Get Your Motor Runnin'
If gas prices are killing you, here's a guide to thrifty motorcycles and scooters.
There's nothing like paying upward of $5 for a gallon of gas. It's exhilarating, like being Tasered or getting clocked in the kisser.
Seriously, if filling up your four-wheeler doesn't make you wince, you might as well stop reading this article now. For the rest of us, there's the brutal reality that prices at the pump are higher than they've ever been in this country—up more than 38 percent in the last four months, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. What can be done to ease the pain? Ditch your cage, and get out and ride. That's what.
Yes, motorcycles, those inherently dangerous beasts that you've either loved or loathed (or maybe both), are where it's at when it comes to fuel efficiency. With gas prices through the roof, Consumer Reports recently conducted a nationwide survey of car drivers contemplating their next move. "More than one quarter of consumers have considered giving up two wheels," the CR study reveals. "Among them 18 percent have contemplated a motorcycle and 14 percent were drawn to motor scooters." Those are staggering numbers given such a historically marginalized, and even demonized, mode of transport.
So, perhaps you're ready to come to the dark side. First of all, you should get an actual motorcycle license (you'd be surprised how many people forgo this major detail) and definitely look into some sort of training. Sliding down the road creating sparks or tossing your bike into the bushes is no way to treat your ride or yourself. (Scooters, by the way, can get you in just as much trouble as their beefier brethren.) Take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course or any similar program.
Anyone who's interested in bikes and has done a little research knows that there are literally tens of makes and hundreds of models. So, we can't cover it all here, and we're not trying to stump for any specific bikes. What follows is an extremely broad and completely unscientific, yet infinitely wise, guide to what you might consider when buying a motorcycle or scooter.
Before you set foot in a dealership or comb the used-bike ads, think about what your plans are for riding: What's your budget, where and how often do you plan on using the machine, will you park it on the street or in a garage, and so on.
If you're a city dweller, you'll be facing a lot of nasty obstacles, many of them coming at you fast, within inches of you and your sled. There's also the joy of monster pot holes, opening car doors, oblivious pedestrians, and even-more-oblivious drivers. The best sleds to tackle such terrain are "dual-sports," essentially bikes meant for both on- and off-road use. They're nimble, light, tough, and have plenty of shock travel to eat up what the mean streets will feed you. Look into the venerable, remarkably inexpensive, and famously fuel-efficient Kawasaki KLR 650 ($5,349 MSRP) or the less-ambitious and even more fuel-efficient Suzuki DR 250 ($3,949 MSRP).
Not bad for the city and perfect for the 'burbs, "cruisers" are more laid-back in style and come in a variety of displacements, from the ultraforgiving, featherweight Honda Rebel 250 ($3,199 MSRP) to the massive, mighty, and mad Triumph Rocket III 2500 ($14,999 MSRP). Those feeling a little sportier should mount a "standard." Like cruisers, standards are adept rides for the city and the 'burbs. Novices could hop on the zippy, entry-level Buell Blast 500 ($4,695), the smallest of Harley-Davidson's answer to anything other than its famous cruisers. Want to get a lot more aggressive? An Aprilia Tuono 1000R ($12,999 MSRP) will definitely set you straight, and could make you tremble with fear.
Anxious to rip down the highway, terrorize country towns, and eat up the twisties? Go with a sport bike. If a big-muscle liter bike is your goal, then you should already know what you want and certainly know what you're doing. No explanations needed. Greenhorns eager to dip their toes would do well to check out the UM V2S-250R ($3,699 MSRP) or step up a bit and tackle the perennial favorite Kawasaki Ninja 500R ($5,099).
Consumers hoping for maximum fuel efficiency had best settle on a scooter, currently the fastest-growing section of the motorcycle market. In most states, any scooter above 150cc requires a motorcycle license. Although some of these largely automatic, step-through machines boast impressive power plants, such as the Burgman 650 Executive ($7,799 MSRP), and are capable of triple-digit speeds, the majority aren't that intimidating and are incredibly easy to ride. They've also been known to get up to 100 miles per gallon. One of the lowest-priced scooters is the TNG TS 250 ($2,495 MSRP). Shooting big or small, you're bound to have fun and save money on a scooter. And you can park them just about anywhere without getting heat from the heat. Bonus!
This modest roundup barely scratches the surface of the many motorcycles and scooters available today. But if you make your choice carefully and with a degree of knowledge, the benefits you stand to reap in terms of pleasure and finance are massive. And who knows? You might even look cool in the saddle. But maybe that's asking too much.
Sam Whitehead is a features editor and staff writer at American Iron and RoadBike magazines.
Photograph of the Burgman 650 Executive courtesy of American Suzuki Motor Corporation. Photograph of the Kawasaki KLR 650 Kawasaki Motors Corp.