A motorcycle?


The other day I asked if anyone could give me a single reason not to buy a motorcycle. See, my parents return to Miami in a couple of weeks to re-claim the car I’ve been sporadically using for the past half year. When this happened last year, I decided to try living with just a bicycle. And while that experiment worked out pretty well, I’m not just exactly 100% sure I want to go through again just quite yet.

But a car is just such a hassle, right? I used to be able to drive around with a copy of Autotrader and $3,000 for a day and end up with, usually, a perfectly impressive old BMW that’d last me 5 years or so (usually until some asshole hit me and destroyed it, which actually is preferable to the protracted and heartbreaking death my 1988 528e died), but it appears that that is no longer the way of the world. So the options are

  1. Bite the bullet, and get, maybe, a used Mini Cooper, which seem to be running $8,000 for a 2002 with maybe 80,000 miles.
  2. Do the bike thing again, and pocket the cash.
  3. OR, right, a motorcycle is an interesting compromise when you look at it this way, no?

Well, people did have some noteworthy downsides to the motorcycle. “You will die,” more then one person said. “In Miami there is a rainy season when it rains every day.” And thirdly, a motorcycle does not have a trunk.

You can see though how coming off a 6-month bicycle existence colors these considerations. E.g., I had no problem grocery shopping. But you have to give some consideration to the danger. Motorcycles account for 3% of vehicles registered in the US, but 13% of all vehicle fatalities. Motorcyclists are about 35 times more likely to die per mile driven then someone in a car. And here the comparison to a bicycle breaks down, because while cycling home late at night in the rain after a few beers turns out to be something that just does not happen, you can certainly picture that set of circumstances with a motorcycle. And, um, alcohol consumption correlates with a sharply increased risk of death, and (in I guess the unlikely event of a lack of death) with increased severity of injury. Also, anecdotally, Miami drivers are the worst in the entire universe, and even people who would and/or do drive motorcycles in other places are wary of doing it here.

All of which is some sobering stuff! But the response that I have for you is that I’m not signing up for a lifetime of 2-wheeled exclusivity. I’m looking for a way to get around for 6 months, and I’m still going to be on the bicycle more often than not, and I’m going to wear my helmet. Like your pal Dan Savage says, people take all kinds of risks to have different experiences, and why not live a little? (Plus, by this logic we should all be riding the bus — the difference between how safe a car is and how safe a motorcycle is is much smaller then the same difference between a car and the bus.) Think of the fun! And think of the money — not just from the initial purchase, but the laughably small amounts you’d be spending at the gas station. Also: you can park anywhere. And is there not the intangible yet undeniable prospect of being a total and complete badass?

Still, in some ways it’s the worst of both worlds. An examination of ebay motors suggests that while a decent 2-wheeled vehicle is cheaper then a 4-wheeled one, it’s not quite the order-of-magnitude difference you’ve been led to believe. Also while the mpg is drastically better, it again is not quite the difference between night and day: motorcycles get I hear 40-50 mpg highway, while the Mini gets 34. And the rain is a real thing — you don’t care if you get wet on a bike because you’re going to be sweaty anyway so you have to make provisions to change/shower or whatever. But get caught in the rain on a motorcycle, and you’re just plain soaked. Then again, that would be part of the aforementioned experiential thing, right? We are not made of sugar, and we do not melt, and whatever does not kill us makes us stronger. At least, until it really does kill us.

13 thoughts on “A motorcycle?

  1. Ok, here’s my take:

    1. Cost

    The Good: My current bike (‘88 Yamaha Virago 700, at $1,300), and has needed about $150/year in maintenance and gets 50 mpg; that’s not bad. Compare to $1,500/year maintenance and 25 mpg for the car. That’s $1,500+ savings a year.

    The Bad: If you drop it (and you will drop it at some point) the cost to the bike alone will hurt, even if you’re fine.

    2. Fun

    The Good: Almost everything is enjoyable on a bike.

    The Bad: Road debris, rain, exhaust, road construction, heat (Esp. air cooled bikes; Esp. with a helmet & jacket for safety)

    Yes it rains; yes it’s unpredictable; yes you’ll get wet sometimes. You’ll learn to carry a plastic bag for your phone, camera and garage-door opener, whatever. Through, really, I have yet to.

