Advice

Biking on a budget. How to keep your costs down

Save money motorcycling? Armed with an army surplus loyalty card and an economy size calculator, that’s exactly what Marc sets off to do, starting with financing and buying a new bike.

Getting your biking finances wrong can be disastrous. I’ve been in the position of running a large thirsty bike for long distance commuting and it bankrupted me. I couldn’t afford to look after it when I was working. When I lost my job I couldn’t afford to even ride it.

Ever since that time I’ve taken a more Money Saving Expert approach to ownership, and it’s paid off. I can now afford to run two bikes.

Finance

How you pay for your new bike makes a big difference but I’m not dishing out financial advice here. Spoiler – the absolute cheapest way is to save up all the money you need, preferably in a high-interest account and don’t borrow any money at all. But who’s got the patience for that?

If you do have to go down the finance route, shop around. If the exercise is to save money, a bank loan may be the best bet. PCP plans help you reduce monthly payments, but the interest will nearly always be higher than bank rates, unless there is some kind of manufacturer supported deal available.

Avoid short term and other payday-style lenders. Their interest rates are often crippling.

Selling

If you’re selling a bike to help towards a new or newer one then it’s worth getting as much as you can. Selling privately generally brings you more cash than trading in, but it’s a lot of faff.

Either way, the better the bike looks and runs the more you’ll get for it. Spend time cleaning it up and getting it running sweet. But that doesn’t mean you should spend too much money on it. There comes a point when it’s just not economically sensible and it becomes cheaper to scrap the old bike rather than do it up.

Trading In

If you go to two different dealers and ask about trading your bike in for two very different models you’ll get two different valuations on your bike. Why’s this? Sometimes dealers have bikes they want to get rid of and will give a higher trade in price on those. Other models are so sexy they don’t need financial incitements to sell. If you really know the market you can play the dealers at their own game.

Purchase

If you’re buying brand new then the time of year is a factor to consider. Everyone wants a bike with the new registration numbers in March and September so prices are high but dealers will slash prices to shift stock in January and February.

Shop around, see if you can find the same model cheaper elsewhere. If you can, tell your preferred dealer and they might undercut. Haggle, ask for freebies and trade in an old bike. They’re dealers, they do deals.

If you’re buying used (see the next tip) then dealers will have a lot of trade-ins they want to shift after the glut in March and September.

Depreciation

As soon as you buy a new bike its value drops, the less desirable the model the worse the depreciation. Age, mileage, condition and desirability are the main factors determining how much you’ll lose.

If you buy second hand then a lot of that depreciation has already happened. If you look hard enough you can find a low mileage, peachy condition bike that’s already done most of its depreciation.

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Maintenance

Looking after your bike properly will save you money in the long run. Falling off because of worn tyres and brakes that you couldn’t afford or be bothered to sort out is a lot worse than the price of the parts. Engine damage is a lot more expensive than an oil and filter change.

Bike shops can charge an arm and a leg for their mechanic’s time so doing it yourself is attractive. But if your bike’s new and under warranty then check the conditions of that warranty before touching it yourself. If it’s not serviced in a proper dealership you might be kissing your warranty goodbye. Mind you, I’ve never known anyone who’s made a warranty claim on a bike…

In these days of advanced electronics a bike’s Engine Management Unit knows when the bike’s been serviced. The mechanic will reset the service interval clock. If you see a little spanner on the instrument panel of a bike that’s up for sale avoid it, it hasn’t been serviced on schedule.

Basic, routine servicing isn’t difficult, it’s great to learn how to do things yourself. But things like valve clearances need to be done by a proper mechanic in a proper workshop. I limit myself to doing oil and filter changes, check fluids, bleed the brakes (that’s pretty advanced for me!) and chain adjustment. Anything more complicated than that and the bike goes to the shop. I simply don’t have the tools, time, skills or the space to do anything ambitious. Getting things done by a professional is cheaper than paying a professional to put right all the things I’ve fucked up. I know my limits.

Be wary of that friend of a friend who offers to take your bike apart and put it together for you on the cheap. In the past I’ve been caught out by things like ‘Oh I lent my flywheel puller to some bloke so I can’t do anything till he brings it back’ and my bike sits in pieces in his lock-up waiting for some numpty to get his shit together. Unless they have a solid reputation I’d rather find a decent bike shop.

Service parts

Again if your bike’s under warranty then cheap pattern parts will invalidate that warranty. If you’re out of your warranty then pattern parts aren’t all bad. No bike shop will use genuine manufacturer’s branded parts unless you ask them specifically to.

