Bike Commuting Pays Financial, Social and Personal Returns

I bought a used bicycle in 2010, for $200. It certainly is not the fanciest, no carbon fiber or titanium, but it’s sturdy and has stood up well for the past seven years. I’ve spent some money on tune-ups, replacing tires, a new helmet, a rack, and gear bags as well. Altogether, I have spent just under $1,000 on it.

Many days I choose to commute to my office on this bike, an eight-mile round trip, which takes me about forty-five minutes total. Having done this for a number of years, that’s about 11,000 miles of travel on this bike on trips where I would otherwise have been driving.

If we use the AAA cost estimate for 2016 at $0.57 per mile, those 11,000 miles equal about $6,270. This includes fuel, insurance, maintenance, and depreciation for a medium sized sedan; they have more specific calculators for other vehicles, but I used this as an average. They update their information each year; it’s a great resource for anyone trying to figure out the full cost of a commute!

So, after factoring in my costs, I have avoided over $5000 in expenses by using my bicycle to commute. Add in the free bike parking, and it’s an even better deal!

American households spend an average of $9,000 a year to own a vehicle, including up front purchase and the costs listed above. I live in a climate where occasional snow and ice make me wary of bike commuting some times of year, and I enjoy the convenience of having a vehicle for longer trips, moving materials for the garden, or getting out camping, so I choose to have a car, and to leave it in the driveway as often as possible (greatly reducing my fuel and maintenance costs, and increasing the useful lifetime of my car). In many cities, people who feel this way are able to take advantage of car-sharing; used in addition to biking and public transit, can further increase the savings.

Some might wonder about the downsides to bicycle commuting. In my opinion they are few and far between, especially when paired with a vehicle or a good public transit system. As an able bodied person, cycling is very accessible to me, though it isn’t as easily accessible, or accessible at all, to differently abled people. If there is heavy rain, snow, or ice in the forecast, I usually drive instead of cycling, but I did invest in a good waterproof bag and rain jacket for any spring showers I may encounter.

Of course, there are safety concerns with cycling. What would be a fender bender if you were in a traditional vehicle could be a very serious accident on a bicycle. Luckily, there are trainings and classes for bicycle commuters, often free, teaching safe and defensive cycling in traffic. Also, having reflectors, wearing bright clothing and lights if you are riding at dusk or through tunnels, and always wearing a helmet all add up to safer cycling.

Studies have shown that the best way to increase cyclist safety in traffic is to increase the number of cyclists on the road, through a concept called “Critical Mass.” The more drivers see cyclists on the road, the more they will look for cyclists in the future. With each new cyclist on the road, safety increases for all other cyclists.

Besides these quantifiable financial benefits, there are other benefits to bike commuting as well, including less fossil fuels burnt, less cars on the road, increased cardiac health from aerobic exercise, and more time spent outside enjoying the world. I ride about twenty minutes to the office, and find it much easier to go without my morning cup of coffee on days I ride to work. Besides the financials, the sun on your face, endorphins pumping, and the joy of coasting in the bike lane past people sitting in traffic all add up to what I would definitely call a natural investment!

Looking forward, I would encourage us all to consider each purchase we make, or don’t make, as a way of investing. Are we investing in more fossil fueled vehicle transit, or in electric vehicles, or more bike lanes? Are we supporting a local bike shop or the fossil fuel industry? What alternatives can we dream of to invest in for the future?

This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of Natural Investment News.

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Evan Quirk-Garvan

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