    3. Safety

    The Good: Riding a motorcycle does NOT increase your chance of getting into an accident, it just makes the penalty higher. If you actively trying to stay safe, you’ll beat the odds of 95% of all accidents. An experienced rider is going to be safer by knowing when not to ride, where not to ride, and noticing potential problems before they happen. This requires taking as little chances while you’re gaining experience.

    The Bad: So every car you you’ve owned has been wrecked on the roads of Miami? It doesn’t really matter who’s fault it is, but this doesn’t sound like a good situation to ride in. Learning via daily commuting through Miami is obviously not ideal.

    I’ve been riding a motorcycle for about seven years, quickly nearing 20,000 miles. Mostly all my riding has been in quiet little Gainesville, FL, which, however, imports the worst of your 18-year-old Miami drivers every fall.

    I’ve dropped the bike once. Brand new bike, second day of riding, and completely my own fault. Probably not best to learn on a new bike.

    I’ve been hit once. Someone pulled out of a side road, crossing the main road I was on. When they saw me, began slowing down again, in the middle of the road, right there in traffic. I could not get out of the way in time and ended up having my front tire clipped. I slowed from about 45 mph to about 25 before the impact, but still flew over the handlebars as the bike went down. Having practiced rolling from a fall for the past 15 years as part of martial arts training, my instincts did a roll for me and all I ended up with there two sprained wrists, a scratched helmet and $850 worth of bike damage. I rode the bike home, the guy paid for the repairs, and the writs healed. Lesson learned.

    BTW, a dented gas tank, can’t be fixed, and on a 2002 Honda Shadow Spirit 750, costs $650.)

    Overall, I ride whenever I can and wherever I can. It has saved me thousands, made me a better driver, and has made generally monotonous tasks like commuting enjoyable.


  2. I am in the exact same situation you are in right now. I am thinking very hard about getting a motorcycle, and although I am excited about it, I am also a little worried about how I am gonna drive it. I think about all the car accidents I’ve avoided in my honda because the car’s safety systems were so great, or the time some guy rear ended the fuck out of my old Ford Contour and totaled it. I think getting a very cheap car might be safer.

    I definitely wouldn’t get a mini cooper though. My friend had one, and it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. I’d look for a golf instead.

  3. Stay true to yourself and consistent with your own personality. The clear choice here is a motorized unicycle, ideally one with an elevated seat so you can stand out in traffic. They are inexpensive, easy to handle, and store conveniently. Obviously they’re chick magnets, too. Wear colorful spandex, and don’t forget bulbous red nose and plumed hat.

  4. I think the rain argument is pretty solid. Even if you avoid riding in the rain, the street would be wet, dangerous and pretty frightening to ride in.

  5. Davis~ That is a pretty scary picture. The argument seems to be that a bike is a great second vehicle, not a sole means of transportation. I still have no idea what the insurance cost is vs. a car, but I have a feeling it eats a bit into the gasoline savings (which, in any case, it turns out you can get a Prius used which gets close to 50 mpg!)

    denim~ Whadyamean “not the most pleasant experience”??? Please elaborate. They are nothing but fun from everything that I’ve heard.

    R.~ I know… The bike is fun and all, but I’m sort of dreading it for some reason. Plus, there are a great many things you just end up not doing when it means cycling there, findnig a way to change, etc.

    Squathole~ I assume you’re talking about the Prius?

    Carlos~ Yeah, it sounds scary. The statistics indicate that it’s actually only a tiny bit more dangerous riding in the rain, but I’m inclined to be skeptical.

  6. They’re boring as hell to drive, unless you get the S, which my buddy had, but then you lose gas efficiency, and you have to put in premium, which is more expensive. It’s tiny, and really unpleasant for the people sitting in the backseat, so you’re friends ain’t gonna wanna ride with you, but maybe that’s not a big deal to you. But if that’s the case, there’s plenty of small cars with better gas mileage that are sportier and less expensive, like the Miata (if you don’t mind being called a FAG because of that stereotype). The car came with run flats, which sound great, but they’re expensive to replace, and you have to replace them once you get a flat. If you get regular tires, there is no spare. The car has a lot of problems too. The interior started falling apart pretty quickly. Granted, he had one of the earlier models, so I don’t know how much they’ve improved. I personally think they’re kinda ugly too…

    If you think the Mini is fun though, you might wanna get an old GTI instead. They’re pretty fuel efficient, because the engine uses a turbo (instead of the Mini S which uses a supercharger).

