June 29, 2008
Many Commuters Shift To Motorcycles And Scooters

Some people who can't afford gasoline for commutes by car are shifting to motorcycles.

"As soon as [gas] hit about $3.50, it was no longer really affordable," said Watson, 27, who recently bought a 2002 Kawasaki KLR650 for $2,600, took a rider training course and started commuting via motorcycle two weeks ago. He gets to work in as little as 15 minutes, compared with the hour it could take in his 17-miles-per-gallon Jeep Liberty, thanks to the HOV lanes on Interstate 395. His bike gets about 50 mpg.

"I love it," Watson said.

Motorcycles cost less to buy and get higher fuel efficiency than almost all cars.

Motorcycles make simple economic sense, riders and advocates say. A new, stripped-down motorcycle cost an average of $8,290 in 2007, and motorcycles typically get 40 to 60 mpg, said Mike Mount, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Heyser Cycle, a dealer in Laurel Maryland, lists the scooters Yamaha Zuma at 123 mpg and the Yamaha Vino at 89 mpg. They list the motorcycles Honda CBR 600RR at 45 mpg and the Kawasaki Vulcan also at 45 mpg. These are disappointing numbers for the motorcycles.

The thought that strikes me about scooters and motorcycles: People who are driving longer distances are going to tend to do so on highways and will lean toward motorcycles for commuting. So the scooters probably get driven shorter distances and so their higher fuel efficiency has less impact since people who drive shorter distances do not use as much fuel anyway.

Why aren't motorcycle fuel efficiency numbers higher? Do their shapes generate more aerodynamic drag? Or are they mechanically less optimized than a car?

The Missouri Highway Patrol finds Harley ElectraGlides get about 34 mpg in the city. Not so impressive unless they are compared to a Ford Crown Vic.

The improved fuel economy of the bikes -- they get about 34 mpg in the city, compared to 16 mpg averaged in the patrol's Crown Victorias -- is a side benefit, he said. "That was not the initial reason (for the project) ... but it has turned out to be a fuel-saving venture for us."

Another article puts these Harleys at 50 mpg on the highway. Okay, but a Prius can get 45 mpg on the highway and the 2009 Prius might go 12% further per gallon by one measure. So that would put it at least equal to the Harley in fuel efficiency on the highway and far better in the city.

In our high gasoline price environment and rising unemployment sales are down for Harley.

Harley-Davidson, which sells only heavyweights (651-cc engines and larger), saw its U.S. sales fall 6.2 percent last year, its first decline since 1986. Industrywide, heavyweight bikes were off 5 percent in 2007.

Harley's U.S. sales were down nearly 13 percent in the first quarter of 2008, while industry sales fell 11 percent, to 173,922. For heavyweight bikes across the board, that decline is 14 percent. In response, Harley announced it would cut about 25,000 bikes, or 7-8 percent, from production plans and 730 employees, 10 percent of its North American workforce.

But with the economy down and people tight with their money sales are up for much cheaper and more fuel efficient scooters.

Scooter sales, on the other hand, are climbing. The industry council says motorscooters jumped 24 percent in the first quarter, though it doesn't release a number. Scooter sales have doubled since 2004 to 131,000 last year, accounting for 12 percent of industry sales.

Vespa's sales are up the most and Vespa owners I know assure me that the Vespa is the coolest scooter out there.

Kevin Foley of Yamaha's scooter division said that sales are up 65 percent over last year, while Vespa's sales shop up a record-setting 106 percent. The scooter industry as a whole climbed 25 percent in the last quarter. Honda scooters sales are up 30 percent over last year -- which were already up 20 percent from 2006.

A Yamaha scooter with an engine big enough for freeway speeds has fuel efficiency no better than a Prius.

Yamaha has released one new scooter for 2009. The Tmax has a 4 gallon tank that gets about 47 mpg. The nearly 500cc engine makes it the biggest scooter Yamaha makes.

Update: What I wonder: Will rising oil prices reduce road fatalities by reducing miles driven and by reducing the SUV threat to smaller cars? Or will so many people shift to more dangerous motorcycles and scooters that net fatalities actually go up? In any event, a mile not driven is a mile where you won't get in an accident.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 June 29 07:23 PM  Energy Transportation

David Govett said at June 29, 2008 8:40 PM:

Wait till winter.

jp straley said at June 30, 2008 5:18 AM:

Risk-reward analysis says that riding a bike is not worth it. I rode m/c for years, finally quit because of the many times I avoided an accident only by paranoid and hawk-like vigilance. It only takes one incident to change your life---forever!

K. Odell said at June 30, 2008 6:09 AM:

I'm not sure how people see this as a rational economic decision if it supplements an existing car.

If it replaces a trip in a 20 mpg car you're saving, at best, 20 cents a mile. Even a $2000 scooter will take 10,000 miles to break even (ignoring registration, insurance, maintenance and lost opportunity costs). A $8000 motorcycle would take at least 50k miles to break even.