For a quick comparison, a pattern oil filter for a Yam MT-07 costs £5.28 (from Wemoto.com) while a genuine Yamaha item costs £14.49 (on ebay). Are they any different? Well, one has ‘Yamaha’ written on it. Beware of anything that’s too cheap though.

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Consumable Parts

Oil, chains, sprockets, brake pads and tyres are all easy to keep an eye on before they start to cause expensive problems.

Oil
Check your manual and use the recommended viscosity rating even if you buy a cheaper equivalent. Make sure you don’t dip below the lower level of your oil glass or dipstick – if you run the oil too low you can do permanent damage that will cost you either in reduce efficiency or in a big bill if it goes bang.

Don’t assume that engine oil for cars is ok to use in a bike engine. Most cars have their dry clutch separate from the wet sump. Most bikes have a wet clutch which sits in the same oil as the crank. A lot of car oil these days has that ’magnatech’ stuff that gradually coats and lubricates the surfaces it comes into contact with. Sounds great but you don’t want your clutch plates coated in that kind of stuff.

Drivechain
Seeing as it’s one of the more expensive consumables, you save money by keeping your chain adjusted and lubricated properly.

The chain, we’re told, is the most efficient means of transmitting power to the rear wheel. If it’s too loose it will absorb and waste power and therefore fuel too. If it’s too tight it will grind away at the sprockets and wear them out quicker. If it’s not lubricated it will do both.

Also regularly check the back wheel – if it’s out of alignment then the sprocket will be at a slight angle to the chain and they’ll be grinding each other into dust. If you have the option, get heavy duty chains and sprockets. They last a bit longer.

Drivechains are more sophisticated than some people realise. Many have O-rings in every roller which can be eaten away by normal oil. Oil’s better than nothing but use proper chain lube whenever possible. High mileage owners often use automatic chain oilers. Seems a bit of a fuss to me but I’ve never used one. I just do a quick squirt every couple of days, works fine.

One of the worst things that can happen is for a chain to snap while you’re riding. It can wrap around the rear sprocket locking up the back wheel, wrap around the front sprocket locking up the engine and probably destroying the gearbox at the very least. Or it can wrap around the rider’s leg. Imagine a chainsaw injury. It’s worth checking your chain often. Actually inspect the links for damage.

Brake pads
Some people buy ‘racing’ brake pads because they think they’re better, or more powerful or somehow make the bike go faster. It’s a complete waste of money on a road bike. Racing brake pads are designed to operate at higher temperatures than road pads and don’t work efficiently until they reach those high temperatures. On the road they never will get hot enough to operate effectively. So unless you’re hauling on the anchors from 180 mph every thirty seconds they won’t be of any benefit to you. In fact they won’t stop you nearly as well as road pads. Wemoto kindly explain the difference here: http://www.wemoto.com/info/brake_pads_gg_or_hh/

If you experiment over the years you might develop a preference for one brand of brake pads. Personally, I don’t get through them often enough to remember what I bought last time. Again, genuine manufacturer’s branded pads come at a premium price.

Tyres
Checking tyre pressures and tread depth is crucial to extracting the maximum wear for your money. Uneven tread depth or wearing through tread too quickly could be a sign your suspension isn’t set up properly. £60 spent getting it checked could save you £100’s over a few years.

Decent tyres are worth spending money on. Everyone has their own preference. I’ve not yet found anything better than Michelin Road Pilots for grip in all conditions, longevity and sensible price. Trial and error is always enlightening. It’s worth getting the opinions of people who have similar bikes to yours.

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Fuel
The cost of fuel and fuel consumption is a big issue. But if you do low to average annual mileage it’s not going to be your biggest expense.

Using my MT-07 as an example after three years and 24000 miles I’ve spent £1830 on petrol. Getting it serviced every 6000 miles has cost me £1126. If I added in the cost of tyres £344.60, Chain and sprockets £101.00 that would come to £1571.60. So I’ve spent roughly the same on petrol as I have on servicing. Overall if my fuel cost was higher then it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

OK, the MT’s very efficient and it’s not like I’m blasting across Europe on an old ZZR1100, plus I don’t ride like a knobber but I do a fair amount of mileage. I’m also old. If I was in my late teens or early twenties and running the same bike all my costs would vanish in comparison to insurance. That being said, there’s no point in wasting money so the things that affect your petrol expenditure are;

– Cost of petrol – sign up for petrolprices.com so you know where the cheapest place to buy is.
– Make sure your tyres and chain are in good condition and adjusted. Loose chains and under inflated tyres waste a lot of energy.
– Weight. Whether it’s the bike, rider, pillion or luggage, the more weight the engine has to haul around the more fuel it will consume.
– Riding style. If you scream around town in third gear, rev up and wheelie away from the lights or sit in fourth gear on the motorway then don’t be surprised if you use more Guzzlene than a normal person.
– Performance tuning like straight through air filters, remapping of the ECU and loud exhausts will lower your MPG and raid your wallet nicely.

