The Motorcycle Cheapskate: Defining Value

When folks ask me how I got into motorcycles, the answer is some variation of:
“After watching a movie with a sweet motorcycle, I used $4 a gallon gas to justify buying a scooter.”

For whatever it’s worth, the movie was Tron: Legacy, but the scooter was a Tomos Nitro 150 (SYM GY6 clone). I kept $4 in quarters in a Ziploc bag under the seat which was enough to ride about 85 miles on a tank. I rode that scooter to work every day possible as I desperately milked the last bit of life out of my “college car”. Needless to say, I’ve evolved from urban scooter life (for now), but there’s no denying that the money-saving motivation is still alive and well.

The reminiscence of my scooter days was caused by the sudden appearance of the dreaded “R-word” in the latest news headlines. As everyone that’s reading this already knows, the current financial climate is making many of us question our spending decisions. Considering the rumors of imminent economic contraction, I can’t help debating the stereotypical behaviors of the motorcycle community coupled with the business strategies of the larger franchises. Even in good conditions, I can’t help asking myself, “what’s a motorcycle really worth?”

More specifically, I had a recent back in forth with my buddy Ted (Host of the Motorcycle Men Podcast). I took the Pan America for a test ride a few weeks back and I really like it; so much so, I would say it’s in hot competition with the Africa Twin and the V85TT as my number one pick for a (new) sport touring motorcycle. That said, at $17,400 for the base model, there’s some pretty stiff competition in the 1000cc+ adventure touring class. Considering Honda’s base model Africa Twin retails for $14,500, what are you getting from Harley-Davidson for the extra three grand?

This same question can be applied to a number of “premium” motorcycle brands and models. I’d like to extend this idea a little bit further; I can understand someone suggesting that comparing a Harley-Davidson cruiser to a Japanese sport bike is unfair because the buyers likely have two very different metrics that influence choice. So for argument’s sake, let’s take a closer look at the “adventure touring segment”. While there’s no question that American motorcycle buyers simply “like what they like”, so they buy a motorcycle that strikes their fancy. An honest assessment of the stereotypical American motorcyclist will likely reveal they most riders are casual commuters and social creatures. I often call motorcycles “pontoon boats with wheels”, as most owners ride from one place to another for food, drink, and comradery. We can argue until the cows come home about the intended use case for a given “class” of motorcycle and what customer it fits, but the cold hard truth is that virtually any motorcycle for sale today is capable of doing what 90% of American riders choose to do with their bikes.

Under that premise, and even debating motorcycles among the ADV touring category, I can’t help asking, how would one treat a new Kawasaki Versys 650 any differently than the target customer for the Pan America? Considering the price of current heavyweight ADV bikes, you could feasibly purchase two brand new motorcycles for the same price; i.e. a Tenere 700 and a Himalayan, a Versys 650 and a KLR, and the list goes on.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I get it, there’s no metric for taste. We can talk about horsepower differences, comfort on the highway, and all kinds of subjective wants and needs that dictate the rationalized decisions of discretionary spending. We can argue about annual long-distance vacations versus daily commuting and all sorts of nuanced differences that drive the need for more displacement and factory farkles. So beyond horsepower and displacement, I’d be remiss to not point out the price creep and the coincidence of electronic doodads.

In my mind, the Tenere 700 was a cold bucket of water on the ADV marketing folks, considering it arrived as the “no-frills” ADV machine in a world more and more dominated by throttle by wire, rider modes, and a host of other electronic “rider aides”. Old school LCD dash, cable throttle, ABS, but no cruise control or other electronic assistance, all for the low, low price of $10,300. Meanwhile, Triumph offers their off-road-oriented Tiger 900 Rally for $15,400, fitted with TFT display, ABS, traction control, rider modes, and of course, cruise control. For 50 Benjamin’s, the British are offering you an extra 200cc, slipper clutch, 22 horsepower, and an electronics suite. You get more features for more money on the Triumph, hell, you even get an extra cylinder on the Tiger. That said, how much does the riding experience change from the Tenere to the Tiger?

Mark Gardiner likes to use the metric “smiles per mile”. I love that metric, considering how I endlessly debate about motorcycles. Being the budget-conscious rider, “miles per dollar” for tires, and “smiles per dollar” for motorcycles is definitely the metric of choice for the frugal motorcyclist. I admit and acknowledge that a motorcycle purchase is primarily emotionally motivated; people like what they like. If it’s possible to set that aside, if you think about the riding experience from an objective perspective, how much does a TFT display impact the practical use of a motorcycle? How much “better” does the motorcycle “feel” in sport mode versus “normal” mode? Is 1 horsepower worth $100?

There are no wrong answers here. I don’t begrudge anyone for their financial success or purchase of premium goods, more power to you. I don’t judge people for borrowing money to have the motorcycle of their dreams before their health precludes such a life experience. Simultaneously, as the threat of constricting budgets encroaches on the dinner table, I question the direction of the motorcycle market as it relates to cost and technology. More “stuff” is currently associated with more money. For the last decade, money has been “cheap” (i.e. low-interest financing), but there are threats to that business plan on the horizon. Considering the discretionary nature of motorcycle purchases, I expect that more and more buyers will take a closer look at “what am I getting for my money?” If you’re riding your motorcycle exactly how you like to ride it, on your absolutely favorite road or trail, how much time is actually spent looking at that TFT dash?