Ned said at June 30, 2008 6:23 AM:

The fatality rate per mile driven is about 35 times higher for motorcycles tha for cars. I'm all for saving gas, but what's your life worth? Some physician friends of mine refer to motorcyclists as "organ donors."

Nick G said at June 30, 2008 8:29 AM:

I have to agree with the above comments - I can't see a good reason for a motorcycle or scooter over a Prius or Corolla (40 MPG highway), given the risks and lower utility of an uncovered, 2 wheel vehicle.

I think the reason for surprisingly low motorcycle/scooter MPG is the low efficiency of the small engines. They also have very high direct pollution (sulfur, NO2, etc).

Walking and bicycling are also much less efficient and much more CO2-intensive than a Prius, given the 10:1 ratio of FF energy to solar energy in retail food (though I'm sure the aerobic exercise is a good idea).

I suspect an electric bicycle is the most efficient transportation mode possible, and that a Prius (and eventually a Volt or other plug-in) is the best overall choice.

Brett Bellmore said at June 30, 2008 10:02 AM:

I'd say it's probably their less aerodynamic nature. A quick search says that touring bikes tend to have coefficients of drag of 2-3 times higher than for cars. Not the least because of the air striking the rider.

captbobalou said at June 30, 2008 10:04 AM:

Any mode of transportation is inherently unsafe. I walk, ride a bicycle (40+ years), a motorcycle (CBR600) (30+ years), and drive a car and a truck (30+ years). So far the accident tally has been:

Walking/running: 2 broken legs (same side). Total time off of life as a result: 2 years, plus permanent addition of metal to legs. Numerous other accidents (sprains to both ankles, knee injuries, back injuries), but no other requiring surgery or hospitalization.

Bicycling: 5 serious accidents; three my own fault, 1 run over by a bus, 1 hit by a car (bike totaled in both of these). None resulting in serious injury (other than road rash).

Motorcycling: 6 accidents. 4 my fault (inattention to road conditions at low speed); 1 rear ended by a car while sitting at a stop light (she was going 40, while literally asleep), and one by a car making a left hand turn from the right lane while overtaking from the rear. No injuries in any of these (though bikes were totaled in the two vehicle accidents). In both accidents with the cars, injury was avoided though anticipation and training.

Automobile: 2 fender benders while in high school, 1 serious accident while a passenger, no injuries (no skill involved in this survival, it was a complete miracle that no one was hurt).

So for me, walking is by far the most dangerous form of transportation per mile accomplished. And if you look at morbidity/mortality stats, you'll see that walking (in one form or another), is generally a dangerous activity, esp. if you compare it against the distance covered.

Based on a safety/distance travelled ratio, automotive transportation has been the safest, by far, for me, but is also by far, the most expensive mode of transportation, (vehicle cost, insurance, taxes, parking, gas, maintenance). The second safest mode, for me, has been motorcycles (I regularly put 20K miles per year on my bikes).

The safety issue is all about paying attention and adjusting to your environmental conditions and contexts, regardless of your mode of transportation. Period. With motorcycles you have more variables to contend with, at speed, but you've also got the ability to see and sense more, and with a "real" motorcycle you also have the power to escape dangerous situations, (unlike scooters and moped where you are simply a target, for everyone). Motorcycles offer good way of reducing transportation costs (though when you factor in protective gear and insurance, it's not by much), especially if you can do most of your repairs/maintenance yourself, provided you have the fortitude to pay attention.

The reason the Honda CBR600 doesn't get great gas mileage is that it is a relatively high-revving engine. The "sweet spot" in my powerband starts at around 7000 rpm (it redlines at 14000): you're consuming a lot of gas at that point. The bike will push you to 60-70 at about 3500-4000, but you have to be very gentle to make that happen (you can also get a lot better gas mileage). You can ride the bike to save gas, but most folks don't: it's not a vehicle designed for that. It will however, consume roughly 45 mpg going 110 mph. A comparable sports car (in terms of performance, the Chevy Corvette) will consume roughly 25 mpg going the same speed, (more expensive vehicle, engine almost 10 times the displacement: 5700ccs v. 600ccs for the Honda). I hardly ever ride at that speed, but the Honda was engineered to cruise at 100, and top out at 140+. The Vette easily cruises at 100 (it barely purrs), and is engineered to be safe at 175-200 (a friends Vette gets 28 mpg @70-80mph). However, if you try to run a Prius at those speeds, 1) you can't, and 2) the Prius gas mileage drops dramatically: it's motor isn't really built for high-speed use.

