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Expert Guide: Owning an Older Motorbike in Singapore

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In spite of regulations that deter owners from keeping motorcycles registered after they are 10 years old, and even rules forcing the de-registration of some older motorcycles along with up to $3,500 in incentives to do so, a surprising number of motorcyclists in Singapore are keeping their older motorbikes on the roads.

Statistically, bikes under 10 years old are obviously in the majority (101,315 as of 31 March 2021), but nearly 30% are older than 10 years (39,310), and nearly 4% (5,151) are 20 years old and above.

Why are Singapore motorcyclists defying the incentives to de-register their older motorcycles?

Money Matters

On the face of it, owning an older motorcycle is a money sink. Once past 10 years old, like cars, motorcycles face a road tax surcharge, starting at 10% extra, and increasing to 50% extra at 15 years and older.

But motorcycles are generally relatively low engine capacity compared to cars, so the costs are not quite so prohibitive. Even with the full surcharge it is unlikely you’ll pay more than $500 in annual road tax for an older motorcycle.

Motorbike: Emissions Impossible

Of more concern for owners of older motorcycles is the tightening of in-use emissions for motorbikes that is due to be introduced on 6 April 2023. With this scheme, motorcycles older than 10 years will be required to pass tightened emissions standards.

Under this scheme after 30 June 2028, no motorcycle registered before 1 July 2003, will be allowed to be used on Singapore roads except those registered under the restricted-use Classic scheme for motorcycles over 35 years old, or Vintage scheme for those made before 1940.

Obviously, when this comes into effect in 2028, there is a cohort of motorcycles made between 2 July 1993 and 30 June 2003, that are in limbo – apparently a temporary scheme is being explored to allow owners to keep them until they’re eligible for the Classic Vehicle Scheme, though no details are currently available.

In the short term, most well-maintained motorcycles should be able to pass the emissions standards requirements. Owners of smoky two-stroke machines may have cause for concern, and others may have to spend a bit more on maintenance.

Why Persist?

In the face of such obstacles to ownership, owners of older motorbikes must feel strongly attached to their machines. And there are plenty of good reasons to be so.

  • On Trend

In recent years a nostalgia for perceived simpler times – helped along by hipsters – has also affected the motorcycle world. Most manufacturers have at least one retro-style machine in their line-up, and some, such as Harley-Davidson and Royal Enfield, rely on old-school design and styling as a business model. Interestingly, this business model is almost non-existent in the car world.

  • Modern Classics

Some models changed the motorcycling world. From the humble Vespa, which gave the post-war world affordable private transportation, to models like the Honda CB750 Four that popularized and defined the essence of the modern superbike from 1969, some motorcycles have become icons. In both these cases – and other cases too – these icons have endured and evolved over the years. One of Honda’s current best-sellers, the CB400, is a direct descendant of that original CB750, for example.

  • Nostalgia

Many motorcyclists in Singapore were introduced to motorcycles by their parents’ generation. Many went on to purchase motorcycles that reminded them of those days, and others have been gifted or willed these machines. That emotional attachment can be strong.

  • Habit

It may be that you’ve found a motorcycle that suits your needs, that you’re comfortable with, and that is working perfectly well. Why change?

Pros and Cons of Owning an Older Motorbike

As technology progresses so too do motorbikes. What advances in motorcycling are you missing, and do they matter?

  • Brakes

Cons: Motorcycle brakes have come a long way in recent times. Many motorcycles can be pulled to a standstill very effectively with as little pressure on the brake lever as a single finger can apply. And many new bikes offer anti-lock braking (ABS) systems to prevent dangerous lock ups.

Pros: Older motorcycles are more likely to require firmer pressures on the lever before the maximum braking force is achieved. That maximum force happens to be just before the brakes lock, but because of the extra lever pressure required, you’re less likely to lock the brakes in an emergency. There are two other things working in your favour: you’re less likely to be travelling as fast on an older bike; and grip levels are determined by tyres.

  • Tyres

Cons: New motorcycle tyres offer vastly more grip than older ones.

Pros: You can fit new tyres and have exactly as much grip as a modern motorcycle. Just be sure to buy quality tyres. Don’t be fooled by the generally narrower profiles of tyres for your older bike – your narrower tyres may offer more grip than the wide ones in certain circumstances.

  • Performance

Cons: Newer motorcycles make vastly more power than older ones of a similar capacity.

Pros: If you’re not racing it barely matters. Most older motorcycles have more than enough power to keep up with traffic and reach or exceed our national speed limits.

  • Chassis

Cons: Most new bikes have super-stiff frames and adjustable suspension systems.

Pros: A stiff frame is likely to be more noticeable on a racetrack, and you really need to be an expert to change suspension settings for better results. An older bike may not handle quite as well as a new machine, but that’s a good reason to take it steady and enjoy the ride.

  • Maintenance

Cons: Modern motorcycles require less frequent regular maintenance.

Pros: For many classic motorcycle owners, maintenance is part of the experience. Also, older bikes tend to be simpler, so many of those maintenance tasks don’t need to be carried out by specialists. You could save money, and learn more about your motorcycle, by doing it yourself.

For many owners, their well-maintained and much-loved old motorcycles give them more joy than a new bike ever could. What price do you put on that?

By motorcycling correspondent Tony Tan


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