True Cost of Bicycling!


Calculating the cost of vehicles carries many perspectives. I started thinking about the annual cost of owning a bicycle because of two reasons. First, at a young age, I relied on used cars for getting around and when I bought a used car, my goal was to spend about $1500.00 per year average cost, including maintenance and insurance. That is no longer a realistic figure. It is more like twice that cost now. According to the National Highway Safe Administration, it is much, much higher at $9-12,000. The other reason stems from how little the average person wants to spend on a bicycle. Lacking a high enough priority for fitness and transportation, the cost of the bicycle is relegated to a hobby/ entertainment type status. So, the real question, what value best positions a bicycle in the household budget? What expenditure up front or over the long haul puts the investment into perspective.

Well, my first foray into this realm started with moving into commuting by bicycle. I purchased an $850.00 dollar bicycle and wanted to justify the cost. I calculated how many miles I would need to ride to pay off the bicycle in terms of the gas I would save. (7,725 miles at the time) with the then cost of gasoline at $2.48 in Wisconsin. Prices have ranged from $2.03 to $2.43 per gallon so far this year.  if you own an older model car, 2005-06 the average is $416 per month and a newer car is more like $716.00 PER MONTH!!!! The FHSA set the average cost per mile of a vehicle is $0.59 per mile.So, if you by a bike at $500.00, you would need to ride it a bit over 1,000 miles. Quite doable over a year or two’s time. Replacing the car with riding equates to money saved. If you look at JUST the cost of gasoline, figuring 20 miles to the gallon around town, you save about $9.20 per 100 miles or $0.09 cents per mile.

What about maintenance? Annual costs for maintenance include a tune-up, averaging $40.00 in western WI, and as much as $140 in larger cities such as NYC. A chain costs about $25.00, recommended to change annually, but it rarely does, and brake pads probably the next most common cost at about $40.00 a change over. Tires and tubes come much less often except for flats.  So, annual costs with tune-up, chain switch, will cost about $65.00-$85.00 per year. Buying a $500 bicycle, helmet at $40, and a light at $30, putting the cost total at $570. IF I own the bicycle 5 years, that would total $100.00 per year cost of bicycle, and a total of $300.00-$450.00 in maintenance for an average of $175.00 per year total cost.

Transportation, fitness, for entertainment purposes for riding will determine the value to the owner. Starting with transportation, replacing the car with a bicycle will be $0.59 per mile. That means you can save $59.00 per month if you ride 100 miles instead of using a car. At that rate, your bike will be paid off in about 10 months of riding! To cover the cost of maintenance and such, figure you would have to ride 350 miles per year!

What about fitness? At what price does your health cost you? One figure published by the Portland Transportation Department stated that riding a bicycle 10 miles three times per week can save you $300 per year in health care costs. At that rate, even if I only ride for health reasons, not transportation, I can save double the cost of a bike per year! At that rate, you would be riding about 1,400 miles per year. That does take a real commitment. Another way of looking at it, walking or bicycling equates to $1.00-3.00 per mile! This includes vehicle, health care, and maintenance costs all rolled in to one. Health, wellness related reasons for purchasing a bicycle means you can improve your overall attitude, outlook, get more social activity in your life, and that is invaluable! Bicycling can be a great way to lose weight, keep weight off, and generally contribute to overall more energy in your life.

Bicycling changes its value as much as Dory forgets things. Triathletes can condone shelling out thousands to shave grams, resistance, and troubles from the bicycle. The “lycra” crowd, riding for a plethora of reasons, balance the family budget with the best wheels they can eek out of a bicycle. People who ride to tour the country put a more modest price tag in their budgets, but may spend the difference on travel, lodging, and the like. The gravel rider can get by with a bit less, but typically use a decent cyclocross to and go from there. They may be next down the list. The list then goes to commuters and urban riders who generally desire a way to get from pt. A to Pt. B and have a bike still around when they get out of work or whatever. These bikes take more abuse and so they can range from $75.00 finds to hundreds from a craigslist find. There are some amongst us that would be a value on weight/mass. In other words, if a frame costs $1,000 and someone can cut 300 grams, that might be a reasonable ratio. Others would find the cost ridiculous! Weight, components, style, and other features make for many discussions about gear. The bottom line ends with what your personal value might be in regards to a bicycle.

What is the most pertinent question to ask then, when you consider buying a bicycle? Usually start with how often you will ride and where, what conditions. Be encouraged to take what you think you can afford and double that. Double the amount so that you will not regret going cheaper. IF you plan to ride 1000 or more miles, considering putting at least that into a bicycle. Remember that you can earn that back in two to three years. IF you plan to ride less than 500 miles in a year, keep in mind that it will just take a bit longer to pay off the bike, so consider the greatest amount you can stretch.

Riding should be enjoyable. The less the bike performs, the more work it means for you, and sometimes the more work also translates in to less enjoyment.  Price does not dictate all the qualities of bicycling. What you buy can vary so greatly. The bottom line, do not be afraid to sell what you have if it is not working for you!

Whichever way you look at it, a bicycle purchase can be very cost effective. Avoid the myopic approach we seem to operate with in the culture, that of what is my up front cost or cost per month.  We need to think a bit more broadly as to the  value we gain for the money we spend. In business terms, the return on investment yield tells us the bicycle , at almost any cost, will be a great ROI!