Your choice of bike is probably the most influential factor in fuel consumption. If you’re a high-ish mileage rider on a budget who’s looking for a new bike it’s worth checking out http://www.fuelly.com/motorcycle for a few ideas or to see what real world riders are getting out of a bike you might be looking at.

We’ve listed their top ten most fuel efficient bikes here.

Insurance

This is the biggest pain and expense for a lot of people and is such a dark art there is a whole section of the Biker & Bike website dedicated to it: https://bikerandbike.co.uk/category/insurance-advice/

To save you time though, I’ve rounded up all the basics in one place: How to get cheap bike insurance.

Optional parts

If you love your purple anodised clutch and brake levers then that’s fine. And your green anodised allen bolts and your slip-on carbon muffler that lets the neighbours know when you’re going to work in the morning and that yellow fibreglass rear hugger. And those orange wheel trim stickers that are starting to peel off already, That’s. All. Fine.

However, you’ve just reduced the value of your bike by about half. Even when they’re done really well custom bikes don’t sell for high prices.

A quick look at eBay or Autotrader shows that ‘unmolested’ standard bikes that haven’t been modified get better prices than those that have fallen victim to half arsed customisation. That’s not to say that all accessories are bad news. Just the shit ones.

When I’m thinking of buying anything I ask myself, how is this going to cost and how will it improve my ride? I’m planning to spend some money on heated handgrips for the winter, maybe a more comfortable seat for longer trips, the benefits are obvious. I’m not going to be buying stickers, anodised bolts, fairy lights or go-faster mirrors.

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Tax

Is certain and like death there’s no point trying to avoid it. Paying it is cheaper than getting caught for not paying it. There are now options to spread the cost and pay by direct debit. Bizarrely those options end up costing slightly more. Unless you’re planning to sell your bike soon, paying the whole 12 months in one hit is the cheapest option.

MOT

If you keep your bike in good and legal condition then it’s more likely to pass first time. If you ignore little problems they get bigger and you end up in the position of having your bike off the road while you scrape the cash together to get them fixed all at once.

It’s not difficult to check and fix all those niggling things before you go for the test.
Minor stuff like bulbs, brakes, horn, tyre tread, chain and sprocket condition can all be sorted out easily enough. You know these things wear out and you can sort them out before the MOT.

Things like fork seals, worn steering head, wheel and swing arm bearings are less trivial. If you have doubts then it’s not a bad idea to get the bike serviced a week or so before the MOT is due. Ask the mechanic what needs doing.

If you know you have illegal exhaust or number plate arrangements it might be prudent to swap them for legal alternatives before submitting your vehicle for testing. You can always swap them back again.

Clothing And Gear

When I’m browsing in bike shops, or boutiques as they now appear, I’m amazed at the prices. I don’t know who can spend six hundred quid on a helmet. I saw a pair of gloves this week going for £200…

I pick up gear as and when I find it. Usually in the sales and rarely at bike shops. I’m not ashamed to say that I have a loyalty card for my local Ex Army store. Boots, trousers and waterproofs are sensible prices there. As are tents and sleeping bags!

Every year I raid Aldi and Lidl when they announce their annual bike stuff bonanza for cheap covers, thermals, gloves. I bought a perfectly good helmet there once.

Some people sneer at cheap stuff saying that it can’t be up to standard. Well, the quality’s fine. I bought a pair of bike boots once for £35.00 I could buy five pairs of those for the price of a pair of Sidi Adventure boots. So even if they were shit (and they’re certainly not) they’d still be worth it.

Right, that’s your lot. I proably haven’t even covered half the ways you can save, but its a start. I’m off to find a candle so I can warm up a can of beans.

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The Author

Marc Ryan

Marc Ryan

A bike nut since he was 17, Marc was forced to lay off the bikes for over 10 years, on doctor's orders. Finally given the nod he thought he'd ease himself back in gently on an XL 250 but promptly bought an SV650 which made him shit his pants for the first month.
He also writes his own random meanderings at his own blog, https://isontheroad.wordpress.com