Why Do We Rarely See Motorcycles in Western Countries

A whopping 287 million cars were registered in America in 2020. And while motorcycle use in the country may be at a record high in the same period, it pales in comparison to car use, with just 10 million motorcycles in the United States (just 8% of households have one*).

That’s the case in most other Western countries, but it’s quite the opposite in other parts of the world, especially in Southeast Asia where motorcycle use greatly outweighs car use for a variety of reasons.

So why do we rarely see motorcycles in Western countries, while in a country like Indonesia, motorcycles easily outnumber cars? Here’s a closer look.

Motorcycle Use in Asia

Around the world, motorcycle use is statistically the highest in Asia. Particularly for residents of very crowded cities, motorcycles are often the easiest way to travel around, especially when traffic is at its highest. Motorcycle use just isn’t prevalent in Asian cities.

Those who live in more rural areas also find that a motorcycle is perfect to use for difficult geographical conditions such as unpaved roads in the hilly or mountainous countryside.

According to several surveys, the highest motorbike use in Asia is seen in the following countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and China. According to Pew Research, the least common places to find cars are in South and Southeast Asia, as well as sub-Saharan Africa.

Just 2% of people in Vietnam and Bangladesh have cars. Even China and India have very low car ownership rates, at just 17% and 6%, respectively.

Factors in Motorcycle Popularity 

One big reason for the popularity of motorcycles in many Asian countries: money. Motorcycles are far more affordable than cars in the above countries. In Thailand for example, new motorcycles are often around the equivalent $1,500 American dollars. Used motorcycles in the country go for around $600 or even less.²

The upkeep cost for a motorcycle, including routine maintenance and more serious repairs, is also much less than the same work on cars. Motorcycles in Western countries are more routinely viewed as luxury goods and used primarily for recreation, not for everyday use such as commuting.

It’s hard to exaggerate the influence of traffic on motorcycle use. In Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, traffic amount the worst in the world, according to worldatlas.com. That’s a big reason why there are just 5 million cars used in the city each day compared to 15 million motorbikes.

In Indonesia, 85% of households have at least one motorbike that’s used as the primary mode of transportation for the entire country.

In addition, two-wheelers such as motorcycles and motorbikes have far less environmental importance compared to cars, since they put out less gas. That’s important in very crowded countries, and because of the crowded nature motorbikes that are easy to park on the sidewalk are necessary.

Lastly, motorbikes and motorcycles are commonly used as taxis for locals and visitors, as well as transportation vehicles for businesses transporting goods.

The Bottom Line

Because of motorcycles, getting around in very crowded cities is easier, the financial burden on a family is less, and the environmental impact is far lower than a car. Motorcycles and motorbikes in many non-Western countries are simply more utilitarian than cars. It is pretty easily explained, at the end car, bike or motorcycle, depends on where you live.