Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Today is Tuesday. So if I remember correctly, yesterday was Monday. I have to tell you, Mondays sort of test my resolve to commute by bike. You know how it is. Depending on the weekend I'm sort of groggy and reluctant to return to the work week. The idea of driving my old truck and drinking coffee on the long run down the freeway can be quite enticing on these rainy winter, dark Monday mornings. The heater in the truck isn't overly savage but it has to be warmer than wind chill, doesn't it?

So why ride in the rain and cold when we could drive?

Our state has a motorcycle safety program and I am an active instructor. I love teaching and enjoy the enthusiasm of the many new and experienced riders that come through the classes. By far the majority of the folks coming through are new. To break the ice on the first night of class we ask the students to introduce themselves and tell us why they are taking the course. Oftentimes the reason stated is to be able to ride a motorcycle and save on gas expenses.

You know what? I've done the math and it might work for the casual commuter to ride the bike once in a while and burn a little less fuel, but for someone who commutes for most or all of the year it just doesn't work that way.

Follow me on this little mathmatical stroll. I will use my circumstances to illustrate. Perhaps you're already aware of this or maybe it will give you something new to think about.

My sweetie has a little car to bomb around in. My bike gets 45 miles to the gallon and her car gets 30 miles to the gallon. It would seem like a no-brainer that the bike would be cheaper to run. Let's step back and look at a little bigger picture.

The commute is 88 miles round trip. Figuring holidays, vacation, and so on, the number of weeks commuting is 48. Your circumstances may vary but I can ride all year with small exceptions. At 440 miles a week that makes the yearly total miles commuting 21,120. With me so far? We are going to push insurance aside for this discussion. I figure if you are reading this you're going to have a bike and a car hanging around either way so that's not an optional expense.

However, let's make this fun and add tires to the equation. My wife's little car is one of those cars that you can actually buy the tires on sale for. Has that ever happened to you? You see an advertisement for tires on sale. When you take your car in you find out that it takes a size different than the one advertised and they're more expensive? Well, this car takes the sizes that are used as sales leaders. I just bought four tires, had them mounted and balanced, and spent $265.00. And these are 60,000 mile tires!!

You know how much good bike tires cost. But hey, the size of the two contact patches put together are about as big as a size 10 tennis shoe so I want them to be as good as can be. I get around 10,000 miles out of a rear tire and about 15,000 out of the front on sport touring tires. Again, your actual results may vary, these are my averages.

Fuel right now is at $2.00 per gallon for regular and $2.19 for premium. I burn regular in the little car and premium in the bike. Ready to wrap this up?
I know, you thought I would never get to the point.

For these 21,120 miles the little car will burn 704 gallons of fuel worth $1,408.00 at current prices. It will use approximately 1/3 of the tread life of the tires at an averaged-out cost of $88.44. That makes the total cost for fuel and tires $1,496.44.

For these same 21,120 miles the bike will burn 469 gallons of fuel worth $1,027.11. It will consume 2 rear tires and about 1 1/3 front tires. Based on the price of my last set of tires this will cost me $436.00 which brings my total expense for tires and fuel to $1,463.11. That's a whopping savings of $33.33 by riding the bike! That goes away when you figure maintenance. I do most of my own and change the oil around every 3000 miles on the bike and car. I use synthetic oil in the bike even though it's not required. The car has hydraulic lifters while the bike has valve adjustment intervals of 16,000. Add to that the fact that, even though I am tempted when I see the poor driving skills out there, I don't put on a thousand dollars worth of protective gear when I drive the car.

Proudly declaring that I can count to 15 without removing my shoes, I don't commute to save money!!! So why do it?

For me, there's a few reasons. If I had to sum it up I'd say "passion" and "empowerment". I just flat love being on the bike. There's a certain grace and sensuality in all the little movements of the bike under me. The small bounce of the front tire over surface imperfections, the way the bike moves in turns both small and in corners, the eager way it responds to my demand for more speed when I roll on the throttle, and on and on. Even though the ST is a relatively large bike it's still a lot more agile than a car. Taking little detours on the way home to check out a road is an invitation to fun on the bike; too much bother in a car.

The empowerment plays a part in a couple of ways. On the bike I just don't have to be dictated to by other traffic as much as I would be in my old truck, for example. I ride aggessively. Not the road rage kind, but the controlled kind. I look after me since no one else does. On the freeway, for example, I like to find a clear pocket to ride in where I have LOTS of elbow room. Finding myself stuck in a group of traffic, the bike's power and smaller size allow me to get myself into clear sailing more easily. I know, the temptation to REALLY use the bike's manuverability and power in traffic can be overwhelming. Please take it from a veteran road warrior: Exercise wrist management and don't put yourself in a position of being committed and suddenly finding no way out. Plan carefully and stay within the limits.

The other thing I enjoy is just being different. Maybe it's a perverse side of my nature but I like it when folks in cars look at me like I am crazy. Or a priceless moment on a recent 20 degree morning when a new person at the office saw the bike out front when he drove up and his first words to me were "No way!". I really like the feeling of doing what most people can't or won't do. Not just doing it, but doing it well. And did I mention what a great stress reliever riding the bike is?

What are your reasons? You're warmly invited to share comments. I'd love it if you would.

I wanted to use the first posts to kind of set the stage and some background. I know it's a blog about commuting so I will start getting down to business and sharing lifes and laughs from a road warrior.


Gary Charpentier said...

Hey Dan,

Nice work! I think you will find that it gets tougher as you go along, but so far it looks like you're having fun.

That's an interesting analysis, vis-a-vis the cost of riding rather than driving. Maybe the ROI (return-on-investment) approach isn't the best way to justify a motorbike? How can you quantify the visceral thrills of riding in dollars? To my mind, you can't. The joy I get from riding vs. driving is priceless.

Keep it up. (pun intended)

Ride well,

Mad said...

Yeah I realised a while ago that bikes are actually more expensive than they at first appear but nothing beats the pleasure of filtering past a queue of stuck cars.

Earl Thomas said...

Hey Dan, I started at the beginning of your blog to see how you started out, and to see if I can get any pointers out of my rookie experience.

I've been riding since 1975 (I was 5 years old then)and have been on the street going on 21 years now. Still fellow workers admonish me for riding in less than perfect conditions. I've learned that I don't get involved in fruitless debates with them and only sum it up by stating, "I'm still here." Long story short, as conditions change, my riding habits change. Yup, I'm passionate about riding, and I'm proud to say that the passion hasn't waned in the thirty plus that I have been on two wheels.