Steady as you go

Two wheels make more sense

Finweek English Edition - - Creating wealth - BY ADRI­AAN KRUGER adri­

GE­ORGE RE­CEIVED his new mo­tor­bike this morn­ing – a blue BMW F650. And the pur­chase was based solely on fi­nan­cial rea­sons, as he ex­plained to his wife.

It’s sur­pris­ing that more peo­ple in SA don’t use mo­tor­cy­cles as a means of trans­port. They’re cheaper than cars, use less fuel and cost a lot less to main­tain. The weather in SA is also much bet­ter than in most other coun­tries.

But South Africans choose to sit alone in a Mercedes Benz or a huge Prado for an hour or two ev­ery morn­ing and af­ter­noon to swear at all the cars around them.

And traf­fic is get­ting worse. Last week, on the way from OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional to Jo­han­nes­burg, Ge­orge saw a traf­fic of­fi­cer stand­ing on the free­way to di­rect the traf­fic at the in­ter­sec­tion of the R24 and N3. Most of the cars had only one oc­cu­pant.

Now and then a mo­tor­cy­cle drives, care­fully, through the traf­fic. There are more peo­ple us­ing them for com­mut­ing to work than, say, a few years ago but most are still only used for re­cre­ation. Ge­orge sees more mo­tor­cy­cles on a Satur­day af­ter­noon or Sun­day morn­ing head­ing to Hart­beespoort Dam than dur­ing the week.

Th­ese steeds are sta­bled from Mon­day to Fri­day. Quite a num­ber of them. Month af­ter month, sales of mo­tor­cy­cles have risen to record lev­els over the last few years.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Mo­tor­cy­cle Im­porters and Dis­trib­u­tors (Amid) says the sales of mo­tor­cy­cles in­creased by 36% in 2006 com­pared with 2005, also a record year. The num­bers are still small when com­pared with mo­tor ve­hi­cle sales – in 2006 just over 27 000 mo­tor­cy­cles were sold com­pared with 19 872 in 2005.

Look­ing at the dif­fer­ent mod­els and types of mo­tor­cy­cle avail­able in SA, it’s ob­vi­ous that they’re bought by bik­ers rather than com­muters. The big­gest spenders prove the truth of the say­ing, boys never grow up, they only buy big­ger toys.

They buy bikes to have fun, not to ride to work ev­ery day. More than half the mo­tor­cy­cles sold last year were large, very fast ma­chines with en­gines of more than 800cc, off-road scram­blers and rac­ing bikes. Only a few of th­ese will be used for com­mut­ing – not many guys pay R110 000 for a new Yamaha R1, with 1 000cc un­der the tank and a top speed of more than twice the le­gal limit, to get

to work in the morn­ing. And how many of the 60-yearold part­ners in the firm thump their Har­ley David­son (R200 000) into the base­ment? The Honda Goldwing is a beau­ti­ful thing but will not ease through peak

hour traf­fic. One rea­son for the in­crease in sales of mo­tor­cy­cles has been the re­duc­tion in im­port duty and lower prices due to the strong rand. The strong econ­omy and lower in­ter­est rates have also pushed peo­ple to buy more leisure goods.

There’s only one group where you can say with a de­gree of cer­tainty that mo­tor­cy­cles are bought for daily trans­port. It seems that young peo­ple are more in­clined to favour them. The sales of mo­tor­cy­cles with en­gines of less than 150cc in­creased by 25% to 6 155, of which a large per­cent­age are bikes of 125cc and less that can be used by 16-year-olds. At school Ge­orge has no­ticed more mo­tor­cy­cles in the bike shed than a few years ago.

The type of bike an adult can use for daily trans­port – the mid-range ma­chines with en­gines of 150cc to 800cc – has shown the big­gest in­crease in sales when com­pared with other cat­e­gories. Sales rose by 66% to nearly 5 600 units. This in­cludes dual-pur­pose bikes such as Honda’s Transalp and BMW’s pop­u­lar 650GS, which can be used to com­mute and for a bit of week­end fun.

The sales of com­mer­cial mo­tor­cy­cles used by mes­sen­gers in town have also in­creased sharply, by some 53% over 2005.

It makes sense to con­sider a mo­tor­cy­cle for trans­port. It’s much cheaper to buy and run than a car – the new Suzuki 500cc costs less than R50 000 com­pared with the small­est car, which is very close to R100 000.

Ge­orge trav­els nearly 300km on R50 worth of fuel and he only has two tyres to re­place, which last longer than those on his car. If more peo­ple would switch from their 4x4s to mo­tor­bikes, our roads would last longer.

It’s also bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment. Less en­ergy and fewer com­modi­ties are used to man­u­fac­ture a mo­tor­cy­cle, and ex­haust emis­sions are lower.

Ge­orge reck­ons there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to mo­ti­vate peo­ple to use Ves­pas in­stead of cars. Li­cence fees could be re­duced and toll road fees scrapped. It makes no sense for a mo­tor­bike to pay the same fees as a car tow­ing a car­a­van.

If traf­fic reg­u­la­tions were bet­ter en­forced and if there were more mo­tor­cy­clists around, driv­ers would be more aware, mak­ing it safer. Mo­tor­cy­cles are now built to be safer. Bet­ter tyres and sus­pen­sion im­prove road hold­ing and many of the big­ger ma­chines have ABS brakes.

And most im­por­tant, they give peo­ple an­other rea­son to go and shop – for all kinds of cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories.

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