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Want to save money? Don't buy a motorcycle

With gas prices at the level they are, many of you might be considering buying a motorcycle to save a bit of money. While it's true that you can get enough performance to crush even the fastest super cars, while getting Toyota Prius gas mileage, the true cost of motorcycle ownership might startle you.
Posted: June 10, 2011 - 4:49PM
Author: Roman Rosa

First start with yourself. As a motorcyclist, at the very least, you're going to need a helmet, jacket, gloves and boots. Don't think that's necessary? Look at yourself in the mirror. Look at how squishy you are. The fact that you're 80% water means you're essentially a water balloon. We all know what happens to them. Not convinced? Well try this: strip down naked, run as fast as you can down the road, and throw yourself on the ground. Hurts, doesn't it? All that road rash will sting for a few days (or months if it's at motorcycle speed). Figure on spending around $600 for a decent mid-level protective gear set.

As far as the bikes themselves are concerned, motorcycles require replacement maintenance parts far more frequently than cars do. Neglecting maintenance on your motorcycle is like being a professional sky-diver and forgetting to take care of your parachute, or forgetting to feed your 6000 pound pet tiger, who sleeps in your bed.

While a car usually needs new tires every 30-50 thousand miles, most sporting motorcycles will wear out their tires in around six thousand miles, with ten thousand miles as an extreme before the belts are showing. Name brand tires will normally cost you $300 or more installed, or roughly $.05 per mile.

The drive-chain which connects the transmission to the rear wheel, lasts around 15 thousand miles. The sprockets should be changed when the chain is replaced since the sprockets wear with the chain. The cost of a good name-brand chain and equal quality sprockets will be in the neighborhood of $250, or roughly $.017 per mile.

Changing the oil in a motorcycle is important because the oil in most motorcycles lubricates not only the engine, but the transmission and the clutch as well. Because the oil gets smashed up in the transmission and because it collects clutch matter as well as engine debris, changing the oil is done quite often. Two thousand miles is the normal interval for most motorcyclists. This comes at a cost of $50 or so, or roughly $.025 per mile.

The engine on your motorcycle will probably need to have its valves adjusted every 15 thousand miles or so. The average cost is $300 to get it done at the dealer. Hopefully you can do this yourself in an afternoon. If not, you will have to add a cost per mile of $.02.

The total price is $.11 per mile of just absolute basic maintenance. Taking a trip to Miami from Tampa? a 600 mile round trip will cost you $66 in maintenance alone. Fancy a two day, 1000 mile trip to the Grand Canyon? That will cost you $110 in maintenance alone.

Most sporting motorcycles these days are so mind blowingly fast that if you twist the throttle, it'll take your brain a while to catch up to the speed. By the time your brain does, you're already in a completely different zip code. A motorcycle truly is a two wheeled teleportation machine that can achieve MPG in the high 30's, but you will pay for it my friends, one way or another you will.


Keith Griffin    June 11, 2011 - 7:47AM

Forget motorcycles. I want to know more about the 6000 lb. tiger.
But seriously, what is the comparable cost for an automobile like the Prius when you factor in the same costs of maintenance?
Interesting article.

Jason R Morford (not verified)    December 14, 2018 - 11:19PM

In reply to by Keith Griffin

I know this comment is pretty old, but I have a 2010 Prius for the past 6 years. MPG is better than a motorcycle. Cost of oil change is less than a motorcycle because you have to do it less often 1 time every 10,000 miles. Tires are about $400 for a good set of four all bought at the same time as I just did a few months ago. Changed breaks at about 112,000 miles cost was $250. There is no need to flush the coolant or many other maintenance stuff as per the manual. We currently have 140,000 miles on the car, bought it 2 years old at 12,000 miles. We haven't had to do any repairs other than general maintenance as I mentioned above. I have changed the headlights once and I changed out some filters and wiper blades as needed. So I spend $250 a year on everything with my high mileage I put on it. ($75 oil changes, $25 wipers, lights, and filters, $100 tires, $50 on breaks.)

