Yes, they are….. From a certain point of view…..
Like so many other things in life, the honest answer is “It depends.”
The bike will have a smaller “startup” cost than the car, but as gear, accessories, and maintenance piles up, the numbers start to balance out.
Of course, you have to compare similar “levels” as well. You can’t compare the cost and maintenance of a top-of-the-line Suzuki Hayabusa to a Chevy Spark. It’s insulting to the ‘Busa and not fair to the Spark.
To keep things fair and use a real-world example, we’ll compare the most popular BMW car and motorcycle.
BMW is one of the few manufacturers that are top end on both motorcycle and car markets.
The most popular BMW car is the 3-series, particularly the 330i, which runs a little over $40,000 for the base model. The most popular BMW bike (by far) is the R1250 GSA which will cost you around $21,000 without accessories.
Clear winner to the bike, right?
Not so fast. Notice how I said without accessories?
See, you can get a base model car, and it’s fully functional. You can go to the grocery store, commute to work, go on a date.
With a motorcycle, you usually have to buy a trim upgrade or add-on accessories to be able to carry anything that doesn’t fit in your pocket. That accessory may be as simple as a cheapo $20 backpack or an extensive side and top case system, but it’s an added cost.
That same R1250 GSA fully decked out with function enhancing accessories like luggage cases, cruise control, tire pressure monitoring, GPS and heated grips add up to almost $25 thousand.
Still cheaper than the car, but you also haven’t bought any personal gear.
That’s just base gear; want to ride in very cold or very warm temperatures? More gear. Rain? Yep, More gear.
If you are careful and hit the sales, you can get fully equipped for 3 season riding for about $1200 or less. You won’t be geared up for riding in freezing temperatures, but you could get by pretty well, rain or shine.
So now your bike plus accessories and gear are weighing in around $26-$27k. Still $13k cheaper than the BMW 330i!
Read more about how much a motorcycle costs.
But what about operating costs and maintenance?
Here’s where the motorcycle and car advocates fight it out. The most popular argument is fuel efficiency. The bike averages 47 MPG, and the car averages 30 MPG (fuelly.com).
Both are recommended to use premium fuel, so that evens out. The average American drives 14,300 miles per year according to the Federal Highway Administration.
So some quick math is in order.
|Annual Fuel cost @ $3.50||1064.91||1667.35|
|Lifetime Fuel Cost||5324.55||8341.73|
People argue that maintenance is much more expensive on a motorcycle than on a car. That’s only true if you don’t maintain them equally.
A lot of people do minimal maintenance on their cars. Oil changes regularly, twice a year, change out the radiator fluid, maybe once a year for the transmission fluid, and change the brakes when they squeal at you.
Using those same numbers for mileage and assuming a 5,000-mile oil change frequency means you’ll change the oil two or three times a year for $100 each, radiator flush and fill for another $100 each, and a transmission fluid change for $150.
That gives you an annual maintenance cost of $650 for your car, not counting tires and brakes
In contrast, your average motorcyclist is much more thorough about their maintenance. If a part on your car wears out, it probably won’t kill you unless it’s your brakes, and they give lots of warning.
A malfunction on your motorcycle could kill you, and we are highly aware of this, so we do things like change fork oil and tension drive chains/belts.
When was the last time you checked the tension on the fan belt of your car?
So being more thorough and more likely done at a dealership, motorcycle maintenance is more expensive.
The average check-up for a BMW motorcycle is $625 every 6,000 miles or 2.38 times per year. That’s $1487 per year or $837 more than the car.
We haven’t even gotten into tires!
Tires are a whole other arena of the cars vs. bikes debate. While it’s true that car tires’ longevity can vary based on driving habits, it’s ten times more noticeable on motorcycle tires.
Based on stories I’ve been told and personal experience, if you are a moderately aggressive rider, you can expect around 10,000 miles from a set of tires.
Read more about motorcycle tires longevity.
Compare that to up to 60,000 for car tires on our 330i. Sadly cost per tire is pretty equal at approximately $175 each. Of course, you only have to buy half as many for the bike.
Still, that adds up to 7 sets for the bike over the five years and 1 new set for the car. This works out to $2450 for the R1250 and $700 for the car.
Read more about how much a motorcycle tire change should cost.
Sum It Up
To total it up, over the first 5 years of the vehicle’s life, the car will cost $3950 to do essential maintenance and tires, whereas the bike will run you $9885 for the same period.
So maybe the car is cheaper? Wait, there is the initial cost difference to factor in.
Let’s add up all the numbers:
|5 years / 14,300 miles per year||R1250GSA||330i|
|Purchase price (Including gear)||$26,500||$40,000|
|Maintenance cost +Tires||$9,885||$3950|
Disclaimer and Conclusion
When we started this, I said, “it depends.” If you only have a motorcycle or only a car, then these numbers hold up.
However, this is not the case for most of us.
Most of us have a car for boring, mundane things like commuting to work, going to the grocery store, or taking the kids to school.
The motorcycle is for fun and adventure.
This means two things – first, we’re paying a certain amount of maintenance for two different vehicles. Second and equally important, we are likely traveling more miles than the average American because bike miles are more about fun than car miles.
That 14,300 miles driven by Americans on average works out to a little less than 1200 a month.
That’s a couple of short weekend trips per month or one big weekend trip per month. That doesn’t include commutes or errands because we do those in the car, right?
The thing to note is that if you subtract out the initial cost of the car and bike, the cost of operating the bike is actually higher by $523.60 per year.
Bad news? Not really.
The most important thing to consider isn’t the cost. It’s the VALUE. For less than $50 a month, you get hours of fun, excitement, and memories made. Miles in the car are about arriving at a destination – Miles on the bike are about enjoying the journey.