My history is a little fuzzy, but I believe the café racer craze emerged as a result of “recession budgets” and a surplus of 80’s era motorcycles. As our economic future comes into question, I suggest we as motorcyclists assess the value of our current market offerings, and how they will impact the growth of our sport. When times are tough, is a more affordable machine 90% as fun as a premium alternative? Will the techno-wiz-bangery become difficult to maintain when I don’t have the cash to pay a dealer? How much are rider aides worth, and do they make the riding experience more valuable?

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17 Responses to The Motorcycle Cheapskate: Defining Value

  1. eastgoeseast says:

    Good post! Couldn’t agree more with much of what you write. I’ve had more fun on my 1999 Suzuki XF650, which cost 2000 euros, than on any other bike. Big smiles per miles with this bike, which confirms my belief that a motorcycle doesn’t have to be big, powerful or technically innovative to be a ton of fun. I’ve never had lots of extra money lying around, so I’ve always had to plan my purchases carefully. Sure, I’d like to have a new motorcycle, but would it really make me any happier? For now, I’ll stick with what I have and see what happens when and if things ever calm down. Be careful out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      I think you really hit on the essence of my point. It’s not that people shouldn’t have what that want, it’s that if you sacrifice a small percentage of “what you want” can those dollars go further somewhere else that way in the end creates more powerful satisfaction. The conundrum is still valid, would you be happier with one dream bike or two close to dream bikes? Tough call! Thanks so much for reading!

      Like

  2. Paul says:

    Maybe I’m on the wrong track here but I think we try to justify why we ride. I think the smiles per miles is the best. I can say fuel savings, 40+years worth, is part of it. I have certainly spent plenty of money on tires, maintenance and usable farkles. So I may not be on the cheap side but have tried to get the most bang for each dollar spent. I certainly haven’t chased after the latest and greatest. So maybe there is some cheap in me.

    Like

  3. Dan says:

    A few comments from a discussion with a friend this morning.
    1. I always consider resale when deciding what bells/whistles to buy. Even I don’t see value, very few buyers of used equipment want a stripped down model of anything.
    2. The “TFT” on my GS is a gimmick. It’s a tach and a speedo. I use it for the gas gauge and the tire pressure monitor. That’s it!
    3. I observe “early adopters” that must have every new gadget the moment it comes out. Their lives are not enhanced or simplified…..I observe the opposite….they are anxious, fiddling, adjusting …they are frustrated (never happy)
    4. I don’t need my Fridge to tell me that I’m out of ice cream…..I was there when I ate the whole 1/2 gallon last night.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. TheQ says:

    Interesting post. Here’s a little story I´d like to add. When the new Tiger 1200 was presented, I was invited and was able to take a test drive. I then asked the seller what I would have to pay if he traded in my TEX. He made an offer where I would have had to pay roughly 18k EUR (same amount in USD) to get the new Tiger 1200 outfitted the same as my TEX already is. On the way home, I thought about how many trips I could make with that kind of money. Fuel, tire consumption, services, even very good hotels and always going out for dinner in the evening would not use up this amount as quickly as buying the new Tiger 1200. And what would I get out of it then? A bike from 2022 with all the bells and whistles, but I wouldn´t be able to afford lots of trips and all the cost which comes with them. So I decided that I´m better off investing the money in trips instead, because my TEX is in near mint condition, works fine and will go on several thousand miles more. But much more importantly – when I´m old and can´t ride anymore, I´ll still have the memories of all those trips (at least I hope that dementia doesn´t hit me 😉 ).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Simon says:

    Hey I agree with much of what you state, we are all a bit TOO fixated on having the latest and or the best but about 90% of this stuff is only good for “pub talk” in my view. Anything over 100 horses is not usable, I could thrash my XJR1300 but nothing bigger.

    Liked by 2 people

    • MotoADVR says:

      Being an ADV guy, I typically say that HP just sends you off the cliff sooner. At the same time, I wish my Sportster had a bit more poke on urban traffic. I don’t begrudge anyone what they want, at the same time, we’re all paying the price for short attention spans and impatience.

      Like

    • parasympatheticsynapse says:

      That’s why you pay all that extra money. Not only are you paying for an engine that makes the power of hundreds of pissed off horses, but electronics that shoots half of them so the tire will maintain traction with the road.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Simon says:

    And ps dont forget about residual values. My last TMax 530DX cost me 9k pounds and after three years I traded in for a Techmax and the dealer paid me 8k for the 530.

    Liked by 2 people

    • MotoADVR says:

      This is also a good point. Unfortunately covid screwed the used market to the point it’s really hard to debate resale. Your point is still valid. I however can’t speak much to that concept as I tend to wear stuff out to the point I seldom get that advantage.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Simon says:

    Agreed. But last weekend I covered about 3000 kms in 5 days riding from Amalfi (Italy) up to Troyes in France to meet a mate and swap bikes. My steeds were two Yamaha TMaxes, I took the 530 and returned with the new 560 Techmax. These wonderful bikes make about 45 horses but on a motorway with cruise control you really dont need any more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      That’s been another point I make about cars and bikes alike, I can get speeding infractions on my 24HP 250. I don’t think we should limit power on vehicles. At the same time, at some point you reach diminishing returns in investment because the “capacity” is never used.

      Liked by 1 person

      • parasympatheticsynapse says:

        Rod Stewart had a hit song in the 70s. Few people realize that “Hot Legs” was actually an anthem to liter bikes…

        Like

  8. Simon says:

    AND I left behind several big bikes on the motorway, loads of guys buy a big bike and then don’t really know how to handle all of those horses…

    Liked by 2 people

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