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My next broomstick
February 17, 2008 8:21 PM   Subscribe

low-cost 60-mile commute vehicle?

Need to go about 60 miles each way to college a couple of times a week (it's the only place with the classes) traveling up Hwy 101 from San Francisco, outside commute hours, starting March 1. What vehicle(s) to look for?

About $2000 max all-inclusive. Woman, 25.

Is a motorbike feasible? Non-rider at present but wanting to ride (brother had motorbikes.)

Car or bike, the $2k has to cover everything - mechanic check, brake fixup & basic roadworthiness, insurance, hat (if bike) - and have money over if possible. Vehicle needs to last four to six months minimum!
posted by airplain to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ninja EX250. Get it on ebay, Pay about a grand or so for a bike not more than 5 years old. Including helmet, some armor, and a decent riding class from the CHP, it should definitely be less than $1700.

Its not the "coolest" bike...but since you're a female, and not a 50 year old man who can afford a $14,000 bike, its pretty badass.

Just be safe and don't exceed your skill level.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:32 PM on February 17, 2008


Forgive me if I am making too much of an assumption, but if you are commuting from San Francisco to UC Davis, consider using Amtrak's little known Capital Corridor train.
posted by chrisalbon at 10:07 PM on February 17, 2008


Up 101 from SF ~60 miles would be Santa Rosa. Traffic even off hours can still be a huge hassle. I'd second the motorcycle plan if only because you can split lanes. You can get a large scooter if you aren't comfortable shifting. You'll have lots of options for used motorcycles in your price range.
posted by foodgeek at 10:12 PM on February 17, 2008


I think 120 miles round trip by motorcycle is likely going to suck. Especially for a new rider.

I just got rid of an early 1990s Honda Civic. Good car, pretty dependable, GREAT gas mileage. You could probably get one for 1000-2000 right now.

It you do get a motorcycle, get a good set of leathers / body suit - not just street clothes. My cube mate crashed his motorcycle on his way into work in SF this year. He had just bought a new suit and it saved him from some pretty serious damage.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:16 PM on February 17, 2008


I think 120 miles round trip by motorcycle is likely going to suck. Especially for a new rider.

I'll second that.

Look for a Geo Prizm or Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic in your price range.
posted by bricoleur at 4:00 AM on February 18, 2008


One thing about learning to ride motorbikes is that when it falls over, if you are too small to lift it back upright, you are kind of stuck.

Whatever vehicle you buy, try to have a reserve of at least $300 for repairs.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:01 AM on February 18, 2008


I have a Chevy Prizm that I use to commute about 500 miles per week, and it hasn't failed me yet. Mine has a Toyota engine in it which I guess is common in Prizms (they shared a plant with Toyota), and my husband says that's why it's so reliable. If I were you I'd look around for one of those.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:59 AM on February 18, 2008


don't know much about US cars, or prices but I got a lovely little 1.0L Volkswagen Polo for About $1500. Before that I had a 1.4 Golf. I love VW, reliable machines with great mileage as long as you pick the small engines and drive properly.
posted by twistedonion at 4:59 AM on February 18, 2008


Second the Volkswagens. I just sold an '83 Rabbit GTI. Bought it for $850, drove it 5 years, sold for $600. Lovely car, very reliable, fast and fun. Make sure the compression is good if you find one.
posted by diode at 6:25 AM on February 18, 2008


120 miles on anything under a 400cc anything is going to suck to anyone---regardless of riding experience. And anything under 500cc is scary as hell on a big interstate/highway. Of course, the previously mentioned 250cc will get about 70-80mpg.
posted by TomMelee at 6:31 AM on February 18, 2008


I'll chime in on the motorcycle... 250 cc's is way too small for that distance, or to be on the highway at all safely. I consider my 883 Harley Sportster as a little underpowered for the interstate, but it is doable. I would guess that you could get a reliable used car for less money than a suitable motorcycle..