Ron Sindric (not verified)    December 16, 2018 - 10:41AM

In reply to by Jason R Morford (not verified)

Money. If riding is about money, then you should buy a reliable, small, cheap-to run used car. Question- what do you do with the money you save with a small car ??? Spend it on chips and beer so you can watch dumb sports shows and sit-coms on a mega-size TV and home theater ????? There is a heck of a lot more to Life than SNL, WWF and NFL on-screen. I'd rather RIDE my Harley or my Triumph even in the dead of Winter while watching old movies on YouTube with my SmartPhone. A prime-mover ? Give me a 1948 MORGAN 4/4 ROADSTER or a 1928 BOEING-STEERMAN PT 17 any day !!!

Javious (not verified)    June 11, 2011 - 8:36AM

I'm not disputing the authors points, but there are other motorcycles besides a sport bike. Standard or cruiser motorcycles are still fast enough to thrill and/or kill, but are are not nearly as hard on equipment and get much better MPG as well. They also tend to make better commuter bikes as well. If you live in an area with a long riding season, getting 50 MPG on a 5~6k motorcycle beats driving a hybrid in my book any day.

Anonymous (not verified)    October 17, 2012 - 9:39AM

In reply to by Javious (not verified)

I completely agree with you. This article is pretty biased towards stereotypical ideas on doesn't seem to reflect any REAL knowledge, just regurgitated information from other websites.

Foxinthesmoke (not verified)    September 23, 2015 - 7:04PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I think this entire article is ridiculous. Ive been riding on and off for years with a 1981 yamaha xj750 and 2006 R1. First off the prices are the upper extreme you will find. $600 for mid level gear? I think not: you can get a fantastic set up for $600 or less, as long as you don't splurge on something like an Arai helmet or high end leather jacket. In fact this last season I got alpine stars boots and gloves for a total of $200, and a Kevlar jacket and HJC full/modular helmet for $100 each.
Tires are Definitely not that bad either, I just replaced both front and rear on my xj750 for $150.. do your homework folks, it doesn't have to be a bank breaking hobby at all. And Everything you go to repair on a bike is far cheaper than on a car.

Charlie (not verified)    September 24, 2015 - 8:18AM

In reply to by Foxinthesmoke (not verified)

I whole heartedly agree fox, it shouldn't cost a bloody arm and a leg for gear. I got my jacket, gloves and helmet for less then $200.00 AU and I crashed my maxi in December last year and my $99 jacket saved my skin and I got another for $89 bucks.

I'm bloody 36 years old been riding since 2001, but stopped for awhile due to an accident on the same year and got back in 2007 and been ever since.

I change my own parts now more on my maxi and my wife's little Honda PCX 150cc (read my comments mate if you haven't) very cheaply lol.

Those idiots, who think it costs more to own a bike. Don't know the variety of bikes/scooters out there ie servicing and parts costs etc. people will need too throughly do there research, before they spit there a*** mouth out.

Anyway ride save mate and feel free to reply back if you like :)

Thilini Pathigoda (not verified)    May 22, 2019 - 7:27AM

In reply to by Charlie (not verified)

we are thinking about whether to buy a motorcycle or not, My husband loves to ride them, but since we are new to this country, it is challenging. we were wondering why a very small number of people have motorcycles. this article discouraged us too, But I feel it is far from truth too. Your comment lifted up our spirit. thank you so much!!

Ralph Couey (not verified)    June 13, 2011 - 9:11AM

I've owned sport-tourers and cruisers over the 18 years I've been riding. In the last 8, I've kept spreadsheets on both my bikes and my cars. Over the 8 years of data (including gas, oil, tires, maintenance, option add-ons, insurance, etc) my bikes have averaged 6.4 cents per mile. The most economical car I've ever owned, a Toyota Camry with a 4-cylinder engine, averaged 13.3 cents per mile.

