Motorcycle TCO

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How much does it really cost to own a motorcycle?

Getting into motorcycling is not cheap. If you're doing it because you think you're going to save money, please read this article carefully. For everyone else, this is simply a forewarning of what's coming.

Riding Gear

Simply stated, motorcycling is a dangerous activity. It is wise and prudent to protect yourself as best you can. This will prevent much higher costs incurred through hospital fees if anything should go wrong. There are other articles which cover this topic in more depth, so this will be a quick once-over to review costs.

At minimum, you will want a helmet, jacket, and gloves. These are minimal prices for new gear, but they'll get you into effective riding clothes. Spending more gets you better comfort or features, generally speaking. You can buy used, but be careful to buy gear that fits well, and hasn't been through an accident. Always buy motorcycling-specific gear, particularly leather jackets. "Fashion" leather will fail on the first fall, sending you straight to the skin graft ward at the local hospital.

  • Helmet: $100
  • Summer jacket: $150
  • Summer gloves: $40

Running total: $290

If you can afford it, pants and boots are highly recommended:

  • Summer weight pants: $120
  • Motorcycle-specific boots: $100

Running total: $510

If you want to ride in winter, the cheapest way to do it is add a rain suit to your summer gear, and wear warm layers underneath (although this is not terribly comfortable):

  • Rain suit: $40
  • Warm layers: (you already own them) $0

Running total: $550

So, that's $550 (plus local taxes) to get yourself decently geared up for riding. Not terrible so far, but that makes the cost of a Ninja 250 a bit more than you might have been planning on. Note that some dealerships will throw in a gear discount when you buy your bike; this is an excellent time to buy gear if you can afford it. Note that prices listed tend to be bare minimum; high-quality (or high-feature or high-comfort) gear can cost considerably more.

For more information on riding gear selection, please see this article


You don't want to leave your bike unsecured, out in the cold and rain, do you? Here's a list of accessories that people commonly buy, although this is not a recommendation for or against any of these products.

  • Motorcycle cover: $50-150
  • Lock: $20-100
  • Battery charger: $50-200
  • Chain lubricant: $5

We'll follow the "cheap" track for this article, and assume that everything is being acquired as cheaply as possible.

Running total: $685


There are some parts which are worth having on hand, although this is getting into questionable territory. Many people only buy parts when they're necessary, which spreads out the cost. However, all of these parts will eventually be necessary. Also listed are the approximate mileages at which that part might need replacement. The abbreviation "k" (for "kilo") is used to indicate thousands (6k = 6,000).

  • Oil filter (every 6k miles): $5-10
  • Fuel filter (every 20k miles): $3
  • Drive chain (every 15k miles): $80-200
  • H4 headlight bulb (varies; around 10k miles): $10
  • Turn signal and brake bulbs (varies; around 8-10k miles): $3/pair
  • Brake pads (every 10k miles): $30-50 per set (ie, $60-100 total for front and rear)
  • Oil (every 3k miles per the owner's manual): $2-10 per quart, 2 quarts necessary per change
  • Cotter pins (every 500 miles): 5-20 cents each (Note that you can get an R-clip for a little bit more, and it's reuseable hundreds of times, while cotter pins should be discarded each time)
  • Tires (every 5k-8k miles): $120-300 per pair

Because all of these parts are wear items, they are replaced several times during a bike's lifetime. For the purposes of this article, let's assume you're going to keep the bike for 15k miles, and base the costs on that (ie, that's 2 oil filters, one chain, one headlight, 5 changes of oil, 30 cotter pins, 2 sets of tires, one set of brake pads, one complete set of turn signal lights ($6)).

Running total: $1115.50


Because this is an article on the cost of ownership, it follows the "cheap as possible" credo. Labor rates appear in the next section, but if you're a willing learner, tools are far cheaper than paying for someone else's time over the long run.

  • Tire pump: $10-300 (lower prices for manual bike pump; higher prices for air compressor)
  • Socket set: $40-200
  • Metric wrench set: $20-100
  • Screwdriver set: $20-100
  • Special sockets: $20-30
  • Torque wrench: $50-200
  • Kawasaki special valve wrench: $40
  • Various lubricants and supplies: $20-100
  • Tool storage: $20-200
  • Multimeter: $20-200

Running total: $1375.50

Note that it's possible to find tools cheaper than the prices listed. Used tools are available at used tool shops, and if you really want to learn how to curse well, you can buy inexpensive new tools. Buying quality tools, whether new or used, is highly recommended.


If you don't expect you'll do your own work on the bike, you'll need to count on some amount of service being done by a mechanic. Rates are quite variable, but for the purposes of this article, we'll use $70 per hour for calculating prices. Hours are also listed, so you should be able to figure your local prices based on your shop's hourly rate.

This is only a sampling of the maintenance required, there may be more or less depending on your bike. Any maintenance you can do yourself is money in your pocket, plus you learn more about your bike and de-mystify how it works. This is incredibly handy when you're in a situation where you are the only resource available (ie, when the bike breaks down 50 miles from nowhere).

The running total is not applicable to this section, since labor is so variable.

Accident Damage

No one counts on getting into an accident. However, they happen; when they happen, the costs can add up quickly.

The most common accident on the Ninja 250 seems to be a no-speed or low-speed fall, such as might happen while maneuvering the bike for parking or while moving slowly. These types of accidents typically damage fairings, turn signals, handlebar controls, and foot controls. Other than broken controls, it's uncommon for such an accident to disable the bike. Here are some of the costs which might be associated with such an accident:

  • Fairing repair: $10-100 (if you do it yourself)
  • Replacement fairing: $500-1500
  • Replacement turn signal: $40
  • Replacement clutch or brake hand lever: $15
  • Replacement foot brake lever: $70
  • Replacement shifter lever: $35
  • Replacement muffler: $250 each side

Note that bent levers can be bent back into position if care is exercised. Only broken levers absolutely need to be replaced. Prices were pulled from the Ron Ayers website for a 2004 Ninja 250, and minimal shipping cost added. Dealer prices will be higher in most cases. Used parts are available.

Again, these amounts don't necessarily go into the running total, since accident damage doesn't necessarily happen, and when it does, it can range from no visible damage to exceeding the cost of the bike.


In total, we came up with $1375.50 of "extra" expenses you may not have been counting on. That was doing things cheaply, but not as absolutely cheap as possible. (The expensive track would have ended up at many thousands of dollars.) The prices for parts are a bit squirrely, since some of them won't be necessary, while others may show up for your bike based on usage or accidental damage. We used an average, assuming everything goes right.

Many of the expenses listed can be delayed, or accomplished some other way. A prime example: tool storage for $20 -- well, you could also use a cardboard box, which is free for all practical purposes. You don't have to buy sets of tools, you could buy just the one wrench/screwdriver/socket you need, but this is inconvenient and more expensive in the long run. If you ride your bike every day, you don't need a battery charger. If you've got a garage, then a cover and lock don't need to be on your list.

You can also get by without having most of the parts on hand. The trade off there is that fixing a problem then becomes a matter of waiting until you can get to the parts store, then waiting until you have time to fix it, or until you can get the bike to the dealership to be fixed. If your bike is your primary transportation, that's not acceptable, but if it's just a weekend toy, the wait won't be a factor for you.

The bottom line is that owning a motorcycle is not a cheap proposition. Hopefully you have a better idea of what "extra" expenses are in store for you now.