The Smug Motorcyclist

I was sitting in a meeting at work the other day. The price of gas exceeded $4 and co-workers were competing for sympathy over how much they pay to fill up at the pump.

“I paid $50 bucks!”
“Oh yea? Well it cost me $65!!”
“I drive a SUV and with my tank it costs $90!!!”

I tried will all my might to keep from laughing or grinning. The complaints were starting to settle down and after everyone thought all was said on the subject I added my two cents:

“Oh I know! It cost me 15 bucks to fill up my motorcycle! It usually costs me $12!!!”

The conference room erupted with groans and sarcastic sympathy.

The Smug Motorcyclist strikes again.

  • Jason

    I love doing that to people!

    Even if I have to stop at the gas station twice as often as “normal” people there’s nothing more satisfying than filling up, with premium, for $15 or less.

  • Bucky

    It is people-miles per gallon that counts:

    Motorcycle — 50 miles per gallon, and usually transports 1 person.
    50 miles x 1 person/1 gallon = 50 people-miles per gallon.

    Motorcycle with pillion — 48 miles per gallon, 2 people.
    48 miles x 2 people/1 gallon = 96 people-miles per gallon.

    Itty-bitty car — 40 miles per gallon, 4 people.
    40 miles x 4 people/1 gallon = 160 people-miles per gallon.

    15 passenger van — 13 miles per gallon, 15 people.
    13 miles x 15 people/1 gallon = 195 people-miles per gallon.

    (The motorcycle is a lot more fun than the others, however.)

    Car pools have always been a good way to save energy, yet the government wants us to be required to buy only itty-bitty cars, as evidenced by the tightened CAFE standards.

    Tradesmen and trailer towers need larger vehicles as well.

    Looking at the bigger picture, the answer depends on the vehicle, its efficiency, and what is is to carry most of the time.

    Also, repair costs after an accident can be higher for small cars, due to their smaller mass relative to the things with which they may collide. They are also not as safe as larger vehicles for the same reason.

    (The motorcycle/rider are much more likely to be totaled/severely injured in an accident.)

    Moral of the story. There is a place for larger vehicles. Buy a vehicle that will be most efficient for the service into which it will be placed, considering all of the factors above.

    By the way, we ought to be drilling for oil and building refineries now, so the despots in the Middle East cannot bring us to our knees at will.

  • Atlas


    “People-miles” would be significant if the majority of people carpooled. When I ride down the commuter lanes I rarely see more than one person in a car.

    Yes, larger vehicles have their place. I don’t think most people need them.

    Drilling for oil in more places treats the symptoms of oil shortages, not the root cause (it’s finiteness). Alternative energy sources should be funded more than they are now.

  • Bucky

    Market forces will determine what vehicle we select and what energy sources we use. Car pooling will probably becoming more prevalent with high fuel prices. More people may move to places where the commute isn’t as long. Bicycle sales (and physical fitness) may increase. More stores within walking distance may crop. Who knows?

    Meanwhile, there are hundreds of years of proven oil reserves within the United States alone, and more that is as yet undiscovered. There is some evidence that oil is still being produced in earth beneath us.

    Market forces have always been the best way to determine what a commodity should cost and whether its use will increase or decline. Our politicians say that government should fund research for alternatives. The problem with that, is WHICH alternative should be funded? They always pick the wrong ones because they cannot know what innovations and market forces will prevail in the future. It is not that they don’t men well, it is that the simply CANNOT guess what will happen due to free-market innovation — is in unknowable.

    Profit-motivated, free-market competition has always been — and remains — the best way to find alternatives WHEN it makes economic sense to do so.

    In the mean time, petroleum is readily available (if we are allowed to drill for it, and allowed to build refineries to process it) has the highest energy content per pound of almost any alternative.

    One day it may run out, but by then innovators, if not throttled by government, will have come up with viable alternatives that we may not have even dreamed of today. Higher efficiency vehicles, alternative energy sources, easier telecommuting for more people. Again, who knows — today?