Sport bikes are expensive; yet so are sports cars, and not everyone has one of those. If I targeted only Corvettes and Ferraris, you can bet my per-mile cost would be out of sight, particularly for the Ferrari which are notorious maintainence queens.

Yes, the gear costs money, and $600 is about right. It's the price of being more protected, which to me is far more important than mere economic considerations.

Cost per mile varies with the bike, and also with the cost of gas. The more miles you ride, the lower your average cost. But in putting down some 258,000 miles of motorcycle riding in nearly two decades, I know for a fact what's cheaper to run.

Scott (not verified)    August 7, 2011 - 11:31PM

20 years riding, no accidents. Bikes are more dangerous, but no different than a large Hummer or truck riding over your Prius. Economically a bike makes sense in the right environment. Its all up to you. All joking aside a co-worker of mine was killed by a truck two years ago at a stoplight in a Honda insight, Truck drove right over him. Rest in peace Dave!

If you ride a bike, you probably like the feel of it and the freedom - something that wasn't mentioned in the article but has made dedicated riders out of millions. There are also those who ride bikes, and then there are bikers. Its a lifestyle, not just an economic choice.

I ride to work every day unless there is snow; and I own a car. For me its a choice and its cheaper to ride the bike than the car if that's your concern. Just make sure yo buy the right bike.

Anonymous (not verified)    October 17, 2012 - 9:37AM

To SOME extent this article is true. However, this article is highly biased to the stereotypical ideas of motorcycle ownership. True, if one buys gear from a dealer they WILL spend more. However, when I became a motorcyclist a year ago, I purchased my boots, protective jacket, and full faced modular helmet for under $200.00 at If you find gloves that are 100% genuine leather, and are comfortable, they'll work (you don't have to buy motorcycle gloves). As far as motorcycles go in general, this article is HIGHLY biased towards the stereotypical "people-who-have-never-ridden" or those who deem motorcycle riding too dangerous to be worth it. Obviously it is crucial for someone to do their homework and select the bike that fits their style and budget and ability the best. I would not suggest a novice rider to buy a 1200cc sports bike but I would suggest someone to buy a bike that is safe for their ability. Changing oil is not expensive. Motorcycle oil can be purchased at Advanced Auto at around $10.99 (Mobil oil btw) and changing it yourself is easier than in a car. As far as chain driven bikes go, if you check your bike daily (which all should) you'll see if the chain is dry or wet. If it's dry, DON'T RIDE! Lubing your chain isn't difficult and can be done at home with a manual. I understand there ARE idiots out there who will either: A) believe the nonsense in the above article or B) Be one of those people who give riding a bad name by purchasing a bike too big for their ability, not wearing the right gear, not taking care of their bike, and consequently get hurt or die. All in all, the above article does have some truths but I would NOT advise someone to take its advice completely. Do your homework, network with other bikers and find what suits you best.

Anonymous (not verified)    February 14, 2013 - 6:42PM

You're right, of course, but I wonder: why do motorcycle engines need so much maintenance? The valves in my car don't need to be readjusted that often. Is there a reason motorcycle engines are so picky?

Ralph Couey (not verified)    February 15, 2013 - 5:41PM

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Motorcycle engines are smaller, and use smaller components than car engines. If you compare the size of the Goldwing's 1.8 liter engine to the 2.0 liter plant under the hood of a Dodge Neon, you can see the difference in size. Adding to that, the engines are pretty much exposed to the elements all the time. Some bikes have radiators, many do not. So the ability of the engine to withstand heat is contingent on the bike's ability to move. Think about it. If your're sitting in traffic on an air-cooled bike, the engine is running, increasing the heat which has no place to go. That's really, really hard on the mechanicals. One of the reasons riders want to have the freedom to split lanes in heavy traffic is tied directly to this heat abatement issue. Plus, the way they're ridden has a lot to do with how well they survive.

Weight is a big consideration in a motorcycle engine. Thus, a lot of the kinds of things (like hydraulic valves) don't make their way into the bike's engines, especially the sport bikes, because weight means losing horsepower.

