Before really committing to bike commuting, most people simply want to know one key thing, and it’s about money.
So, does bike commuting save you money? Yes, it can indeed save you money. For example, if you commute just 2-3 times per week on a 5-mile journey, this could mean a saving of over $340 in the first 6 months, or $680 in a year. More on these calculations will be explained below!
The real point here being that bike commuting might well save you money on your journey to work, but there is a chance that it won’t. Since this depends on your personal circumstances, let’s work through some of the more detailed points below to help you see if it will actually save you money.
One last point to note is that we have taken the average commute distance for the US to be 25 minutes (rounded down slightly for ease of use from this report on the topic by CNBC). If we take 25 minutes to be at an average speed of 25 miles per hour (think rush hour traffic), then we have a distance of 10.5 miles each way, or a 21-mile round trip. These distances are just for the purposes of an example, so make sure that you think about them in the context of your own commute before comparing further. You can see more on these estimates in the key to calculations section at the end of this article.
How much will owning and commuting via bike cost you per month?
The cost of owning a bike and commuting on it is minimal once you’ve got all the gear, which shouldn’t cost more than $1,000 for a complete set up (including a bike!) for all for seasons in most climates, meaning $83.33 a month.
However, this $83.33 is the cost averaged out for the first year only – it is not something you will have to keep paying thereafter since most items will last you many years, unlike the costs of running a car, for example.
This price estimate also depends on quite a few different things, including distance, climate, what you will need to buy, how often you do it, bike maintenance costs, and your current costs for your commute (whether you drive, share or use public transit).
With that said, let’s look at each of the points above in more detail now.
Distance of Bike Commuting and Cost
The distance of bike commute affects the cost in that the further your ride to work, the more wear and tear you should expect on your bike in a given amount of time.
For instance, let’s say you have a moderate commute of 5 miles each way on mostly good quality roads. This means that you’ll then be doing 10 miles each day, and up to 50 miles each week. Obviously, you can adjust this depending on how often you think you will realistically ride to work, so it might be more like 3 times a week, so 30 miles a week. I’d also suggest you look at things in terms of weeks and years rather than months because months change in their length and you will find that some months have more holidays in than others too (think December), so a better average is gained from looking at things in clearer blocks of time.
What you actually need to buy
Before getting too excited about saving huge amounts of money, it’s a good idea to figure out the costs of getting all your bike commuter gear clear, as we’ll look at in this section.
From a previous post on this topic, below is a list of costed items that you should get for bike commuting, although some of them you will most probably already have.
It would be a good idea at this point to take out your pen and paper and make a note of the total cost you might expect to pay over the coming months for the following items that you need (not want!):
- Bike: $500-600
- Lock: $40
- Helmet: $50
- Rear Rack: $40
- Bag(s): $70
- Lights: $80
- Jacket: $80
- Overpants $40
- Shoe covers $20
- Gloves $30
To get any more detail on this, you can also check out my more detailed post on bike commuting costs.
The total for all of the above items comes in just under $1,000 – but that is the absolute spend you should need all of them, and most likely you could get away with spending a lot less than this, especially if you already have a bike ($500 less) or even a few of the other items.
The other point to recap here is that you can also buy these items slowly over time and as you need them, not all at once before you start as this will leave you out of pocket and feeling guiltily obliged to commute as often as possible given the money invested, which is not going to create a positive association between cycling and commuting for you.
How often you bike commute in a month
Firs things first, let’s be realistic – although most of us would like to think that we will be commuting on our chosen bicycle 4-5 times a week, the reality for most is probably at least 20% less often than that.
I say this simply because life gets in the way. For instance, you might have an appointment before or after work at your dental surgeon which is on the other side of town, or you might need to pick the kids up from their friends’ house on the way home. These seemingly small activities can form a surprisingly large amount of our average working week that, although not enough to derail our bike commuting plans altogether, can certainly lessen the frequency with which we are able to ride.
There are also a few other considerations to think about, including your local climate and its varying season, as we’ll have a look at below (but feel free to skip this if you live in a region with a temperate/consistent climate (you lucky thing!)
Seasons and Climate and Impact on Cost
Seasons and your local climate play a big part in bike commuting for a variety of reasons. The first is your motivation to cycle to work throughout your various seasons and weather conditions. It’s time to be realistic and make a true estimate of exactly how often you think you will be cycling to work instead of your usual commute. A realistic estimate is to think of how many times per week you think you will want to go in the good weather seasons in your area, then reduce this by about 20%.
To work this through, let’s say you have 6 months of the year that are ‘good’ for cycling, and of those 6 months you think that you will want to cycle to work 3 times a week, allowing for bad weather days, etc.
