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Two Wheels or Four

Buzz the Gixxer : I traded him for Howard the Scooter :
Picture taken at the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Power Facility
The question to explore here: two wheels or four ?

In America the distances traveled daily by commuters and the lack of efficient public transportation options are such that many Americans think of cars as necessities. Do we really need to use cars to get too and from work and the grocery store and places of recreation and entertainment every day; is it possible, safe, practical, cost efficient or more fun to use a two wheeled vehicle for some of the trips?

Transportation Energy, Sustainability, Technology

With cool electric cars like the Tesla Model S in the news lately, many people are thinking about transportation energy, fuel economy, oil resources, electrical resources, and other complicated issues regarding transportation infrastructure. A long standing discussion continues about the virtues of two wheel transportation methods, namely bicycling and motorcycling. Lets start by acknowledging all the different ways we can choose to move ourselves and our things between locations.


One of the most energy efficient modes of transportation;
Steel wheels on steel tracks


One of the least energy efficient modes of transportation;
High speed over large distances advantage


Rapidly reconfiguration of routes possible;
Good overall energy and cost efficiency


The most efficient personal transportation technology


Ideal for medium to low speed urban environments with trip distances of less than 40mi


Sport or touring, energy efficiency is similar to hybrids cars


Generally energy hogs (~24MPG) but some high tech version are better than motorcycles


Calorie burning 4x faster than on a bicycle;
At 3.5mph avg max range is very limited

Hyperloop- for medium distances ~900mi it will be the most efficient

"Click HyperLink to Access the PDF" well written by Elon Musk and Space X 

Where one chooses to live has a huge effect on their transportation choices. People that live within easy walking distance of a bus route that is time efficient to use are far more likely to use the bus then people who have to drive to a park and ride first in order to use a bus route that is not time efficient.

Infrastructure and Development Density

In large spread out low population density countries like America, many people do not have a commute that is practical to accomplish on a bicycle, bus, train or on foot. This leaves many Americans completely dependent on motorized private vehicles like cars, trucks, motorcycles or motor scooters.

No wonder we have a culture obsessed with cars. America has a relative low density infrastructure, where the distances between homes and where people work can be quite large. Many Americans spend more than 1 hour per day commuting in a private car to and from work. This suburban vehicle commuting is often done so that people can access housing they can afford reasonably large distances away from where they work, distances that are impractical to cover on a bicycle or on foot. This is in stark contrast to high infrastructure development density places like Europe that were largely developed before the widespread availability of automobiles.

Car Transportation Costs

The average car driving American spends around $8000 per year to drive. Obviously this number can vary wildly from around $1,000 to well north of $30,000 depending on the vehicle of choice, how often it is driven, how far it is driven, and its fuel economy, maintenance costs, repair costs, upfront price, depreciation rate, and insurance costs: things that are all specific to each person and each vehicle. Two people driving exactly the same car, the exact same distance for example can have different annual transportation costs because of differences in the topography of the land, regional traffic congestion, and driving style. As some wisdom from the field tells us "Your Mileage May Vary"  YMMV.

Fuel Economy

With so much money being spent on driving cars, do two wheel vehicles make any sense? This really depends. Most two wheel vehicles are more fuel efficient than cars. Motorcycles in general tend to have a fleet average around 50MPG while cars in general achieve about half this figure with 24ish MPG real world. Some two wheel vehicles like the PCX150 I operate achieve close to 100MPG, while some cars like the Toyota Prius get close to 50MPG in the real world.

If you consider fuel economy alone, that consideration will depend on the exact vehicles being considered. Choosing two wheels rather than four is about far more than just saving fuel. Few people operate motorcycles or motor-scooters all year in rain and snow. The overwhelming majority of people using motorized two wheel vehicles are fair weather riders. Here we are going to consider two wheel vehicles as additional private transportation options that people can selectively use in fair weather instead of cars.

