As the economy tailspins toward the ground, I'm beginning to think it may be time for extreme measures. Who knows? In six months, we may be in the midst of Great Depression 2.0 with a side of hyperinflation. If it takes $500 to fill up the tank, that tank better last awhile. Also, you'll want something agile - to negotiate the civil unrest. And rugged, too.

So, I have this little Kawasaki KL250 dual sport - which I got a few years ago with the idea that it would work well as a street legal dirt bike I could take to my favorite trails, instead of having to trailer the thing. Now I'm thinking it might make the ideal Depression-mobile.

For one, it's paid-for. Cost me $2k four years ago and is as close to free transportation as it gets short of actually finding someone else to give you a ride.

Insurance is $75 for the whole year; even Virginia's loathsome personal property tax (which can be hundreds annually for a car) is barely Taco Bell lunch money for this thing.

Some motorcycles (sport bikes and big cruisers especially) are expensive to maintain. Not the KL. It is air-cooled, for openers - so, no radiator, no hoses, no coolant to worry about. The 250 cc single has self-adjusting valves, a simple Keihin carburetor and takes 1.5 quarts of oil every few thousand miles. Brake pads cost $15, last almost forever and can be swapped out in minutes with basic hand tools.

Keep the chain oiled and adjusted and air in the tires and you're pretty much covered.

But the best part is the mileage. Even with chunky off-road tires that have more rolling resistance on pavement than Oprah climbing stairs, the KL delivers 60-plus MPG on regular gas. With more street-friendly tires, 70 mpg is possible - economy that kicks a Prius up and down the Green Highway.

I have done the math and figured that using the KL as my primary vehicle would cost me (in today's money) perhaps $300 annually to gas up (roughly $5 per fill-up 4-5 times monthly) plus another $30 for two oil/filter changes (one every six months) plus the $75 for insurance and another $150 for a set of proper (street) tires.

That comes to $525. I'll add an extra $200 as a margin. So, let's say $725 to operate the KL250 year-round.

Compare that with the cost of running a car - an "economical" one that gets reasonable (at least 25 mpg) mileage. Assuming a typical 15 gallon tank that needs to be filled up once a week at the current $1.70 per gallon, your annual fuel cost alone would be $1,224 ($25.5 per week times four times a month times 12).

Then add insurance - at least a couple hundred more bucks, and that's if you have a clean driving record and live in a low-cost area - plus property taxes (if applicable).

Then, the biggie: Upkeep. Even "little things" cost a small fortune. A set of tires? $300 - if the car is a real econo-box and you can get by with super-cheap 14 inchers. If the car has 15 or 16 inch rims, tires are more like $100 a piece - for the inexpensive ones. Plus mounting and balancing. And on it goes. You know the drill.

Sure, you've got someplace to sit and a roof over your head, but can you afford it in the Brave New World we're entering?

The KL does have its downsides.

Highway rides are best approached with steely nerves, perhaps fortified by a pull of Wild Turkey first. You haven't lived until you've mixed it up with 100,000 pound, 600 horsepower semis on a bike that weighs not much more than you do struggling to maintain 65 mph on level ground.

And there is weather to think about. Got a good jacket? Gloves? Life insurance policy?

Still, the idea seems sound given where we are headed. All it really needs to be made a viable proposition is some storage capacity (Dennis Kirk or someone probably sells side bags) and maybe run a wire for some heated grips/suit to deal with the winter.

Would I rather be driving a Lexus - preferably, a Lexus press car - next January? Rest assuredly. But my Spider Sense is telling me the joyride is about over. I do not think there will be press cars in January of 2010 because I do not think there will be an auto industry in 2010. Lexus cannot survive by selling a few hundred LS470s to an etiolated crop of Wall Street banksters and DC influence peddlers. The suction of GM, Chrysler and Ford going to the bottom is going to drag the rest with them. And us, too.

So my advice is the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

And start looking for a nice used dual sport right now - while the prices are still rock bottom and before everyone else realizes the jig is up.