By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Cars are expensive — to buy and to operate. Which is why you may have noticed more motorcycles and scooters on the roads.
They’re inexpensive to buy and keep up — and most of them get much better gas mileage (as much as 60 mpg for the smaller ones) than the best hybrid or diesel-powered cars. You can park them almost anywhere a bicycle would fit, too — making them ideal for city dwellers or people who don’t have garage space to spare.
But there are some downsides — and other things you should consider — before you buy a bike (or scooter):
- Motorcycles (and scooters) take more skill and involvement to operate than a car. You need to be able to balance and (in the case of motorcycles) shift gears and work a clutch.
- A two-wheeled (single track) vehicle turns by a combination of steering and leaning. A car turns by steering only. It takes time and experience to master the different handling techniques necessary to safely operate a bike (or scooter).
- In all cars, depressing the brake pedal automatically engages all four brakes simultaneously and in the appropriate proportion. On a bike, the front and rear brakes are (typically) controlled individually — and separately. The rider must learn to apply the front and rear brakes in the right proportion via manual control of the levers, one for the front brake, the other for the rear.
- In most states, a separate “M” endorsement on your driver’s license is necessary to legally operate a motorcycle on public roads. Typically, you must pass a separate knowledge and skills test above and beyond the test required to get a driver’s license. New riders usually must also first obtain a Learner’s Permit that limits their riding to daytime hours for a set period of time, typically a couple of months. You may or may not need to get an “M” endorsement if you plan to ride a scooter or moped only; it typically depends on the engine size (and top speed capability) of the scooter or moped. As a rule, if it can go faster than about 35 mph, you will probably need to get the “M” endorsement. Check with your state DMV to be sure.
- Motorcycles and scooters are inherently much more dangerous than cars as far as being able to protect you in the event of a crash. Safe riding practices can lower the chances you’ll be the cause of a wreck, but you can’t control other drivers (who are often oblivious to motorcycles and scooters) or random things like an animal suddenly running in front of you (or into you).
- If you ride a motorcycle or scooter, you should invest in protective riding gear, including a jacket with armored inserts, gloves and boots — in addition to a helmet (which is mandatory in most states).
- Most motorcycles and scooters have very limited cargo capacity, even big cruising/touring bikes. You’ll probably still need a car or truck to transport large/bulky items. And you can only carry one passenger — typically not in great comfort.
- Motorcycles and scooters are more vulnerable to (and less adept in) bad weather than cars. They are especially vulnerable to dangerous skids/loss of control on wet/slick roads. A car has four contact patches and if it hits some ice, it may slide. But a bike has only two (and much smaller) contact patches and if it hits some ice, it is much more likely to just topple over or skid right off the road or “drop” suddenly onto the pavement. Sand and gravel on the road are also unique threats to bikes and scooters that cars generally don’t have to worry about.
- Bikes and scooters generally don’t last as long as today’s cars — which with decent car can go 200,000-plus miles before needing major engine work. A bike will typically be tired by 100,000 miles. And certain items often require more frequent maintenance (such as valve adjustments, which may be be necessary as frequently as once every 10,000 miles or so). Tires almost always wear out much faster (on some types of bikes, such as sport bikes, in as little as three or four thousand miles or even less) because they have to work so much harder.
On the upside, riding a motorcycle or scooter is fun — and with gas mileage that’s typically between 45 and 60 mpg (depending on the type of bike/scooter) it’s inexpensive fun, too.
Probably the smartest option, if saving money is the goal, is to buy the bike or scooter and use it when the weather’s nice and you don’t need to carry either people or stuff — keeping your car as back-up for rainy days, winter driving and when you do need to carry people or stuff.
This way, you cut down the mileage you put on your car, extending its useful life and decreasing your maintenance while also lowering your annual fuel costs considerably.
That’s having your cake — and eating it, too!