What the hell are we doing?

This article is aimed mostly at motorcyclists/ bikers, (choose your own epithet).  Bottom line; we do not use our bikes.  OK, so there are exceptions to every rule, and there are undoubtedly people out there who clock up vast mileages on bikes every year, but just look at the evidence.

Gumtree (https://www.gumtree.com/) is probably the most commonly used for sale site for bikes in the UK.  There are problems with crunching data taken from it, like sellers who record their mileage as 18 rather than 18,000 miles, or the occasional want ads with completely duff data, but I think we can still get some sort of idea about what we do with our bikes from looking at what is for sale on Gumtree.  The following comments are based on bikes for sale on Gumtree on Wednesday 18th April 2019.  The table below gives the basics.

Tot bikes for sale
Over 80,000 miles
Over 10 years
Over 10 years and under 15,000 miles
Northern Ireland

Let’s look at the high mileage bikes first.  There are too many of them in the UK as a whole for me to check, but I can confirm that of the 7 Northern Irish bikes in that filter, 6 were fictional mileages on either off road bikes or just ones looking for attention.  The one 80,000 mile bike for sale here is a 2011 Yamaha R125, so respect to that guy.  He is the hero of the day. 

Looking at the high mileage bikes across the whole of the UK confirms that the vast majority (135 out of 173), are BMW’s.  Strangely, many of the bikes that are sold as mile munchers appear to get very little use.  For example the Honda Goldwing.  There are 25 of them for sale at the moment, of which 3 owners of an already very expensive bike have chosen to chosen to fork out yet more vast wedges of cash to turn them into trikes.  It does not appear to have made them any more pleasant to use. I excluded 3 of the 25 Goldwings.  Two because they are new 2019 bikes with only delivery mileage, and one because the seller didn’t bother putting either the age of their bike or its mileage into the ad.  Ok, the moment of truth for a grossly large bike that is obviously just garage candy for image conscious owners.  The 22 remaining Wings, had covered a total of 816,499 miles and had a combined age of 467 (average age 21.2).  That makes the average yearly mileage of the Goldwings in this sample just 1748.4 miles.  Score one to Honda’s toy department.  They could sell these things without any engine internals and by the look of things few people would even notice.

Now let’s look at real hard-core image bikes; probably best epitomised by Harley Davidson.  There were 478 Harleys for sale when I looked, 191 of which were over 10 years old, and 122 of which had covered less than 15,000 miles.  Perhaps the most telling filter I used, showed that none of these bikes had covered more than 30,000 miles.  I will repeat that, because while I’m not a big fan of Harleys, even I found this difficult to believe.  Not a single one of those 478 bikes had been used in anger.  Given the initial cost of these toys, and the number of accessories and farkles then lavished on them, you would think owners would like to get some use for all that money and hassle, but apparently the rather more nerdy pursuit of intricate polishing is actually what Harley ownership is all about.  Well, that and having a good excuse to grow facial hair and dress up in tassels.

As a make, BMW’s are the only manufacturer to buck the low mileage trend.  There were 594 BM’s for sale and, as mentioned above, 135 of these had covered 80,000 miles or more.  In all the bikes for sale, over 600cc bikes predominate, presumably because lesser capacity bikes are considered too small to actually use.  Yet engine capacity is not a good indicator of mileage covered.  Small bikes are just as well used as their larger cousins.  The number of sellers boasting that their p&j has never seen rain speaks volumes about why we actually buy bikes.  They are nothing but toys for the vast majority of owners.

I suppose that I should be thankful for the huge supply of little used transport that should be available to me, but this is not the case.  We have been sold a pup with image conscious, niche marketed bikes like cruisers/ race replicas/ tourers etc.  As a result more practical concerns like fuel efficiency and paint finishes that will resist real world road usage seem to have fallen by the wayside.  Many years ago I met a guy on the Island of Mull in Scotland.  He had travelled there on a Honda CBX1000, a late model monoshock one with the half fairing at the front.  These gargantuan monster bikes were sold as tourers because Honda has found that they really were not suitable sports bikes in their earlier format.  Yet, the standard panniers would have forced any owner to travel light, since these factory supplied items were only about the size of a decent lunchbox.  Worse yet, who would want to travel far on a bike that averaged just 16 miles per gallon?  While CBX’s were a particularly bad example of bike in so, so many ways, few of the bikes that we are buying now can make a claim to practicality in the modern world.  Bikes that will average more than 55mpg are thin on the ground, and many will shred their expensive tyres in 3000 miles or so.  Other maintenance costs can be equally high.

CBX1000.  Picture from: https://nationalmcmuseum.org/2018/12/05/1982-honda-cbx1000-supersport/

We live in a world of increasing population and limited resources.  If motorcycles are to have any relevance at all in this world they need to be both useable and used.  That means they must be durable, economical and accessible to all.  200 mph sports bikes are an irrelevance on our increasingly congested roads in just the same way as their grossly overweight, noisy, fuel guzzling cruiser cousins are.  Meanwhile it's spring and the weather is improving.  People are dragging their bikes out of the garage once more to make their Sunday trips to Portrush, Newcastle, or whatever their nearest biker destination happens to be.    Unfortunately there have already been casualties.  Any form of two wheeled transport is inherently unstable and thus requires skill to use it properly.  Those riders who cover limited mileages do not hone this skill, and, I would argue, do not spend enough time in the saddle to have their bikes responses, like handling and braking ingrained into their psyche so that their reactions in emergencies become almost automatic.  Many simply do not have the skill to go with their bike driving licence, a fact illustrated by the road position of many at this time of year when entering corners. We are injuring and killing ourselves every year, and for what?  1500 miles!  If I have just described your yearly riding, do us all a favour; get off the road and get your kicks on an X Box or something safer than a bike. 

I’ll leave you with just a few examples from Gumtree of bikes for sale (there are loads more).  The mirror that they provide for our motorcycle usage is not pretty.

A mere £12,000 will buy you a 12 year old custom painted Harley trike with loads of farkles and only 5250 miles on it.  Why did anyone waste their time and money on this?  It combines all the disadvantages of a bike (you get wet, especially because on this thing wearing practical waterproof gear would ‘not be cool’), and all the disadvantages of a car (you get stuck in traffic). All that and you will then have to spend loads of cash ‘personalising’ it for you rather than the previous owner, and the rest of your life polishing the damned thing!

A guy bought this 2019 off road quad for his daughter, but she wasn’t interested (surprise, surprise).  It has been used twice, and can be yours for £2200.  You might think that the practical course would have been to let the girl try out a quad before forking out for a brand new one, but that might just be my thinking.

£13500 for 241.4 bhp.  This bike is just 8 weeks old and the owner managed to cover a whole 27 miles before deciding that what he really wanted was a car.  At least he got sense before he killed himself.  I wonder how many buttock clenching moments he managed before making that decision?


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