Should you buy a motorcycle or a car? Well, let’s talk about who you are. If you’re anything like me, then there have been a few instances in life where you’ve been presented with the choice of purchasing a new means of transportation.
I had the privilege of growing up in California, where the mild weather allowed me to choose between a car or a motorcycle. I secured my motorcycle endorsement shortly after passing my driver’s test and was eager to see my options regarding personal transportation.
What surprised me was the plethora of factors involved in making this decision. At the age of 18, I wasn’t exactly in the top tax bracket, so the cost of ownership was near the top of my list. Beyond that, I had to consider safety, convenience, and utility as other parameters.
Nowadays, with a family to look out for, the parameters have changed yet again and as a result, I travel by different channels than as a kid.
Motorcycles and automobiles each present their own risks and rewards pertaining to the categories of cost, safety, convenience, and utility. I have presented facts and anecdotal evidence below to give you a framework by which to make your own decision.
The first category we’ll dissect (and arguably most crucial) is the cost of ownership of each means of transportation. There are many subdivisions of cost like initial purchase price, repairs, maintenance, equipment, and insurance.
This category will typically weigh more for the decision of a younger beginner rider than an older experienced rider.
Initial Purchase Cost
The average motorcycle cost $11,860 in 2020. This trend has been very flat from 2013 to 2021.
In general, motorcycles are simpler machines with fewer parts needed for manufacturing and assembly.
The average car cost $22,030 in 2020. This price trend has been accelerating upward over the last five years.
Cars are significantly more expensive to manufacturer and that cost is passed along to the consumer.
Information provided by statista.com
Motorcycles have fewer parts in general and, therefore, have fewer parts that can break.
When major issues do occur, the worst-case scenario typically isn’t going to break the bank.
For a standard import motorcycle, the engine can be fully replaced for just a few thousand dollars.
The other major component, the transmission, is just a simple gear set that can be removed and replaced in less than a day.
Cars have more systems than motorcycles and significantly more parts that can fail.
Everything from air conditioning, power steering, and a windshield are items that can break on a car that you don’t have to worry about on a bike.
Even comparing the same parts is lopsided. Compare a water pump or alternator between a car and motorcycle and notice the price to be double or more for a car. An engine can creep up into the $10,000 range for full replacement.
Motorcycles have half the amount of brakes and tires to replace.
They typically only have engine oil, coolant, and maybe hydraulic fluid for the brakes.
Major interval services, which include valve adjustments, are considerably cheaper than the major service on a car.
However, the bigger services do typically come up at shorter mileage intervals.
Not only do cars have more tires but they are more expensive on average.
Cars carry a larger volume of fluids and typically have a wider variety of fluids ranging from engine oil, transmission oil, differential oil, coolant, power steering fluid, and brake fluid.
They also have more belts and filters than bikes.
The major service on a car typically stretches out to 60,000 miles rather than a 15,000-30,000 mile interval for a bike.
The engine in the average motorcycle is much smaller (measured by displacement) than a typical passenger car.
As a result, less fuel is required and fuel economy is superior.
The only exception is if you ride very aggressively you will use more fuel than a commuter car cruising down the freeway.
Some of the smallest car engines are bigger than some of the largest street bike engines.
For example, a little Honda Civic may have a 1.6-liter engine, but a powerful Honda CBR1000RR superbike only has a 1.0-liter engine.
Of course, tuning and riding style can skew this number, but when comparing on paper, the larger engine will use more fuel.
The first major downside of motorcycle ownership is how much gear you need just to get started.
At a minimum, a helmet is required in most states, but beyond that, a jacket, boots, and gloves are highly recommended.
You’re at least $500 in before you even start the bike up.
I know this is a revolutionary idea, but you do not have to wear a helmet to operate an automobile.
It costs nothing beyond standard expenses like fuel and registration (shared with motorcycles) to drive a car.
In my experience of owning both bikes and cars, I’ve found motorcycles to be significantly cheaper to insure.
I would imagine this is because the cost of the vehicle is less and, therefore, is less of a liability to the insurance company.
Automobiles typically cost more to replace and also cause more damage to property when involved in an accident.
They simply pose a greater liability in the instance that something goes wrong.
To reduce expenses, try buying a car with good safety ratings.
Some may put this as the primary factor in making this decision. There is no question that a motorcycle rider is fully exposed to the surrounding environment.
I’ve provided some data below from the IIHS website that describes data from the year 2020 pertaining to motorcycle and automobile fatalities.
According to statista.com, there were 8.32 million registered motorcycles in the U.S. in 2020.
