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Motorcycling Isn't Cheap

Blog Date - 29 May 2017

There was once a time when many many people owned motorcycles as opposed to cars, not because they were "into" motorcycling but because they were cheaper to buy and run than a car. I'm talking of the times when a chap got a sidecar fitted to his motorcycle when he got married rather than purchased a car. Times wur 'ard back then, they used ta wuk 27 aaar days daan't pit and there wur 12 of 'em livin in a shoe box under t'eaves er local brothel. They wur 'ard times but they wur 'appy. You get the idea.

A modern BMW GS1200 Adventure motorcycle fitted with an adventure sidecar outift
You could still fit a sidecar to your modern motorcycle if you wish?

I would argue that motorcycling is still cheaper than owning and running a car if you do it right. The only thing is doing it right involves running a 125 and doing most of the maintenance yourself. Presently I cover around 12,000 miles per year on my 125 so let's do some fuel maths.

My 125 runs 130mpg at least. That's 92.3 gallons of petrol per annum. Petrol today is £1.13 per litre or £5.13 per gallon. That's £473.50 per year, give or take.

A typical "efficient" car may do 60mpg urban cycle. 200 gallons per year costing £1026.

That means my 125 saves me roughly £550 per year. Great! My tax on the 125 is a little cheaper - depending on the car, the year and which way the wind is blowing. The insurance on my 125 is approximately £130 less than my car but of course this varies for everyone else. Personally I estimate running the 125 saves me around £700 a year.

The CBF125 with no engine
To really save money I find removing the engine greatly reduces running costs.

Or does it?

I have to replace the chain and sprockets every 12-18 months at a cost of £35. The drive shafts on a car last for years, usually the life of the car. Maybe you have to replace a CV boot once every blue moon. Brake pads last half the life of car brake pads, the car ones are 3 times the size and cost one third of the price. For my 125 tyre prices are comparable to car tyre prices but my tyres only last half the life of car tyres. In spite of all this I do believe running my 125 is cheaper. Not £700 cheaper per year but still cheaper. Oh, don't mention the cost of waterproofs, bike kit, chain lube....shhhhh.

So yes you can run a motorcycle for less cash than you could a small car. Now let us imagine we're running a big bike, perhaps something like a Versys 650.

Fuel wise the Versys is only a little more efficient than a modern small hatchback, there's not much to be saved there. If it's ridden well then the tyres may last 10 or 12 thousand miles, less than half that of a car and each tyre will cost twice as much as those for a small car. Servicing is every 4k rather than every 12 or once a year and the price can be more for a motorcycle than it is for a car. Throw in chain and sprocket kits at £100 and it all starts to look quite expensive.

A motorcycle chain on a motorcyleChains - why have I not invented the everlasting chain yet?

Contributor Stephen Latchford owns a small Suzuki hatchback. To buy the price was comparable to a motorcycle, to insure it is also comparable, fuel economy is comparable, servicing is cheaper and this thing keeps you dry and warm in winter. Parts will cost considerably less and last much longer. The only thing it can't compete with motorcycles on is performance and pleasure. 

So unless like myself you're prepared to run a 125cc hack into the ground on a shoestring there appears to be little financial incentive to ride a motorcycle these days. I suppose in a country as damp as the UK this is why most people use cars for commuting and daily life. Motorcycling is no longer mainstream because it's no longer cheap. Or perhaps that should be because the cost of buying and running a car has dropped? 

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Reader's Comments

Fran Firman said :-
Totally agree with you.

Here in NZ, we have compulsory accident insurance, which is paid with our vehicle registration. For a car it will range from $80 to $120, but for a motorbike, it will range from $400 to $550. This is mostly to deal with the higher risk of riding a motorbike around.

The big savings, at least for me are time and parking.

In a car the time to travel 20km is about 70mins in rush hour traffic, where on the bike it is closer to 35 mins. If no traffic then, about 25 mins.

Then the parking in Auckland city is between $18 and $24 / day for a car, but for the motorbike it is free, in the council parking buildings.

Of course the final option is to take the bus/train. This takes around 70-90mins each way and costs around $220/month.

So even thou it isn't all that much cheaper with the bike, it is a lot faster and I can come and go as I please, not having to wait on public transport.


