By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
If times get tough, getting around will likely become a major challenge. Gas may only be sporadically available — in addition to being unaffordable. Imagine, for instance, what might have happened had Dear Leader gone through with his 1939 Poland-style attack on Syria — and the cost of a gallon of gas tripled a few days later.
An internal crisis — such as the bursting of the latest shyster-fueled speculative bubble, for instance — could have the same horrendous consequences. The fact is The System’s a late-stage diabetic with renal failure and no access to dialysis.
Things could fall apart tomorrow. If they do, what will you do for transportation?
One option — which I’ve recommended before — is to forgo four wheels entirely. Get a motorcycle. Ideally, an older (pre-2000s) pre-computer, pre-EFI model with an air-cooled engine and a carburetor. A “starter bike” like a Kaw Ninja 250 or Honda Rebel — or a small CC dual-sport/dirt bike — would be the perfect candidate. Older bikes (pre-1990s) will also often have kick-starters, which will help you conserve the battery by not using it much. And in an emergency, you can still start (and ride) a kick-start bike — even if the battery is completely dead.
Such bikes can be picked up for relatively little money ($2,000 or so ought to be sufficient) and — unlike almost any car — they cost almost nothing to keep you on the road.
And off your feet.
A bike like my early 2000s 250 CC Kawasaki dual-sport (on and off-road capable), for instance.
I bought it for less than $2,000 about eight years ago with only 3,300 miles on the clock — hardly used. This is typical. Bikes in this class/size range tend to be bought and then not ridden much. After a few years, the owner — or his wife — decides it’s time to clean out the garage. Which is exactly the moment when you should appear with cash in hand. Keep your eyes open; scan Craigslist daily. These bikes pop up all the time.
Dual-sports (and dirt bikes) are rugged — built to deal with rough roads (and no roads at all). Mine has a very simple air-cooled, single-cylinder engine that’s capable of 75-100 MPG (depending on the tires; off-road style knobbies reduce the MPGs). If you have say 25 gallons of treated gas stored away, it would be enough to keep you rolling for a couple thousand miles.
Ration that out, and it’s enough to keep you mobile when it matters.
Additionally — and very very importantly, if Things Go Bad — a bike like this requires very little in the way of upkeep — and what little it does require involves not much money and only basic DIY skills/ tools.
The KL250 only takes about 1.5 quarts of oil (vs. 4-5 for the typical car) and uses a small, cheap filter. Maybe $10 (using high-end synthetic oil) and you can literally do the job in 5 minutes with a crescent wrench or slip joint pliers. A socket set is nice, but not necessary. If you keep say 5 quarts of oil and two or three filters in reserve, you’ve got oil changes covered for years. Even if the system goes completely off-line for a long time, your bike will still be operable because you’ll have fresh oil. Might cost you $40 to stock up. How much oil would you need to stock up to keep your car in fresh oil for say 3-5 years?
Air filter — reusable. Wash it, dry it. You’re done.
Spark plug — just one. Buy a spare ($5) and you’re set for the next 5-10 years.
No radiator or coolant. No worries about pinhole leaks, burst hoses, dirty coolant, water pumps or thermostats.
Clean/adjust chain once a year. Replace chain/sprockets maybe every third year ($100 for that, assuming you do the work — and it’s not a tough job).
Clean the carb occasionally; adjust various cables. Brake pads every other year — less than $15 and takes 10 minutes to swap out with very basic tools. Bleed the brakes once year — a pint of fluid, maybe $6.
Now, a bike’s tires definitely don’t last very long — relative to the typical car’s tires. But the upside is that bike tires (for a basic type of bike) are inexpensive. The KL’s cost me about $60 each — and they’ll last 2-3 years. Have a spare set on hand and you’re set.
That’s pretty much it as far as maintenance costs. A machine like my KL250 — or a Honda Nighthawk, Suzuki DR, etc. — is both cheap to buy and to keep. For a long time, if it comes to that.
A bike like this is also low profile. It is easier to hide than a car. And of course, if it’s a dual-sport or dirt bike, it can go places very few cars — and even 4×4 trucks — dare.
In a Things Go Bad scenario, that could be a life saver.
Even if things don’t go completely south, a solid, simple bike can be a real benefit simply by giving you options — and by reducing your getting-around costs. During the summer months, for instance, I often ride rather than drive. It’s enjoyable — and it’s a big money-saver. Even my “big bikes” — the ’76 Kz900 and the ’03 ZRX1200 — are capable of Prius-like mileage, while also being quicker than a new Corvette.
The Kz — basically, the the CHiPS cop bike, but without the fairing — is also cheap to keep. Though a much larger, much more powerful bike than the little 250 CC Kaw dual sport, its inline four is still air-cooled, there is no computer — and other than oil/filter changes, occasional valve clearance checks — it really doesn’t ask for much in the way of upkeep. Ditto one of my other older bikes, the ’83 Honda Silverwing. This bike has a full fairing and windshield, which provides a surprising degree of protection from the elements — which makes it realistically ridable in all but the worst weather. It is water-cooled, which adds another layer of maintenance — but it doesn’t have a computer, EFI or complex electronics. That’s why it’s still an everyday ridable/reliable bike 30 years after it left the Honda factory.
And probably will be another 30 years from now.
That’s the sort of bike you want. Even if the S does not H the F.