No Car, No Problem: Short Commute Alternatives


And what you need to know about insuring your ride

Most working-aged adults commute to work each day, and many students also share the daily commuting grind. Most Americans rely on either private cars (75%) or car pools (9%) for their commute, and just 5% of Americans use public transportation to get to work.

But what if you don’t want to travel to work by car—or what if you can’t afford it? If where you live and where you work aren’t prohibitively far apart, other vehicle options besides cars can be a great choice. We’ve got the lowdown on the most reliable choices, including average pricing, rules of the road, and insurance requirements details from The Zebra’s own insurance expert and licensed agent Neil Richardson.

Bicycles

An obvious consideration, true, but bicycles are truly a great alternative to cars for your daily work commute.

Pros: Great for the environment, great for your health, and no car needed—if you live close enough (or are ambitious enough) commuting to work on a bike is a great option.

Cons: You sweat! You might need a shower after, and you’ll almost definitely need a change of clothes. You’ll also need to make sure the roads to and from work are safe and legal for bicycle use.

Insurance requirements: No insurance is required for bicyclists. If you’re injured, your medical insurance should help cover costs.

Rules of the road: The League of American Bicyclists has a state-by-state guide to bicycle laws, as well as a ranking of which states and cities are the most bicycle-friendly. See the guide to find out if your state requires cyclists to wear a helmet, if bicycles are allowed on sidewalks, and if bicyclists are prohibited from riding under the influence (and if you could be prosecuted for doing so).

Price range: For a new bike, you could spend as little as $200 and as much as $5,000 (or more!). If you don’t need any bells or whistles, you might find a decent used bike on Craigslist or in your local paper for under $100.

The Cyclotron Bike
Cyclotron Bike

Coolest Kinda-Bikes:

  • Cyclotron bike ($1,100-$2,990): The bicycle, modeled after the one in Tron, is spokeless, tireless, connected and smart: it’s controlled by an app (and the LED wheels look pretty cool in the dark, too). The Cyclotron reached funding goals this summer and, according to the company, customers who pre-order these futuristic bicycles will receive them in August 2017. Bonus: the wheel wells double as storage space.
  • Gi FlyBike ($2,000): Created specifically for commuters, it takes just one second to fold this bicycle in half, making it the perfect storage-ready commuting solution. It can be ridden like a traditional bike, but it also has an electric feature with a 40-mile range (for those tired evenings). Riders can even charge their smartphones while they pedal. The Gi FlyBike is available for pre-order with estimated shipping in March 2017.

Motorcycles

A commute on a motorcycle, or a vehicle with an engine bigger than 150 cubic centimeters and no more than three wheels, is an energizing way to start (and end) the day. You’ll want to make sure you have the right gear, like sufficient body protection, ample storage, and a properly maintained bike (for maximum safety and riding enjoyment). Motor scooters (defined as a vehicle with an an engine smaller than 150 ccs) are also included in our list:

Pros: Motorcycles are less expensive than cars. They use less fuel, and they’re easier to park. Plus, they’re fun to ride.

Cons: Maintenance and replacement parts tend to be more expensive and needed more frequently than with cars. In general, motorcycles are more dangerous than cars, and riding, especially in the elements, takes experience and practice.

Insurance requirements: Almost all states have a minimum liability insurance requirement for motorcycles and motor scooters with engines at least 50ccs or more and with a max speed of at least 30 mph or higher. The only states that don’t have minimum liability insurance requirements are Florida, Montana, New Hampshire, and Washington, but even in these states motorcycle drivers still usually have to prove they could cover damages if necessary.

Insurance pricing: Many companies that sell insurance for motorcycles and motor scooters (which are insured under motorcycle policies) offer a state minimum policy for under $100 a year. Neil explains that minimum coverage is often so inexpensive because it would only cover the other party in the event of a wreck (not the motorcycle owner), and when a motorcycle and another vehicle collide, the other vehicle (a car, truck, etc.) isn’t likely to sustain much damage. Insuring your bike against damage or yourself against injury, however, is likely to be expensive.

“Motorcycles are much more easily stolen than cars, much more likely to be totaled in a wreck than a car, and they don’t wrap their riders in a protective enclosure like a car, making them a unique risk for insurance companies,” Neil explains. “Rates can be comparable to that of an automobile when additional coverage is added.”

Also, both motorcycle and motor scooter insurance rates are heavily weighed on the performance of the bike, so owners of better quality bikes might get better insurance rates.

“Just as rates for car insurance vary based on the type and performance of vehicle being insured, the difference in price between a cruiser type of motorcycle with a 750cc engine and a sport bike with a 1,000cc engine or larger can be quite significant.”

Insurance recommendations: Neil recommends riders carry medical coverage on their bike policy even if it isn’t required by the state because it’s really easy to be injured in a crash. And, most medical policies for bikes aren’t subject to deductibles (like health insurance policies are). If you finance a motorcycle, explains Neil, your bank will most likely require you to carry comprehensive and collision (just like if you were financing a car).

Rules of the road: Even if you have a valid U.S. driver’s license, you might need a separate motorcycle license or an additional classification on your license. (AAA has a comprehensive list of state-by-state requirements). There are some specific motorcycle laws you should be aware of too, which of course vary by state. See this state-by-state guide to find out whether you’re required to wear a helmet (and what type), if lane splitting is allowed (and when), in your home state.