29/05/2017 23:56:52 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I'd like to understand this NZ insurance thing. Here in the UK we're required by law to have at least third party insurance (I hit you, my insurance pays you out). We are expected to source it ourselves from the insurance companies.

For myself I can insure my 125 for £94, third party fire and theft. To insure my small, old, cheap hatchback Ford Ka costs me around £230. For my 500 fully comprehensive costs me around £210. So motorcycles are cheaper to insure. For young drivers and riders car insurance is MASSIVELY expensive, in terms of £2,500 for an 18 year old driving a cheap knackered old Fiesta. They can usually insure a basic 125 for around £500.

I believe in NZ the third party aspect is part of the tax or "rego" or something along the lines of "if you own this vehicle you have to pay so much each year". Would I be correct in thinking this accident insurance is the same price whether you're 20 years old or 60 years old?
30/05/2017 09:58:03 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
I personally think that compulsory third party insurance collected at the same time as vehicle VED is a great idea. It should still be illegal to drive with just this basic cover, but an industry regulator could ensure the compulsory fee was discounted off the insurance premium with a regular insurer. This would at least mean that more people pay into the Motor Insurers' Bureau, which covers claims against uninsured drivers, but is currently funded only by those who do insure.

Obviously there will still be individuals who neither tax nor insure their vehicles, and another way to encourage people to insure would be to introduce meaningful penalties for those who don't. The current average cost of insurance for young drivers is in the thousands, whereas the average fine for driving with no insurance is about two hundred. Go figure.....
30/05/2017 16:10:51 UTC
Pocketpete said :-
I've got a similar issue that my hyundai costs less to tax than my bike. The insurance is almost the same at £ 150 per year. I agree with some of the savings and pleasure issues but one thing notmentioned here is the time savings on a bike.

My journey home in the car takes me anything from 45 minutes to 1 and half hours. It never takes me more than 30 on the bike usually much less. This one thing is more important to my sanity and something I can't put a price on.
30/05/2017 18:42:58 UTC
Fran Firman said :-
There are 2 different types of insurance here.

One is optional, and that is what you would think of as standard vehicle insurance. ie Third party, fire, theft, full.

The 2nd one is compulsory, and is taken at yearly registration time. This insurance goes in to a fund run by the ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation ). This is to provide injury cover and income projection.

So if you are injured in a crash, the cost of the medical bills, rehabilitation, and loss of income while you can't work, in theory is covered.

The ACC other than just covering injuries on the road, also covers all injuries. From sports to falling off the ladder at home, and work place injuries. So some of your income is also put towards this fund, and sport fees might also have a component.

The rate that they set the ACC levy at is different depending on the vehicle driven, and as it has been shown that on a motorbike, the rider is 18 times more likely to be injured for the distance travelled, the ACC levy is quite a bit higher than for a car. Thou not 18 times higher. Only around 4-6 times higher.

Also depending on the size of the bike (cc rating) changes the rate as well.

So a < 60cc = $438/year
61 to 600 cc = $471/year
600cc and up = $585/year

A moped which only requires a car license to ride, is $208/year.

When getting a license here for a motorbike, it seems easier than what Sharon did.

We first go and do a basic handling course, and when that is passed, which is only done in a car park, so no faster than 30km/hr, you can go and sit your written license.

The Basic handling course, is to go you can start and stop the bike, do figure 8's, and breaking. But not a lot else.

Once the written license is passed, you get a learner license, which limits the rider to a bike of less than 150kw/tonne. Which can mean a bike like my Yamaha mt-03 with 42hp is a learner legal bike.

Also can get a 600cc de-tuned bike, like the Kawasaki ER-6F also.

You only limits other than the bike performance is, no riding between 10pm and 6am, no pillion, and having to show a L plate on the back of the bike.

After around 6 months, you can go and do a practical test, and if that is passed you get a restricted license, which means you can drop the L place, but nothing else changes.

After around another 12 months or so, you can go and do another practical test, and if that is passed you have no restrictions.

So you could go from a Suzuki gn-125 to a Kawasaki H2 supercharged superbike, legally.. Not a good idea of course.

Hope that gives you all an idea of what it is like here.


