Exotic Performance, Economy Car Price

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Lots of reasons to love motorcycles, but the economics always make me smile. For less than the cost of the least expensive new car you could go faster than you could in almost any exotic car. Park it in your apartment, if you like.

And get better gas mileage, too.

That’s my kind of equality.

Part of it is due to power-to-weight ratios. A 2017 Nissan Versa S sedan – which stickers for $11,990 (making it the least expensive new car you can buy) weighs 2,460 lbs. and is powered by a 1.6 liter four cylinder engine that makes 109 hp.

A 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 stickers for $12,199, weighs 516 lbs. and is powered by a 1 liter four cylinder engine that makes 125 hp.

Guess which is the quicker?

It’s not the Versa.

It’s not even close.

It takes the Kawasaki about a third the time it takes the Nissan to get to 60 MPH (2.9 seconds vs. about 11) and the Kawasaki is just getting started. It is still in first gear. There are five more gears to go. By the time the Versa has achieved 60 MPH, the Ninja has achieved about 130 MPH – far faster than the Versa will ever go.

And the Kawasaki is just beginning to stretch its legs. Keep the throttle rotated and it will achieve speeds few cars are capable of reaching – 170 plus, no fuss – and the bike can reach them a lot sooner, making them more accessible. A fast bike can jump from 100 to 150 in the blink of an eye – literally. Very few cars can do that. They need room, even the really strong ones.

Because Power to Weight.

The Ninja’s power-to-weight ratio outclasses a new Corvette – which has a 460 hp V8 (nearly four times the power of the Kawasaki’s four) but it weighs about 3,300 pounds, which takes some of the edge off all that power.

A Corvette will not wheelie.

The Kawasaki will.

It also beats the Corvette to 60 and is quicker through the quarter mile. On top, it’s closer – because the car has an aerodynamic advantage over the bike. But you can’t have everything – and to have a Corvette, you’ll have to have $55,450. Which pretty much rules out most people.

But for the price of a Versa, you could buy that Ninja. And almost anyone can afford a Versa.

Which, by the way, only manages 31 MPG in city driving and 39 on the highway. Despite its ferocious performance capabilities, the bike does better: 40-45 MPG.

It is like having your Prius – and not driving it, too.

Or, having to find a spot to park it.

A motorcycle fits almost anywhere, including an apartment. Get a ground level unit and roll your steed into the living room, where you can admire it. You will never have to worry about leaving it outside.

Bikes are also much easier to maintain than cars, because most of the usual maintenance things are accessible. You don’t need a floor jack or a lift to change the oil, for instance – and very few tools. There are no belts on a bike (unless it is a big cruiser, with a belt-drive to the rear wheel – but that’s a different thing) and most don’t need much beyond a new chain/sprockets every now and then and a set of new tires – of which there are just two and even if they are very high-performance tires, their cost to replace is much less than the cost per tire of high-performance car tires. Maybe $150 each for Ninja tires – which is cheap for a an ultra-performance tire. Go price one of the Corvette’s four tires, to see what I mean.

There is, of course, a catch. There is always a catch.

It is the cost to insure a bike. Especially a fast one. More so a new one. It is pretty typical for a policy on a bike like the Ninja 1000 to run $2,000 annually or even more (if you’re young and male).

But, there is an end run. Several of them, actually.

First, avoid buying the bike new. Buy it when it’s a year or so old and pay cash for it. Bikes depreciate quickly, so that $12,199 new Ninja 1000 will cost you maybe $8,000 or so a year away from new. Invest the difference in insurance. And do not buy full coverage; just the bare minimum liability. This is not stupid. If you crash, the cost of plastic – the bike’s bodywork – is so high they’ll total the bike anyhow. But won’t refund the shekels you spent for “coverage.”

But the best end run is to buy something slightly older, without the reputation for wild living. The Ninja is a known offender. It is the name as much as what the bike can do that results in insurance rape. But my ZRX1200 – also a Kawasaki sport bike and with an even bigger engine than the Ninja and more power (141 at the wheel) only costs me about $75 every six months to cover.

Because it is considered – according to the insurance mafia’s arbitrary classification system – a “standard” (or “naked”) bike. The absence of plastic fairing is all the difference.

I could up the horsepower ante of my bike, too. A cam swap, a set of high-compression pistons and – voila! – 180 hp to move 450 lbs. and who’s gonna know?

2003 ZRX in the background; ’76 KZ900 in the foreground.

I have another bike – much older – that is an even cheaper thrill. Bought it for $2,000 and redid the engine to make 130-ish hp (more than the new Ninja) for about $2,000 in parts plus my labor. That’s less than half the cost of a new Versa and barely a down payment on a Corvette.

Plus, the insurance mafia regards it calmly as just an old bike – and the cost to insure it is not even half what I pay to cover the ZRX.

There are still a few ways to game the system – and enjoy what’s been mostly taken away from us when it comes to things on four wheels.

Just try to keep it quiet.

No need to unduly alarm the Clovers.

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  1. Nice article Eric. I just bought a brand new 2015 Honda CTX700N 2 weeks ago, and I love it so far. This is the only brand new vehicle I have ever purchased because I have known about the price decline in value once the new vehicle leaves a dealership since I was a young man decades ago. A bike costs less than a car, and I saved money by buying a new bike that was a couple of years old, so I took the plunge. My name could not even be found in credit reports, so the dealer had difficulty finding financing for me; but he did find one that would for 17% interest. I absolutely will not take the entire 3 years to pay off the $3300 loan. I will probably have it paid off in less than 6 months.
    It has a twin cylinder, fuel injected, liquid-cooled 670 cc engine and a 6 speed tranny. It is supposedly able to get 64 mpg. I have already put 200 miles on it, but will drive it even more once my Honda carrier kit arrives, because then I can haul my stuff to work every day and do some limited shopping with it.
    This is not really a performance bike, but it really sets me back firmly in the seat when I open it up. I weigh 260 lbs. When I complete a sharp curve at 50 mph in 5th gear and open up the throttle, the digital speedometer climbs much faster than I can say the 2 digit numbers, and almost as fast as I can say the last digit number up to 65 mph where the rate of increase declines. I haven’t had it up to top speed yet, but 85 mph wasn’t even close to being its top end. My legs are too short for taller bikes, but this one really fits me well!

  2. Sigh: As I get older, I find that the range of outdoor temperatures at which I will ride gets narrower and narrower. (Does this happen to anyone else?) When I first started riding, I’d put 10,000 miles on the bike. Two years ago, I noticed I had only put 5k on. I think last year I only rode 1500 miles or so. It’s just too convenient to hop in the car. Also, I primarily use my bike for commuting, and I have a one hour ride each way. There is a big difference between a 20 min ride to work while it’s in the fifties, versus one hour! Oh well.

  3. I need help deciding between a new NC700x, Versys, V-Strom, or Harley Street Rod. Motorcycle journalism is pretty bad. The reviews are so superficial.

  4. I’d be worried about some old guy in a white Camry deciding that it’s his duty to prevent you from passing, even if he has to swerve into you.
    BTW, He got 15 years (at age 59) and will be up for parole in 7 years (age 66).


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