1000 a year. I’d be interested in the differences in maintenance costs.

  8. Uberflibs Says:

    Oh yeah, and Dave? You really need to cage the rage dude. I think Ken did a pretty good job putting together a difficult computation, and really, he’s pretty conservative with his numbers. And I for one am glad that you are putting a $45 dollar helmet on your head.

  9. Colin Says:

    The insurance estimate is a little off. I have a 3 year old Ninja 250 and with State Farm I pa $40/year for my insurance. I am covered for $5,000 in liability which is tough to do with a motorcycle. Now I don’t have full coverage but if someone steals my bike I would only be out $2,500. The cost for full coverage – $400/yr!

  10. Eric Says:

    If any of you are R/S programmers, here’s a little script I put together to estimate the costs for me on a scooter. I used their estimates (very conservative in some cases) and came out with 4.1 years to recoup. If I used more realistic values, it goes to 3.3 years. I can’t reproduce the values they generated for me (28.8 years). People who do this should show their work.

    Here’s the script:

    rm(list = ls())
    scooter.mpg <- 60
    car.mpg <- 17
    gas <- 3.25
    distance <- 20
    trips.per.year <- 12 * 20

    car.cost <- gas / car.mpg * distance
    scooter.cost <- gas / scooter.mpg * distance
    scooter.savings <- (car.cost – scooter.cost) * trips.per.year

    bike <- 1000
    repairs <- 200
    gear <- 100
    msf.course <- 200
    initial.cost <- bike + repairs + gear + msf.course

    maintenance <- 100
    insurance <- 100
    annual.cost <- maintenance + insurance

    yearly.savings <- scooter.savings – annual.cost
    years.to.recoup <- initial.cost / yearly.savings

  11. jcb Says:

    I didn’t get a motorcycle to save money. I got a motorcycle to go riding – just me and the wind. The torque when you pump the throttle a bit. The stories of how you drove across the US, and all the good times you had along the way – the people, places, sights – all on 2 wheels.

    If you want to save money, don’t get a bike. I don’t want people riding motorcycles because they want to save a buck, I want them on motorcycles because they love to ride.

  12. Karen Says:

    How does it cost $150 more to insure a motorcycle than a car, if you don’t have a car? My auto insurance yearly is $960, so if I’d gotten a scootor instead of a car, motorcycle insurance of $150 would be a savings of $810.00

  13. nataku83 Says:

    These numbers are way off. I think that the calculator would work better if I could actually enter some of the values you’re just assuming. For instance, my $1000 small cruiser from 1981 costs a little over $100 / year to insure liability only, not the $400 you estimated. My fuel economy with the cruiser is 80 mpg, and I can’t even tell what you estimated it to be. My maintenance costs have been under $100 in the 2.5 years / 4500 miles that I’ve owned the bike, and we’re talking a 28 year old machine here!

    It’s true that I didn’t buy my little bike solely to save money, although that’s primarily why I keep it. I have a 700cc ’80s muscle bike for when I want a really fun ride. But the bike does save money, it’s easier to get around on and it’s a lot more fun than most cars.

  14. Ellie Says:

    What about people who don’t have a car OR a motorcycle and are debating about which would be more cost effective?

  15. Sas Says:

    Hmmm.
    I bought a bike and rode it for 3 years. What is the cost per mile

    Initial bike purchase, 2000 Bandit 600 with 6000 miles $2000
    Gear $1400 (jacket, pants, helmet, gloves, boots)
    Total $3400
    Yearly Stuff
    4 tires (2F/2R Z6′s) $600
    2 oil changes (do my own maint) $80
    500 gallons of gas (42mpg @ 42 miles 1 way * 50 weeks per year) $1500
    Insurance $120 (Liability and Uninsured only)
    Misc Maint (brakes, chain, sprokets, etc.) $400
    Total $2700 per year

    3 years of ownership
    Total Cost
    $3400 + (3 * $2700) = $11500

    Sold Motorcycle for $1000

    Net Cost $10,500

    Miles traveled ~60,000.

    Cost per mile = $0.175

    Cost of GAS only for truck
    60,000 miles / 18mpg = 3333 gal * $3.00 gal = $10,000, $0.167 per mile for GAS only.

  16. northern visitor Says:

    Interesting, but you have a number of faulty assumptions, the most prominent one being the cost of parking. In my city, the minimum cost to park a car on a daily basis is $10/day, but scooters get to park for *free*.
    This would save me $200/month, now that wouldn’t take long to pay back the cost of buying all the new euipment. And insurance is about $10/month.

