Does “Save gas money, buy a motorcycle” make sense?

And back then, we thought those prices were bad ...

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.

Pain at the pumps will be minimal with the Grom, due to its weed-whacker engine. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

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.

Older bikes like this Suzuki GS850 often tempt riders in with the idea of owning an affordable vintage model while saving gas money. Except, some of these older bikes aren’t as good on gas as you might think. They aren’t terrible, certainly better than a pickup truck, but they don’t have hypermiler performance. Photo: Suzuki

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.

Tires are one of the biggest expenses any motorcyclist will encounter, particularly with current supply chain shortages. Photo: Continental

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.

If you don’t have your motorcycle licence, you’ve got to start there (unless you’re buying a 49cc scooter). That alone will drive your costs way up.

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.

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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.

There is no cheaper, more practical way to save money on gas than a 49cc scooter. Alas, these won’t work for Canadians who need to take the highway. Photo: Yamaha

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.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t forget a bike is usually cheaper parking and you can use the HOV lanes which saves time. That made the difference for me, and being careful with the bike selection in the first place. Also having one car and a bike instead of two car family. It can be a frugal choice, but it’s definitely not a slam dunk.

    • There’s the issue^ In Canada you need a supplemental car or truck because of the weather. If your second vehicle is a bike then yes you’ll likely save money vs another 4 wheeled vehicle.

  2. “However, it’s worth noting that older carbureted bikes aren’t always a guarantee of fantastic fuel economy.”

    Anybody old enough to have ridden around on the back wheels of a Kawi triple or air-cooled Yamaha RD would tell you that there was a good number of years where many cars got better mileage. I regularly saw around 28 MPG on my RD400. Abysmal fuel economy, but more giggles per minute than one should rightly expect. I don’t think I could justify the vast blue cloud hanging behind me these days.

  3. When pricing equipment once to make my own beer, the fellow in the brew-your-own store told me that making your own beer to save money was like buying a boat to save on fish.

    It’s a good analogy for motorcycling. How much gas do you have to NOT burn to equal the cost of a motorycle, jacket, helmet, riding courses, insurance, tyres, oil, chains, and other regular maintenance and repairs? We all know the answer.

    Ride a motorcycle because you like riding a motorcyle.

  4. I commute on 2 wheels because it is fun, cheap, and faster than a car or public transit.
    But a lot of people don’t think about costs as much as I do until they get wallopped with a surprise bill—as evidenced by the number of people I see on the road in a $90,000 car or pickup.

    Go ahead and ride. You will save cash.

  5. This is the reality in Canada. I live on Vancouver Island where I have a bike plated all year. From late October until the end of March I pick my days based on daylight and temperature. By the time I pay for insurance and maintenance I’m not saving money over my my 4 cylinder, 5-speed manual car. If you want to save money on transportation take the bus. As TK4 mentioned we ride motorcycles for fun.

  6. Gee, after reading this why would anyone want to buy a motorcycle (or an ATV, side-by-side, snowmobile)?
    If saving dough and having 12 months of the year practicality is your primary focus then go buy a Prius.
    We ride motorcycles because its FUN.

    • Exactly! At least with a motorcycle, we can ride however we want to without having to worry about fuel economy! I don’t think anyone reading this article would disagree; this is a site for riders.

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