A very common reason to start bike commuting is to save money. It can indeed be attractive to look at bike commuting as a means of money earning in a certain sense. This might be an overstatement but in a way it’s true. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars sitting still you do free workout and spend much less.
How much money does bike commuting save? If you bike commute instead of public transport you can save approximately $800 a year. If you trade in your car for a bike to use it as the primary means of transportation you can save over $7,500 a year. So, depending on your circumstances the annual savings by bike commuting can vary between $800 and $7,500.
Use a bike instead of a car
The most you can save by bike commuting is if you trade in your car for a bike. On a 20 miles commute (both ways) you can save $1,800 annually only on gas costs alone. On insurance you can save up to an additional $1,500.
Let’s say that you buy a used car for around $25,000. Car ownership also involves maintenance, repair costs, spare parts etc. You also need to have the paperwork in order. These will cost around $2,000 per year.
Car-owners tend to neglect that the car depreciates. This is one of the greatest bills a car owner pays. For a car that is worth $25,000 a 10% annual depreciation is average so this is what I calculated with. So after the first year the car will be worth $2,500 less.
You can find below how much you can save if you trade in your car for bike commuting:
- Gas: $150/month ($1800/year)
- Insurance: $1,500/year
- Maintenance and paperwork: $2,000/year
- Annual depreciation: $2,500
- Total cost of car ownership per year: $7,800
These costs are less if you still own a car and bike commute only a few days a week. So if you use your car for commuting only and you are considering the change to bike, you can expect some savings of around $6500 per year.
Bike commuting instead of public transport
The amount you spend on public transportation depends on the means of transportation you use, but it is common to spend around $80 a month on tickets and/or monthly passes. Over the course of a year ticket costs will add up to almost $1,000. Again, there are some nice potential savings there.
The costs of bike commuting?
You will only get the complete picture of how much you can save if you consider the costs of bike commuting itself. What is on the other side of the balance? What are the costs of the bike commuting? How much do you need to invest and how much does the maintenance cost?
To get started with bike commuting there are some initial upfront costs: you need to buy the bike, tools and some accessories. The return on investment (ROI) depends on how much you spend initially vs how much you normally spend on your commute currently. The more and the longer you ride it the better the investment and more money you save.
Initial (purchase) costs
Since a commuter bike needs to be a reliable sidekick, you should stay away from cheap entry-level bikes. The minimum you should spend on a new bike is around $500. This is a threshold, which usually separates cheapish bikes from good bikes. For this amount you will get the best value for your money. Cheaper bikes will cost you more in the long run, spending additional money will get you diminishing returns. If you want to find out how much you should spend on a commuter bike I suggest you read this other article I wrote on Bike Commuter Hero.
You also need to invest some more in additional gear and tools such a pump, helmet, lights, rain jacket, pants, winter gloves, etc. If you don’t get the most expensive ones then $200 should be roughly enough. Your initial investment to become a bike commuter is around $700.
As a beginner it is likely that you will purchase items that later you find impractical and you want to change so you might end up spending a bit more. But keep in mind that most of these purchases are one time expenses. Unless you decide to buy a new bike or a better helmet or any other equipment, you don’t have to spend more on these items.
Obviously there is no limit as to what you can spend if you want a fancier bike or high end equipment and tools, but if all you have is $700, it is enough to get started.
For a new rider it is better to buy a bike in this price range so as to get a feel for what bike commuting is like and to see you can stick with it. Once you get really into it you will know exactly what it is exactly you need in a commuter.
There are some maintenance costs involving bike commuting. You can calculate $150 for regular maintenance costs on an annual basis. These costs include those things you need to do on a regular basis such as lubing, cleaning and changing tires, as well as irregular maintenance such as fixing flats, buying a new chain or a crankset, etc.
To keep your bike on the road will cost you approximately $150 a year.
We’ve seen how much you can expect to spend on your commute using three types of transportation, and it is evident that bike commuting is the most affordable way of getting there and back. Despite higher initial costs, bike commuting will soon save you money. Calculating with the numbers above your bike will return the money invested in less than two months if you replace your car, or in less than a year if you replace public transportation.
Bike commuting vs public transport
- Public transport costs: $1,000
- Bike commuting costs: $700 + $150 = $850
- Savings: $150
- Public transport costs: $1,000
- Bike commuting costs: $150
- Savings: $850
Bike commuting vs commuting by car
- Car commuting costs: €7,800
- Bike commuting costs: €700 + $150 = $850
- Savings: $6,950
- Car commuting costs: $7,800
- Bike commuting costs: $150
- Savings: $7,650
Indirect money savings
When you bike commute you get a free workout each way. If you have a gym membership and you mostly do cardio, then bike commuting may completely replace your gym membership. Gym memberships average between $40-$50/month, which translates to $480-$600 a year, which is another nice saving right there.
Less spent on healthcare
A number of studies have correlated chronic sitting with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and kidney disease in women, colon cancer in men just to name a few. It is difficult to quantify how much health related expenses are and how much you can save, but from experience and having interacted with dozens of bike commuters I can say that regular cyclists take fewer sick days and are generally much healthier than those who commute by car or public transportation. Reducing medical costs can be a significant saving for some people.
While bike commuting isn’t completely free, it is by far the cheapest mode of transportation. It doesn’t generate money in a direct way, but it can help you save a nice sum each year, which you can put toward things you really enjoy doing.