Can't afford a car, need a motorbike of some sort.
July 24, 2010 7:59 PM   Subscribe

I need a vehicle and can't afford a car so I wish to get a motorbike of some sort, I need some help though.

What kind of motorbike should I get? Should I get a scooter/moped (something like a Vespa) sport bike or a standard/naked bike and then what make/model from there?

Here's my situation:

1. I need something that either comes with or I can get storage space for; I need to be able to carry textbooks and a laptop so I need a trunk and/or saddlebags (hard plastic boxes) that are large enough, also able to do some light shopping from time to time. Can the three types of bikes I mentioned all be fitted with additional storage options like a trunk and side bags? How large does the additional storage come? Please provide a details link to items if possible.

2. What is the MPG like on each type of bike, what can I expect?

3. Is it standard that a second person can ride all types of motorbikes or does it vary? I'm looking for a bike a second person could hop on but it isn't a must have feature.

4. How much should I expect to spend on a reliable, low maintenance ride/what I should expect to pay for what you suggested? I don't want to be doing any maintenance myself and need it cheap to fix up should I take it in somewhere.

5. What cc should I get? I hear beginners should start around 250.

I can spend up to $5,000 but would prefer around $2,500 as the rest of the cash will need to go into accessories (helmet, storage, etc.).

I don't need anything that can go beyond 55 MPH as I'll mainly be sticking to surface streets but it would be nice if I could jump on the freeway from time to time. Most of the riding will be local community errands and to school, 20-35 minute rides.

I'll be taking a 3 day training course before I ride. This is for the Glendale/Phoenix area of Arizona.

Any additional info that would be relevant at this point would be appreciated.
posted by MeatyBean to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can't get acar for $5000?
posted by k8t at 8:16 PM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

While I don't have any expertise with bikes, I would like to echo k8t's comment. I purchased a vehicle for well under $5k off of Craigslist 2 years ago. All it's needed is standard maintenance, nothing else is wrong with it. Have you considered trying to look on CL? It's a challenge, but if you want a car, you can definitely find something for under $5k.
posted by omnipotentq at 8:33 PM on July 24, 2010

its/it has. not it's.
posted by omnipotentq at 8:33 PM on July 24, 2010

I paid ~$3,000 for a gently used Yamaha FZ6.

1 - Givi cases seem well liked. I dont own one. pic.

2 - 45mpg.

3 - Most (as far as I know?) real motorcycles can easily handle two riders.

4 - I love my FZ6. Its a sport-bike with a commuter bike layout. Very predictable under 7000 rpm's, a bit like a rocketship above. It seems as though they are popular with women who have a husband with a motorcycle, as well as cross-countriers.

5 - Don't buy any first bike that is a 'rr', '-r', or above 600 (sport) or 750cc (cruiser). 250cc is fine if you just want a basic commuter bike that will rival a Honda Civic for performance.

Speed -- The 600cc FZ6 does 0-60 in like 3 seconds, and can top out at ~150, but if you drive it like an economy car its extremely capable, full disc brakes that stop it VERY fast, decent suspension, and generally a fun bike with good resale.

That all being said -- $5,000? Buy a used car. Motorcycles are fun when its warm and sunny out. Not so much fun in rain, in traffic, in accidents, etc. I love mine, I highly recommend owning one, but they present their own set of headaches.

I just blew through two rear tires in 2 weeks ($220/ea), an oil change ($60). I ran my cheap $500 Ranger for a year without putting any money into it.
posted by SirStan at 8:41 PM on July 24, 2010

Take the class and then decide from there if it's for you. But scooters usually are around 50cc (in MA, you can drive up to 50cc without a motorcycle license, so people flock to them), full on motorcycles usually start at 250cc. There is a big difference.

I had a 500cc sportbike. I wish I had just gotten a small scooter, but this was before their recent uptick in popularity. Even after the MSF training class, that was too much bike for me. I ended up being more scared than having fun (although it was really exhilarating, and I was always riding safely), and sold it at a pretty bad loss. I had started riding a Honda Spree when I was 9 or 10 around dirt roads - motorscooters are really easy to ride, less of a balance issue. Motorcycles require more skill. They are hundreds of pounds. I don't know how big you are, but you will need muscle power.

