07
Jul 2008
by mark

You can afford a commuting bike right now

If you are commuting by car right now for 5 miles or less, you can afford a bike to make the same trip on. The reality is that gas has gotten more expensive and the savings of riding a bike even for short trips adds up.

Let’s look at some numbers.

The Supplement Scenario: Here we assume that a bike supplements a car that you plan to keep and drive, and that the savings of riding a bike will come purely from saved case. Using an online calculator, you can quickly estimate your annual fuel cost for a trip. If you travel 1.5 miles each way, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (you take some vacation, right?), that’s 750 miles per year, spent on that short commute. If you get 20 miles per gallon and gas cost $4.00 gallon, then your cost of gas for that commute is $150 for one year. For five years that’s $750.

So, even considering buying a decent brand new commuting bike, you could take out a loan if necessary, use the money you save on gas to pay the loan, and easily within five years the bike will have paid for itself and start earning you money. If you choose a used a bike, the break-even point could occur much faster.

Using the same variables above with a 4.5 mile commute, that’s an annual gas cost of $450, or $2,250 over five years. In this range, even a high-end bike as options which can pay for themselves relatively quickly, and earn you significant savings.

Then there’s the second scenerio, where you could save something $300 per week. That’s right: over $15,000/year. How? Eliminate a car. As seen on this worksheet from Seattle, which takes a Honda Accord and factors in the car payments, the insurance cost, tax and registration, gas, maintenance, and parking fees. My family is personally using this approach, by being a one car family instead of a two car family. Our personal estimated cost of a car was much more modest: more like $200 or $300 month. For these calculations, we’ll use the current federal standard for paying mileage on business trips: About 50 cents per mile. I believe number is supposed to reflect the average complete cost of driving a mile, factoring in not just gas, but some maintenance, etc.

So again following the pattern above, a 1.5 mile commute works out to costing $375/year or $1,875 over 5 years, while a 4.5 mile commute would cost $1,125/year or $5,625 over five years.

The savings with this approach are indeed much greater, and we’ve been able to pay down a mortgage faster as result. To be fair, for people going this route, I would expect more to be spent on bikes, accessories and clothing. I would say that our car is replaced not just with a bike, but with three bikes, two trailers and some amount of extra clothing for weather that might be particularly cold, hot or wet.

An estimated savings of $200 to $300 per month works out to be $12,000 to $18,000 over five years. Or put another way, it would be very difficult to spend so much on bikes and accessories for a car replacement that so that you didn’t save money. You could import a bakfiets like we did for hauling kids and cargo, or consider adding electric assist your bike with a Bionx kit, assisting up to 20 mph, or even buy a velomobile.

Other questions besides the price

I realize the concern of price is just one that keeps people from bike commuting. Others include: “Do I have time for bike commuting?” , “I don’t want to arrive sweaty” , “I don’t want to mess up my hair” , “What would I do if it was rainy? (or hot, or cold)” , “How do I avoid getting chain grease on my clothing?“, “How I carry cargo? Kids?”.

Solutions exist to address all these concerns. (Mouse over the questions for some ideas). The internet is a great resource for not just self-educating, but also getting in touch with functional bike cultures around the world. Henry and mindcaster export bike culture from Amsterdam, while Portland brings us bikeportland.org and the Clever Cycles blog, and there’s Copenhagen Cycle Chic. Each of these is a window into a inspiring bike culture and a wellspring of resources and ideas for including cycling in everyday life. Get that commuting bike and dive in!

Some inspiring bike videos to get started:

XtraCycle Lifestyle:

Cycling Friendly Cities:

Related pages

  • Total cost of bike commuting for another blogger. Of note: he also saves money on a gym membership, since bike commuting replaces it.
  • A case for bicycle commuting illustrates a case when bicycle commuting cost less than a 10th of car commuting and saves time because bike commuting replaces a workout.

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  • Agent Excel

    How about the danger of getting hit by a car? Friend of mine was hit twice in 1 year.
    USA is just not meant for anything but car commuting.

  • Mark Stosberg

    Agent Excel,
    Regarding getting hit by a car:
    Proportionally more people are being killed in their cars their on their bikes. One primary source: “an average of 16.5 cyclists per million die every year in the U.S. (For motorists, it’s 19.9 motorists per million.) (National Safety Council 1988)”
    Another study, from “Failure Analysis Associates, Inc.” drew the same conclusion. They studied “Fatalities per Million Exposure Hours” and found that there was less chance of death when time was spent bicycling rather than “motoring” (.26 per million for bicycles vs .46 for motoring ). Interestingly, they also included “Living” on the chart, which had a higher rate of fatality than either, at 1.57.
    That is part of the reality of not bicycling, or at least not getting exercise. America is becoming and overweight and obese nation in part because of our transportation habits, and obesity related conditions are now costing Americans about $100 billion per year, about half of which is picked up directly by public tax dollars through Medicare and Medicaid. At the same time, obesity-related conditions sometimes end with a fatal result in early death.
    Local bike commuter Aaron Hill concludes: since I want to exercise anyways, if I were to spend 60 minutes in the gym doing some cardio work (treadmill, ex. bike, elliptical, etc.) I would be using 90 minutes of my day for commuting + cardio. By riding a bike I’m saving 30 minutes every day AND getting both! Win-win!.
    There is some amount of risk in both cycling and driving a car, but I can only conclude that the reality that cycling is a sufficiently safe and worthwhile option in many cases.