  17. R Jones Says:

    I’ve been bike commuting for 6 years and the operating expense is not cheaper than a car. Easily 98% of *all* the miles I drive are on my bike. Even with double the gas mileage, the bottom-line deal-killer is the frequent replacement of tires. My mechanic is extremely impressed that I average 15k on a set of tires; but replacing them so frequently and at about double a set of average auto tires offsets any and all other operating expenses.

    In fact, I commuted for two years on a scooter getting 75mpg and dirt cheap insurance – it was not cheaper than a car. Again, primarily tires.

    And, duh, helmets, jackets, shoes, etc. I’m easily 2 grand+ into equipment over the years. Why? “Neither rain, cold, nor gloom of night…”

  18. Rick Says:

    Thanks for putting together that calculator. It accurately shows that I do save money going by scooter. But there are many other factors other than what you listed. I save 30% in time on my commute. I no longer pay any parking fees. Cost of gas here is off your scale (which ends at $4?! haha..) And unlike car commuting stuck in bumper to bumper traffic or jammed in a stuffy train, my ride to and from work is really enjoyable. In my opinion, commuting by car, I feel that my work day essentially starts when you start the engine, and ends when you finally get home. Commuting by bike, that is not so. Since I discovered two wheel commuting, I would continue it, even if it cost more.

  19. highlander Says:

    I have simple approach,compare new bikes only to new cars.Nice(in my opinion) car-$20,000.00 Nice new bike-$6,000.-$8,000. out the door.Even with frequent purchase of new tires,dealer service bike,you just ride it and riding gear cost you will save $10,000 to $8,000. over 100,000 mile,YES NEW BIKES CHEAPER THAN NEW CARS

  20. Jonathons Daddy Says:

    This article forgot to factor in the time you save on a bike when you commute in a high traffic area. I save 2 hours each day when I ride to work. When you earn 25 dollars per hour that equals $ 50 dollars saved each day. I can ride in the carpool lane or split traffic if the vehicles are stopped. My stress level is lower when I arrive at work, because I did not just drive 1 hour to go 20 miles … My perspective is better after I ride. Happy … Happy … Happy …. How much is that Worth !

  21. Jay Says:

    Most of these nay-sayer articles assume the individual will go out and purchase a motorcycle or scooter in addition to the car they already own, in anticipation of huge savings. Based on that logic, it makes no sense to purchase a small, fuel efficient car. You won’t save money on that either IF you’re going to keep the original gas guzzler too. My wife and I went to one car, one bike several years ago and have saved quite a bit. Based on keeping the bike for 5 years (I plan to keep it longer), my costs are: bike: $6,000
    full coverage MC insurance: $875 for 5 years
    safety gear: $600,
    cost of self maintainence and repairs (including oil, tune up, and tires): $2000,
    cost of gas at 50mpg: $2750 for 5 years(based on 10,000 miles per year at 2.75/gal – yes, I know gas will go up)
    License and inspection:$325 for 5 years
    Total 5 year cost: $12,550
    Contrast that to the cost of owning and maintaining a car, and the savings are self eveident.

  22. Carinsurance Says:

    Most motorcycle commuters are unable to rid themselves entirely of their cars. Which means that you’ll need to pay for motorcycle insurance on top of your car insurance.

  23. Rob Says:

    There is one cost which hasn’t been factored in …. Parking!

    I pay $13 per day in parking which I won’t have to pay for a bike.

    Can the calculator be updated to include this?

  24. David Says:

    Good article. I ride a 1900cc yamaha and do it for the passion of 2 wheels. Stuff the accounting. If you’re commuting on a motorcycle for the money alone, just stay in your cage along with the other geeks in their practical cost-effective kmart underwear and payless shoes. If you want to embrace your passion for the road, you have to pony up.

  25. Paul Says:

    For me the issue has always been about parking. There are just more places to park a small motorcycle. In the final analysis we all have to decide how to get from A to B. For me a motorcycle is just more fun, and the ride to and from work is more adventurous.

  26. Mighty Mike Says:

    Something to consider if you are wanting to weigh the difference but I agree with JCB…I just want to RIDE!!

  27. Mungo Says:

    my other post wasn’t given a 2nd chance, whatever that means.

    I’ll try again. If you have a house or property don’t skimp on liability ins. In case of a bad accident the owner can be sued for $100K or more. My ins costs almost $1/day for $250K liability + more for the $1M umbrella policy covering all my vehicles and personal libility.

    And if you park on a sidewalk, expect to get ticketed/towed and pay $300.

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