The economics of motorcycle maintenance

Yesterday I gave my old bike for servicing. It was in such bad shape that for a while I was worried that the cost of servicing would be greater than the salvage value of the bike. This morning, when I went to pick it up, I was pleased to see that the bill came up to Rs. 445 only. The first thing I did after that was to ask the mechanic how much I could get if I were to sell my bike. And he started laughing loudly.

He then told me that I was lucky that most of the problems with my bike were easily fixable, and minor, since it’s impossible to get components nowadays. It is a Kinetic Challenger – the first ever bike released by Kinetic. My parents had gifted this to me in 2001 at the time of my thread ceremony, and the reason this bike was chosen ahead of the Splendor, the Victor and a couple of others was mainly because of its looks. In every other department, it seemed to be below par. And every time someone asked me what bike I had, I had to spend ten minutes convincing them that the Kinetic Challenger was a real bike and not an ungeared scooter.

The mechanic then took me inside the garage and showed me another kinetic bike that had come to him. It was some GF125 or some such thing. One of those snazzy looking things that cost upward of Rs. 80,000. It had been lying in the garage for a year and a half it seems, for want of spare parts to repair it. The mechanic went on about various other bike models that were once THE hot thing. For most of these, spare parts are extremely tough to find nowadays, and the cost of maintenance is really high. He told me this was the case with all non-Pulsar Bajaj models, most Yamaha models and many more, not to mention all Kinetic models.

One major problem with the large number of bikes being released in the last few years is that production for the not-so-really-successful models stop a couple of years after they are released. And with that, they also stop making spares for these models, thus significantly pushing up the costs of maintenance of these bikes.

To put it in other words, there is a chance that the cost of maintenance for a bike can suddenly shoot up, if the manufacturer decides on not making them any more. Hence, when you go out to buy a bike, you need to be reasonably confident that it is going to be a successful model, in order to keep maintenance costs low. So it really makes sense for you to go for popular and already successful models. What this shows is that it may not be so obvious, but network effects are definitely there when it comes to automobiles.

Before I left, I told the mechanic that my next bike is likely to be an Enfileld. “Enfield will always be Royal, Sir”, shouted one junior mechanic who was working on the adjacent bike. “Definitely buy that and get rid of this jalopy”.

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