There are two main benefits of bike commuting: saving money and gaining fitness. People who don’t own cars and employ a combination of biking, walking, and the use of public transportation can save thousands of dollars each year.
You might be most interested in the financial details, so let’s get to that first. A Forbes contributor wrote that the average cost of owning and operating a car per year is about $8,000, but the same cost for a bike is only $300 or so.
Now, that $8,000 figure might seem inflated, and it could be. Vehicle costs vary considerably by where they are located, the type, how new or old they are, how much they are driven, and so forth.
The cost of gas and insurance alone might be $3,600 a year if you were paying $150 a month for each, and in some states like California, insurance might be quite a bit more. It’s also not unheard of for Americans to pay $400-500 a month for a car loan.
If you pay $3,600 a year for gas and insurance and $4,800 for the loan, the cost of a car each year is more than $8,000. So the figure from the Forbes contributor is not at all way out of line.
“There are so many reasons more people are riding, from improving their health to protecting the environment. But, especially in tough economic times, bicycling can also be an economic catalyst, keeping billions of dollars in the pockets of American families,” said Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists.
Of course, many Americans don’t have very large monthly payments, and others pay for their cars with cash. It is quite possible to buy a used car in decent condition for $4,000 and take good care of it so that it lasts. There will most likely be costs for repairs though, and those can sometimes be greater than the initial purchase price, depending on the vehicle.
If you are able to go car-less and can get around with a bike, on your feet, and by using public transportation, you will probably save thousands of dollars each year. Cumulatively, over decades you might save tens of thousands of dollars, and you might be able to invest that money in a mutual fund, a retirement account like a ROTH IRA, tax-free municipal bonds, or stocks.
This is another way of saying that once you have saved that money, you might find ways to arrange for it to make money. In other words, the opportunity cost of owning and operating a vehicle is something that we generally don’t consider, but it does exist. The point of all this information is that there is a mindset that goes with not assuming you must have a car — one that is more open, flexible, and rational.
What costs do you avoid by not owning a car?
Purchase price of the vehicle
gasoline (if gas-powered)
oil changes and oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, windshield wiper fluid
parking or traffic tickets
annual vehicle registration renewal
increases in insurance if there are traffic tickets
replacement parts and labor
towing fees if vehicle breaks down
boot fees if your car gets booted
time and money lost if vehicle gets stolen
medical costs and time if there is an injury from an accident
increased insurance costs if you cause an accident
costs if you hit someone and your insurance does not
cover all of the accident
time and water consumed by washing the vehicle
cost if you lose your keys and need replacements or you lock yourself out of your car and need assistance getting in
if you have a car loan, the interest paid
depreciation (loss of value) over time
time spent selling it, if you do
injuries and/or pain you experience if you are hit by another driver.
potential costs if you are caught driving drunk.
potential damage you do to another person or that person’s property if you text and drive and hit someone.
You don’t generate personal vehicle emissions when you travel.
You contribute less to climate change.
You don’t use as much as petroleum, and extraction of this material damages
You are not part or are less part of the oil spills that occur frequently.
You don’t have car, so it can’t leak oil onto roads that winds up in
Health benefits of biking
Exercises the cardiovascular system
Gets joints moving
Exercises leg muscles which keeps them strong and maintains stamina
Can cause weight loss
Low impact – no pounding on the knees, feet, ankles and hips
Some people enjoy it more than other forms of exercise
Good for families to do too
A good way to get outdoors
Can be done in town or in a more natural setting.
It isn’t only the body that benefits from bike riding though, because our brains can benefit as well, and some research has backed this belief up, “In a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored higher on tests of memory, reasoning, and planning after 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike than they did before they rode. They also completed the tests faster after pedaling.”
In the United States, owning and driving a car habitually is seen as ‘better’ than riding a bike and/or riding public transportation – at least in the large majority of places. It is seen as not only preferable, but owning a car is also associated with being in a higher class, so it is generally perceived as being superior.
However, this belief is culturally-based and irrational. Who considers the full costs of owning a vehicle before purchasing one? Getting one’s first car in the US is considered something of a rite of passage for some youths, and if a family has money, that vehicle can be an expensive one. However, American teen drivers are likely to get into accidents – especially boys.
According to the CDC, “The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16-19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. Among teen drivers, those at especially high risk for motor vehicle crashes are: Males: In 2013, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 16 to 19 was almost two times that of their female counterparts. Teens driving with teen passengers: The presence of teen passengers increases the crash risk of unsupervised teen drivers. This risk increases with the number of teen passengers.4,5 Newly licensed teens: Crash risk is particularly high during the first months of licensure.”
So, it truly doesn’t make any sense to allow teens to have fast or expensive cars, because their risk of injury and death is greater. This fact is counter to the general culture though, one that is materialistic and irrational.
Imagine how many injuries and deaths would be avoided if we had a more rational national policy when it comes to the driving age and a more sensible culture about car ownership.
So, how do you begin bike commuting? The first consideration is probably the safety of the route you will take. Are there bike lanes? How much traffic is there when you will be riding? At what speed does traffic usually move?
Are there busy intersections you will have to navigate? How much air pollution is present when you will be riding? Will you need to connect with a bus or a train?
If so, find out if the bus or train allows bikes – it’s a fairly common practice now, but you will want to know before you travel.
Of course, you will want to get and wear a safe helmet, and maybe even protective clothing like gloves to protect your hands in the event of an accident. Your bike should also be roadworthy, with safe tires and strong brakes. Don’t buy an ultra-cheap bike with problems and ride it, because it might not work properly and you don’t want to ever lose control because of mechanical breakdown.
Will you be riding in low-light or darkness? If so, you will need lights and perhaps clothing with reflective material or some reflective tape.
Biking traffic signals
Do you know how to use hand signals to communicate with other people on roads when and where you are turning? This is important knowledge, because it can prevent accidents.
Another consideration is weather, because it would be in your best interest to plan for uncomfortable conditions like rain, and extreme temperatures so you remain healthy. Do you have adequately warm and waterproof attire when are cycling?
If you are going to use public transportation as well, does your employer reimburse employees for using it?
If not, you might try to start a program for this reimbursement.
Also, is there some accommodation provided by your employer for parking bikes?
In case you get a flat tire, you will probably want some way to fix it so you don’t get stranded. For example, it’s recommended to have at least one new spare inner tube, and the tools to make the change. You could also carry a can of fix-a-flat. Tools for adjusting what you can, such as an Allen key 3-in-1 tool and a pair of pliers, might also get you out of some jams.
Know the area where you are going to be locking up your bike and how safe it is for bikes. There might be information online about the number of bike thefts in the area. Your employer might let you lock up your bike indoors to protect it.
Also, there are obviously different kinds of bike locks, so research them carefully. You can also use more than one.
Image Credit: Transportation.gov