    Think about this: In your business, do your competitors come up with innovations that they use to make their product cheaper and better? They certainly do in mine. Doesn’t that spur you into coming up with ways of bettering your product? It sure does with me — I want to stay in business, keep my job, and be able to eat! Who benefits? Everyone: Your customers — they get a product that is more efficient, better, and cheaper. You do — you get to take home a paycheck, maybe a fatter one. Those who do not innovate, die, as they should. They should go into a line of work where they can better use their talents for their own good and for the general good. The buggy whip makers are mostly gone, but the people who made whips went into another line of work that had a greater use to society and for which they were rewarded with wealth. The free-market forces acted. The whip makers didn’t depend on the government to keep them working, they innovated and paved the way for something new and better, maybe they came up with the products and services you and I are making right now.

    The same thing occurs in all types of business, including energy. We in the United States enjoy the highest standard of living of any nation ever to exist on the face of the earth. That came through innovation and hard, honest work. If we don’t allow greater energy production our standard of living will decline markedly, and our wealth, both collectively and individually, will be diminished. This has far-ranging effects: The result will be a lower standard of living for the entire world, since their economic success and general wellbeing is so dependent on us here. That cannot be what any of us really wants.

    Let free-market forces prevail!

  • Atlas

    Woa Bucky, settle down! :) I’m all for the free-market too. To me, the market seems to be short sighted. What’s profitable today may not be profitable tomorrow. Until it’s not it won’t change. Yes the market has some foresight, but I don’t believe it can collectively shift to alternative energy sources until we’ve exhausted our existing ones and panic starts. Once that happens the market will be innovating like crazy, so why not have some foresight and fund alternative energy research now to nudge it along until the market takes off with it?

  • Bucky

    Problem is, who knows what to nudge? Only the freemarket knows best.

    The innovations — and moves from one energy source to others — will occur gradually as prices rise if commodities become scarcer. The gradual rise will allow time for alternatives to be found and brought to market. That does not have to occur now, because there is plenty of petroleum.

    The panic will occur when the Middle East cuts off our supply without our having an immediate alternative. Petroleum beneath our soil is that alternative, and does not require nearly as much research and development (time and money) to get it to the point of economic viability as alternative energy sources. Some of the alternative sources now being pushed such as ethanol are already affecting food availability in the world, and its price. Ethanol production requires more energy than the content of the fuel produced and we have begun starving people because we are burning their food for fuel. Does this make sense to anyone?

    Also, our competitiveness in the world will decline if we artificially restrict the supply of a commodity that is relatively plentiful elsewhere in the world. You can bet that drilling will go on feverishly elsewhere around the globe to supply the expanding economies of China and India.

    Lets DRILL FOR IT!!

    […and I’ll try to hush now.]

  • Silo


    The problem with putting too much stock in the free-market is that it rarely takes into account anything outside the human influence — ie: nature. I think the free market works, and works remarkably well, the problem is that it is primarily dependent on greed to make it function. I don’t say that in a nasty way particularly, just as statement of fact. If there is money to be made in alternatives then there will be innovation. But, insofar as that is true, it becomes hard to find any evidence of altruism or selflessness in the free-market model that would drive it to do what is right — not just what is profitable. And I think it is more evident today than ever that there are an increasing number of companies that will go to considerable effort to keep your average Joe, who might have some influence on that company if he knew, from getting the correct information on certain issues.

    This issue to me, is not what is profitable in regards to the where, why and how we can drill to get more (more and more) of the fuel, but what is right in regards to the stewardship of the planet. I think that’s the kind of foresight Bill might be referring to. What to fund? I dunno – nor does the government I imagine. But I will say that there is a lot to be said for evaluating the options and taking your best shot. If global warming is what they say it is (and why risk it, if you don’t know that the ‘treehuggers’ are wrong?), then in a zero-sum game I think the market is a flimsy item to base your faith on, considering that it was market forces that helped get us into this pickle in the first place.

    To my mind the issue is sometimes looked at as:

    low supply + high demand + high cost = innovation

    Which would be fine, but is ignoring the larger issue which to me is defined as:

    people + petroleum + more petroleum + time = crap planet for our kids

    And I think its pretty clear by how many people you still see in SUVs that a significant amount people don’t care. There’s less money in the ‘save the planet’ lobby than there is in the ‘drill hard, drill fast’ lobby.