Plus, as much as I hate to admit it, motorcycles are NOT as safe as a car, especially for an inexperienced rider.
posted by HuronBob at 6:59 AM on February 18, 2008


Motorcycles are statistically not all that safe. That said, an EX250 is a fine bike for that distance, much more competent at the freeway commute than the displacement would suggest. (And, if you can refrain from drinking, get training, and wear a helmet, you are taking yourself out of the most dangerous categories of motorcycle riders -- a lot of deaths are concentrated in untrained, helmetless, and drunk riders.)

For total cost per mile, though, a cheap car will usually be cheaper to run than a motorcycle of the same cost (assuming that you don't pay for parking) -- motorcycles need tires about 10-20 times more frequently than a car (3-6000 miles, rather than 40-80,000 miles per set, is normal -- an EX250 may get a lot more miles out of a tire, though, than a larger bike); good leathers aren't cheap and you will inevitably start accumulating sets (textile suit for when it is raining, leathers for go-fast days, mesh jacket for summer, and don't get me started on the glove collection); what would be a minor fender-bender in a car will often seriously damage a motorcycle.

But the smiles-per-mile ratio on a motorcycle is far, far higher; lane splitting and parking rules give a serious advantage to bikes in a commute; and you instantly become a member of a surprisingly tight-knit subculture -- riders wave to each other, will stop to see if you need help if you are on the side of the road, and so on; in comparison, cars are just utilitarian transportation boxes.
posted by Forktine at 7:25 AM on February 18, 2008


A mid-90s small 4-door sedan would be a good bet. Get something popular enough to have easy access to repairs and parts. A 4 door domestic will usually give you more car for the money, and be more likely to be better maintained than a coupe or sports car. If you wanted to keep it long term, you'd do better to pay more for a Honda or Toyota instead of a domestic.

After 6 months, you can sell it for close to what you paid for it. It will have airbags, antilock brakes, and comfort. A motorcycle would be a blast to ride, but for daily commuting and dealing with possible rain and wind, I would rather have the comfort and safety of a car.

Just a data point: I bought a 96 Grand Am in great shape for $1800. I'm planning on driving it at least a couple of years.
posted by The Deej at 7:53 AM on February 18, 2008


My mother has lived in San Francisco and has taught at Santa Rosa Jr College for years. I've gone along for the ride on many occaisions. The commute is brutal, full of accidents, and I (personally) would never do it on a bike. Make sure you're cool with this particular 100 mile stretch in addition to 100 mile stretches in general before you decide on two wheel transport.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:55 AM on February 18, 2008


Thanks for the ideas.

The big attraction of a bike is being able to park in SF (in the Haight), though a car would obviously be safer and more comfortable. Any other suggestions for bike model, good for a woman, under $1500, maybe a bit bigger motor than the EX250?
posted by airplain at 9:36 AM on February 18, 2008


Oh, really now, are you committed to riding a motorcycle on poor weather days? I am not that familiar with the area, but doesn't it get cold up there sometimes. Does it rain? Fog? Riding a bike in the rain is no fun. You can deal with all this, but are you sure you want to? Just think it through.
posted by d4nj450n at 1:06 PM on February 18, 2008


Riding a motorcycle in the winter in the bay area, especially on the freeway, gets very cold. If I had to get out of bed every morning and get on a bike and ride 60 miles on the freeway or Hwy 1, I'm not sure I could do it, and I love riding my motorcycle. If you have warm gear, a helmet with a fog-free shield and the patience to take it easy, it might work. For a long commute though, I'd probably go with a car, where you can listen to the radio and look around a little bit. You just have to be so much more alert and focussed on a motorcycle than in a car I think it would be exhausting.

I have a 1986 Honda Nighthawk 450 that is still a little weak for long freeway rides, so I'd get something even bigger, but you could still find something reasonable for around $1500 or less.
posted by bendy at 10:28 PM on February 21, 2008


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