Sunday, March 3, 2019

Cheap and fun

I've been thinking a lot lately about the entry cost of motorcycling and what it takes to "recruit" new riders. I've always felt that getting into motorcycling has a price floor below which your chance of success tapers off like a 1970's disc brake in a panic stop.

How cheap is cheap?

Here's where we need to stop and talk about inflation for a second. See, my idea of what one thousand dollars is worth is pegged to about 2005 dollars. Which is roughly $1300 2019 dollars. ($1000 1999 dollars = about $1500 2019 dollars. :/ ) What really blows my mind is that the $5200 I spent on my 2000 Moto Guzzi Vll with 20k miles on it in 2005 would be $6850 today, which is about the price of this new V7 Cafe! (granted, that's a smoking deal)

So, with that out of the way, $3000 is probably the absolute floor for a clean used bike of reasonable displacement. Four to five grand will put you on a used Harley Sportster, a "middle weight" Japanese sport standard ( FZ-6, Ninja 650, Honda 500s, SV650 ), or a metric cruiser of what ever displacement feels like "enough" to you. At these prices, in 2019 dollars, motorcycling is way cheaper than you think, (If, like me, you're brain is just now catching up to the fact that it will be 2020 next year.)

There is the vintage bike game but the days of the sub-one thousand dollar "runners" are probably over. The cost to fix a "cheap" neglected bike is going to put you way over the $3000 mark. If you can find a well maintained runner for less than $2000, pat yourself on the back for cheating "the system." However, like the 1978 XS500 in my garage, you'll still have 1970 brakes and 2019 traffic. So there's that.

What's the thrifty biker to do?

Dear Harley Davidson, your used Sportster models have flooded the marketplace. For 3 to 5 grand, a new rider can get into your brand on a bike that requires no chain maintenance, no valve adjustments, and has provenance. How about, instead of selling electric bicycles in your American Iron dealerships, you buy up some of these used bikes, upgrade the rear suspension, and sell them for cheap to new riders. These new riders will then have an easy to use, easy to maintain freedom machine of their own with unlimited potential for customization. Also, please ditch the Nick Cage, Ghost Rider, Marvel Comics skull graphics. You are the authentic american motorcycle, please act like it. (I'm from Milwaukee and have opinions about the motor company. Sorry about the rant.)

How should I introduce my own son to riding?

Our earliest experiences on a bike need to be positive and successful. You can't be scaring yourself early and often, it will never last. If you never make it out of the garage well, that's not much fun either. I learned on a dirt bike in a horse pasture, it was not pretty but I'll never forget it. I'm guessing that a lot of motorcyclists who have kept riding well into adulthood learned in a similar way, big open fields with nothing to hit but horse apples.

What about the city dwellers then?

It's possible that the urban resident could become a motorcyclist without setting out to become one. Bicycle commuting is gaining popularity but hilly commutes and hot summer days are still an issue. Maybe e-bikes will be the next logical step for some. Maybe some will take to scooters. (not "razor scooters" but real Italian knockoffs like the Honda Metropolitan.) A scooter is cheap, fuel efficient, and has tons of storage. Even a Grom or Honda Monkey could work. By the time they master the scooter game they'll have buckets of experience to bring with them on heavier, faster, more powerful bikes. Or they'll stick with small, cheep, fun, efficient motorcycles for all the reasons just mentioned.

I don't know how my son will segue into motorcycling but it's likely that at some point he'll want to give it a go. When that times comes, it will have to be safe, cheap, and fun. Maybe these three values are the future of motorcycling?

- Ride North


  1. Great blog post Jason.

    The problem with a lot of cheap entry level used bikes is the new riders don't necessarily know how to fix all the little quirks and issues that might come up and so they have large mechanic bills that can scare them off.

    I remember getting on the back of my mom's little Honda 110 trail bike when my brother and I were in elementary school. She made cushions for the back rack and we'd go plonking' through the woods when camping. This transitioned to me on the back of her road bike. Start them young.

    1. That's why i love the Versys 300 so much! So cheap, and so versatile right off the showroom floor. :) I have an aspirational eye on that or A Honda CB500x. Either bike would cover 90% of my riding, but I need to be ready to sell my Yamaha first. So, I'm in no hurry.

      One of these days I'll dig out a picture of my brother and I getting rides on the tank of my dad's Honda 250.