This past week I had my first taste of SUV ownership. Before you get too much of a disapproving look on your face, let me say that I haven't actually bought an SUV-I still don't own a car of any kind-but through a series of events ended up renting one for a few days.
The missus and I usually rent an econo-box when we have company and were all set with a compact sedan when her father showed up for a visit. A couple of days in, the dashboard brake warning light came on, and since we were heading to Santa Barbara (about a two-hour drive), we figured it would be best to have the rental company check things out. Within 15 minutes of dropping into the agency, we were once again on our way-in a huge SUV, courtesy of the secret double-super upgrade. (Although I suspect it was the only vehicle handy, and they wanted us on our way and happy as quickly as possible.)
Because I never drive anymore, every time I get in a car-or worse, one of the company trucks-it's like starting all over again. The right side of the car seems about 50 feet wide to me, and I always end up driving way over to the left. I forget how far the front end sticks out and end up at stop signs with it halfway into the intersection. And the temptation is always there to drive up between lanes of stopped traffic, as I would on a bike. You can imagine how I fared in the huge SUV for a couple of days. In any event, we did made it back in one piece and I didn't upset too many other drivers on the road.
But what really floored me was how much gas it took just to get to Santa Barbara and back-about 180 miles round trip-and how much the SUV cost to fill up. A bike such as, oh, say, a Yamaha FZ6 can make the trip on one tank, with a splash left over to ride around town a bit. Although it will probably be about twice as much by the time you read this with the way prices are going up, that trip would cost about $15 on the FZ6 right now.
In the colossus, however, I could practically watch the gas gauge move as we drove on the freeway, and the round trip cost almost three times as much as on the bike. It's a double whammy for me, too: Fuel for a test bike is conveniently a deductible expense, but gas money for the monster came out of my own pocket. I don't know how people can afford to drive something like that every day, especially if they've got a long commute. I know it would put me in the poor house pretty quickly.
The whole experience really made me appreciate how rugal motorcycles are, and it seems a lot of people are catching on. According to a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times, more drivers are turning to motorcycles, scooters and bicycles, sales of which are up sharply so far this year. And-surprise, surprise-sales of the behemoths are diving just as quickly as gas prices are rising. More motorcycles and fewer SUVs means good things for the environment, less traffic for everyone and a safer commute for me.
There is one potential downside, however, and that's the increasing number of people jumping on motorcycles for the first time and trying to get to work in a hurry. Just this morning, an F4i passed me in traffic, its rider wearing dress pants and loafers, no gloves, and his jacket open and fluttering in the breeze. He hung out in my blind spot for a while before going by, and I held my breath as he just about tagged a car while trying to cut traffic. Hopefully, he's not representative of the typical new rider, but I worry that such a big influx of inexperienced riders will result in higher accident rates.
As expensive as gas is in the United States, we still have it easy compared to other countries. The average price here is currently about $2.90 per gallon. In Canada, the price is hovering around a loonie per liter, or about $3.40 per gallon. But Europeans are paying the equivalent of more than $6 per gallon! It's no wonder scooters and small cars are so popular there and that you almost never see an SUV. Here, gas prices are expected to rise even further in the next few months (no surprise there), and we'll surely see even more motorcycles and fewer big cars and trucks as time goes on.
Thankfully, the leviathan gets returned tomorrow, and then it's back to bikes for me. I'm dreading the final fill-up before we drop it off, though...maybe they'll take my In-N-Out coupons at the gas station.