Are Motorcycles Cheaper Than Cars in the UK?


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Last Updated: 4th October 2021

Owning and maintaining a vehicle represents a serious chunk of monthly income for many people.

For some, this is no problem. Cars or bikes can be a hobby as well as transport. But that’s not the discussion we’re after here. We want to talk about the brass tax economy of it all.

If someone is looking to save as much as possible, which is a better option – car or motorcycle?

The answer will be no great surprise to anyone – motorcycles are cheaper.

The real questions are:

  • How much cheaper?
  • Can you live without the comforts of a car?
  • Is the saving worth it?

Tradeoffs include limited protection from the weather, limited storage, and single passenger space – all significant.

If those are conditions you can power through, motorcycling might be for you. Or, if you think a small commuter bike could save you petrol money, keeping your car for family/weekend trips – read on.

Upfront Cost


Bikes

New riders or those after a low-tuned commuter bike from Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, or Kawasaki can expect to pay between 4k and 8k for a new bike.

At the other end of the spectrum, riders who are deep into the hobby, riding powerful superbikes or motocross machines, can pay anywhere from 8k to 30k + for a new bike.

There’s a lot less material, construction, and even design involved in making simple, low-maintenance 125cc motorbikes than cars. They’re cheaper to produce and haven’t changed that much in 20 years, so they’re cheaper to sell. 

Cars

The absolute cheapest new car in the UK is the Dacia Sandero at 8k. It strips away some conveniences and uses a small Renault engine but retains all the safety features you’d expect from a new car.

Models like the Kia Picanto and Citroen C1 come in at around 11k to 13k. If money is no object, luxury cars in the UK tend to cost between 50 and 100k +.

The average then falls somewhere around the 38k mark. Car manufacturers feel the need to innovate constantly. Some of these innovations may have real, tangible benefits (safety features, for example). But the argument can be made that much of the latest car tech is in part there to justify the price point. 

Secondhand Market

The used market for both cars and bikes presents a massive range of prices. But, if you’re after a low-cost, reliable commuter, you can often get more from your money by buying a used motorcycle.

This makes sense. Once a low-tuned bike has seen ten year’s of use, it doesn’t have a lot of cash value left but may perform well for many more years.

Some bikes and cars hold their value better than others. Things like Land Rovers, Triumphs, Harleys, etc., tend to have a devout following willing to pay for quality.

But if you’re trying to keep things cheap, a fifteen-year-old Toyota Yaris or a ten-year-old Suzuki GN 125 can be bought for peanuts with lots of life left. 

Winner: Motorcycles, but it’s close.

Learning to Ride and Lessons 


Cars

The typical cost of learning to drive in the UK comes in at a hefty 1,080GBP. This figure considers the average number of hours at 47 and the average hourly cost at 23GBP. All of this may not apply to you if you have a relative or friend who can help. Also, some people pick things up way quicker than others.

Motorcycles

Applying for your provisional license and L plates costs 34GBP. The CBT test that allows you to ride around on those plates costs anywhere from 120 to 150GBP, depending on location. If you’re after a small – medium-sized commuter, this is enough to get you on the road.

If you want to go straight to a full license (only possible for those 24 and over). You’ll need lessons. Like driving lessons, these aren’t cheap.

For about 900GBP, an instructor can take you through a 5-6 day course that will include your module 1 and 2 riding tests. Typically, people don’t get a full license this way, opting to take a progressive route up through the classifications. 

Winner: Motorcycles, for sure. Especially if you’re after something small for commuting. 

Insurance


The average annual cost of car insurance in the UK is 630GBP. But there are a variety of factors affecting this and a huge range of premiums out there.

The average insurance premium for a motorcycle in the UK is just north of 300GBP. That’s a chunk of saving. Like with cars, there are many factors affecting your rate, and there’s a huge range of annual premiums. 

Winner: Bikes are simply cheaper to insure. 