Automotive Safety Illusions

Many car operators have a false sense of security. Crumple zones, safety glass, seat belts, air bags, head restraints and the other safety systems in modern vehicles give drivers a sense of security, but security is mostly an illusion in many cases.

When a vehicle is in an accident people are harmed badly when their brains smack into their skulls from rapid deceleration. In this respect cars offer very little in the way of actually protecting their passengers. While airbags are helpful, they are not perfect, and only help to reduce harm, not stop it from occurring; similar in many respects to a bicycle helmets function in low speed cycling accidents.

With a smaller frontal cross section and superior handling dynamics, two wheeled vehicles can avoid accidents by slipping out of the way into the shoulder margins or between lanes to avoid collisions. If you watch motorcycle racers crash, you can also see that with skin protection (leathers) it is possible to slide and dissipate the crash energy safely: it is only when one slides at high speed into a stationary heavy object that a serious problem occurs, the brain hitting the skull from fast deceleration, bones snapping, ect.

If a motorcycle crashes into a car, the people in the car win. If a car hits a pedestrian at 30 MPH the odds are bad for the pedestrian, while a motorcycle crashing into a pedestrian at the same speed gives the pedestrian a greatly improved chance of survival.

Motorcycles bring less energy to accidents of all kinds, meaning the person on the motorcycle is the one at the greatest risk. People that ride motorcycles are usually aware of this safety disadvantage, knowing they are exposed, they tend to concentrate carefully to avoid accidents, people, other vehicles, stationary objects, road hazard and distracted drivers (the most dangerous obstacle on the street).

The amount of focus needed to safely operate a two wheel motorized vehicle in traffic is tremendous and thus riding in traffic is not for everyone. A cautious intelligent person on a motorcycle exercising wise decision making is far safer than a reckless fool driving at the limits of the machine.  Again safety in a car, on foot, or on a bicycle or motorcycle comes down to each individual exercising good judgment.


In general the emissions profile of a motorcycle will be worse than a car if both vehicles are the same model year. That said modern motorcycles and scooters have emissions controls very similar to those employed on passenger cars a few years ago, miniaturized and weight reduced.  Many small displacement modern scooters emit substantially less pollution per mile than normal car because of the dramatic difference in mass, engine displacement and mechanical/ thermal loading.


One of the most obvious limitations of two wheel vehicles is their distinctive lack of utility. It is possible to add storage to a scooter or motorcycle and their are many products designs to do exactly this: saddle bags, tank bags, trunks, and other packs can store your stuff when you are on the go via a two wheel vehicle. I use a backpack as a trunk when I ride my bicycle for example.

Road Footprint / Traffic Congestion

Hands down win for motorcycles and scooters: they are far smaller and produce substantially less wear on the roads. Thousands of motorcycles and scooters can operate in a road space that can accommodate a few hundred cars and trucks.

Fun and Happiness

Another net win for motorcycles and scooters: they bring back the thrill and joy of childhood bicycling downhill by introducing power to the two wheel vehicle equation. Bicycles are fun too, especially ones with electric motors in the rear hub and a big lithium iron phosphate battery! If you ask people why they "Ride" they will almost always reference how much enjoyment they get from their two wheel vehicles. Car owners are far less enthusiastic by contrast, many seeing the vehicle as a means for a to b.

Carbon Foot Print / Net Energy

Another net hands down win for two wheel vehicles. Less fuel, less metal, less plastic, less of every"thing" and more of the hard to define "fun, enjoyment".

Vehicle Life

Sadly, the longevity of a motorcycle or scooter is rather limited by contrast to modern cars. If you can get 100,000mi out of a motorcycle or scooter, this is considered unusual, while many modern cars can easily go more than 200,000mi. That said, weather keeps people off the two-wheel vehicles for much of the year... sadly!

There are a lot of issues to consider when you start thinking about walking to work, riding your bicycle to work, riding a scooter or motorcycle to work. When you think about the issues mentioned above it should become clear that risk balancing is important in all areas of life. You want to live right? Being too cautious can rob your life of fun, so think about it and enjoy life!

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