Motorcycling Doesn’t Have to be Expensive


In the last post I discussed how some hobbies are more conducive to financial independence than others. Bicycling vs. racing and shore fishing vs. deep-sea fishing type of thing. On my very own hobby list motorcycling bubbled to the top of Expensive Optional Activities that drain money out of my wallet. At least that’s what most people would say, right after volunteering their opinion on the dangers of motorcycles in general. But what if there was a way to enjoy motorcycling at a fraction of the usual cost?

It’s a familiar story rehashed over and over in finance-oriented blogs.

  • Take out student loans, graduate, get a job, get a mortgage, get a car loan or two, buy some toys on credit, live the high life.
  • After a few years working 9-5 realize that there must be more to life than running the treadmill to pay the bills to (maybe) retire in 30-40 years.
  • Read some FI books and blogs, get fired up to step off the conveyor belt of financial conformity.
  • Take a look around – how did I end up with all of this crap and how much is it costing me? Downsize! Sell! Invest more! Ahhh – feels better already!

After a few months going nuts selling stuff on Craigslist or donating you hit a wall – there is nothing left to sell that’s easy to part with. But you caught the FI bug and it’s telling you:


So what do I sell now?

How about that motorcycle I like to ride which all of a sudden seems more of a burden than fun? Emotionally you are still attached to it but your newly acquired rationality makes a pretty strong case why a motorcycle is the last thing you want to keep on this expressway to promised FI land. Buying, maintaining, insuring and all for what? A few sunny day rides when the temperature is just right? It’s not like you can get rid of the car and ride the bike all the time to save money. Maybe you went so far as to calculate cost per mile travelled on a motorcycle vs. a car surprised by how expensive it is based on the actual usage… Again with that rational approach.

You wouldn’t be the first one to do that arriving at the only sensible conclusion – sell it!

How about some examples? There’s Joe from No More Harvard Debt. One of the first things he did in order to pay down college loan debt was sell his beloved sport bike. Mr. Frugal Toque fought consumerism by selling his sport bike that was apparently costing him $40 per ride. Mr. Money Mustache sold his sport bike shortly before launching the Church of Badassity.

All three expressed feeling sorry seeing these fine machines leave their driveways with a new owner. (Look at the URL link to Joe’s article for God’s sake… “IN TEARS”!)

All three expressed feeling happy shedding financial responsibilities inherent in owning a motorcycle. Here is that emotion vs. sensibility, rationality and logic in play yet again.

I guarantee one thing – if you got any of these guys in a garage with a motorcycle and a beer or two they’d admit that they miss it.

You see, once you get motorcycles under your skin it’s almost impossible to get them out. The look, the smell, the sound, the mechanics, the RIDE… there is just nothing like it. YES, bicycles are fun. YES, cars are fun but anyone who’s ever ridden a motorcycle will forever have a special place in their heart reserved just for them.

If you don’t agree with the paragraph above then a) you’ve never owned a motorcycle or b) you were never meant to be a motorcyclist at heart.

I got hooked on two wheels and a motor in my early teens when I saved a few hundred to buy my very own moped. It was basically a glorified bicycle with a 50cc engine but I saw it as a superbike fit to race the MotoGP. I spent countless hours fiddling to get it running right. It would die on me in the middle of a trip to my favorite fishing spot… thank God for pedals! Just pedal it back home and start over.

Now that I think of it, that moped laid the foundation of all the DIY tinkering I do to this day.

I got my motorcycle endorsement many years ago but bought my first real motorcycle only in 2009. My wife and I started talking about having kids around that time and I saw my window of opportunity closing pretty fast. I can confirm that this in fact is true – once you have kids you have very little time for yourself. Getting up on Saturday, jumping on your bike and heading for the mountains is much less of an option now than it was back in 2009.

Since this was to be my first real bike I didn’t want to spend a lot of money fearing the eventual spill. They say there are two kind of bikers – those who crashed and those who will crash. Keeping that in mind my budget was $2,000.

The bike that I ended up buying is a 1985 Honda Nighthawk 650SC with 8,000 miles on the odometer. It was in decent shape but I did spend some time cleaning it up and getting the maintenance up to date.  I also added a few things to make it more comfortable for long trips such as a Corbin seat, engine guards and highway pegs all bought used on eBay. In the six years I’ve had it the Nighthawk never left me stranded and required just regular maintenance.

