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First Page

2 Wheels
Instead of 4

Winter Riding



Two Wheels Instead of Four
WARNING - Boring Financial Analysis Ahead

How many cars/trucks/SUVs are in your household? Depending on where in the Twin Cities you live and which demographic report you believe, you have 1.7 to 2.4 in your household. With a fair amount of confidence, I can say you probably have more then one. Do you really need more than one? Really? In some cases, the answer is "yes." I know a few households that absolutely can't function without two (or more) 4-wheeled vehicles. In many more cases the answer is probably "no", especially if we consider "need" as opposed to "want".

In case you haven't guessed it by now, this article is going to be (mostly) a tirade about the validity of motorcycles and scooters as urban transportation - even in Minnesota. Back in 2008, when gas was $4.00 per gallon, we saw a massive surge in the purchase of scooters and small displacement motorcycles as a way to combat the high cost of getting around. I admit, I thought this signaled a change in the perspective of a lot of people and growing acceptance of 2-wheeled vehicles as transport and not "just" toys. Though we did gain some ground, the general feeling I get from most people is that they still need (want) that second or third car. "Winter" being given as the most common reason.

One can certainly ride a scooter or motorcycle in the winter. What about the December 11th blizzard you say? No, I wouldn't suggest riding, but I saw a lot of cars that shouldn't have been out that weekend. I also don't think your average Twin Cities commuter is going to try and ride to work every day during the winter. In fact, I freely admit that I am more than probably a loony for doing as much winter riding as I do. What I am suggesting is that multiple cars might not be the best answer.

To back up this suggestion I've got some numbers and some real world examples. What I don't have is a way to change attitudes and I believe that this is the main reason 2-wheeled vehicles are not generally accepted as transportation here. Before I dive into the numbers, let's take a moment and chat with Esther.

I met Esther at a post-graduate class many years ago. She was not born in the US. She was raised in several different countries. Both her parents are practicing doctors who have moved around as their careers required. As such, she has spent time in Europe and Asia. Part of Esther's high school and all of her college education took place in the US. She moved from the Twin Cities to Europe a couple of years ago to take a job in medical technology. We still communicate fairly often and I asked her about her riding experience in the US.

EstherWhen did you start riding? Don't tell my parents, but I sometimes rode on a neighbor's scooter in Denmark when I was 13 or 14. I don't remember what it was, but I remember that it was automatic, small, and fun. I suppose I've had the bug for riding ever since.
Did you ride when you moved to the US? I wanted to, but my parents were afraid of the traffic and other drivers here. As soon as I finished high school and started at university I bought a motorcycle. It was a 185cc Yamaha Exciter that lasted me about a year. I wanted to get around on highways and that bike just couldn't do it so I bought a late 1980s Kawasaki EX500, that's what I had when we met.
Did you also have a car? No, I didn't want to spend the money - for parking,Kawasaki EX500 higher insurance, repairs, all that stuff. I didn't need one. In winter I rode the bus. I rode a few times in winter when there was no snow, but I didn't like the very cold weather.
I remember you had a car, in fact I remember helping fit it a couple of times. Yes (laughing) I did get a car when I got a job after university and had to commute to the suburbs. I still rode my motorbike a lot even then.
Were people surprised here when they found out that you rode a motorcycle for transportation? Yes. I thought at first it was because I am a girl and it seemed in the US that we were supposed to ride on back not have our own motorbikes. Then I saw it was surprise that I ride to school and work every day and not just on weekends to go to the bar. I didn't understand this because it is so common to see motorbikes every day on the road in other countries.
Was riding a motorcycle something you did to stand out or be different? What do you mean? (laughing) Not really, it was just the logical choice to get around and of course it was also a lot of fun. 

It has been my experience that we here in the US have a generally negative attitude about 2-wheeled transportation and a far amount of hesitancy about public transit, at least here in the Twin Cities. In a lot of larger East Coast cities, busses and trains are just a fact of life and are generally accepted as the best way to get around. Beyond attitude, what about the hard numbers?

My wife and I decided to try doing the one car thing a few years back. We both work, no kids at home, and both ride. Our motivation was mostly financial - we had some expensive cars to maintain and insure that just didn't seem worth the money. We are also fortunate in that both our offices are accessible via a single bus route from our house (no transfers or trying to match up route schedules). We sold the cars and purchased a single "Minnesota" vehicle, a mid-sized SUV that has proved to be very practical. My wife often works from home and we have had very few issues with either of our work schedules. If she needs the car, I ride or take the bus. During the few times each year that we NEED two cars (holiday family visits, etc.) we rent a second car. We are also fortunate to have already been in possession of several motorcycles and scooters. Admittedly, these were largely hobby vehicles for us. We have saved at least $7,000 per year since going down to one car. Probably more.

Now for the boring financial analysis. I'm going to make the assumption that your household is a viable one for one car and one scooter/motorcycle. I am also going to assume that the cost of the vehicles is paid monthly via a loan even though a lot of people would purchase the scooter/motorcycle outright.

First, two cars. Both new at a cost of $28,400 each (NADA national new car average price for 2009) and financed for 60 months. Both cars driven 10,000 miles each year with fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon.
Vehicle Cost - $12,862.32 ($535.93 per month each car)
Insurance - $2,711.48 ($1,355.74 per car, Insurance Institute average)
Maintenance - $1,600 (based on 8 cents per mile average)
Fuel - $3,000 ($3.00 per gallon, 20 MPG, 20,000 miles)
Parking - $4,320 ($180 per month per car)
TOTAL - $24,493.80

Now one car (same assumptions) one new scooter, public transit and rentals. For the new scooter I selected a Kymco People 250 "S" with a topcase. I ride a 2005 People 250 for transportation and this is the closest available new model. It is freeway legal and I have good numbers for fuel economy, insurance and maintenance.
Car Cost - $12,246.90 (half of the above 2-car assumptions)
Vehicle Cost - $1,222.80 ($5,400 financed, same terms as the cars above)
Riding Gear for Two - $760 (Helmets, jackets, rain suits)
Scooter Insurance - $280
Scooter Maintenance - $125
Scooter Fuel - $300 ($3.00 per gallon, 60 MPG, 6,000 miles)
Metro Transit "Go" pass - $540 ($4.00 per day, 135 days)
Rental Car - $950 - (Seven rentals per year plus fuel)
TOTAL - $16,424.70

If this particular model works for you, that would be an extra $8,069.10 in your pocket. No, it wouldn't be as convenient as having two cars. Yes, sometimes the bus is crowded or behind schedule. Of course I am doing my darnest to get my wife to let me spend all of the money was are saving on more motorcycles and scooters. They make sense financially and environmentally. They help my "attitude" immensely. They're fun, really, really fun.

David Harrington


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