Price range: Motorcycle enthusiasts and experts recommend, “tall, slim ‘Adventure’ bikes as great commuting partners,” writes Forbes, ranging in price from $6,500-$18,000. For more general motorcycle options (that still kill it), Popular Mechanics has a list of their 10 best buys for 2016, ranging in price from $4,719 to $14,899 (for, what else, a Harley). And for commuter-specific bikes, check out this list of 10 from Gear Patrol, ranging in price from $3,199 to $9,895.

2016 Zero DSR
2016 Zero DSR

Coolest Kinda-Motorcycles:

  • Honda X-Adv scooter (Price unknown): Heralded as a “new breed of motorcycle,” the X-Adv began as a concept, but 2017 models are now in production. Full specs will be released in November, but the engine will likely be 745 ccs, it’ll get great fuel efficiency, and it will be suitable for off-roading yet comfortable enough for commuting and weekend travel.
  • Zero DSR ($15,995): An electric motorcycle meant for traveling off-road as much as it’s meant for on-road, this bike is completely electric. This bike has been commuter-tested and passed. Tax credits, rebates, charging station tax credits might also be available. Another benefit of an all-electric bike like the Zero: much less maintenance.
  • Gogoro ($4,100): Called “the coolest two-wheel runabout you can buy,” by the Verge, the Gogoro is completely electric, has a top speed of 60 mph and can reach 31 mph in 4.2 seconds. It has no harmful emissions, features hybrid racing tires, and is designed for natural handling.
  • Monotracer ($55,000): From Peraves, the Monotracer is a “cabin motorcycle,” which is exactly what it sounds like. The bike is designed for long-distance travel and high speeds. It can reach 155 mph and comes in both gas and electric versions and has perks like high-quality music and advanced safety features.
  • Johammer J1 ($25,500): This electric motorcycle has a uniquely long range — up to 125 miles on a single charge. Rather than put an electric motor into a traditional motorcycle, the engineering here is completely new: the electric motor and controller are built into the rear wheel, with no maintenance required.

Mopeds

Mopeds (also called motorized bikes) are defined by most states as two-wheel vehicles with engines smaller than 50 ccs that cannot travel faster than 30 mph—these include Vespas, mopeds with pedals, and mopeds with foot wells. Anything with more power is a motorcycle or a motor scooter, in which case, see above.

Pros: Mopeds are smaller and less expensive to buy and maintain than both motorcycles and cars. Because they don’t travel as fast as motorcycles and motor scooters, they’re also safer.

Cons: Mopeds, by definition, can’t travel above 30 mph, so highway driving is out. Also, you can’t expect to travel long distances with a moped.

Insurance: Only about half of U.S. states have insurance requirements for mopeds (and requirements of course vary by state). Most major insurers now offer moped insurance, which makes obtaining a policy relatively painless (remember to shop around). Before you call, you’ll want to make sure you know your state’s moped insurance requirements (find more info at DMV.org) and how much insurance you’d like (if your state requires it, you’ll need at least the minimum, but you might still want insurance even if it isn’t state-mandated). You’ll also need to know your engine size (remember, above 50 ccs is generally the line between moped and motorcycle).

Rules of the road: AAA has a great state-by-state list of moped rules and requirements. If you’re planning to scoot around town on one, be sure to check local laws because they tend to vary quite a bit state to state. For instance, in Indiana, mopeds must be registered and have license plates, but in Kentucky, registration and license plates are not required.

Price range: Mopeds start at $1,000 for something decent.

Doohan EV3 iTank
Doohan EV3 iTank

Coolest Finds:

  • iTank ($5,500): The three-wheeled scooter isn’t ready for purchase yet (though the company promises it will be soon), but those behind the project believe the iTank will be the next big thing. The battery-powered electric scooter has some decent pickup (0-28 mph in 4.6 seconds) and is meant for tooling around the neighborhood and light off-roading. The top speed is limited, but they believe it’ll expand the market for non-car options (appropriate for young people and older people alike who couldn’t ride a two-wheeled bike, for instance).
  • CityBug electric scooter ($800): This is great for short trips (up to 12 miles per charge), easily foldable, with a wheel hub motor for stability.
  • FEDDZ electric bike ($8,700): Make short commutes with speeds up to 25 mph. The FEDDZ is battery-powered and has a range up to 37 miles, there’s room for storage, ample lights and headlights, and quick-charging capabilities.

Even if motorcycle, motor scooter, or moped insurance isn’t required by your state, Neil recommends carrying some coverage because riders are more likely to be injured in a collision than they would be if they were in a car.

“Just like we recommend with auto insurance, shopping for insurance before you buy the motorcycle or scooter is important so you can factor the cost into your budget. Also just like with cars, shopping around with as many companies as possible will ensure you get the best rate available,” Neil explains. “Some insurance companies even offer specialized coverage for motorcycles like breakdown coverage and coverage for a temporary hotel stay if your bike breaks down on a trip, so it’s important to consider these specialty items when determining what little extras you might want or need.”