I just saw a recent Top Gear video (http://youtube.com/watch?v=PP6fe6i1vaY) that showed a Prius getting 17.2 mpg at speed, on a test track, (the BMW M3 it was being compared to weighed in at 19 mpg running exactly the same course, at the same speed). The Prius works great in urban/suburban settings, but when you need a vehicle with long legs (e.g. if you live in the big open part of the country), it doesn't have either the displacement or gearing to to be efficient at speed. Now compared to that, the CBR600 (which gets 45 mph at speed), doesn't seem like that bad a deal.

Greg said at June 30, 2008 10:13 AM:

It is typical for a motorcycle to have a drag coefficient en excess of 0.50 (typically close to 1.00), while a well-designed car can have 0.30, hence the fuel economy of a motorcycle is much less than one would expect from a vehicle with such a small engine.
Medium-sized scooters sometimes make sense in less densely populated areas where chances of getting into an accident by colliding with another vehicle are relatively low. Properly dressed cyclist will not likely to suffer serious injuries in a single vehicle accident, as those contraptions don't move too fast. Yet, it takes just one small oil puddle - and you're in an emergency room.
I also think that an electric bicycle is the way to go. But it should be driven on dedicated lanes (better yet, paths); in cities, they may be covered from weather.
Another contraption I think should be considered is "active trailer", e.g. a vehicle with an electric motor and a minimal set of batteries - enough for a trip to a nearby food store - plus a set of trailers for longer commutes: battery trailer for driving to work (10-30 miles) and a genset trailer for long distances. Those do not necessarily have to be drag-behind units, but they should be easily replaceable (rolling sideways, loadable into the trunk, mountable underneath).

Richard Shultz said at June 30, 2008 10:46 AM:

A motorcycle with a large powerful engine will get less mpg than one with a smaller engine.
My Prius has a 70 HP engine and probably needs only 30 HP while cruising at 70 mph.
A small engine , 70 HP, generates 30 hp more efficiently that a 140 hp engine.
That is the primary reason I can get 54 mpg while cruising on the highway at 60 mph.

Nick G said at June 30, 2008 10:53 AM:

"It is typical for a motorcycle to have a drag coefficient en excess of 0.50 (typically close to 1.00), while a well-designed car can have 0.30"

Yes, but drag is proportional to the cross-sectional area exposed to the air, which is perhaps 10-20% as much as for a vehicle, and braking and internal friction losses are related to weight, which is also roughly 10-20% as much. Motorcycles and scooters ought to be much more efficient, and I believe the small motors, optimized for power rather than efficiency (and much dirtier), are the culprit.

That's why electric 2-wheeled vehicles are much more efficient than ICE power - small electric motors don't have the same problem.

Greg said at June 30, 2008 12:06 PM:

Nick G,

Drag IS proportional to cross section area, but drag coefficient isn't.
Electric scooters are more efficient because they are slow, and motorcycle drag is just enormous on higher speeds. Small low-speed scooters are very fuel efficient - sometimes in excess of 100 mpg, and that is without all modern features like fuel injection and electronic ignition.

BTW, there's another factor favoring scooters and motorcycles over cars: it's limiting unnecessary travel. The higher level of risk will (or at least should) make people think twice before traveling. And weather limitations can be viewed that way too!

TTT said at June 30, 2008 12:29 PM:

Sheesh.... Just buy a Prius or a Honda Civic. After that, carpool with someone.

People are really getting carried away here. $4.5/gallon for gasoline is not the end of the world.

TTT said at June 30, 2008 12:40 PM:

Again, I bought my two Honda Civics (one coupe, one sedan for my wife) back in 2001 and 2006, when gasoline was still $1 (2001) and $2.75 (2006). Today, at $4.50, I still see no need to change my habits, given that my cars give 40 mpg on the highway.

Gas would have to hit $6/gallon (by no means a certainty) for me to take the next step, which would be to either carpool, or take the bus, combined with 1 day/week of telecommuting. I will not take the risk of motorcycling.

Furthermore, it is just as likely that gasoline will crash back to $3/gallon as it is likely to rise to $6/gallon.

People are getting carried away. Too many sheep are assuming that $8 or $10/gallon is a foregone conclusion, and that the lack of technological innovation in electric cars, etc. is also a foregone conclusion. All this tells be oil prices are near the peak.

Nick G said at June 30, 2008 1:11 PM:

"Drag IS proportional to cross section area, but drag coefficient isn't."

Sure, but if cross sectional area area is 15%, and drag coefficient is .75 (2.5x as high), the 2-wheeled vehicle still has only 3/8 as much drag.

"Electric scooters are more efficient because they are slow"

They're more efficient at all speeds, though it's true that low-speed ones are much more common.

"Small low-speed scooters are very fuel efficient - sometimes in excess of 100 mpg"

Sure, but that's still much lower than it ought to be, given the work they have to do. OTOH, that's surely high enough MPG, as a practical matter. On the 3rd hand, they're pollluting, they're probably not very powerful, and they're mighty unsafe.

