Steady as you go
Two wheels make more sense
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.