The factors that determine the cost of owning and operating a motorcycle are largely the same as those for a car: make and model, year, your location, annual mileage, your driving record and the amount of insurance coverage that you purchase. There are also key differences, such as maintenance costs and the insurance costs associated with the amount of damage motorcycles experience and cause in accidents. Let's take a look at the financial pros and cons of owning a motorcycle or moped over an automobile.
If you were to purchase one of the bikes on Popular Mechanics' list of "10 Best Buys in 2013 Motorcycles," here's what you'd pay:
1. 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300, $4,799
2. 2013 BMW S1000RR HP4, $19,990
3. 2013 Victory Judge, $13,999
4. 2013 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two, $10,699
5. 2012 Honda NC700X, $6,999
6. 2013 Ducati Monster 696 Anniversary 2012 M696, $8,795
7. 2012 Yamaha Super Tenere, $13,900
8. 2013 Moto Guzzi V7 Racer, $9,990
9. 2013 Suzuki SVF 650, $7,999
10. 2013 Zero S, $15,995
If you were to purchase one of the cars ranked as having the best value according to Consumer Reports in April 2012, here's the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for the least expensive 2013 model, which is not necessarily the price of the model listed as "best value:"
1. Honda Fit, $15,425
2. Toyota Prius Four, $23,215
3. Volkswagen Golf TDI (manual), $24,235
4. Scion xD, $15,745
5. Toyota Corolla, $16,230
6. Scion xB, $16,300
7. Toyota Matrix (base, 1.8L), $19,275
8. Mini Cooper (base, manual), $19,400
9. Toyota RAV4 (base, 4-cyl), $22,650
10. Mazda3 4-Door i Touring, $19,500
There's no question that the purchase price of a best-value motorcycle is significantly lower than that of a best-value automobile. You'd save significantly on either by purchasing a used model.
Jeremy Schaedler, owner of Schaedler Insurance in northern California, says that for comparable policies it is often less expensive to insure a motorcycle for a liability-only policy, but factoring in comprehensive and collision changes the picture. Motorcycles typically sustain severe damage if they are involved in an accident, leading to high comprehensive and collision insurance costs that can be equal to or more expensive than insurance premiums for automobiles. Motorcycles generally cause very little damage in an accident, however, so liability-only coverage tends to be less expensive than insurance premiums for automobiles, says Schaedler.
Mike Arman, author of several motorcycle technical books and former owner of a motorcycle sales, service and accessory business, says even a low-speed accident where the rider isn't injured can costs hundreds or thousands in damage to scraped fairings, torn seats and bent handlebars. Also, "Motorcycles are much more likely to be stolen than most cars, and this is reflected in the insurance premiums," Arman says.
Maintenance and Operating Costs
Some motorcycles, such as the 2013 Zero S, are electric; this model's range is up to 137 miles, according to Popular Mechanics. In general, however, "There isn't a huge amount to be saved at the gas pump," Arman says, "Large motorcycles can get 40 to 60 mpg, but that is not vastly better than 35 to 40 mpg that a modern car may return - and the car is less expensive to buy, finance, insure and maintain."
A good motorcycle that will blow the doors off an expensive sports car or give you a reliable commute comes at a cost, Arman adds. Not only do these bikes often cost $15,000-$20,000, they require more maintenance than cars, parts can be significantly more expensive, and needing a $100-plus rear tire in less than 5,000 miles is common.
On the other hand, "most Japanese bikes - Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki - are so reliable, it's just oil changes and regular wear items like brakes and tires," says Gregory A. Hudgins, a CPA with Kandell, Farnworth & Pubins and owner of a Ducati 750 and a custom Harley. He says these items "cost far less than their auto counterparts."
What about Mopeds?
Arman points out there are significant differences between motorcycles and mopeds.
"Mopeds and scooters appeal to people who are looking to save money at any cost, and do not consider the full implications of their choice," he says. "They focus on 200 mpg and low first cost, and ignore maintenance, durability, safety and the almost zero resale value. Mopeds do not make a huge amount of economic sense when all the factors are considered."
Arman says that while they use minimal gasoline and in most states do not need to be insured or even licensed, mopeds are very basic and marginally inadequate transportation, one step up from bicycles. They're best for running around the neighborhood, not driving in traffic or commuting. They generally won't go faster than 25–30 mph.
Mopeds seem less dangerous than motorcycles because of their low performance, which means their riders often don't take basic safety precautions like wearing a helmet, but you can still easily be injured or killed in a moped accident. Their owners also tend to avoid doing the required regular maintenance. "As a result, mopeds deteriorate rapidly and are often unserviceable, unsafe and discarded after a few years," he says.
The Bottom Line
"A moped or scooter is an economic decision, and after all the factors are considered, not a very good one. A motorcycle, however, is a recreational device, and economics are not the primary consideration in recreation," says Arman. A car, he adds, is "more comfortable in inclement weather, significantly safer in an accident, carries more people and things, and can be locked up so that it and what is inside of it are more or less secure."