"scooters and motorcycles over cars: it's limiting unnecessary travel"

That's a virtue? Why?? I can see why you'd want to reduce pollution, but let's say you're using electricity from wind power - you don't like travel?

James K.T. said at June 30, 2008 2:43 PM:

There an electric scooter roundup that was published here today:


The Vectrix seems like the best so far, but I wish battery tech would be a bit better before I buy.

Paul F. Dietz said at July 1, 2008 5:40 AM:

If I were to get a 'motorcycle', I'd get one of those enclosed three wheel vehicles that are formally classified as such, not the traditional exposed two wheel bike. The enclosed trikes strike me as safer.

David Nishimura said at July 1, 2008 7:11 AM:

For me, safety is the factor that would keep me off a motorcycle, at least for regular commuting. I'd look much more favorably upon an electric scooter for short-distance in-town errands, however.

A big part of the scooter's appeal would be convenience in navigation and parking -- which, I think, would also apply to the motorcyclist mentioned in the original post. Saving a little gas money is nice, but cutting a commute from 60 to 15 minutes is a huge bonus.

Pete P. said at July 1, 2008 7:40 AM:

I've been riding motorcycles for 40 years. There are many good reasons for riding instead of driving, but in general, saving money isn't one of them.

Most people will not save any money by giving up their car for a bike. Tires wear out faster, and can be much more expensive than economy car tires. Maintenance is more frequent, and will cost more than routine car maintenance. I perform my own maintenance, change my own tires, and get all my parts online so it all works out for me.

The new rider will need clothing and protective gear (ATGATT!!!) to cope with inclement weather. Hot weather can make riding very uncomfortable, particularly in the city, if you are not prepared for it.

In addition, many new riders are attracted to heavy, expensive, less efficient motorcycles, rather than the cheap, used lightweight motorcycle that is optimal for commutng. In the above article, the first rider chose a used KLR650, an almost perfect commuter bike, but it is not very popular because it is not a cruiser or a sportbike.

Riding to work with any frequency requires commitment and fortitude that most do not possess. I commuted daily on a small bike for two years, but gave it up when I started carpooling with my wife.

Every winter, craiglist and other want ads are full of bikes that new riders find are not for them. I don't want to discourage those who want to try it, but just realize what you are getting into.

If you want to save money, get a used Geo Metro, or other small car, and SLOW DOWN!

Harvard@Cal said at July 1, 2008 7:52 AM:

Been there, doing that:

Electric car: I've had a GEM 4Pass since 2002. It's a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) that is fully electric (6 deep charge gel-batts, 5 hp motor). Perfect vehicle for around town/intracity commuting. We use it most of the time for getting the kids to school and my wife to work. Pros: No gas costs; free parking in downtown lots (that saves $160 per month); easy to take care of. Cons: Not much more protective than a golfcart; batts are cold sensitive (dirty little secret of batt technology); max speed 25 mph (no freeway driving); charging time (up to 6 hours). Have almost 17K on this vehicle.

Electric bike: Had an eGo vehicle electric bike for a few years. Once again, used for intracity-commuting to work. Pros: No gas costs; no parking issues (park with the bicycles); can use bike lanes. Cons: Weather; cold-sensitive batts; limited cargo capacity; weight issues (I'm a heavy guy and the electric motor does not do well with loads over 180 lbs, range and top speed suffer at higher weights); charging time. Sold it in February and bought...

Scooter: Yamamha C3. 115 mpg. 50 cc engine and pollution controls. I use it for my intracity commute. Pros: High mpg; free parking; easy to drive. Cons: Weather; lack of protective envelope; limited cargo; no freeway; limited to intracity/metroplex (no Easy Rider trips on this).

SUV: Sometimes, ya gotta have the carrying capacity and the ability to go the distance. Chevy Trailblazer EXT. Pros: Carries 7 comfortably (family of 5); cargo (monthly COSTCO run); protective envelope; unlimited range with rapid refueling; air conditioned splendor; weather-resistant. Cons: Gas costs (20 mpg freeway, which is what I try to limit the SUV driving to; maintaining (though by depending on the other vehicles for around town, I've only got 29K on my 2004 SUV).

In town, can't beat an electric vehicle (and I'm not talking about those wanna-be Piuses) and a scoot. For driving down to SoCal with the family, the SUV is the way to go.

David Starr said at July 1, 2008 7:57 AM:

You don't need to ride a 1000 CC Harley Davidson. A 250CC Yamaha had enough power to scare me and could do 90-100 mph flat out. That's hot enough for commuting, at least commuting on any reasonable road. Major problem with commuting by motorcycle up here is rain and snow. Of which we get a lot. In New England, motorcycle season only runs April to October, out of season you gotta have some other way to get to work.

