My Other Minimal Vehicle

A while ago I extolled the virtues of driving a classic car instead of a newer one. Fewer features means fewer things to break, not to mention that classic car registration and insurance are often much cheaper than those of a more modern car. However, if tinkering in the garage every weekend maintaining your 25+ year old vehicle isn’t up your alley, there’s another option that I think is often overlooked: motorcycles.

Motorcycles cover all the bases that I look for in transportation. It just has to get me where I’m going at a minimum of cost. There are some tradeoffs that I’ll get to in a minute, but in general a motorcycle is a great way to do this. They’re orders of magnitude cheaper than a car. Additionally, and like a classic car, motorcycle registration and insurance is often much cheaper than a modern car. They’re also (generally) simpler vehicles to maintain, and are much more user-serviceable than a comparably aged car.

My daily driver is a small-ish but comfortable cruiser, and I’ve been driving it to work and back for about a year and a half now. You can pick one up for much cheaper than any comparable used car. My motorcycle is great on long trips, great at carrying a passenger, and has been extremely reliable for me. I’ve put quite a few miles on it and have only had to change the oil, air filter, and tires. And there’s two fewer of those than on any car, too.

Motorcycles also get amazing mileage. My first motorcycle, a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, got over 70 mpg. My first employer let me ride it for business and reimbursed at $0.59/mile, which works out to over $30/gallon that I was getting in mileage. It’s great! Even my current heavier cruiser-style motorcycle gets 50 mpg which is amazing because my commute is over 50 miles per day. When compared against my truck, this is a yearly savings of around $1,500 in fuel alone.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room, though. I know motorcycles are dangerous. I was in a pretty bad accident on my first motorcycle when an SUV pulled out in front of me and I collided with a 4000 pound hunk of metal at about 40 mph. I woke up in the hospital a few hours later with no memory of the entire day, and various slings and tubes attached to my body. However, I believe the risk can be mitigated in some circumstances. I can’t recommend riding a motorcycle as a daily driver in a climate where it rains a lot. I also wouldn’t recommend it if you’d be driving a lot at night, or if you live and commute in a crowded city. Or if you live in a college down that is dominated by drivers with little driving experience. My commute, though, is 25 miles into deserted university-free swampland in central Florida on a divided highway, so except for the occasional afternoon shower I believe my risk is pretty well mitigated. If I took another job that wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, I’d probably get a little car to commute for safety reasons.

Additionally, most motorcycle accidents happen because a rider has overestimated their abilities. Ever see a sport bike rocket in between traffic on the interstate, and the rider is only wearing a t-shirt and shorts? Statistically, those people skew the statistics. And a large percentage of motorcycle accidents happen to riders who have been riding less than six months. I always recommend new riders get a 250cc motorcycle as their first bike because they are much more forgiving, and we all make mistakes. But in general: stay within your limits, ride safely, always wear your helmet (and jacket, boots, gloves, and pants), and don’t go out unless it’s a beautiful day.

Safety, economics, and practicality aside, though, motorcycles are fun. Almost everyone asked me how I could get back on one after my wreck, and this simple answer is the best one I have. The first time I rode one over 10 mph I thought I was flying. It feels kind of like a bicycle, but there’s no way it should be going that fast! It’s crazy! And that feeling hasn’t gone away for me, either. I always get a thrill out of riding one, even if it’s just to the store for a loaf of bread. If I didn’t need my Shadow for my commute, I’d consider selling it but I’d keep my old Yamaha just so I can scratch that itch every now and then. If I sell them both, I know I’ll end up with another one in the future anyway because I’ll miss the excitement too much. Life is too short to sit around eating ramen and driving a 10-year-old beater car, and motorcycles are cheap enough that they’re a much more enjoyable alternative for some minimalist lifestyles.

But, since we recently had a bit of a storm scare in South Florida, I’m obligated to remind you that neither a motorcycle nor a classic Volkswagen is particularly suited to any hurricane weather or post-hurricane disaster relief. Or evacuation. So you should probably take my recommendation with a grain of salt!

Ride safe, my friends!

Photo: My daily driver, an ’06 Honda Shadow. A great bike for making it look like you ride a Harley, except this one is reliable. If you want to see my unreliable vintage bike head over here and scroll down. 

Hurricane Erika

Earlier today, Hurricane Erika (now downgraded to a tropical storm) was forecast to make landfall within about 40 miles of where I live. Since my house is about a mile from the coastline, any hurricane approaching Florida’s Atlantic coast is generally a concern for me. (Although some that make landfall on the Gulf coast can impact the entire peninsula quite substantially.) My house was built in 1949 and doesn’t quite comply with the latest wind loading portions of the building codes, so things could get dicey.

Anyway, Erika is now supposed to head north of me (hopefully driving a little surf my way) but this could easily change. It also drives home a point-of-view I’ve had about living minimally, possibly a view I wouldn’t have without living in a place like South Florida: It’s a lot easier to pack up and get out-of-town if you don’t have much to take with you.

This particular storm is probably only going to make landfall as a category 1 storm, which means evacuation won’t be necessary. But we could easily have a more severe storm later in the season that would require evacuation. I can easily say I don’t have much I’d take with me. Probably this laptop, a few books to read, maybe I could take a surfboard with me. I’d also grab my safe which just has a copy of my mortgage and a hard drive with backups of all of my files. (It’s only safe from fire and water, and only for maybe an hour.) But that’s about it. Minimalism has allowed me to live a life without a huge amount of valuables, which is a very convenient way to live in a disaster-prone area like Florida. I won’t be worried about all of my “stuff” while I’m heading out of harm’s way, and I have insurance on the house so I don’t really need to worry about that either.

I haven’t been through a hurricane before, since I’ve only lived here on the coast for about four years. It’s been a pretty mild few years as far as hurricanes go, too. My first summer we had two misses that just dumped a ton of rain here: Hurricane Isaac and Hurricane Sandy. Despite doing considerable damage up north, Sandy didn’t do much here besides cause epic surf. I also lived through Tropical Storm Barry when I was living in Charleston, which as far as I know only overturned a john boat in the harbor. Hopefully Erika won’t do much more than give me a small taste of what a real hurricane is like, and a new appreciation of my lifestyle. And maybe toss up some waves, too!

I’ll keep everyone updated if I can; if there’s damage anywhere in Florida my day job requires me to go out and fix it. I could be gone for a while depending on the situation, but if the predictions come true the damage probably won’t be very severe.

Photo: Current track of Erika, forecast to make landfall pretty close to where I live. “05L 2015 5day” by National Hurricane Center – http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/refresh/graphics_at5+shtml/024057.shtml?5day#contents. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:05L_2015_5day.gif#/media/File:05L_2015_5day.gif

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