In 6 months, there are 26 weeks, each with 3 days of cycling to work, meaning 78 days of bike commuting. If we are then a little pessimistic and reduce this by approximately 20%, this gives us 64 days of bike commuting in the 6 good months of the year. So, you will have therefore saved 64 x your daily commute cost in those months. Not bad for a starting point, but let’s continue and look at how much this might actually be.
How much does it cost to maintain a bicycle?
Although much cheaper than cars, bikes also need some maintenance to keep them going, especially if they are being used for regular commuting. There are a few factors to consider in your local climate, like whether you live in a dry and dusty area, by the coast with salt air, or a particularly wet area as all can affect the smooth running of your bike, just as they do with cars.
Annual Bicycle Maintenance for a Commuter: $60
As I live by the coast in a wet area, with some parts of my commute along the coastal path, I get sandy gears and chains since the sand gets stuck and can add to the wear of those parts of the bike. I usually get my bike serviced yearly at a cost of around $50, although I had my first puncture in 3 years the other day, costing me $10 to get repaired at my local bike store (while I was at work, just like a car :D)
Tools Spare parts and cleaning products for commuting: $50 (one time only)
You will also want to buy some tools and spare parts to help make small adjustments to your bike and also things like puncture repair kits. I would recommend buying a ‘track pump’ that includes a pressure gauge as this makes pumping up your tires a breeze and allows you to see the exact pressure so you can pump them up to your preference (I like to go to the max. PSI on mine for a firmer but more reliable ride).
I’d also recommend a bike multi-tool for all kinds of hex keys, bike wrenches and spanners to make the simple adjustments to things like seat heights and brake blocks if you have any mishaps en route. Add to this a couple of spare inner tubes for any flat tires, as well as some tire sealant spray and you should be covered for almost anything.
The last couple of ‘maintenance’ items would be some cleaning products as you’ll want to clean your bike ideally once a month (although I do it more like every 3 months if I’m honest!)
I’ve given an estimate of $50 above but that is quite generous, but it would also mean that you can easily get all of the above items for this money.
How do bicycle maintenance costs compare to your car maintenance costs?
So, an annual bike maintenance cost of $60 compares pretty favourably with car maintenance costs. To give you a rough idea, my car maintenance costs around $1200/year in total, or $100/month. This is clearly a heck of a lot more than a bike, and that’s before paying for the gas and/or parking. Nevertheless, bike commuting a few times a week for most people will still require them to have a car (or alternative transport option) so despite a possible reduction in the maintenance costs for your car due to less use, it’s unlikely that this will change substantially unless you commit to bike commuting as often as possible.
Current costs of commuting by car
You will obviously need to know how much you are spending on gas for your commute on a daily basis to have an idea of how much you might save if you switched from driving to cycling for just one day. Knowing the daily amount also allows you to scale this up and work out estimates for cost savings from more frequent bike commuting.
To help you work out your current costs out, try to estimate your daily cost of gas, multiply it by 5 for a workweek, then multiply that by 50 for annual work week estimate (allowing 2 weeks for vacation time). You can see these as simple calculations below:
_____________ X 5 = ____________
Daily cost of gas Weekly cost of gas
_____________ X 50 = ____________
Weekly cost of gas Yearly cost of gas (allowing for vacation)
_____________ / 12 = ____________
Yearly cost of gas Monthly cost of gas (easier to work it out in this order!)
Again, this can be worked out in a similar way to the above, but remember to factor in things like monthly parking costs and work them out as daily costs to make a true comparison (an average month has around 22 workdays per month, etc.).
You should also add in any parking you might need on your way to/from work, perhaps to stop at a gym or for other recreational activities – they all count!
Current costs of commuting by Public Transit
Without getting too repetitive, remember to work out your costs of public transit at a daily rate and then perform similar calculations to the gas ones above.
Obviously, having some kind of travel pass or card will affect the prices, and you might actually end up paying for days that you don’t use, but it will be at that point that you can reconsider the exact spend vs save for your situation.
Money Saved by Biking to Work
Let’s do a worked example to help you figure out how much you might save if you are bike commuting on a fairly regular basis. We’ll use averages for everything, so please take this with a grain of salt (or just insert your own commute totals in here instead!)
For a starting point, let’s look at the current averages in the USA around commuting by car.
Say you do the average commute of 21 miles per day in an average family vehicle which does 22 miles to the gallon (or miles per gallon, MPG). At the time of writing, the current average price of gas in the USA is $2.50/gallon.
So $2.50 will take you 22 miles in average vehicle, giving you an average daily cost of $0.95.
If you’re at all skeptical of these numbers, see the key to these calculations in the section at the end of this article. But if you’re still unsure, don’t take my word for it – work out your own commuter averages using calculations with your numbers from the examples above!
How much money does cycling save?
Again, you can work out your own amount using the calculations on this page and by comparing your own car commute costs with that of your expected bike commuting costs.