Motorcycle accidents are bad, 'cause the bodywork that gets beat up is yours, personal. If you get hit, or hit something, it's gonna hurt. On the other hand, if you pay attention to the road, and ride cautiously, your chances of avoiding accident are pretty good. You ought to have crash bars on a motorcycle, so when you lay the bike down it rests on the crash bars and not on your leg. Helmets are life. Bike leathers will prevent a lot of road rash, although you may look a little odd coming into work, especially if your company doesn't have a locker room.

At freeway speeds the wind blast gets loud enough to be unpleasant. Secondary roads taken at 40-50 mph are more fun.

A lot of motorcycles have 2 stroke engines, which are light and powerful, but less efficient than 4 stroke engines. That's one reason motorcycle fuel efficiency isn't even better than it is. When you fill up the motorcycle it's only a gallon or two, much cheaper than the 20 gallons you put in the SUV.

The real difference between motor cycles and motor scooters is the size of the wheels. You will find the larger wheels of motorcycles handle potholes much better than the tiny scooter wheels do.

Jay said at July 1, 2008 8:05 AM:

The issue with regard to safety on motorcycles often has to do with the person riding the motorcycle than anything else. The majority of people who ride don't take a motorcycle safety course. They assume that because they've ridden a dirtbike at some point in their life and/or can drive stick, then a safety course isn't necessary. This leaves them vulnerable however because they don't learn how to swerve, how to brake properly, counter steering, risk evaluation, etc. I know people who've ridden for 10 years, taken the course and said they learned things they never knew before.

With that being said, gas mileage only improves depending upon what your currently drive. If you own a Honda Accord, getting a 1500cc motorcycle is not going to save gas. However, if you're driving a Ford Expedition, then it will. If you're driving the Accord, then a Kawaksaki Ninja is going to save gas (70mpg and can easily do 70mph on the highway despite it's 250cc engine).

Also, people can see much better gas mileage in their cars if they'd just slow down. You're not going to get the rated MPG for your car if you drive 80mph on the Interstate. Also, people should utilize their cruise control whenever possible.

MarkJ said at July 1, 2008 8:10 AM:

"I'd say it's probably their less aerodynamic nature. A quick search says that touring bikes tend to have coefficients of drag of 2-3 times higher than for cars. Not the least because of the air striking the rider."

Physics calculations aside, I tend to agree. Let's just say that many folks I see riding scooters have no business being on them--imagine three hundred pounds of lard in a one hundred-pound bag, astride a wheezing scooter whose tires are nearly flattened out, and you'll get my point.

Miles said at July 1, 2008 8:41 AM:

I have 9000km on my 2005 scooter that gets 80mph, for which I paid $2500 new.
My diesel truck gets 16mpg.
9000km - 5592 miles

5592m/80mpg = 70gal
70gal @ 3.25/gal = $227.50 - money spent on fuel since I've owned it (roughly).
5592m/16mpg = 350gal
350gal @ 3.90/gal = $1365 - what I would have spent driving the truck (roughly).
1365-227.50 = $1137.50 - what I've saved in fuel
$2500-1137.50 = $1362.50 = the amount I have left to break even

Insurance isn't required on the 50cc scooter, and taxes are about $50 a year. Maintenance is about $150 a year. The scooter will need to last another two or so years for me to break even on it, which it will.

But another point that's just as important - I haven't consumed 280 gallons of fuel, with all the implications of that fact.

Ducati Guy said at July 1, 2008 8:53 AM:

I measured my fuel economy on a Ducati M695 a few times, and came out a little over 50mpg. That's combination stop and go traffic and highway, commuting. By no means was I driving to save fuel: One of the few fun elements in riding a bike in a place like Dallas, with its rectangular grid of streets and no curves or hills, is leaving the cars behind pulling out of red lights, or exiting packs of cars on highways or other wide streets, with the safety excuse of getting away and out in front of them where they can see you. That involves acceleration. Yay for acceleration.

Harry R said at July 1, 2008 8:56 AM:

Sheesh.... Just buy a Prius or a Honda Civic.

Lets look at the basics of where energy goes.

A reasonably aerodynamic car driving at a steady speed of 55 MPH needs about 7 HP to overcome wind resistance...the equivalent of a 125cc engine. Hence a Honda Civic/Toyota Prius are going to get the same fuel economy as a Motorcycle does or better in highway traffic that is not congested.

Driving a steady 55 MPH isn't where most peoples gas goes. Accelerating to 55 MPH or 35 MPH is where the gas goes. I can't imagine any car being able to get to 5 MPH, never mind 55 MPH on a 125CC engine. Hybrids help because they recapture some of the energy from slowing down to be reused to accelerate...at a cost of lugging around an extra 500 pounds. They also use zero fuel when stopped.

I used to own a Chevy Sprint which weighed in at 1500 pounds a got a "real world" 60 MPG on the highway from it...compared to the technology advansed Honda Hybrid which weighs 2800 pounds and EPA estimates will get 45 MPG on the Highway.