And finally, most riders store the bike during the winter months, which means that from late October until mid-April, the bike is sitting in a garage somewhere (or outside in the snow) while the oil slowly drips off the engine. Long layoffs like this are also very bad for an engine.

Hope this helps!

Ralph Couey (not verified)    February 14, 2013 - 11:50PM

Motorcycle types are different from each other just as car types are. A Corvette Z06 is going to cost more to operate than a Dodge Neon. I've kept spreadsheets on my cars and my bikes for the last 20 years. Even adding in all the maintenance and repairs, the bikes still managed costs of between six cents and 11 cents per mile, depending on the price of gas over the years. My cars range from thirteen cents per mile for a 4-cylinder Camry (during a time when gas was a killer $1.34 per gallon) to my wife's current 4-banger Sonata, which averages between fifteen and seventeen cents per mile.

Not all bikes require valve adjustments. Some come equipped with hydraulic valves. Not all bikes use drive chains. Mine have all been drive-shafted, which requires the final drive fluid to be changed out every 20k miles. The one exception is my current ride, a 2006 Vulcan 900, which still carries the original drive belt (and still has never needed an adjustment).

The bikes I've owned were powered by engines ranging from 750 to 1100 cc's and I always achieved mid-40 to mid-50 mpg, depending on things like speed, aggressiveness, and not having to ride directly into a 50-knot wind. Sport bikes get low mileage because they're generally driven fast. Baggers (full-size touring bikes) get low mileage because they have large motors and they're between 800 and 950 pounds. Those bikes in the middle, whether cruisers, sport-tourers or dual-sports, will, if driven responsibly, do much better with the gas.

Sport bikes require tires with soft compound rubber. Consequently, they'll burn through sets pretty rapidly. But by using your comsumer savvy, you can find tires made out of harder compounds that will last longer. I have used Metzelers for most of the 20 years I've ridden and I get consistently 15k out of front tires and 10k out of the rears. A friend of mine who uses Dunlop 205's on his Ducati, is lucky to get 2,000 miles out of his.

The point about gear is well-taken. However, most folks only replace or upgrade their gear, especially brain buckets, every 5 years or so. My last set of chaps lasted me almost 8 years.

You have to make the decision as to why you want to ride. If you're looking to reduce the cost of commuting and running errands, you will choose something in the mid-size (600 - 1000 cc) either a cruiser, naked standard, or sport-tourer. If you won't be happy unless you've crossed three midwestern states on a given day, you'll get a full-bagger, pay 25 to 30 large, and burn premium gas.

If, on the other had, your only desire is to induce eye-ball squishing g-forces and to race around like a mad squid, ignoring traffic, bad asphalt, and deer, then of course you'll get a sport bike and get about 30 mpg. And replace the chain. And the sprockets. And get the valve adjustments. And a couple of years, when you've ridden the thing into the ground, donate it to the scrap yard because nobody -- and I mean nobody with a brain ever buys a used sport bike from a young buck.

Like Indiana Jones, you must..."choose wisely."

Howie (not verified)    February 28, 2013 - 7:50PM

This accurate is fairly accurate except for oil changes. You do NOT need to change your oil every 2K for a bike.....unless you feel to waste time/money and have OCD. Every 3K is more than enough. I change mine every 5K miles with synthetic on my CBR.....been riding it 5 years and still runs like new.
Most manuals recommend 5K mile intervals as well. So, I don't know where the oil change info is coming from.

But yeah if you're looking to save money, you're better off with a cheap import car then a bike IMO.

