The free motorcycle equation

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Category: Dailies

It’s hard to explain the appeal of motorcycling to non-initiates. Doubly hard if those non-riders are also math geeks. This equation, created by HFL reader Ben Kester combines fuel economy, gas prices, and the price of a new motorcycle to tell you how many miles it’d take before that bike will pay for itself over your car. If you buy a CCW Hooligun, that pay off could come as soon as 24,375 miles.

So in this formula, CF = car fuel economy (mpg); G = price of gas per gallon; BP = bike price; and BF = bike fuel economy (mpg).

Ben’s car nets him 22mpg, which is pretty average, so it’s a good point of comparison. Add an estimated 85mpg for the $3,490 Hooligun and the payoff comes in 24,375 miles. That could be a single year of commuting for some people.

Ben explains that this formula is somewhat over-simplified, “The formula certainly has limitations in that it excludes insurance, gear, and consumables like brake pads and tires.  Those concerns are probably offset to some degree by the lower amount of wear and tear that are put on the car that is now sitting in the driveway.”

“I wrote it up the way I did so that:
A. I could catch the attention of some of my friends that would normally ignore a post about motorcycles
B. Send more traffic to the CCW guys so that they'll hurry up and offer the Hooligun and Ace
C. I wanted the formula to be fairly easy to plug numbers into “

 We ran this formula past our resident numbers guy, Nick Goddard. I can’t do math, but he assures us it checks out. Nick adds that he uses a similar formula, but thinks of it as a discount on a more expensive motorcycle, which is probably applicable to more people. “The trouble is that a moped has a very low payoff mileage,” explain Nick. “So you think "I'll get a sportsbike and just ride a little farther" but a sportsbike loses a lot of the mileage advantage and costs much more... that's why i think it's better to think of getting a discount, rather than looking for total payoff.”

Plug in an R1, for example, using 20mpg for the bike, 10mpg for a hypothetical car and a $12,000 as the bike price and it’d take you 68,571 miles to recoup your money using $3.50 gas. But, you’ll achieve a 20 percent discount on that bike purchase after just 13,714 miles, which is a reasonable year of commuting.

Ben’s applied his formula to his own life, saying, “Two years ago I bought my first bike, a 1981 Honda CM400t for 800 dollars, and I've been having fun customizing/fixing it and riding whenever it's above 35 degrees out. I've put about 6000 miles on it mostly riding to Indiana University (I'm a graduate student in Biochemistry).  Using the same approximations, that bike will pay for itself in about another 2000 miles.”

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