People who want the compare the mileage of a Honda Gold Wing(which weighs in at 926 pounds) to an Econobox will find the numbers disappointing. A 1,000 lb motorcycle isn't going to do much better than a 1,500 pound car in City Driving...and the 1,500 pound car..if reasonably aerodynamic is going to do better than a 1,000 lb motorcycle on the highway.

I own an SUV...which I have a need for...one can not fit a sheet of plywood in a Prius. I also own a 50cc scooter which I paid 600 dollars. If I just calculate the wear and tear cost on my SUV at 30 cents per mile then the scooter pays for itself in 2,000 miles. If I then add in the fuel savings of 15 cents per mile the scooter pays for itself in 1,300 miles.

For roughly 25% of my driving the scooter is fine. I'm going to upgrade to a 150CC scooter this summer..which will be suitable for about 50% of my driving.

The reality for many people is that they need to consider multiple transportation mode solutions. The tendency we have seen however is that people acquire a "do everything vehicle". So they end up with a 6,000 pound vehicle which will tow a camper/boat etc and hold 5 passengers comfortably which ends up 95% of the time being used to transport a 120 pound person on errands.

That's a great energy equation...95% of the energy is used to transport the vehicle itself.

Then we wonder why we have an "Energy Crisis".

A scooter sole means of transportation is probably just as unwise as a GMC Yukon as a sole means of transportation. I wouldn't drive a scooter to work if the traffic flowed at 50 MPH...but it doesn't...it barely gets to 25MPH and it is stop and go. Not a lot of traffic fatalities at 25 MPH which is why states don't require motorcycle endorsements for vehicles that don't go over 30 MPH.

D Palmer said at July 1, 2008 9:06 AM:

Pete P is right on. Most cyclists gravitate towards sport bikes or heavy tourers. Your typical Harley is the equivalent of a full size luxury car, while a Goldwing or similar large tourer is the SUV of the motorcycle world. To carry the metaphor on, the Suzuki Hayabusa or Kawasaki ZX14 are the Ferrari's of cycling; they squeeze 160hp from 1400 cc's (about 84 cubic inches) compared to 177 from my 2400 cc Subaru.

All of these bikes get FAR better mileage than their auto equivalents. If you want to compare to a Prius, then the KLR650 or my Royal Enfield 500 is a better comparison. In city driving my low tech, low performance 500cc single gets 50+ mpg even while leaving any Prius for dead when pulling away from a stop sign. Like the Prius it can be used for longer trips, but that is really not what it's for.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said at July 1, 2008 9:23 AM:

I ride a BMW 1150GS: the Range Rover of motorcycles.. I get about 40mpg, and I just thrash the hell out of it, the opposite of hypermiling. If I actually hypermiled I'd probably get closer to 45-47mpg, but it really does have the aerodynamics of an outhouse.

Still, wouldn't trade it for anything...

TRO said at July 1, 2008 9:54 AM:

"Wait till winter."

Oh yes, and try doing 30 miles on the Interstate dressed in a suit. In the rain.

JMC said at July 1, 2008 10:41 AM:

I get 45 MPG on my 955cc Triumph Sprint in the city...on the highway I can eke out 55 MPG. This is on a bike that weighs 550 pounds and produces ~120 HP.

It's sort of a myth that larger displacement motorcycle engines are less efficient. It varies by bike and engine design, but as a rule of thumb large twins and triples almost always do better than inline 4's because they don't rev as high. And if ridden *sensibly*, larger displacement bikes can be safer, with reserves of instant acceleration on tap to allow you to avoid some situations.

As for people comparing a Prius to a bike, get a grip. Not only do motorcycles cost a LOT less new, they take a LOT less material and energy to manufacture than the all-mighty Prius. And in California, which (sensibly) allows lane-splitting/sharing, that bike is going to spend much less time on the road, and with less frequent start/stops, which boosts its *effective* fuel efficiency quite a bit, and lowers its overall enviro impact.

That said, people considering buying a motorcycle to save money need to realize that there's a lot of hidden costs:

Modern motorcycles can still require a good bit of servicing, at relatively short intervals (6k-12k miles), and if you don't DIY that can be expensive.

They also get VERY short life out of tires in general. 10k is a long life for a rear motorcycle tire.

A motorcycle safety course (which is becoming mandatory in more and more states) can cost you as much as $1000. Skipping training is not a good idea, and about as responsible as playing Russian Roulette (with more than one round loaded!).

As somebody posted above, ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) is also very important if you value your safety (and the impact you can have on EVERYONE'S insurance rates). Good gear ain't cheap nor is it particularly durable if used daily, and it's easy to have thousands invested in riding gear, especially if you're an all-weather/all-season rider. Even a bare-minimum 3-season kit can set you back many hundreds of dollars.