    Maybe my buddy and I just had a bad experience with it though.

  7. The only interesting thing about a Prius is the Drag Coefficient, which rivals most Ferraris. A used Prius will still cost you near $20k, for a car with really dubious economics.

    And let’s face it, you’re not getting a bike to save on gas: it’s just an interesting side-effect. There are significant cost savings—e.g. you don’t need insurance at all, if you wear a helmet, and it costs one-fifth of car insurance if you don’t (in my experience)—but it’s about the ride. Riding a motorcycle is an amazingly eye opening and exhilarating experience, and will make the most boring commute into something you’d do for fun. In this sense it’s similar to cycling, except with a few obvious and a few not-so-obvious advantages.

    And it all comes to an end if/when something goes really wrong. Note: You WILL get into a rear-wheel skid at some point. If something goes wrong and you keep it vertical, you’ll have a fun story. If you drop it you’ll have some repair costs. You really just don’t want to go over the handlebars.

    Here’s what you do: Take the weekend course that teaches you how to ride. Best disposable $250 ever spent. Then, start looking for a deal on a bike. If you find a deal, buy it and ride! If you don’t like it after a month, sell it for $200 less.  


  8. denim~

    I have a thing about small cars. I’m considering a GTI too, but there’s something more appealing about the cooper to me. I’ve driven one, but it’s been a long time and I’ll consider what you’re saying if I go so far as a test drive of another one (tho I’m listing away from the cooper now…)

    Of course the hatchback aspect is a big part of it, though if I were buying a sporty little car as a second ride, my sort of dream is a Toyota Spyder.


    Turns out you can get a 2004/05 Prius for like maybe $12,000, which is not bad.

    Wait … insurance for a motorcycle is much cheaper then for a car? That changes everything.

    What’s the minimum price of entry for a reasonable bike if I’m scouring Craigslist? (ebay motors seems to run around 5 grand for anything that looks remotely reasonable.)

    Anyway, There’s a 1997 Saab on sale down the street for $1,899, and I’m seriously considering saying fuck it all and just going down there and buying it.

  9. I’d like to warn you against old Saabs. You may remember I used to drive one for awhile. Saabs are fun to drive, but when they break, it is hard to find someone willing to look at it, and than the repair is expensive. It will not take long before you’ll need a fix than will cost more than $1,899.

  10. I love my motorbike. I have a Suzuki Bandit.

    Though I only passed my test this year I have already driven to France from the UK.

    So they are not the most practical of transport but they sure are the most fun 🙂

    Reading Davis point about dropping your bike bought back memories of when I first dropped mine. It was the first time I drove it to one of my mates houses. It was not the smoothest of enteries. I snapped the clutch and did some damage to the body work 🙁

    Still that said I would never get rid of it.

  11. I bought my first bike, a Honda Nighthawk 750 about 5 years ago, after getting my bike training (do the training course). It cost me $3000 with 4000 miles on it. I now have 16000 on it, and spent about $200 a year on maintenance. Insurance is optional, but I do have cheap ($90 a year) insurance. I’ve been off once, due to a lady who slammed on her brakes going through a green light, just had a bruised leg and dented tank from my knee hitting it I think (grrrrr). If you are not an ‘attention to detail’ type, don’t get a bike. Everyone is trying to kill you, and you have to pay alot of attention when riding. But it is fun fun fun!

    Bikes do make you a better driver…

    I had a MINI Cooper S and loved it. Some people hate them. But they are fun to drive. As docdenim said, the run-flat tyres are noisy and not best for handling, but they look good. The old S is supercharged and not fuel efficient, but the newer turbo S’s are much better (but don’t have the styling edge if you ask me).


  12. Get the mini ..The bike will not make you a badass and you can hurt yourself believing it can.. Help us keep hte accident ratio reasonable.

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