Letter Re: Advice on Motorcycles

Good Morning:
What’s your opinion about motorcycles for personal transportation in the tough times ahead? Obviously much better on gas but I wonder if I would be more vulnerable to public disturbances? I live in a very rural area but have to commute into the city for my job. Would you spend the money to get one or would that money be better spent on eliminating debt? Thanks in advance for your thoughts. – Dave P. in South Carolina

JWR Replies: In a “slow slide” situation where the power grid stays up (“Grid Up”) and law and order are maintained, a motorcycle could have great utility. The current high gasoline prices are likely to continue for the foreseeable future, so owning a fuel-efficient motorcycle makes sense for day-to-day commuting and for other purposes. My general preference is for air-cooled medium-displacement engine motorcycles with off road suspensions (a.k.a. “dirt bikes”) that have the features to qualify them as “street legal.” About 350CC is ideal, but sadly that engine class is no longer available in the US market. (There are, however, lots of used 350 dirt bikes on the market.) Heavier bikes with large displacement engines (500CC, or larger) have inferior fue economy and more importantly are very difficult to get back to an upright position following a mishap in which you “dump” your bike. (The weight limit might be as little as 300CC for someone of small stature with limited upper body strength.)

Perhaps the ultimate for preppers would be a Kawasaki KLR 650 diesel/JP8 bike, which is the 611CC civilian equivalent of the M1030 tactical motorcycle.now fielded by the US Army, USMC, and US Air Force, in small numbers. They are a bit heavy (see my preceding proviso), but they are quite sturdy.

If you plan to use a motorcycle as a last-ditch “Get Out of Dodge” (G.O.O.D.) vehicle, then I recommend that you conceal any spare fuel cans inside panniers, to reduce the likelihood of being targeted by looters. (Auxiliary cargo racks for dirt bikes are made by ProMoto and are available from CycleBuy.com. Both hard and soft dirt bike cargo panniers are available from Moto-Sport Panniers.)

A motorcycle has great mobility advantages to most other vehicles–especially in stalled traffic situations, or for off-road trail riding–but keep in mind that you will also be far more vulnerable to attack than when riding in an enclosed vehicle. (So they’d be a poor choice for a “Grid Down” situation when things get Schumeresque.) As with any other preparedness measure, there are trade-offs.

I don’t recommend going into debt to buy a motorcycle unless you live in a dry climate and are certain that you will ride it almost daily, commuting. (In that case, the motorcycle will pay for itself in a few years, through gas cost savings.) If you aren’t sure that you will end up riding regularly, it is best to borrow of lease a motorcycle for a few months, just to see if you will stick with it.

Rather than taking on any new installment debt, I believe that is far better to sell off some non-essentials to finance a dirt/street bike purchase. Do you really need a big screen plasma high definition television, or a Hummel collection, or a Jet-Ski? Re-think your priorities and get practical.

Just as with buying a car, it best buy a used motorcycle, to get the most for your money. Just be sure to have it inspected by a qualified motorcycle mechanic before you make a purchase.