The true cost of motorcycle fun; 0.83p

Steve Rose THUMBNAIL

 

I did it. Finally worked out the exact cost of having fun on a motorcycle. Are you ready? The answer is 0.83 pence per mile. I know this because last week I conducted a simple experiment using nothing more than 153 miles of tarmac, a Kawasaki Versys 1000 and a little under 25 litres of unleaded fuel.

My new daily commute is mostly motorway, very dull and always busy and traffically challenged. After a few post-Xmas-poverty weeks squeezing every last mpg out of a Honda X-ADV, waiting for January’s pay cheque, BikeSocial’s John Milbank asked me if I’d mind taking his long term test Versys home to put some charge in the battery (because his tracker, sat-nav, light sabre and hobbyist motorcycle lathe in the top box keep draining it).

Putting a man on the octane version of dry January in charge of a Versys 1000 is a bit like teaching your dog to use a tin-opener. I did the whole trip home in full wide-eyed loopy-mode. If you were driving one of the many hundreds of cars I tailgated and then over/under-took I apologise. It was one of those rides needing maximum concentration for the full two and a half hours. Numbers on the speedo always seemed to include an eight or a nine and I got home convinced I couldn’t have gone any faster.

I also got home in exactly the same time it takes on the X-ADV doing 20mph less and 20mpg more. At the risk of repeating a previous blog, it’s all about the average speed and that’s a lot more complex than just riding like a twerp.

The important number to remember here is 12.83 litres of fuel used and an average of 54mpg.

The following morning, on the return leg I decided to ride like a grown-up. Smoothly and more slowly – not tailgating, no mad acceleration followed by hard braking, no rush, just efficient progress.

The result was almost exactly the same average speed as the night before, but this time it used 11.9 litres of fuel at an average of 58mpg. That one litre(ish) of fuel cost £1.29. Divide the cost by the miles and you get 0.83 of a penny and that’s the difference. Riding like an aggressive idiot might not get you there any quicker, but it feels completely different. Much more involving, much more heroic, much more macho and, all it costs is 0.83p per miles extra to be ‘King of the M11’.

Now I know this I can plan my journeys accordingly. I know it’ll cost me £15.50 (on the Versys) to get to work, but for an extra 10p I can have eleven miles of fun when I feel like it. Assuming I have three smiles per mile I can do more than 200 sph (smiles-per-hour) for just 50p. Each overtake can, in theory be costed – I might even make a spreadsheet.

Following this revelation (you get a lot of time to think on a 153-mile commute) I then looked at the other bikes I’ve ridden recently. My own 2002 Yamaha Fazer 1000 ridden like I was 18 years younger too can still average high-40s mpg compared to 61mpg ridden sensibly, which would mean it’d use about 14 litres, raising the cost of fun to 2p per mile. Much worse though would be my TDR250 two-stroke which not only struggles to top 35mpg, (that’s eight litres more than the Versys ridden carefully) but would also use £20 of two stroke oil every week, which works out at a whopping 10p per mile. My TDR can be a lot more fun than a Versys 1000, but not on a 153-mile commute at motorway speeds.

For those of you still reading, congratulations, there’s a virtual BikeSocial Nerd badge on its way. I guess the point of this is that, unlike driving a car, life on two wheels can be either functional or a whole lot of daft and the costs are always small. If you wanted to swap four-wheeled frugality for the kind of kicks I was getting on the (admittedly someone else’s) Versys, you’d need to swap your Ford for a Ferrari and they don’t come cheap even before you start on the mpg calculations.

Only biking does this. Slick, efficient commuting and mid-life mischief at the twist of a small piece of rubber-coated plastic – whenever you feel like it, for just pennies per mile. And let’s not forget that a mile is a long way. In reality each moment of mirth actually covers a lot less ground.

Compare the cost of having fun on a bike with something like that of a pint of beer. You could 330+ miles of loopiness instead of one large glass of fizzy fat-juice.

And the point is…? I don’t know. Just that at this time of year, when the get-up-and-go to get outside and ride can be harder to find than in summer, maybe we just need to find the reasons to remember why we do this in the first place. And to stiffen our resolve to do more of it. I’ve ridden further this winter than any since 1996 and so long as my heated kit has been working I’ve enjoyed every single mile. Riding gives me the space to think daft thoughts and the time to turn them into something vaguely believable. And that alone has to be worth 0.83p per mile.

 

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