Looking back it turns out that everything about this purchase is compatible with my pursuit to minimize expenses. As a matter of fact, getting this motorcycle had a positive return on investment. Wait, how is that possible? Cars, trucks, bikes and other personal property usually depreciate and incur carrying costs… there is no way purchasing a motorcycle could have a net positive effect on anyone’s finances.

99% of the time you’d be right but not in this case. You see, after learning about Nighthawks I flipped a few of them for a nice profit so my bike was free and then some. Yes, it’s a bit unfair to include that in the calculations but I know that I would never get into the flipping business was it not for my first bike so it’s all right in my book.

But that’s actually not the point. Even if you don’t end up bike flipping for profit, you can still enjoy motorcycles as a hobby without the associated high costs. Below is a simple 5-step approach that worked for me:

  • Buy vintage
  • Buy reliable
  • Buy easy to maintain
  • Register as antique
  • Learn to maintain

Lets break down each bullet to see the logic behind it.

Buy Vintage

One obvious advantage of buying an older bike is that it’s going to be cheaper than a new or a recent model. It’s generally true for cars and it’s generally true for motorcycles, unless you’re talking about a collectible. The Honda Nighthawk cost me just $1,200 vs. dropping 6 times as much on a comparable new bike. It’s actually easier and safer to buy an old motorcycle than an old car because bikes have a lot less stuff to break and there is an endless supply of barely used low mileage bikes out there. Motorcycles are considered a toy, at least in the US, so they are easy come easy go for most owners.

If you ever decide to sell you will loose very little, if anything, in depreciation. As a matter of fact, I can sell my Nighthawk today for more than I paid for it. This will never happen with a bike you buy new.

Buy Reliable

A vintage Ducati might look great but it’d never be my choice when looking for a reliable older bike. I bought a Honda for a reason – they have bullet proof engines that keep on working with minimal maintenance and low operating costs.

Buy Easy to Maintain

I looked at many bikes before deciding to buy the Nighthawk. One of the deciding factors was the ease of DIY maintenance using basic automotive tools. Compared to other motorcycles the Nighthawk has no valves to adjust (Honda’s genius engineering esp. in early 80’s) or chains to lube (it’s shaft drive). Change the oil regularly along with brake/clutch fluid, spark plugs and tires periodically and you’re good to go for years and years of trouble-free performance.

Nighthawk’s air-cooled engine was perfected over the years and it’s just as good as any modern engine but with a lot less complexity. I never had to adjust the carburetors on this bike but it sure is easier than figuring out what went wrong with an EFI unit on a modern bike. No fuel pumps, no computers, no oxygen sensors and no check engine light. After troubleshooting countless CEL’s on cars, that alone is a reason to own a mostly analog vintage bike for me!

One might think that it’d be hard to find replacement parts for an older bike but in my experience that was never the case. I had to repair a few things on the Nighthawk when I first bought it and everything down to an obscure gasket was still available at my local dealer and online. Even though the bike is out of production for 30 years Honda still carries all the parts necessary to maintain it. If you’re shopping for a vintage bike I’d recommend going online to see if spare parts are easy to find AND that they are reasonably priced.

Register as Antique

For me one of the main reasons to go vintage was the way older bikes are treated here by various government agencies that have a hand in my pocket. If a motorcycle is 30 or more years old it qualifies for antique plates that come with these wonderful benefits:

  • No sales tax at the time of purchase
  • No yearly license fees – license plate is valid as long as you own the bike
  • No yearly personal property taxes
  • No yearly safety inspections – saves time and money

Change all NOs to YES if you are buying a modern bike and you’ll see why vintage makes so much sense. I still send $20 per year in registration fees to the DMV but that’s a really small price to pay to have a motorcycle just as capable as any other modern equivalent on the road.

Of course you still need to carry liability insurance, but then again a vintage bike will probably have a smaller insurance premium than Personal & Commercial Van Insurance. I pay $73 per year for a policy that includes free towing – nice perk with a vintage bike, although I’ve never had to use it. Some people pay that much JUST for towing coverage by itself, so I’d say that’s a good deal at 6 bucks per month!

Some will be quick to point out that antique plates come with certain limitation on bike use, but I’ve never had any issues with law enforcement. The rules allow you to “travel for pleasure” and I think cops would have a hard time trying to prove that when they stopped me I wasn’t travelling for pleasure. They see me riding in full gear without doing anything stupid and don’t even give me a second glance.

