Any time Canadians are particularly pained at the pumps, we hear it: “I’m gonna buy a motorcycle to save gas money.” Does it make sense? While we would never tell you to not buy a motorcycle (quite the opposite!), this is an idea you should examine from a few different angles before you jump in, if saving money is your sole goal.
The theory works like this: A motorcycle gets better fuel economy than a car, so therefore, you’ll spend less on gas. The money saved will justify the expense of the motorcycle.
Sounds smart, S-M-R-T, but here are some things to factor in as you kick this idea around.
Motorcycle prices are rising Fact: New bikes are expensive, even at the bargain-basement end of the spectrum. Honda’s miniMOTO lineup is the lowest-priced stuff coming out of Japan these days, and those are hardly freeway-worthy machines. The new Navi looks cool and it’s super-cheap ($2,299 MSRP), but don’t take it on the 401.
If you’re looking for something new that’s capable of safely handling Canadian four-lane highways, you’re looking at an MSRP around $6,000, plus taxes and dealer fees, and that’s just the starting point.
It used to be, you could find something on the used market to save serious bucks. Not anymore. The supply chain shortage (your dealer might not have any motorcycles to sell you) means the buying craze that COVID started has extended to the used market, which has been picked over for two years now. Used motorcycle prices are the highest they’ve ever been. In fact, some used sellers are now asking more than MSRP for a second-hand bike.
Not all motorcycles have excellent fuel economy Generally speaking, a modern, fuel-injected bike should use roughly half the fuel of a four-door car. If you’re comparing a small bike (say a Kawasaki Z400) to a big truck (like a Dodge Ram 1500), the numbers look even better. A full-sized truck can use three times the fuel of a small bike, or even more.
However, it’s worth noting that older carbureted bikes aren’t always a guarantee of fantastic fuel economy. If the old bike has a small engine (an old Honda Rebel 250, a Yamaha TW200), it will get good fuel economy, but if it’s something like a big four-cylinder Yamaha XS1100, it might not be a huge improvement over a modern economy car.
Obviously, there are plenty of variables here to consider (the fuel economy of your car or truck vs. the bike you’re looking at). The point is, just make sure to consider them.
To save money, you’ve actually got to ride the bike Your fuel expense equation is directly related to the distance you travel, so you need to make sure you ride your bike regularly, to see savings.
Here’s where the “buy a bike to save gas money” plan often falls apart—riders don’t put enough days in to save gas money. Even if you have a long commute to work, if you aren’t riding the motorcycle regularly, you aren’t saving money—and many riders are good at finding reasons not to ride the bike. It’s raining! It’s too cold! It’s too hot! I have to pick up groceries on the way home! Etc., etc.
The reality is that in Canada, even most serious riders are only regularly riding from early May to mid-October, for a six-month season. The hard-core might extend that season by 4-6 weeks at either end, but for anyone outside BC, even the best-case scenario usually sees bikes garaged from late November through early April. That means less miles travelled, and less money saved.
Maintenance costs money too! In some cases, the money you save on gas while gets spent on bike maintenance. Motorcycle tires wear out quickly, compared to car tires. Add in other tune-up costs, if you can’t do that work yourself.
If you buy a new bike, chances are you’re going to return to the dealer for valve adjustments and other minor work—ka-ching! If you’re buying a used bike, you might be able to do the work yourself, but you’re more likely to need repairs or routine maintenance (valve clearance checks, brake pad or chain replacement, etc.). This is an area where a handy owner can save money, but it’s no guarantee.
What about you? Yeah what about you? Do you have your motorcycle licence? If you don’t, you need to go through that process first, and it can chew up your riding season—you’re spending more cash on your course, instead of saving it during your commute. And if you’ve already got your licence, what about riding gear? You’ll want good weatherproof gear, if you’re planning to regularly commute and save money.
What’s your insurance rate? If you’re a young, first-time rider, motorcycle insurance is surprisingly expensive, even on the smallest motorcycles. The older you get, the better it gets, as long as you stay ticket-free—but it all counts against your gas savings.
So, most bikes are going to have better fuel economy than a car, but you’ll be out money in other ways. Along with the purchase price of your bike, which has risen considerably since COVID-19 began, you also have to factor in the cost of your riding gear and insurance, as well as your licence, if you haven’t already nailed that down. But, it’s not all negative. You can reduce the expense of your switch-over to two wheels, and if you see past the short-term expense, those costs aren’t as scary as time goes on.
First off, size matters. It’s simple. A smaller bike costs less to purchase and insure, and will probably be better on fuel. That’s going to make a big difference, if you are watching expenses.
If you really want to save money with a motorcycle, and you’re new to all this, the answer is to not buy a bike at all—buy a 49cc scooter. Your car licence should allow you to ride that 49cc scooter (check your province’s laws, to make sure). Your insurance will be dirt cheap, and scooters are still affordable, if you can find one. Plus, if you buy a scooter with decent underseat storage, you’ll find they’re excellent grocery-getters.
But, not everyone can commute to work or otherwise travel safely in their area with a 49cc scooter. If you need something bigger and faster, then expect to spend more but see this as a long game.
I would hardly call a motorcycle itself an investment, but if you pay for rider training and quality riding gear, you’ll reap the benefits of those expenses for years to come. Your training and gear might add up to a thousand bucks in 2022, and that’s a lot of money, but your licence is forever, and you should be able to get years out of a high-quality jacket, helmet, etc. Your insurance will drop sharply if you put in years of trouble-free riding, and in the long term, you should be able to reduce your expenses to maintenance costs, if your bike’s paid off.