Charlie (not verified)    March 18, 2014 - 1:49AM

I agree it depends on what kind of motorcycle or scooter your getting. In examples a scooter such as a 150cc honda pcx would only cost 8 dollars australian per tank and the tank size is 5.9 litres and it has saved my wife 1500,00-1000,00 dollars worth of travel costs on transport per year, on a pcx which includes insurance, rego, maintenance, parts etc per year costs between 750,00-1000,00 inc of petrol also with a travel distance of 12,000 km per year in total. Per week on petrol as mentioned above is 8 dollars on avg per week, that is with a travel distance of 200km per week. So basically each individual has there own choices when it comes to buying, my choices cheaper then catching public transport and spending upto 2500,00 a year in transport fees when I can spend up to 1000,00 dollars per year on everything listed above.

Ron Sindric (not verified)    February 5, 2015 - 6:00PM

Other than people who physically can not Ride, cars were invented for stupid people who lack manual dexterity and are not capable of the complex brain-motor skills necessary to pilot a MOTORCYCLE. Until you have ridden through The Catskills in the Fall, or done a Summer Ride along PCH-1 on a motorcycle you will never understand why Smart people sell their cars and buy MOTORCYCLES ---> especially all-electric ones !

Edster (not verified)    February 21, 2015 - 3:48AM

Since nobody has discussed the biggest cost hitter (depreciation), I guess everyone has won their motorcycles at a raffle or inherited them. Depreciation costs are easily around $0.50 a mile for newer bikes that are traded often. That's the same depreciation of my SUV.

Charlie (not verified)    February 21, 2015 - 11:52AM

I bought my SYM fireneze 250cc 2008 mod in 2012 with 15000kms on it for 1900.00 dollars and it still runs well after I've put in 12000kms since I've owned the bike and values on the market at 2999.00 dollars which I could sell for 2500.00 with 27000kms on the clock. Now if you think of it the bike retails for 5999 (this is Australian dollars mind you) new and that bikes do depreciate. However it depends how you use the bike and if you buy a car at 15000 bucks for a new car (based on a small hatch in Australia including ride away price) you would basically loss more money then a scooter or a motorcycle.

However you need to factor in repairs, rego, CTP (compolsury third party another Australian fee that we have too pay to the government), servicing. Would you rather loss loss 1500-3000 dollars (based on the SYM 250cc) or 5000-10000 bucks (based on a small hatch) over time, but please add too this comment if I've missed something.

Majority of bikers/scooterists that I've known spend all year round with there machines and clock up between 7500-12000kms per year due too there own needs like work too home transport daily and vice versa. Though you get people who only do 2500kms a year for rec purposes only. I clock around 5000kms per year and my partner clocks in around 7000kms a year on her PCX, where both in our mid thirtys and we both drive around 7500kms a year on avg so it's easy on our insurance with one car. Our monthly insurance payments are nearly Nearly 90 per month all togheter for three vehicles so we can afford it.

Here in Australia our land consists of 95% rain/dry all year round and 5% snow only in winter. Unlike in the U.S (forgive me If I'm being rude here lol) 75% rain/dry and 25% snow during winter. So basically we don't suffer extreme cold weathers here in oz and we are able to ride in the rain etc.

Remember people have different needs and budgets that can still beat any car on the road in terms of value, you just need to be smart about it and this is why I use my maxi as occasional transport to and from work and a little bit of country travel. As I only live 5kms from work and free parking in the City of Sydney lol

One major killer for cars per month is insurance I pay 55 dollars per month for my car compared too 17.50 dollars per month for one bike(remember I'm in my thirties and it is cheaper for me).

Well that's all the info that I can think of at the moment. Feel free too ask me any questions that I've missed or any other questions you guys would love too ask

Aaron (not verified)    September 27, 2015 - 9:46PM

Of course if you drive your bike like a maniac and don't maintain it And buy the most expensive parts and oil, you will have a hell of a time paying for it. Drive it like a normal person though and half of these problems go away. Tires? You can make them last 15k fairly easily. Don't burn out and don't hit tight curves at 60+. Also, if you are using race tires, that makes a big difference as they are a lot stickier meaning less miles before you replace them. Last is the protective gear. You don't have to go out and buy full leathers to ride. Just where jeans, a helmet, a shirt, and maybe some elbow pads. Mainly, just watch for other idiots that aren't watching for you and you'll be fine.