Overall it’s a really nice loophole where you feel like you’re flying under the big brother’s radar.

Learn to Maintain

This goes back to something I preach on this blog – if you buy something then learn to maintain it. Buying vintage you’re in luck. As I previously mentioned maintenance is DIY-friendly and there is probably a forum that will have a step-by-step DIY for the particular make, model and task that you are trying to accomplish.

In Conclusion

Not everything I described will apply to you. Maybe your state doesn’t dish out these nice perks for owning an antique motorcycle. Perhaps you won’t start flipping bikes making your motorcycling hobby a money-maker. However the point I’m trying to make is that motorcycling doesn’t have to be expensive.

Riding a vintage bike still lets you experience everything that’s great about motorcycling. It’s still better in the wind. The only thing you’ll miss is the high cost usually associated with this wonderful hobby.

Despite what FI bloggers out there might imply, motorcycles and a pursuit of financial independence are not mutually exclusive. Yes, if you are serious about improving your financial situation and you own an expensive motorcycle you should absolutely consider selling it.

But don’t give up your hobby, especially if you know it’s in your blood. Go on Craigslist, find a vintage bike and continue to enjoy something you love.

“I realize that my motorbike is also a time machine.  Every moment on it I am again twenty-something and full of beans.”

James Collins

UPDATE: The Nighthawk has been sold! Find out why along with the final cost analysis in this post.

6 thoughts on “Motorcycling Doesn’t Have to be Expensive

  1. Pingback: Are Your Hobbies Holding You Back? | Insourcelife

  2. If you are in debt you don’t need a motorcycle*.

    If you are debt-free, but barely able to save/invest you don’t need a motorcycle*.

    OTOH – if you have a solid next egg of “fuck you money” and can take a few years off work without stressing about it than owning a motorcycle** is completely reasonable.

    The only caveats I’d place on that is make sure you love the hobbies you spend your money on and be reasonable with them so that they don’t interfere with your FI goals.

    My own motto is that “I can have “anything I really want, but I can’t have everything I want.”

    — Vik

    * – unless you can replace a car with it and save some $$ in which case go for it.

    ** – you can replace “motorcycle” with fly fishing gear, fancy sea kayak, small aluminium motorboat, ATV, fancy stereo setup, etc…

    • Good points, Vik. If you are in debt up to your eyeballs then motorcycles should be the last thing on your mind. However, a motorcycle can become cost neutral if one had a gas guzzler and was willing to commute on a motorbike instead of a truck – even if it was a day or two per week. The key is to buy an inexpensive used bike that gets good mileage and then there might be enough savings to balance it out and allow you to enjoy both. Of course if you’re hurting financially a better alternative would be to get rid off the gas guzzler and get and econobox and forget about motorcycles until your situation improves.

  3. My motorcycle ownership experience was 100% positive, both financially and personally. I swallowed my pride and rode a Rebel 250cc. I ditched a pickup truck for it, and used it to make a 20mi commute to work. No comparison ever came out in the truck’s favor, except for its vastly greater ability to enable other expensive hobbies (hunting & off-roading). But then I went back to grad school, which was 5mi from home, and couldn’t justify the bike. So I sold it, began bicycling, and have not really looked back. I don’t want to go back to a life where a motorcycle makes sense (long commute? no thanks), and with three kids, my time is pretty well spoken for. Besides, though I certainly took pleasure in riding the Rebel, I never rode it for pleasure (I’m 6’8″ – I sat on the passenger seat – it was silly).

    Thanks for the fun post and the endorsement of air-cooled Hondas!

    • You know, just a couple of days ago I was walking with my wife and saw a nice Rebel 250 parked on the street. I stopped to look at it and told my wife that it was an exact bike that I dreamed about buying right after I took an MSF course and got my motorcycle endorsement in the 90s. I was living in NYC back then and often fantasized about commuting to work in Manhattan on the Rebel and easily finding a parking spot right by my building in midtown. Instead I continued my daily walk-bus-subway-walk 1 hour commute that spanned 10 miles.

      Looking back I should’ve just used my graduation present mountain bike for this commute. Although it was a bit dicey back then in the city. Nowdays they have dedicated bike lanes and better bike awareness in general, with the bike share program and all. I wouldn’t hesitate to commute on a bicycle there today.

  4. Pingback: Fun and Savings on Two Wheels | Insourcelife

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