Josh Reiter said at July 1, 2008 11:06 AM:

My wife is an R/N at Dallas Parkland hospital on the trauma floor. I've heard enough stories to say, riding a motorcycle isn't a good idea. She says the people that actually live through motorcycle wrecks usually come in about as bad as the people who got run over by a car trying to change a tire on the side of the road.

They need external fixtures, essentially cages with rods drilled in through the skin, to hold all the bone pieces together till they set. This means weeks laying in bad with dozens of little rods poking into your body each of which ooze blood and puss. That is of course if you even get to keep the limp in the first place as people often end up with amputations. Another common occurrence is something they call de-gloving. Essentially the skin gets snagged on something and then gets ripped off in one giant piece. So, imagine taking a glove off your hand or a sock off your foot and instead imagine that to your skin.

She had one story of a kid that got in a wreck and lacerated his liver in a certain spot that surgery was impossible. They use coagulants and about 20 units of blood. On the last unit they were about to call it but his pressure finally started to rise and somehow stopped hemorrhaging. The doctor told her that only happens about 3-5% of the time. Of course, he said he was going to keep riding.

SGT Ted said at July 1, 2008 11:09 AM:

Safety fears of motorcycles are overblown and a motorcycle is much cheaper than a hybrid, unless you buy the latest garbage-wagon thats little more than a car on two wheels. My commute vehicle was a F150 crewcab for 100 miles a day. Nows its a HD Sportster 1200. The difference in gas alone pays for the bike and insurance. I have done all my repairs so far and other maintenance costs are a wash, as the bike is simpler and easier to work on. I also feel safer on my bike than I do in a small car, as I have more room to maneuver, am able to stop faster or accelerate out of dangerous situations that would be unavoidable in a car, am paying more attention as I'm not screwing around with the CD player or cell phone and am able to see more of whats going on around me. The biggest danger to a M/C are stupid car drivers who aren't paying attention.

BR said at July 1, 2008 11:28 AM:

There are a couple of guys up there who just said go buy a Prius, so for those guys lets let the numbers talk with an apples to apples comparison.

Ninja 250CC
Cost $3,499
0-60 5.75 s
Quarter mile 14.6 s @ 88 mph
MPG 55/75
Horsepower 36

Cost $25,939
0-60 10.4
Quarter mile 17.72 @ 78.17
MPG 54 (observed @ Edmonds)
Horsepower 110

The motorcycle tends to beat the car in everything except weight (which I didn't bother putting up there) and horsepower. Also there was some confusion about drag in the comments. It works like this for clarification:

Force of drag = .5 * the density of air * speed squared * coefficient of drag * surface area

Essentially the coefficient of drag has nothing to do with speed, or surface area. It is a special type of number called a dimensionless number, which is used to scale up wind tunnel models so the engineers know what forces to expect in real life.

andyandy said at July 1, 2008 11:48 AM:

Just about a year ago I purchased a used 2005 TNG Venice for $1000 as an adjunct to our sedan. It gets around 75 mpg and with my commute/errands I fill put about a gallon of gas in it every 8 days. Fortunately, I live in an early neighborhood right next to the downtown where I work, so at least in my situation the scooter works out great and is fun to ride around town. If I lived out in the 'burbs with a 20 mile commute, then ah, not so much. Scooters are great for specific tasks, but definitely aren't a panacea. Also, I haven't seen anyone mention one of the most important benefits to scootering. I can park the dang thing just about anywhere.

RightWingConspiracy said at July 1, 2008 1:35 PM:

riding a motorcycle to save money is about the dumbest thing i've ever heard of. a bunch of office nebbishes riding motorcycles makes as much sense as giving a handgun to a monkey. manuevering a bike through rush-hour traffic takes experience and a big brass balls. buy an econo-box. ride the bus. carpool. walk. quit your job. telecommute. but don't ... DON'T ... swing your leg over a bike and think you're going to finish ahead of the game.

T.E. said at July 1, 2008 2:03 PM:

I think the safety of motorcycles is largely a product of rider maturity and where you ride. If you live in a small town, 5 miles from work on lightly traveled roads, and are over 35, you're probably pretty safe. Would I ride a motorcycle if I lived in Houston? No way in hell. Plattsburgh, NY is a different story. If I was all about safety, I wouldn't ski, rock-climb, kayak, drink whiskey, or smoke cigars.

Is a Prius more sensible than a motorcyle? Yes. But with my Ninja 500, I can keep my paid-for truck, and use it for driving in the winter, hauling brush, etc.... Besides, when is the last time some young thing wanted to wrap her legs around you, press her breasts into your back, and go for a spin around the block in your Prius?

Nick G said at July 1, 2008 3:22 PM:

"The motorcycle tends to beat the car in everything except weight (which I didn't bother putting up there) and horsepower."