But I'll also echo the above posters who say that you can get a car for far under 5k. Get a 95 Camry or something. Bikes aren't super cheap to fix and god forbid if you drop it. I dropped mine trying to turn it in my driveway. Or get a cheap scooter and then if it's not doing it for you, go for a full-on motorcycle from there next season.
posted by kpht at 8:46 PM on July 24, 2010

Even at the price point of $2500, you might be better off with a cheap but decent car. Bikes are economical on fuel and parking, but they come with a lot 'hidden' costs if you've never ridden one before. A decent helmet, gloves, jacket, lock, and any sort of trunk luggage setup can quickly run to grand or two. Then, most used bikes I've bought over the years needed tires ($120-200 ea), maybe a chain & sprokets (another $150-200) and other minor repairs. Tires on bikes only last 4-12k compared with 60k on a car. And as others have noted, bikes are not great in the rain (or the blazing heat like Arizona).

Bikes are awesome, and some of my happiest memories have been on a bike, but they aren't for everyone. And if they aren't for you, all that gear you just bought depreciates faster than a new car.

Now to your actual questions:

1. Givi is great, their top boxes are hard to beat.

2. Depending on the bike I've gotten between 30 and 85 mpg. Most of the bikes fall into the 40-50 range. I think scooters get better mileage, but I'm not as familiar with the modern offerings.

3. All the bikes I can think of, except for the very sportiest sport bikes, have room for a passenger. But bear in mind, that on the sportier bikes, the passenger position is usually uncomfortable for more than that shortest rides.

4. I think $2300-$4k is a reasonable price to pay for a modern-ish reliable motorcycle. I have no idea on scooters. If you want to keep your running costs low, stay away from the sportier end of the segments, and the more 'exotic' marques, like Ducati, BMW, etc.. A decent bike from one of the big japanese makers can be had for a couple of grand. I've always favored Hondas, but Kawasaki, Suzuki & Yamaha make fantastic bikes. As a rule of thumb (keeping in mind the Euro exotic exemption), the fewer cylinders the cheaper it will be to maintain. Payer a dealer to adjust the valves on a fast 4-cylinder sportbike will cost a lot more than a simpler 'standard' twin, or single-cylinder dual-sport (like the KLR).

5. For any street bike, 250-500cc is plenty. Bikes are much much faster than most cars. A $10k sportbike will give you more performance than cars in the 100k range. For dirt bike/dual sports (which I'd highly recommend for a beginner!) 600cc is a reasonable cap, provided your feet can reach the ground. Also remember, it is fated that you will ding your first bike. It will fall over in the parking lot, when the Arizona heat makes the asphalt soft, you'll brainfade for a second at walking speeds and dump it, you'll put your foot down in a slick patch of oil, or gravel at a stop sign and fall over. Better to have a cheap used bike without a lot of plastic to scratch as you learn these lessons.

Here's what I'd suggest: Buy a good full face helmet, good like $300-$500 good. If you're interested, go check out the FPP a few days ago about the helmet standard brouhaha (cliff note: Snell > ANSI). Get good motorcycle specific gloves. Ones with the fewest number of stitches on the palm. Get a good jacket (maybe two, a standard one and a mesh one for summer). ALWAYS WEAR THE GEAR. Skin grafts and soft tissue damage are no joke. Take the class. If you are still interested, go bike shopping. Not knowing your inseam, I'd suggest a Kawasaki KLR. It's a dual sport (I bet you have some great off-road riding nearby), meaning they are fairly simple, tough as old boots, and cheap to run. It's not going to cost you $3k if it falls over in a parking lot. It's already got a rack behind the seat to mount a topcase, and there's plenty of aftermarket support. I think it's a great and often overlooked first bike, but there are tons of great bikes out there in that price range, but don't worry too much about getting the 'perfect' for you bike. Most people sell their first bikes after a year or two because they either grow out of them, or realize what they are really looking for.

Also, the end of the riding season is a great time to pick up deals on craigslist, but in Arizona, I don't know when the end would be. After the first rain?

Scooters are also a great choice as well, but I don't talk about them because I'm nowhere near as knowledgable about modern scooters. My friends who have them, rave about them. Good luck!
posted by gofargogo at 11:08 PM on July 24, 2010

Data point: I recently bought a BMW E36 325i with 173k miles on it for $2000. It had been recently serviced, and everything on it works like a charm. Obviously this is a car that will need some maintenance, but if you have a mechanic you trust used cars won't be a problem.

There are tons of used cars for much less than that.

I also plan on buying a bike, but for pleasure.
posted by milinar at 12:07 AM on July 25, 2010


Get a $2000-$3000 used car, put $1000 into it. Put $1000 -$2000 in your pocket/emergency fund.