30/05/2017 21:09:00 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
"I personally think that compulsory third party insurance collected at the same time as vehicle VED is a great idea. "

Even better, scrap VED and include a charge for that and 3rd party insurance in the price of petrol. That would ensure that people who used their vehicles more paid more, and ensure that the money was collected. It also does away with the confused and nonsensical banded VED system. If you use more fuel by driving / riding an inefficient vehicle, then you pay more.

But no government would do this as the daily mail would go wild.
31/05/2017 09:57:04 UTC
CrazyFrog said :-
Yes, great idea Ian. It's not just the Daily Wail that's the issue though, it's the perceived conservatism (with a small 'c') of the British elecorate that's an issue too.
31/05/2017 13:12:45 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Thanks for the explanation Fran. It seems rather alien to we Northerners, we're so ingrained into our current system.

I'd have to see the sums Ian to form an opinion on your petrol plus insurance idea. As a youth it seems fabulous, as an old slow rider I'd be asking "am I paying for this young hooligan's bad driving?" It would certainly remove the current uninsured driver problem.
31/05/2017 19:37:57 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Of course, for the insurance rolled up into the petrol idea to work properly, it would need not to be supplied by private insurance companies who would only see it as another profit making opportunity.

The best figures I can find are that 45 billion litres of fuel are used each year in the UK. Revenue from VED is £5.5 billion. So we'd have to add say £.08 / litre to cover that.

If we take your 125 doing 20,000 miles / year at (say) 80 mpg you will buy about 250 litres / year. So you would pay an extra £20 / year (but of course no VED at £18). So you would more or less break even.

I can't find total figures for annual insurance, and of course the legal 3rd party element would not be disclosed. However, average annual car insurance seems to be around £800 / year (a bit shocking for me as I only pay £300). We could make a wild assumption that 50% of this is the compulsory element ie £400 / car. There are 31.7 million cars on the road so the total revenue from this would be around £13 billion. Of course we have to take into consideration that the insurance companies are ripping us off. A better figure would be to take the total amount paid out for 3rd party claims but I can't find this anywhere.

So that would put about £0.25 on a litre.

I may well have the sums wrong (by several orders of magnitude) but
01/06/2017 10:33:18 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
for some reason I sent this before either (a) checking my figures (b) actually finishing my sentence.....

I actually think I have my sums wildly wrong........

01/06/2017 14:02:49 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Corrected figures.
£5.5 billion / 45 billion litres = £0.12 / litre extra

20,000 miles @ 80 mpg = 250 gallons = 1125 litres hence an extra £135 / year. So I don't think you'd go for it.

JOOI if we take my car doing 22.5 mpg and 8,000 miles / year I'd be paying £172 / year which is less than the VED is......

And insurance? If we take my assumption of £13 billion 3rd party costs then this would add £0.29 per litre.
02/06/2017 15:07:38 UTC
Borsuk said :-
Using those figures and factoring the piddly 3000 miles or so I will probably do on the bike this year then I would be quids in.
Approx 150 litres of fuel a year would cost £18 VED and £44 for insurance, 1/5th of what I am paying at present.
And I got to learn a new acronym, I love this site.
02/06/2017 17:30:59 UTC
said :-
When I lived in Florida It was easily cheaper than a car, main reason is that if you wear a DOT approved crash helmet you DON'T have to have any insurance on a bike but it's compulsory on a car! TAG (their equivalent of road tax) was charged by the weight of the vehicle so it was obviously lower than a car. If you took out insurance with at least $10,000 worth of medical cover you didn't have to wear an helmet, unless you're under 21 years of age then helmets are compulsory. Funny thing was that it was compulsory to wear a safety helmet on a push bike lol and filtering is against the law.

11/06/2017 15:53:39 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
The various laws around the world befuddle my head! Here in the UK you are required by law to have at least third party insurance for any motorised vehicle. That means that if I am riding down the road and I stupidly run into a parked car my insurance will pay for the damages to that car. This is much more important if I were stupidly to run into an innocent pedestrian, my insurance would pay compensation.

This also means if I am hit by another driver then their insurance ought to pay out for my injuries and the repairs to my motorcycle.

When you say that motorcycles don't need insurance if the rider wears a helmet does this cover third party? For example if I were to ride through Florida with a helmet on and through my own fault damaged someone's car, how would I be expected to compensate the owner for this?

12/06/2017 10:35:36 UTC

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