By Yasmin Ghahremani
Riding a motorcycle is, for many, an almost spiritual experience. Your body becomes one with the machine. You hear, feel and smell the road. You don’t have a window to view the passing landscape, because you are the landscape. You’re alive in a way a grocery-toting family car could never make you feel.
Let’s get back to Earth for one moment, as there are some practical factors to take into account when determining if the motorcycle lifestyle is right for you. Some may help you feel better about owning an iron steed; others may make you decide to stick with another form of transportation. Here are the most important costs and other considerations.
Vehicle price. Motorcycles, especially those for beginners, have the advantage of being much cheaper to purchase than a car. You can get a brand new bike for less than $5,000 — but buy used. Trust us. You don’t want to sink a lot of money into your first motorcycle. If you find out you enjoy the lifestyle, you’ll outgrow the bike within months. Spend a few thousand dollars on a used bike and decide six months later whether you want to upgrade.
Training. If you don’t have much riding experience, you’ll need training. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers a basic RiderCourse that’s highly recommended. They provide the motorcycles and helmets, and all you have to provide is your presence. Over the course of 10 hours of hands-on riding, you’ll learn basic skills such as stopping, shifting gears, and weaving and swerving — skills you’ll definitely want when you’ve got a large moving object headed in your direction.
The course takes place off-road, usually in an open parking lot, so you can make mistakes before you’ve got real cars hurtling in your direction. Best of all, in many states, passing the test gets you out of having to take the DMV riding test for your license. Budget $100-$300 for the course (prices vary by state and provider).
Clothing and gear. This is one area where you don’t want to skimp. It’s the part that protects you, which is more important than just about every other aspect of biking. The right clothing will help keep your skin on you and off the road. At the very least you want to get a full-face helmet, which starts at around $100. Ideally, you’ll also wear a leather jacket, gloves and boots at all times. While many people ride in jeans, if you value your skin, you’ll wear protective pants instead.
Expect to spend about $1,000 on gear and clothing. While that may sound like a lot, it’s better to buy a cheaper bike and spend more on gear than to get an expensive vehicle and cheap out on clothing.
Insurance. It’s hard to say whether you’ll save money insuring a motorcycle instead of a car. Often it’s cheaper, but insurance rates vary greatly depending on your age, state, vehicle, driving record, insurance company and many other factors. Count on paying between a few hundred dollars and a few thousand per year.
Gas. With less steel, glass and rubber to haul around, bikes tend to get better fuel efficiency than cars. Don’t be surprised by numbers as high as 100 miles per gallon. But keep in mind that you can only carry one or two people on a bike. To estimate your cost of gas, figure out how many miles you’ll ride in a given week, divide that by the mpg of the bike you expect to get, and multiply by the cost of a gallon of gas in your area.
Maintenance. Motorcycle maintenance costs vary wildly depending on the type of bike you get and how handy you are with a wrench. A solid bike from a Japanese maker such as Suzuki or Honda may be reliable enough that it’ll just need oil and tire changes. Its parts may be cheaper than car parts, too.
However, higher end specialty bikes have more expensive parts and tires. Tires may need to be changed every few thousand miles, and can cost up to $300.
Safety. We’d be remiss if we didn’t address safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists were 29 times more likely to die than passenger car occupants in traffic crashes. Even if you are extremely responsible and skilled, other drivers may not be.
Also, remember that you’re more exposed in a motorcycle than you are in a car (that’s what makes them so fun to ride as well). Go into any motorcycle purchase with a clear knowledge of the safety risks and strategies for minimizing them through training and practice.
Commuting and parking. One of the joys of riding a motorcycle to work is trimming the time you spend in rush hour traffic. An agile two-wheeler can often move through traffic faster, especially in states such as California, where lane splitting (riding between lanes of stopped or slow-moving traffic) is legal.
Parking, too, is easier with a bike than a car. Motorcycles can fit into spaces where even small cars can’t go. Your city driving experience may get less stressful, and that’s a health benefit you can’t put a price on.
Fun. Finally, motorcycles are exhilarating, adventurous and fun. Because you have to concentrate much harder than when driving a car, they can even help you forget your troubles. And they give you instant membership into a community. Whether you want in or not, you’ll be part of the club.
Just make your decision about whether you pay the cost of entry – buying a bike – with your eyes wide open. If you do decide to buy one, knowing the pros and cons can help you enjoy the ride even more.
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