This should help you to clarify just how much you might expect to save when cycling to work, or even incorporating it into other parts of your day.
To help you that bit more, let’s work through another example based on an average bike commuter journey compared with the average cost of gas and parking (daily costs).
Example: average bike commute distance and money saved
Well, although this could be similar to the average car commute distance, let’s assume that those with shorter distances are actually the ones looking to commute by bike, and guess that they have an average commute of 5 miles per journey, or 10 miles per day.
Again, coming back to our estimates and averages, this would cost the average US commuter roughly $5.45 per day, based on the following:
- $0.45 in gas
- $5.00 in parking
- Remember to adjust this accordingly!
If we said that we were going to bike commute 2-3 times per week in the 6 good weather months of the year (64 times in total), we could expect to save $348.80 in gas and parking for that half of the year, or $697.60 for the whole year if we are consistently riding.
Hopefully as you can see from the above, bike commuting a few times a week for a year (or even half a year) could quite easily offset the cost of buying any new gear if you are comparing the costs to driving to work by car.
If you think bike commuting could save you money, remember that anything you buy for it might actually pay for itself in terms of money saved elsewhere in the first year, and then there would not be many more costs after that, simply because a good bike should last you 10 years (or more if well maintained), with much of the commuter gear lasting several years to boot.
Is 10 miles too far to bike to work? No, 10 miles is not too far to bike to work if you are of reasonable physical fitness, have a good quality bike, have a route that is not too intense and have a climate that is not extreme.
In terms of physical fitness, you will know more or less where you are on this and can be realistic about your own ability. The other thing to note here is that you can improve your level of physical fitness over time, so even if you’re not up to biking 10 miles to work just yet, you can certainly build your way up to it over time. That might be by driving part of the way and riding the rest, gradually driving less and riding more.
A good quality bike will make your ride much more bearable and fun. I’d recommend spending over $500 on a bike to make sure it’s good enough quality for this kind of commute.
Is biking to work healthy? Yes, biking to work is a healthy option in that it can help you fit in some more physical activity into your day.
Depending on your route and how fast you go, it will likely give you some more intense physical activity than walking to work, with this type of activity called ‘moderate-vigorous physical activity’ (MVPA) by researchers. This type of more intense activity is a great addition to a healthy lifestyle as it is recommended by much of the existing research in terms of physical activity.
The only downside to biking to work on terms of health might be your exposure to car fumes if you’re riding through a particularly dense and often gridlocked environment. This might mean that you’re often stopping behind car exhausts while riding. That being said, a very interesting piece of research some recently in the UK actually showed that parents taking their children to school by car were exposed to more sir pollution than if they had either driven or walked, so don’t think of biking to work as a bad option in that sense!
If the air pollution does really concern you, you can get an air pollution mask for cycling that blocks out 99% of the pollutants in the air, which is certainly some peace of mind.
How much does an average bike cost? An average bike costs around $400, although this is not the kind of bike you will want for frequent cycling like commuting.
I say this because although this is very much an average price, you should look to spend a bit more than this in order to have a bike that will last you a good few years and be an enjoyable bike to ride often. If you go for the bikes on the $400 or less range than you’re likely to have more problems with it and for it to be a bit on the uncomfortable side, meaning you’ll be less likely to use it often.
However, if you spend just a touch more, let’s say $500 or more, you’re likely to get a bike that will be a lot more comfortable and reliable, as well as being long-lasting. This is the kind of price I paid for my current commuter bike and it’s been great. So far, I’ve had 3 years’ use out of it with the expected maintenance and wear and tear, which has been less than $50 a year.
Remember that you get what you pay for so it’s always worth stretching a little bit beyond the price of an “average” bike if you can afford it.
Key to Calculations Used in this Article
Average car commute stats in the USA today
To show you how I’ve worked out most of these calculations, below are the key numbers I’ve used, based on most recent averages, along with some estimates and asumptions.
- Time per journey = 25 minutes (rounded down slightly for ease of use from CNBC, 2018)
- Time per workday = 50 minutes
- Time per workweek = 250 minutes, or 4 hours 10 minutes (50 [minutes] x 5 days)
- Time per working year = 12,500 minutes, or 208 hours 20 minutes (250 [minutes] x 50 [workweeks])
- Estimated average speed = 25 miles per hour (allowing for rush hour traffic)
- Estimated average miles to the gallon (or miles per gallon, MPG) of an everyday car that’s a few years old = 22 MPG (as per Google)
- Cost of gas/gallon in the USA today = $2.50 (as per CNBC, 2019)
- Quick estimates for these average car commute stats in the USA today:
- Average distance of car commute in the USA
- Per journey = 10.5 miles (25 minutes driving at 25 MPH)
- Per day = 21 miles
- Average distance of car commute in the USA