The point is that the MPG is pretty close. High fuel prices don't give a Ninja 250CC as big an increase in MPG as you'd expect, vs a Prius - it's now about 10 cents per mile for a Prius, and maybe 7 cents for a Ninja (assuming 65 MPG) - not a lot of difference. Beyond that, it's personal preference.

"Also there was some confusion about drag in the comments. "

Yes, I think it came down to the importance of coefficient of drag vs surface area.

Jay N said at July 2, 2008 1:51 AM:

2 comments, the most aerodynamically negative thing on a motorcycle is the rider, even on a fully faired bike you have to assume a proper racing position with head down nearly on the tank to minimise the drag, it's an uncomfortable way to ride, so most people don't, as most riders will know one of the easiest ways to lose a bit of speed is just to sit up nice and tall and use yourself as an air brake.

The second thing is that mpg maximisation tends to be about driving like miss daisy and eaking out the miles, one of the (entirely personal) reasons for choosing a bike over other forms of transport is that they are fast and fun. For $8,000 you can buy something with the performance of a ferrari - so the comparisons with a prius are valid for the scooters but not for a 1000cc bike. The amazing thing about a big fast bike is that you can get 40MPG while riding it at the top of the rev range, hard accelearation and braking and spending most of your time >100mph. Now that's not a sensible way to live your life, but compare that MPG to what you'd get out of a car that was capable of 0-60 in 3 seconds and it starts to look pretty good again.

I guess in the final analysis though - people that ride bikes for any length of time aren't doing it for the MPG and people that are switching for that reason - well there's a steep learning curve there if you want to stay safe, but I wish you luck, bike riding is great fun if you do it right.

Jeff said at July 2, 2008 12:00 PM:

I've been commuting about 50 miles per day on I95/I395 for a year now, getting just over 40 mpg on my Honda ST1300. The gas savings are not that much over my Camry that gets 28 mpg, but the time savings from using the less-crowded HOV lanes and having a spot in my employer's parking garage are huge. If I were driving a car, I would spend at least 30 more minutes per day driving, and I'd have to park a half mile away from my workplace, which would eat up another 20 minutes per day walking in the DC heat and humidity. So I'm saving at least 4 hours per week.

Riding year round, rain or shine, is actually pretty enjoyable. Heated handgrips are a necessity for the winter, and I don't attempt to ride when snow is falling. But that's only ruled out about 3 days over the past year.

It is dangerous, as there's really no such thing as a minor motorcycle accident, especially at highway speeds. But you can lessen the danger. I don't weave, speed excessively, or ride on the shoulder, and I always wear my flourescent yellow-green armored jacket, armored pants, full-face helmet, gloves and boots. My route is almost all divided highway, with no opportunity for anyone to turn left in front of me or drive through an intersection into me. The most likely collison would be with a lane changer, which my highly-visible attire and defensive driving are meant to avoid.

There is some discussion above about drag coefficients. Even motorcycles with full fairings and windshields are subject to a lot of drag due to the mostly uncovered front wheel. A fairing that extends over the front wheel can greatly lessen drag and increase the bike's efficiency, but such fairings were outlawed decades ago because of concerns that they were too dangerous in a crosswind.

odograph said at July 2, 2008 1:28 PM:

I've done sooooo many road trips in a Prius at 50-52 mpg. That includes mountain climbing, like the loop MPG for Orange County -> Yosemite.

I motorcycle might have been more fun ... but I did have 3 adults and gear in the car.

MAJ Arkay said at July 2, 2008 7:07 PM:

I've ridden motorcycles for 40 years without an accident. I don't do it to save on gas, although 43 mpg in the HOV lanes certainly does beat out my 17 mpg Jeep. I ride because it's enjoyable, and it saves me five hours a week in commute time, not to mention saving at least $12 per day to take the Metro. $10 per week in gas versus $12 per day for Metro = ride the motorcycle.

I have noticed, particularly during this holiday week, that the parking lot has many vacant spaces -- except in the motorcycle parking, which is bursting with motorcycles and scooters of all sizes. While I'm glad to welcome serious riders to the ranks, I do have to wonder how many truly understand that a motorcycle rider must depend on oneself, because the cage (automobile) drivers will refuse to see us more often than not. Auto driver training rarely includes teaching one to look out for two and three-wheeled vehicles, much less learn how to share the road with same. The primary benefit to motorcycle safety courses is to teach the rider to ride as if invisible -- because we all too frequently are invisible to today's distracted drivers.

But I'll keep riding, thank you very much.

odograph said at July 3, 2008 9:25 AM:

I hope that more common motorcycle/scooter riding will make them safer, as they become part of automobile (cage) driver's mental landscape.

As an aside, I'm a big skeptic on "promises" but apparently this Giant electric bicycle, with a 70 mile(!) range is real:


odograph said at July 3, 2008 9:28 AM:

^ I just called a local dealer, $2099

I might wait a little bit.

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