A few years ago, someone I know decided to rebuild a bike from an old run-down parts. Watching him construct the bike made me realize that I actually enjoyed cycling, and wanted to make it a larger part of my life. Sitting in traffic during rush hour each day also did not help, and something needed to change. Shortly after that, I began to commute by bike to work. There are numerous benefits to commuting by bicycle. The first, and probably the most important, is the incredible feeling you receive that carries throughout your day. When riding a bike, everything just feels better, thanks to those wonderful endorphins. You feel more alive. And you get a chance to be outdoors, living life instead of being stuck inside a car on the freeway. You also start to feel like you are in command of your fitness. And I no longer dread the commute home after work.
“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” - H.G. Wells
The second benefit to commuting by bike is a significant savings in cost. Let’s do the math and see how much savings can be realized.
Let’s start with the costs associated with a car first. The average cost of a new car loan in the United States, as of 2019 was $31,455. Obviously some cars may be purchased new, and some cars may be purchased used at a significant reduction in price. For this comparison, we will use the average car loan from https://www.fool.com/retirement/2019/04/08/heres-what-a-new-car-costs-the-average-american.aspx. If you sell your car after four years, the average depreciation rate will be 20% each year (https://cartreatments.com/average-depreciation-rate-cars/). This means that with a purchase price of $31,455, you could sell the car for $6,291 four years later (20% of its initial value). The total amount invested in the purchase price of the car would be $25,164, or about $524.25 a month.
To drive, we also need to take into account the fuel cost. The average fuel efficiency of vehicles as of 2019 was 23.96 miles per gallon, found here: https://afdc.energy.gov/data/10310. The price of gasoline in 2019 averaged $2.88 per gallon (from https://www.globalpetrolprices.com/gasoline_prices/ and converted from liters to gallons). This works out to be $0.12 per mile in fuel costs ($2.88/23.96 mpg = $0.12 per mile). If we use an average commute distance of 10 miles (one way), this works out to $1.20 in fuel to get to work, or $2.40 round trip. There were 251 working days in 2019, which means the total cost to drive to work and back would have been $602.40 (251 days * $2.40 in fuel costs = $602.40 total). This works out to $50.20 a month.
Finally, if you drive, you must carry auto insurance. Because each car and driver will have different insurance rates, we will use the average across the U.S. In 2019, the average annual cost for auto insurance was $1,323. This works out to $110.25 per month.
Adding the monthly car price, gasoline, and auto insurance for a car equals $684.70 ($524.25 monthly purchase price + $50.20 in gas + $110.25 for insurance = $684.70 per month).
Note, for purposes of calculating the costs of a bicycle, I’m going to use higher end prices for items I would personally feel comfortable using. If anything, these costs are going to be higher than average. If you are replacing a car with a bicycle, one of the easiest bicycles to use for most people is an electric bike. These are the closest type of bicycles to a car replacement, getting you to work quickly and without getting sweaty. If you choose a high end electric bicycle, such as a Specialized Turbo Vado 5.0, you would expect to pay $5,150 (we are ignoring taxes for purposes of this calculation). This price comes from https://www.specialized.com/us/en/shop/bikes/active-bikes/turbo-vado/c/eturbovado. It might also be possible to sell the bicycle after four years, but for purposes of this cost comparison, I’ll amortize the price over four years. This works out to be $107.29 per month for the price of the bike.
In order to carry your lunch and other work supplies, you’ll need to invest in the purchase of a pannier (bag). The cost of a typical pannier from REI is $130 (https://www.rei.com/product/885304/ortlieb-back-roller-urban-bike-pannier-single). This works out to be a monthly cost of $10.83. Note, I’ve amortized this cost over a single year period (instead of four years) because we will assume that bicycle accessories may need to be replaced from time to time.
In the northern locations, it will be dark early in the morning and late in the day. You will need a good quality light set with both a front and rear light. In fact, it’s generally a good idea to use these anytime during the day for better visibility by drivers. A quality light set will cost $151.80 (https://www.universalcycles.com/shopping/product_details.php?id=101503), which works out to $12.65 a month.
Another good way to be seen by drivers is to use a high visibility cycling jacket. A nice jacket can cost $100.00 https://www.rei.com/product/157602/pearl-izumi-elite-pursuit-hybrid-bike-jacket-mens). This equates to $8.33 in monthly cost.
One of the most important safety items to purchase for biking is a comfortable helmet. A highly rated helmet such as the Kask Mojito will cost $170.00, or $14.17 a month (https://www.competitivecyclist.com/kask-mojito-x-helmet). In colder climates, you may need to use a hat under your cycling helmet. A typical skull cap will cost $30.00, or $2.50 a month (https://www.rei.com/product/102669/pearl-izumi-barrier-skull-cap).
If you prefer to wear cycling gloves, or live in a cold climate, a nice pair will cost $30.00. This too equals $2.50 per month (https://www.rei.com/product/102664/pearl-izumi-escape-thermal-bike-gloves-mens).
If you get a flat tire while riding, or if you need to make other repairs to your bicycle, you will appreciate having a repair kit with you. The cost for a deluxe repair kit is $50.00, or $4.17 a month (https://www.rei.com/product/144449/topeak-deluxe-accessory-kit).
Once you start commuting by bike, you may want to track your route and performance. It is also fun to track how far you bike in any particular year. To track this, many cyclists purchase a bike computer such as the Wahoo Bolt which mounts to your handlebars. The Bolt will cost $250.00, which equates to $28.83 a month (https://www.rei.com/product/122471/wahoo-fitness-elemnt-bolt-gps-bike-computer).
Because wind in your eyes is never a comfortable feeling, many cyclists will wear sunglasses when riding. You can find inexpensive sunglasses at many local stores, but other cyclists prefer nicer sunglasses if they will be using them everyday. A nice pair of polarized sunglasses will cost $190.00, or $15.83 a month (https://www.competitivecyclist.com/smith-guides-choice-sunglasses-polarized-chromapop).
Adding up all of these bike related costs, the total is $199.10 per month, as shown by the table below. Compared with the monthly cost for a car of $684.70, commuting by bicycle is only 71% less expensive! Money is only one of the benefits of commuting by bike. In addition to the extra fitness level you will achieve, you can increase your happiness and elevate your mood. Of course, saving money on top of this is a nice bonus!