The Economics Of Riding

The Economics Of Riding

Motorcycles ridden for everyday transportation was a normal part of my life growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. With high gas prices playing a factor, I have fond memories of both of my parents riding. Dad had a 500 Yamaha with an aftermarket fairing that he’d ride rain or shine to work everyday, and on weekends would let me swing a leg over the passenger seat for a scenic afternoon cruise on the backroads. Mom rode a Honda 125 that was formerly used by the Shriner’s to put on riding agility displays at local parades. She would use it to ride back and forth to her part-time job while us kids were in school, or to pick up a few groceries or run some errands. As a kid, I viewed riding a motorcycle as just a normal part of everyday life.

By the time I was old enough to drive, my parents had sold both bikes (I suppose the logistics of shuttling 3 kids around played a part in that decision, but my Mom also said she felt like drivers were not paying attention to riders), and I ended up learning to drive on 4-wheels, but always with a thought about wanting to ride a motorcycle...someday.

Someday came when I started working as part of the marketing team here at Aerostich. After some training and practice, I got my motorcycle endorsement in the Spring of 2009. Donning a new Hi-Viz Roadcrafter Classic one piece, I threw my leg over a borrowed 1971 Honda CB350 and never looked back as I established my roots as a dedicated daily rider.

In the early Spring of 2010, I was offered a great deal on a lightly used, ’08 Kawasaki Versys, (that fit into the ‘bike budget’ I had been saving for) and logged the first ride of the season on March 11th, continuing to commute nearly every day that year through the end of November. Out of about 165 workdays during that timeframe, commuting on the new bike accounted for 145 of those days (with a few longer day trips and vacation riding days mixed in too). A quick run of the math proved that after the investment in the bike and riding gear, I was saving a fairly significant (to me anyway) amount of money by choosing to ride over driving a car too!

With my Aerostich gear and a determined mind-set, 2012 allowed me to ride (at least a few days) every month this year – not always easily, but enjoyable every time – from below zero Duluth, MN temps in January and February to sweltering heat and humidity in July and August. Riding (anywhere), for me, is always the most versatile, practical and economical (not to mention fun), way to get from point A to B. Gas prices were jacked-up most of that year too, creating an even bigger savings.

Flash forward another 5 years and I’m still riding the same Kawasaki (have changed the oil annually and put 2 sets of new tires and brake pads on it over the years) and wearing the same (road grimed) Hi-Viz one piece Roadcrafter Classic. The bike and gear have gotten very comfortable after over 7 years of use, not to mention that every mile and every day that I ride further adds to the long-term value of the investment in the motorcycle and riding gear. Every ride continues to save money over driving the car too. Looking at just the gas savings over the last several years, the economic benefits of riding become pretty easily apparent. The fact that riding gets me from A to B more efficiently, allows easier and more readily available parking options and is better on the environment is nice too. But the personal benefits from riding are where the real reward is. Anytime I ride somewhere, I arrive more alert, aware and ready to take on tasks at hand. If you choose to ride more I’m pretty sure that you would find similar results. Save money, feel energized and healthy and have way more fun!

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16 thoughts on “The Economics Of Riding”

  • RichG

    I concur with your article up above ... I solute your determination! While in CA, I did everything on my DR350S rain/shine but for the past 10yrs, my determination has wavered since moving up to OR. But, the used aerostich roadcraft suit I purchased back in CA still going strong; and as you mentioned, it gets more comfortable with time!!! :)

  • Nathan

    I hate to punch holes in an article meant to encourage people to ride, but motorcycles are not an economic win. The comparison between gas money saved assumes the same priced gas for cars and bikes, while most bikes require premium gas instead of the regular unleaded used in most cars. Even at the stated comparison, you've barely saved the price of your Aerostitch and a good helmet. Add tires and additional gear and motorcycling quickly becomes more expensive. But...saving money isn't why we ride, is it?