Therefore, assuming one owner per every registered motorcycle, .07% of riders died in 2020 from crashes.
According to statista.com, there were 287.3 million registered cars in the U.S. in 2020
Following the same process as with motorcyclists, .01% of drivers died in 2020 from crashes
With these two numbers, we can draw the objective conclusion that motorcyclists died at a rate 7 times higher than drivers.
There are two other more subjective health related topics I would like to touch on.
- Mental Health
I know I personally find a great deal of relaxation and peace from riding motorcycles. Contrast that to how bad I feel after just a short drive and I have to make the assumption that there are some mental health effects at play.
This isn’t necessarily a factor worth making a decision over but does slightly offset the safety concerns presented in the above section.
- Physical Health
Similarly, motorcycle riding is significantly more physically taxing than sitting in a car. Not to mention, sitting, in general, isn’t great for posture or mood. Sitting in the saddle of a street bike shifting back and forth side to side is not only good exercise but very exciting.
This is a real sticking point for a lot of people and can be difficult to anticipate if you haven’t owned both a motorcycle and a car. Remember, with a bike, your trunk is a backpack if you so choose and your windshield is your helmet visor. Let’s go through a list of some hot points and tally the score.
- Cargo Space: Car ✅
Cars at minimum have an interior cabin where you can store your belongings and keep them locked up. Most have a trunk or rear cargo area where drivers can store and move items.
On a motorcycle, there is a tiny amount of room under the seat but that’s about it. Some motorcycles allow for luggage to be attached but this will hold at most a helmet, jacket, or a small bag.
- Climate Control: Car ✅
Although this adds costs to maintenance and repairs, the heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system of a car make hot afternoons and cold mornings pleasant to drive in.
Additionally, just having four doors and a windshield at least allows for protection from the temperature.
I don’t need to tell a rider who has ridden in extreme heat or cold how unforgiving it is. Heated grips only make a small difference, and when it’s hot, the air feels like it’s coming straight out of the oven.
- Weather: Car ✅
There’s not much that is more disheartening than seeing a rider on the highway in a torrential downpour completely waterlogged knowing the only reason they’re riding is that it was their only option.
You can’t put a value on four doors and a windshield when it’s raining hard or even gusting wind. The harsh weather riders have to endure is a genuine nuisance.
- Gear: Car ✅
Lugging around riding gear is a necessary evil of motorcycle riding. It is extremely cumbersome and inconvenient. If you care at all about your life, you will have at least a helmet, jacket, and gloves to tote around, not to mention a change of shoes if you don’t want to walk around in clunky riding boots.
The only gear you need to drive your car is a set of keys.
- Storage: Car ✅
One thing most drivers take for granted is the ability to park a car outside and simply walk away from it. When riding a motorcycle, unless you’re just popping in somewhere quickly, it’s best practice to cover and lock up your bike.
This requires yet more gear to carry around and additional procedures when starting and stopping a ride.
This isn’t mandatory, but leaving a motorcycle out in the elements isn’t a great idea and an unlocked motorcycle is pretty easy to pick up and throw in the back of a truck if left unattended in the wrong part of town.
- Parking: Motorcycle ✅
We had to give the motorcycle something to write home about before wrapping up this section.
Motorcycles do have the perk of being able to park on sidewalks or in tight spaces. Some lots have motorcycle-specific spaces near the front.
Depending on the size of your automobile, you may be huffing it from the back of the lot.
The final category is the utility or functionality of the piece of transportation. At the end of the day, a car or motorcycle is simply a tool to get from point A to point B.
I wanted to break down which tool is more effective at accomplishing this task. The two metrics being measured are usefulness when commuting and the longevity of the machine.
|Commute Time: Motorcycle ✅||Longevity: Motorcycle ✅|
|Motorcycles have the luxury of splitting lanes when traffic is stopped.||Motorcycles are typically cheaper to repair and thus get more repairs done.|
|They can also use carpool lanes with a single rider rather than cars that need multiple people.||In my experience, people will do the bare minimum to keep a car roadworthy which typically leads to major repairs being needed in the not too distant future.|
|Motorcycles are typically faster than cars on average which can make a slight difference in time on the road.||Additionally, because the repair costs are higher, people will opt to trade-in instead of fixing their current vehicle.|
|Motorcycles are cheaper and easier to work on, and in many cases riders can fix their own equipment. This leads to longer duration of ownership and usable life of the machine.|
Alright, we’re at the end and the score is tied. The final factor is the most important.
You must decide for yourself what kind of lifestyle you want to carry forward. This is the ultimate question when deciding between a car and a bike.
Happy riding, or driving…