The economics of biking to work

A little off-topic for my photo blog, but this is one of my other passions — cycling.

bike commutingLast year, I started a new job in downtown Madison, which cut my commute from 44 miles down to 9 miles (each way). This was the perfect opportunity for me to start riding my bike to work on a regular basis. This year, I have clocked over 1900 bike commuting miles and am on pace to break the 2000 mile mark, which was my goal. Along the way, I have pondered the benefits of biking to work. Initially, it wasn’t about saving gas money, or even getting into better shape — it was about the freedom of riding my bike. I love being out on my bike and the fact that I could incorporate that into my commute was perfect for me.

As you can see from the lists below, the actual dollar amount is not in favor of biking to work (EDIT: that depends on how you calculate the cost of driving, see edit in the list below) — I spent more on my bike gear than I would have on gas. A lot of those costs can be amortized over time whereas you’ll always be buying gas, not to mention my list doesn’t account for oil changes/maintenance. So to get to the real economics of biking to work, we have to dig deeper.

Health and fitness is the biggest factor for me. The psychological benefits are impossible to put a dollar amount on — I’m a happier person when I ride my bike. I don’t need to spend money on a gym membership. I have lost weight this year while biking to work. It also means I get to eat more donuts, which I am unfortunately very much addicted to (especially the bismarks from Lane’s Bakery). A quick online search will find you a multitude of studies that show tell you all the benefits of riding your bike more, so I won’t bother going into further detail here.

One final factor is the environmental impact of biking to work. It’s not the reason I started, but it’s another feel-good reason for biking to work. I reduce my carbon footprint by a sizable amount by biking to work.

Taking all of these benefits into account, biking to work is the economical answer. Not just the actual dollar amount, but in all of the intangibles. I would love to see more people out on their bikes, whether riding to work or for the pure enjoyment of cycling. Why do you ride? Why don’t you ride? I would love to hear your responses — feel free to comment!

costs

  • bike: $40 at rummage sale
  • initial cost for full tune-up by a bike mechanic: $100
  • new tires (August 2009): $75 (yeah, I bought the expensive tires)
  • bike rack and panniers: $105
  • lights (front/back): $50
  • shoes and cleats: $105
  • helmet: $40 (already had one)
  • sunglasses: $40 (I have a cheap pair of sunglasses with interchangeable lenses — on cloudy/rainy days, I use the clear lenses because I like the extra eye protection)
  • clothing: $0 (I pretty much use what I already had from other sports I play — I don’t wear cycling jerseys while commuting, just comfortable athletic wear)

vehicle savings

  • Gas savings: 2000 miles @ 30 mpg = 67 gallons @ $2.50/gallon = $167.50
  • EDIT: as suggested by Frank, I could calculate vehicle costs using the mileage reimbursement value as specified by the IRS. 2000 @ $0.55 = $1100

health and fitness

  • I lost weight (the average bike commuter loses 13 pounds of body weight [Bicycling Magazine])
  • my resting heart rate is 52 bpm
  • I lowered blood pressure (120/68)
  • less stress = better mental well-being

environment

  4 comments for “The economics of biking to work

  1. Frank
    October 21, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    I think you’re underestimating the costs of driving, when you consider all the maintenance, parking, cost of buying the car, insurance, etc. The IRS lets you deduct 55 cents a mile for business use. In any case, I agree that the intangible results are the real benefit.

  2. October 21, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    That’s a good point, I should have simply used the IRS mileage value of $0.55/mile. That would come out to $1100 in auto costs for the 2000 miles I commuted. Now I feel much better about having purchased the expensive tires for my bike 🙂

  3. Kati
    October 26, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Doesn’t it snow there? Do you still ride in inclement weather? I would love to ride to work, but having to change my clothes and fix my hair after wearing a helmet make it a no go for me … not to mention the not so nice weather MI seems to have the majority of the time that I’m required to report to work.

  4. October 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    We get snow, that’s for sure! Last year I stopped riding after Thanksgiving because of the weather. This year I’m going to try to tough it out a bit longer. As of right now, I don’t have a shower at work, so I do a bird bath cleanup, but early next year our office is moving to a location with a shower and I’ll be one happy camper when that happens!

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