Is a Motorcycle A Better Choice for a Second Vehicle?

by Jessica Sommerfield · 6 comments

motorbike rider
Moving to the greater Seattle area from a rural town in the Midwest meant getting used to changes. One of them was the increased traffic of a higher-population center. Even in a smaller ‘suburb’ of Seattle, traffic often slows to a crawl during the early morning rush hour or mid-afternoon commute, and that’s just on the highway.

Our RAV4 doesn’t have the fuel efficiency of a compact car, but it’s a compact SUV which gets up to 24 mpg in the city, so it hardly classifies as a gas-guzzler. Still, we’ve recently started considering whether we’d like to get a second vehicle for my husband’s commute, and a motorcycle (a common mode of transportation in Seattle) has crossed our minds. A thirty minute city commute on a motorcycle could potentially save us quite a bit in fuel expenses plus wear and tear on our vehicle. After a preliminary look, here are a few of the pros and cons we will have to consider in deciding if a motorbike is truly cost effective in our situation.

Initial Cost

This represents the largest savings when comparing a lower-end bike to a used car. Used bikes can run under $2,000, while average prices fall in between that and $3,500 including plates and licensing. A vehicle this cheap would be more than a few years old and probably lack the fuel-efficiency and safety improvements of newer models. From this perspective, purchasing a motorcycle as a second vehicle would initially cost less than a used car.

Gas Mileage

Predictably, most motorcycles beat average cars on fuel efficiency.  On the affordable end of Autobytel’s top ten list of the most fuel-efficient coupes and compact cars are the 2015 Chevrolet Cruze and the Toyota Prius C, which promise from 27 to 53 city miles per gallon, respectively. In contrast, the lowest-end motorcycles get 30 city mpg, but average 50 to triple digit city and highway mileage. Here also, motorcycles appear to be a better financial decision than a second vehicle.


This is where it gets interesting. One consumer requested an insurance quote for an average motorcycle versus a modest car, and was shocked to find that the motorcycle, at less than half the value, would cost over twice as much to insure. The most obvious reason for this is that bikes are given a much higher risk rating than cars. Fewer safety protections alongside higher accident rates and injury or fatality statistics all play into this.

Of course, it really all depends on which type of coverage you’re required and choose to carry, which safety features your bike has, and what year and model it is. Your rates will skyrocket if you’re required to carry comprehensive collision coverage. On the other hand, if you are able to drop the coverage levels on your car because you’re driving it less, the two may even out.

Repair and Maintenance Costs

Here is another category where a bike could come up short. While many individual parts are cheaper, they may need to be replaced more frequently. This is especially the case with tires, which have a maximum 11,000 mile road life versus a car tire’s maximum 50,000. As for other parts, if you can find a cheap dealer, and are mechanically inclined, motorcycles are easier to repair than cars.

Other Expenses

A protective jacket, helmet, and other accessories can run up to $2,000 on top of other expenses if you don’t shirk on quality. Considering this could be nearly the value of your bike, it’s best to consider it a part of the purchase price. Cars use accessories, as well, but don’t require as much specialized equipment and safety gear.

There’s still plenty of research to do, but these categories reveal a fair debate about whether a motorcycle would be our best overall investment for a second vehicle. Which would you choose: motorcycle or car?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Ryder says:

    Two additional things to consider:

    First, there’s the (modest) cost of taking a motorcycle safety class before embarking on this adventure. WELL worth it, even if the rider has some past riding experience.

    Second, either bicycle or walk along at least a significant portion of the proposed route to work to observe the condition of the road, as road conditions can greatly affect the risks of riding. Pot holes are obviously a problem, especially if they fill up in the rain and then look like just a small puddle — until you hit it at speed. A bigger potential problem is street-car tracks (or cable car tracks here in San Francisco). In the rain, they will get slick as snot on a doorknob. Add in going up or down hill in such conditions, and you need to be really alert.

    Having covered parking at work is also a great asset, both for rider convenience and for maintaining the condition of the bike.

    I commuted into San Francisco on a bike for many years. The fact that we can split lanes here in California GREATLY cut down on commute times. Being out in the fresh air instead of cooped up in a car is WONDERFUL.

    Ride safe and keep the shiny side up.

  • Charlie says:

    The author missed at least 3 points in the cost comparison.
    1. You might have to replace the tires more often on a motorcycle, but you only replace half as many. In general, maintenance is a lot simpler and cheaper on a motorcycle.
    2. Instead of buying comprehensive and collision insurance, most riders would pocket the extra insurance money and make sure the bike is secure when it is parked. It just is not worth the money to insure a bike that only cost $2000 to $3000.
    3. Parking is a lot cheaper and easier with a motorcycle.

  • Victoria Frey says:

    I would definitely go with a motorcycle over a car. I have been a biker girl right from my teenage and nothing appeals to me as much as motorcycling. The rush of the wind on your face and the smell of earth while riding on the countryside is an experience worth a lifetime. This summarizes the adventure part of motorcycling. As you mentioned in the above post, motorcycle maintenance is much more economically feasible than car maintenance. As far as the expenses behind the safety gears are concerned, they can be cut down by online shopping. I say this through personal experience. I have been shopping for my riding gear since a long time now and feel that they come a lot cheaper online than at local stores. One example, I can give of such a store is Clandes Motards ( There are many more like it. We definitely cannot skip wearing protective equipments altogether because that would increase the risks of getting injured badly in a crash. While motorcycling, every rider must be properly accessorized. But that does not imply that motorcycles come expensive than cars. Infact, motorcycles even take up less space than cars and is a more economical vehicle.

  • Joyce Camper says:

    This is coming from the wife so take that in consideration. One thing to really consider is the weather. My husband is a seasoned motorcycle driver and a couple of years ago, he decided to see if he could ride his bike everyday 30 miles round trip to work. Now, we live in Eastern Montana which has extreme weather, he drove in high winds,hail, blizzards, 100+ and blinding rain. Arriving at work, soaking wet, chilled to bone, is not the way to start or end the day. It also helped that he worked in blue jeans. He made it though the year and still rode his bike on nice days, he loved the fact that that on a bad weather day, the pickup was an option. Also, a day starts out nice, doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
    The one thing he didn’t have to deal with was very much traffic. So throw the heavy traffic into the mix, and I would say no. But if he does go with a bike, get a lot of insurance.

    • Jessica says:

      That is a great point, Joyce. It rains a lot here, but rarely a ‘heavy’ rain. Other than that, that weather is pretty mild year-round, which is why the bike might still be a good option. The heavy traffic is actually a reason to choose a bike, in our case, because it’s such a short distance and the compact SUV isn’t getting good gas mileage in city driving every day. The situation is unique for each person, but I do agree that weather needs to be factored in. Thanks for sharing!

  • Scott Rutherford says:

    Was interested to see your thoughts on this. I’ve never seen myself as a motorcycle guy, but had started to consider some of the advantages. Good thoughts on some of the additional expenses I hadn’t thought of.

    Personally, I’m waiting for Elio to finally start rolling out their 3-wheel cars, which are projected to get 86 mpg and cost under $7k brand new. Here’s hoping they actually stard manufacturing in ’16.

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