Tax


Cars

The tax you pay on a car in the UK is based on its CO2 emissions. Unless you’re driving an all-electric car, you’ll pay at least 140GBP in your first year.

Your tax will increase as your car ages and restrictions tighten. Drivers of diesel cars pay more tax. A diesel-powered car with the same CO2 emissions as a petrol equivalent is taxed one band higher.

Motorcycles

Motorcycle tax is based on engine size, not emissions. The lowest band is for bikes under 150cc, which are taxed at 19GBP per year. The maximum tax (for bikes over 600cc) is 82GBP.

Winner: Motorcycle tax is cheaper. As it should be. We take up less space, cause less congestion, and use less fuel. 

Fuel


Cars

For cars, the UK’s average mile per gallon in 2019 came in at 49.2. Seems pretty high to us, consider that 25 is still considered normal. Either way, there’s a massive range.

Fuel economy is important to some and not to others. This is reflected in consumer choices. The most economical combustion car available in the UK right now is the Peugeot 208, delivering 73.6 miles per gallon. 

Bikes

Motorcycles average mpg figures seem unimpressive at first. The average mile per gallon for a manual motorcycle in the UK is 53, which seems to defy logic at first glance.

How can a vehicle so much smaller and lighter than a car expect a similar mile per gallon ratio?

There are a couple of reasons for these lower than expected figures. 

Firstly, motorcycle aerodynamics aren’t that good. This is more a human body design flaw than a bike one. Especially if the machine is designed for comfort and safety, maintaining a relaxed, upright position. Track bikes, and the sports bikes modelled on them, have better aerodynamics but guzzle fuel in their never-ending quest for more torque and speed. A 1000c superbike only gets around 30mpg

However, there is a massive range. Consider a commuter built with fuel efficiency in mind like the Honda CB 125F. It will get you about 93mpg in ideal conditions. It’s no powerhouse, but it offers excellent fuel economy for someone with an urban/suburban commute.

Twist-and-go options like Honda’s automatic PX 125cc scooter will get you even better mileage with an average mpg of 100.

Winner: This one is a draw. We concede, for their size, modern cars are very fuel-efficient. 

Maintenance And Repair


Cars

This will depend on how old the car is, how well it was originally designed, and a host of other factors. Finding parts and labour is hard and costly if you’re driving something old, obscure, expensive, or all three. Finding a new door for your 2003 Toyota Yaris shouldn’t hurt you too badly. There’s a lot of variety. 

There are some universal charges, however. A yearly MOT costs 54.85. This is the maximum price set by the government, and your local garage might offer a cheaper deal.

Average UK drivers need to service their car once per year. This can cost anywhere from 125GBP to 150GBP, depending on location. If you commute a longer than average distance, you may need to have this service done more regularly. 

Motorbikes

A yearly MOT for your motorbike costs 29.65GBP.

Annually servicing your commuter-style Suzuki GN125 or Honda CB125F should cost you between 120 – 150GBP.

This cost increases up to the 400 – 500GBP mark for highly-tuned superbikes that need to be calibrated by an actual wizard.

Of course, if you know a wizard or happen to be one, you can do it all yourself. To be fair, it doesn’t require a huge amount of skill to service a basic commuter bike. But not having the stamps in the logbook can affect resale value. 

The cost of parts and labour when things go wrong depends on what you ride. Common, uncomplicated, low-displacement commuter bikes are easy to find parts for. Mechanics will have dealt with thousands of them before and have an easier time diagnosing and fixing issues. Obscure, old, or high-performance machines tend to cost more for parts and labour. 

Winner: Motorcycles

Two Wheels Good


The reality is – motorbikes are cheaper. Cheaper to buy, cheaper to tax, cheaper to insure, and cheaper to run. But they don’t have a roof, ample storage, air conditioning, or several passenger seats.

If there’s a point we’d like to stress, it’s that motorcycles are so much cheaper – having one in addition to your car can save you money.