John Walz (not verified)    January 29, 2016 - 1:50PM

This is bullshit... A 650cc Sport Bike can easily get 50mpg... I have had the bike for over ten thousand miles and its tires are still road worthy. It uses the same amount of oil as my truck (ya, I change it more often.. but the bike only needs like a quart per change... I have not replaced a single item on my bike and the engine purrs like a cat with only minimal maintenance - far easier to maintain than any car I have ever owned! This article is completely bullshit.

Charlie (not verified)    January 30, 2016 - 8:45PM

Yea I agree, John it is more easy to maintain a bike then a car no matter what the car size is. For cars you still need to purchase higher rego costs, four tyres etc and all these costs add up more then a car. Who ever wrote this does not understand the total cost for each individual rider and how they use there bike ie you might have 125cc just for the city and that's all a rider will use the bike for. As I said on my previous comment my wife has a Honda PCX 150 and it costs her only 5 bucks a week (Australian dollars) at 50kms both ways. So for this writer to qoute "don't get a bike" needs to get his facts right

G. McD. (not verified)    July 20, 2016 - 12:47PM

Bad Stats on much of your junk.
Is someone unhappy with motorcycles????
My Yamaha FZ1 was new in 2001.
I'm on 26,600 miles, that's 9000 miles per replacement at $450 - 500 for two tires.
My original chain is fine because I take care of it and oil.
My 2007 Yaris is one of the least cost of ownership of ANY car, Insurance is $600 per year, My FZ1 is $213 per year.
If you don't want a motorcycle, great, but forget the rest of the crap.
Note: I have owned 16 motorcycles, starting in 1975. I have had 6 cars so far.
The bikes have always been more fun.
G. McD.

Randy Randall (not verified)    December 14, 2016 - 8:10PM

Buddy, motorcycles get in the mpgs of "high 30s"? More like up to 70s, if you are willing to forego the biggest types of engines. Many reasonably fast bikes have MPGs in the 50s and even 60s. Fast enough to hop on the highway and also have cheaper initial investment costs.

So if I choose a 300-400cc Bike getting 60mpg I save about $600-800 on gas each year over a 30mpg car depending on fuel price, driving 12,000 miles per year. That amount is enough to cover the maintenance costs mentioned when we add the savings from insurance we go well above those mentioned costs. Average car insurance for a Toyota Camry is
$1,252 while my current motorcycle insurance is $190. That is about $1050 savings per year on insurance, and $1650-$1850 savings on gas and insurance.

Subtracting the above mentioned maintenance costs that leaves almost $1000 savings per year. I'll take that money. I'm also saving money on interest, since I'm paying no interest on the bike that I bought it outright. Not going to calculate that but its there.

nobody (not verified)    June 22, 2017 - 9:08AM

This is ridiculous. I've actually made a spreadsheet with my cost per mile. it is 8 to 8.4 cents per mile including gas, oil, tires, AND all maintenance included PLUS the price of a good, used bike itself! ($3000).

Nobody changes their oil every 2k when manuals specify 5 to 12k. Nobody pays $250 for sprockets every 15k. 30's mpg is ridiculous too. You can easily get upper 30s to 40 on a big twin Harley-Davidson. My Japanese 1000cc class full sized cruiser with aftermarket pipes gets 50-60, better with a tailwind and drafting, oil changes are $20 every 10k, tires last 20k with a Commander II, etc.

Cccccc (not verified)    March 19, 2018 - 12:07PM

In reply to by nobody (not verified)

Motorcycles are more expensive to maintain. Hell an air filter cost 40 bucks for a car compared to 80 for a motorcycle. That's freaking ridiculous.

Kristy melinda (not verified)    June 5, 2018 - 3:20AM

I got sick of paying $100 for an oil change on my sportster so I did it myself yesterday. $35 for oil, filter and a filter wrench. Oh and 20 minutes of my time.