    • Mark

      I agree with Nathan. I've been riding for 45 years and have 4 bikes in the garage. Until recently I commuted to work for 9 months of the year on the bikes because I enjoyed it. The commute probably consisted of 9000 miles per year. The main bike I used consistently gets 55 to 60 mpg, and my truck gets 23 to 24 mpg, so there is a win. The bike wants premium gasoline, the truck doesn't care. Aside from all of the safety equipment and clothing required, tires are interesting.
      Tires for the main bike cost a tick over $300 a pair for good Michilins, and last maybe 12,000 miles. I can get tires for the truck for less than $500 that will last almost 60k miles. I have a 15 year old Roadcrafter that cost well under $100 per year, although I have sent it in for a "tune-up" a couple of times. Like Nathan, I don't ride to save money - it's an affliction and I am happy to support it.

    • David

      I too agree with Nathan. As an engineer I did the math comparing 2000 Toyota Avalon to 2002 GL1800A. Insurance was close to the same but cost of motorcycle tires offset fuel savings. Scale tilts in favor of Avalon if one does not buy tires mail order and install oneself. Local purchase adds about $150 to the cost of motorcycle tires mounted and balanced.

      Then I traded Avalon for a Prius which got honest 50 MPG to GL1800's 42, and used tires that cost much less than the Avalon's which cost less per mile than the Goldwing's. Quit riding much and sold the Goldwing. Currently ride an FJR1300 at 49 MPG. But using the twisted arguments used in this blog my Tesla wins yet again because its electric use costs same as 75 MPG gasoline. And apparently gasoline is the only metric used.

    • Jwal

      I can't imagine cycles that run on 87 regular are that difficult to find, at least if that is a feature you have in mind. I also have 3 cycles insured for $150 a year total (one comprehensive)- the pickup i had a decade ago before giving up cages entirely cost many times that for just liability, all depends on your history.

      So, If people are going to add something like tires to the metric, why not add purchase price of the vehicle? Maybe Honda will come out with a GL5000 so the Tesla will still look good...

  • Dean

    I, too, was on two wheels most of my life. From 17 onward, through my 20's - I was the "Motorcycle Guy" in college.. post school, I bought my first Aerostich Roadcrafter in 1987 - and I haven't looked back. I'm on my second Roadcrafter now - it should take me into decrepitude.

  • Dave

    If you only look at the fuel costs; sure, you're probably saving some money. Other factors to consider are motorcycle tires don't last near as long as car or truck tires, good gear (helmet, suit, boots, gloves, etc.) is expensive & additional insurance cost. For me, my bike burns premium & the truck burns regular; so, I'm not really even saving much on fuel. BUT, I don't ride to save money.

  • Thomas W Day

    Back in the $3-4/gallon days (up to January 2013), I kept a detailed record of my motorcycle and car costs. The bikes were both more expensive, original purchase-wise, than the car. However, I was surprised to discover that my per-mile cost for the motorcycle was, indeed, less than my crappy Escort wagon ( That continued to be true until I retired. Then, my cage-to-motorcycle miles really jumped out of proportion as I quit commuting and spent a lot more time with my motorcycle-adverse wife. Still, my experience was different than a lot of the responders above. I do not put premium in either of my motorcycles and never will. So far, I have seen no consequences to that decision.

  • PK

    I will chime in with my two cents. Being in Cali, I get t ride almost all year long. I ride 100 miles total commute everyday. My trusty BMW GS is my do-it-all-amazing-well steed.

    I would breakdown the costs into a few sections

    - Fuel; My bike gives me 37-38 mpg. If I had to really cheap out I could get a Civic and eek out 34 mpg. BMW takes premium and the Honda would take regular. I change oil twice a year and flush all fluids once a year
    - Consumables: So maintenance wise the Honda edges it out. Same story for tires. Honda should get me 50K miles on a set of tires the BMW..I am lucky if I get 10K.
    - Monthly insurance. I am pretty sure that the Honda will be similarly priced or slightly pricier than the BMW for Insurance
    - Time: When I had a shorter commute in reverse traffic the bike was more time consuming just because I had to suit up and suit off. But with a longer commute now, the bike wins hands down. I save almost 70 - 90 minutes every day because I ride and dont drive. I am not stuck in traffic and the commute becomes a pleasure. This to me is the most significant advantage of the bike
    - Tank range: The thing that irritates me the most about the bike is the tank range. With my daily 100 mile commute I have to refuel everyday. That is a pain in the rear. In the car I have to do it once every 4 days. It takes up valuable time
    - Versatility: Its a draw. The bike with a top box is almost as versatile as my cars. I carry less junk but I can easily accomplish a grocery run with a top box and if I need to carry more soft panniers are a good solve

    All that being said I would never trade my bike with a car commute. Bike is just easier and cooler

  • Rob

    You're all wet! What crappy car only gets 19 mpg?
    What about tires? Rear bike tiers wear out in 9k miles, and can cost over $200 to replace. Car tires last over 50k miles, and cost less than $250 for all 4.