    At the end of the day, market forces make the economy go ’round, but they have little to do with ethics and morals of any kind.

    When I think about this stuff, I always think about that Jeff Goldblum line from the first Jurassic Park:

    “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

    He’s talking specifically, but I think the idea applies to a lot of things…

  • Atlas


    The problem of what to nudge or to research is a very serious one. I think the following nudges went very well in the past:

    1964 ENIAC – The first computer
    1969 The Internet (or DARPA Net)
    1973 Start of the launch of GPS satellite system

    These are just a couple examples where government has stepped in an made innovations. After that the free market took over.

    We could have lived without the internet, computers and GPS, but with a source of fuel being such a fundamental resource it seems crazy to me that government isn’t dumping money to find alternatives.


    You bring another very important concern into the picture as well. China is starting their very own industrial revolution. What happens when 1 billion Chinese can drive a car? All the more reason to look for alternatives.

  • Silo


    Not to hijack the topic, but how come no big hubbub around you winning the Seero contest? Did I miss it? Seems like there was a bit of fuss about the run-up and then after it was over… *crickets*.

    No worries, of course. I voted for you and got my friends to vote as well, so I’m glad you won, just didn’t see any mention of it after the fact.

  • Atlas


    I was in Chicago all last week and have been getting settled back home for the past couple days. I am compiling a list of people who has voted for me so as to properly thank everyone. Some other commitments have been delaying me as well, but the hubbub is coming. :)

    Thanks for voting.

  • Silo

    Ah – very cool. No biggie, just curious.

    Congrats and thanks for all the work you put in! :)

  • Bucky

    “rarely takes into account anything outside the human influence — ie: nature….but [to do] what is right in regards to the stewardship of the planet”
    Remember that petroleum is not going to disappear suddenly. If it becomes more scarce, then its price will rise and the profit motive will spur development of alternatives. Innovation by the smartest people, motivated by potential profit, will help us find what is best, when it is needed.
    The free market is already working: Prices of big SUVs have dropped because nobody wants one right now.

    “it becomes hard to find any evidence of altruism or selflessness in the free-market model that would drive it to do what is right — not just what is profitable.”
    Altruism is pleasant to think about, but competition to provide a product or service will result in profitability that will make charity/altruistic pursuits possible. If a company makes additional profits, its management can donate or otherwise use them for a noble, but possibly unprofitable project. If they’re not making a profit in the first place, there is no such opportunity. Not all companies do this, but many do so, to the benefit of mankind.

    “There’s less money in the ’save the planet’ lobby than there is in the ‘drill hard, drill fast’ lobby.”
    Actually, the tree huggers have a throttle hold on our energy policy. 85% of our drillable area in the US is currently off limits. The supply of oil is being artificially limited.

    “1964 ENIAC – The first computer
    1969 The Internet (or DARPA Net)
    1973 Start of the launch of GPS satellite system”
    These were government-driven developments for the national defense initially, that trickled down to the general populace. Our government has the constitutional obligation to provide for the national defense (and, incidentally not much more than that).

  • AtlasRider


    Yes these projects came about from defense, but that doesn’t seem to relate to my original point: It’s possible for government to encourage and nurture innovation. Having a sustained energy supply is in the nations interest from the defense perspective. We have the national oil reserve, but why not look further ahead at alternatives for potential oil shortages over long periods of time?

  • Bucky

    “why not look further ahead”
    Because it takes away resources (money) that could, and should, be put to other uses now. There will be plenty of time to develop alternatives as, and if, the supply really becomes short.
    One point that I forgot to mention: There WILL be, as there are currently, those who believe they can come up with something that betters petroleum in BTU/lb or cost right now. They will raise capital in the open market and perform their research. If they are successful, they will be rewarded. If they are not, the market will put them out of business until the cost of petroleum rises sufficiently to make their alternative viable. When that time comes, others can build on their research findings.
    “sustained energy supply is in the nation’s interest from the defense perspective”
    Absolutely correct. That is an even better reason to exploit our resources here.
    So, the national defense depends on our drilling for oil AND there is an economic incentive to do so.
    Makes sense to me.

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