Fun and Savings on Two Wheels

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Some of my earliest childhood memories flashback to the time spent at my grandparent’s house in a small village within a 2-hour ride from a big city where my family lived. My parents would drop me off in June and pick me up in late August. They would visit on weekends, but most of the time I’d be left alone to do whatever it is that kids used to do before Internet. My grandmother had a small “farm” with some livestock, fruits and vegetables. I’d be expected to help which meant sneaking a few strawberries without getting caught, at least in my mind.

My grandfather was a carpenter so I remember him always working on something. When he wasn’t fiddling in the garage he’d be tinkering with an old sidecar motorcycle – a sole method of transportation for the family.

Aside from taking grandma to sell fruits and vegetables at the farmers market, the motorcycle was used to ride to the local summer camps. These camps had huge kitchens that fed hundreds of city kids, which meant there were plenty of leftovers. Some of the leftovers made its way into 30-gallon canisters that would be picked up twice a week by my grandpa to feed the animals in our barn.

I knew the camp pickup days and would start asking my grandpa to take me with him early in the morning. My parents were too far to protest and my grandpa liked company so he would strap an adult-size ill-fitting helmet on my head, tell me to hold on and we’d be off navigating the dirt roads to get to the camps.

This was over 30 years ago and to this day a right smell can bring me back to that exact moment of holding on for dear life to my grandpa as we were bouncing over roots, rocks and potholes to keep the pigs happy and fed.

It happens all the time. A leather smell (the motorcycle seat?), a passing truck spewing fumes (the motorcycle exhaust?), a dumpster baking in the summer heat (the 30-gallon canister of leftovers?)… It’s weird how your brain can take these random things and make you feel like a little boy again.

I was hooked on anything with 2 wheels and a motor since then. As a teenager I was able to save enough money to buy my first moped – a glorified bicycle with a 50cc engine. I stored that thing on the balcony of our 3rd floor apartment until figuring out a way to transport it to my grandparent’s place. 

I was too young to legally ride a motorized vehicle on the street but where there’s a will there’s a way. I took the back roads to the train station (no helmet!) and then pleaded with the conductor to let me board with my “bicycle”. He did and just like that I was out of the city on my way to the best summer of my life.

Fast forward a couple of decades… Grown up, licensed and legal I got my first real motorcycle – a 1985 Honda Nighthawk 650. This was in 2009 and I wrote a post about it here. Among other things, I argued that motorcycles and frugality don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Motorcycling as a hobby does not have to be expensive.  

Yet soon after writing that post I sold the Nighthawk! What gives?

First and foremost it wasn’t for any financial reasons. Actually now that the bike is sold and given that I keep a detailed Excel spreadsheet on every vehicle I can calculate the final numbers to see if what I said about motorcycling not having to be expensive still holds true.

6 Years of Operating Costs – 1985 Honda Nighthawk 650SC

  • Bought in 2009 with 8,800 miles for $1,200
  • Required Maintenance: $858 (oil, tires, brake pads, fork seals, battery, filter, etc)
  • Optional improvements: $500 (shocks, lights, stainless brake lines, etc)
  • Registration and insurance: $558
  • Total spent: $3,116
  • Sold in 2015 with 24,300 miles for $2,100
  • Total miles traveled in 6 years: 15,500
  • Total spent in 6 years: $1,016
  • Average cost per year: $169
  • Average cost per month: $14
  • Average cost per mile (excluding gas): $0.065

Believe it or not, these calculations are actually on the high side. I addressed all the issues and improvements early and if I didn’t sell the bike, it would’ve been just regular maintenance going forward. Aside from fluid changes and tires this Nighthawk shouldn’t need much else in the next 50,000 miles. That should bring the cost per mile/month down even further.

Bonus: did you catch that bike’s value increased 75% after riding for 6 years? Who says you can’t beat vehicle depreciation?!

I think it’s fair to say that at $14 dollars per month motorcycling does not have to be expensive. And if you sell your car and keep just a motorcycle (the right motorcycle of course) you could really save a ton of money. I bet most (and probably all) cars on the road today cost much more than $14 per month/$0.065 per mile to operate. Add  gas savings and we have an undisputed champion right here.

So if motorcycles and frugality are not mutually exclusive – why sell the bike? I think in my case it’s the thrill of something new. I never held onto a car for more than 3 years prior to deciding to be more responsible with money and buying a Mini Cooper. Every 3 years I would get tired of whatever car I had and start looking for something new. 

Cars have much higher transaction costs than bikes, especially considering that I usually buy bikes for well under $2,000. Even though I was buying and selling used cars depreciation was a real kick in the pants. DMV/State wants a nice cut every time a car is sold too. 

I’ll be sticking with the Mini Cooper for the foreseeable future but I decided that I don’t want to give up the chase and excitement that a new machine brings. I love researching maintenance and modifications of a new toy. I join the forums and learn as much as I can about a particular model. But most of all, I enjoy the feeling of taking something neglected and bringing it back to life.

By the way, I do realize that none of this makes sense to someone who just wants a reliable transportation from point A to point B. But we all need a hobby, don’t we?

I decided to sell the Nighthawk thinking I won’t replace it. Two cars and two bicycles in the garage is plenty. I cleaned up the Nighthawk, put it on Craigslist and stopped riding treating the bike as it was already sold.  But soon after, I started to miss tinkering and riding. I found myself browsing the motorcycle section on Craigslist until one day I stumbled on something that I always wanted but never pursued…

What if I replaced the motorcycle with a moped?!

Sounds crazy but if you read the beginning of this post you already know that there’s a special place in my heart for a simple 49cc moped. Inside every 40-year old man there is a 15-year old boy waiting for a chance to come out and play. Whether you let him is up to you.

One freezing day in January I found myself test riding a 2009 Honda Ruckus with just over 4,000 miles on the odometer.  The Ruckus was in good shape but the engine would die after a few minutes of riding. It seemed like a simple fix so we settled on $900 and had the moped towed to my house.

It was really hard to let the Nighthawk go after the work and the years we spent together, but the little red Ruckus made it a little easier. Just like the Nighthawk before, the Ruckus needed some TLC to make it special.

Challenge accepted!  

Parting Shots: Old vs. New

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4 thoughts on “Fun and Savings on Two Wheels

  1. Pingback: Motorcycling Doesn’t Have to be Expensive | Insourcelife

  2. Pingback: What a Ruckus | Insourcelife

  3. Love it!

    I’m not a bike man my self but can see the draw here and as you say everyone needs a hobby.

    I have friends who probably do the complete opposite of you, buy nearly new superbikes spending a fortune on depreciation and maintenance and only ride them a few times a year. The cost per mile must be astronomical compared to what you’ve managed.

    I bet your had more fun to boot.

    • Same here… People buy a brand new Harley for $20,000 and then add another few grand worth of Screaming Eagle or whatever aftermarket parts. Financed of course. Then 3 years later they sell it with only 3,000 miles for half the price. That’s one scary $/mile calculation.

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