  • Larry

    None of the previous replies are unbiased. They all have their own tilt. The original entry, The Economics of Riding, was just comparing fuel costs. A simple, direct example of "How does this affect me today, this month and this year." Use whatever metric you want, one metric or every one you can conceive. you want to talk about costs or total cost what about the "Carbon footprint" of bike and car. What resources were used to mine, process or create the materials to assemble your vehicle of choice. (don't forget your personal gear and bike accessories in your footprint.)
    Then lets add in transporting the vehicle to your local showroom. Lets get really wild and add in a "fun" factor and how are we going to develop a scale that fairly conveys these two modes of transportation.
    For me, I enjoy riding, I watch out for the texting drivers that don't see anything smaller than a Chevy and I don't pay as much for fuel. I am a happy camper.

    • Bruce

      Time is money. Here in NYC most drivers have to spend huge amounts of time looking for parking while I find a spot in no time flat. Not mention those who pay a fortune for a parking place for their car. It depends a lot on where you live. I would also imagine there are a lot of riders running higher octane than recommended thinking the bike will run better (it won't). Lastly, what's up with the riders who compulsively rev their engines at every stop light?

  • Ron

    The savings of a bike comes not from the savings in gas but the much smaller depreciation vs a car. I bought a $3000 2012 Honda CBR 250R ABS with only 400 miles. I can't even imagine what kind of car I would get for $3k. I get 80mpg and I use regular gas which is recommended for my bike. My insurance is only $80 per YEAR and registration/tax is only $20. The cost of maintenance is probably more but not by much. The other huge savings is for parking. My parking is free while I would be paying $100/month for car parking. The economics are there for the right situation.

  • Jason

    My motorcycle is the most expensive vehicle I have to operate and gets the worst gas mileage.

    2011 BMW R1200RT: 42 mpg with premium fuel @ $2.93 per gallon = $0.07 per mile

    2009 Toyota Prius: 46 mpg with regular fuel @ 2.65 per gallon = $0.06 per mile

    2016 Spark EV. 4.9 miles per KWH at $0.11 per KWH = $0.02 per mile

    Of course that is just fuel. As other have said, the tires for the motorcycle cost as much as a set for the cars and only last 1/4 of the miles.

    Then there is maintenance.....

    Needless to say I don't ride to same money.

  • andy goldfine

    With commuting options it's never apples-to-apples or oranges-to-oranges. There are far too many variables. We still have a loaner Zero electric motorcycle here in commuting service which all-in (tires, insurance, Aerostich gear, etc) I bet would beat even a full electric car like a Nissan Leaf over the long-term service-life of both machines if the commute-distance was anything within it's range. But a friend of mine here did a 160 mile each-way thrice-weekly Duluth to Minneapolis commute on a Gold Wing for several years, at the time choosing riding over his Saab 99. There's no perfect way to make perfect comparisons between any two commuting options. Kyle's point in part is that for him motorcycle commuting fell well within an envelope of economically sensible options even factoring out the fun, speed, time and efficiency benefits of riding, and also that even in a harsh seasonal climate like Duluth's it was not some ridiculous kind of self-indulgence. The aggregate is what made overall sense for his commute here, even without the factors mentioned above. That it does isn't obvious to most commuters, here and elsewhere in the USA. The point is that motorcycle commuting does not have to be a luxury benefit enjoyed only on fair-weather days by those who happen to already own a motorcycle for other reasons.

  • Amy Winters

    I'm glad to hear that you've gotten so much great use out of your bike, and that each use adds to the value of your investment in the motorcycle and gear. My husband and I have been thinking about getting motorcycles to give us a fun new activity we can enjoy together, but it can be a bit difficult to justify the initial investment. I know we'll get lots of use out of the bikes, so thanks for pointing out that each use will increase the value of our investment long-term!

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