Then you can get places in the rain,
carry groceries,
go to a drive-in movie,
bring 1-3 friends with you when you go places...
posted by sandra_s at 4:38 AM on July 25, 2010

A moped means you share the lane with a car and they can't keep up with faster moving in-town traffic. Bigger than that, you'll need a motorcycle license. You'll probably want between a 125cc and 250cc bike. Get a bike that you can upright if it falls over.

A Vespa has small wheels (tires need replacing more often, potholes are a problem) but the footplatform means you can store an extra bag between your knees and you can wear a skirt while driving if you are female. The balance is different from a motorbike which you straddle. I only know of vintage vespas which are delicate flowers with noisy 2-stroke engines requiring a gas/oil mix.

MPG, p'shaw. You'll fill the tank once a week for a few dollars and forget about it.

The most important thing about motorbikes is a reliable knowledgeable mechanic. Find the mechanic first, find out what bikes he services/recommends, and then look for a bike.

Yes, you will develop an attitude about car drivers and especially cell-phone wielding car drivers. Drive hyper-defensively.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:38 AM on July 25, 2010

My wife loves her Yamaha C3. It's a scooter, not a motorcycle, only 50 cc, so you absolutely cannot take it on the freeway. But it gets up to 45 fairly easily, has storage space (and room for a small luggage rack), has a big enough seat for the occasional passenger, and gets 115 mpg.

DO NOT get an off-brand scooter. My wife did that first--the thing died after 3 months, and no local shops would touch it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:01 AM on July 25, 2010

Response by poster: Let me clarify, what I can't afford about a car is the insurance, gas, and maintenance. I have enough to buy a decent used car surely, but after that I'm in trouble.

Thanks for the abundance of replies, I'll be going through them shortly.
posted by MeatyBean at 5:18 PM on July 25, 2010

Sport bikes are not the best first bikes for most people. The engines can be a little high strung and maintenance can be tough due to all the plastic cladding. A mild mannered naked bike would be fine, something like a honda nighthawk (although i don't think they make them anymore). A scooter is ok if you are primarily commuting short distances across town (regular town not the phoenix metro area) but really limiting if you are trying to get around something like the phoenix metro area. They do get great mileage.

Buy good gear that fits you well and you can stand to wear in the heat in phoenix. I have been able to find bags cheap on ebay for all my bikes that have worked out well. I used a bmw 1150 gs as my primary transportation for about 4 years and never had problems bringing home groceries or such, but of course you can't bring home big stuff like lumber.

If you are tall enough a KLR650 is a great first bike, cheap to run, easy to work one and has been around with very little changes since the early 90's so the aftermarket support is great. Kawasaki also makes a KLR250 that is cheaper, lighter will get better mileage but won't have all that much power. Yamaha also makes a xt225 that is a great first bike. If you don't want to get a dual sport (and they really do make the best commuting bikes) get a 600 class twin- A Suzuki 650 V Strom, a Kawasaki Versys or something like this. Also Get a general book on maintaining a bike, they aren't a car and do require regular routine maintenance, more like cars did 30 years ago. They also go through tires fast (about 5k for most rears and 10k for fronts) and you will need a new chain every so often.
posted by bartonlong at 4:44 PM on July 26, 2010

The maintenance costs on a motorcycle are ridiculous unless you do the work yourself. Example: My ninja 250 is considered a relatively low maintenance bike. I bought the bike used a year ago. Here's some of the work I've done on it.

- Adjusted valves - my cost: a few basic tools and a few hours - mechanic's price: $200
You have to do this every 7k miles

- Cleaned carbs - bike was running poorly

- Synched carbs

- New spark plugs

- Changed brake and radiator fluid

- Patched leak in gas tank

- Adjusted chain slack and greased chain (every 500 miles)

- Speedometer cable rattled loose from console. Common problem. Reattached with loctite.

- Replaced tires. Balanced wheels.

- Replaced fork seals and dust guards. Right fork was leaking

- Disassembled and greased rear suspension linkages. Didn't find any rust, but I wanted to be safe.

- Changed oil (every 3k)

The bike still doesn't run as great as my car. It stumbles and dies at idle sometimes. The bike's carbureted, so you can't expect it to run as well as a fuel injected car.
posted by malp at 7:16 AM on August 2, 2010

Other people have done the same exercise and come to the conclusion that at best, you'd break even over buying a cheap car.
posted by malp at 7:23 AM on August 2, 2010

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