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Economies of age

Posted on 24 May 2011 in Opinion | 1 comment

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I had an interesting experience last weekend while riding my wife’s old Honda CM400 (a bike which regular readers will remember from the “Sick Honda” series). She was out of town and I was bored, so a ride was naturally in order. The weather, counter to most of this spring, was actually lovely for riding. As is my custom, I swung by BlueCat to see what was up and hung with Ryan, Jeff and guys for a while. Leaving Jeff to his “halo ground” wiring, I set off again toward home, but didn’t really want to get there anytime soon. I wound my way down Summit, across the Smith bridge and eventually out into some winding country byways south of the twin cities. I put a bit over 100 miles on the CM400 that day, which was a great way to wear out my backside. That’s no surprise, but I was in for a bit of a shock when I stopped to fill the CM back up with petrol. Doing quick math, this 30 year-old Honda had done over 50 mpg in mostly in-town riding. That’s hybrid car kind of mileage.

That got me thinking. It’s no secret that in the car world, buying a used car is actually the more environmentally responsible thing to do. For example, the Toyota Prius — the poster car for green transportation — requires the energy equivalent of about 1,000 gallons of gas just to manufacture. That means that even at hybrid mpg, you’re looking at about about 46,000 miles of use before you’ve offset that manufacturing energy in fuel savings. Buying a used vehicle that gets even decent mpg side steps the whole “energy debt” question all together because you’re in essence recycling the vehicle directly rather than having a new one made. It’s a simple concept that we’ve all heard before, but I hadn’t previously thought about it in terms of motorcycles.

Looking at it in this context, riding an old motorcycle is actually a very environmentally friendly* thing to do. You don’t have the “energy debt” of building and shipping a new bike, and many midsize and smaller machines will net you fuel economy numbers most hybrid cars would be proud of. Not too shabby. Even the non tree-huggers among us can appreciate savings at the pump, and let’s face it, who ever looked sexy in a Prius? Low running costs are only part of the economies of age, though. Many vintage japanese bikes, for example, can be had in perfect working order for less than $2,500. It’s hard to buy a quality new scooter these days for $2,500.

Society has evolved, that almost goes without saying. Motorcycles remain a great way to express your individuality, to embrace the freedom of the open road, and to just generally stick it to the man. I don’t think that will ever change. However, riding around on some vintage iron can mean sticking it to Big Oil too. It can mean $2,500 that didn’t go toward any of today’s machines — so many of which are lacking in soul and charm. And it can mean showing a little kindness to the blue ball we live on.

*You can always find some esoteric way to be just a little bit more environmentally friendly. This is one way. Not the only way. Calm down, hippies.

  • JONNYC

    You pretty much have me convinced. I am going to site this article anytime people ask why I ride a motorcycle, much less why something so “old” looking. Thanks for the oil and sex appeal awareness,

    “let’s face it, who ever looked sexy in a Prius?”

    KEEP WRENCHING! Jon – NE mnpls