Tips on Saving Money with Two Wheels

By Carly Rae Zent

Biking instead of driving comes with both pros and cons, but it’s hard to argue with the overall cost savings.

Millennials are embracing multimodal transportation — that is, transportation that involves different ways of getting around. They are willing to bike, take the bus, and use other types of public transport or some combination.

The reasons are debatable, but one could argue the cost of commuting by car is one of the reasons. Annual car insurance premiums are more than $2,000 in some states and some people are struggling to afford it — not to mention the gas.

The environment and hope of fighting street congestion are other reasons. Biking and buses are more environmentally friendly transportation options, and theoretically, people using public transport could reduce the number of single-occupant cars, and therefore, traffic. In the most congested cities, commuting by bike can actually be faster than using a car or even train, especially when you factor in the time it takes to look for a parking spot.

But you don’t have to be a big-city New Yorker to financially benefit from bicycle commutes. Biking can be a way to save on gas if you own a car, or a way to supplement your transportation options if you don’t.

Yearly cost of bicycle vs. car commuting  

Without considering the cost of the actual vehicle, the potential cost of any personal loans you took out to pay for it, and the depreciation of the car’s value as you drive it, the average annual cost of owning a car is around $5,000. This includes insurance premiums, gas, maintenance, and registration and taxes. This cost can vary quite a bit depending on your local insurance premiums, your daily mileage, and seasonal considerations that burn gas like heat and air conditioning.

For those trying to just save money on gas, know that more than one-fifth of that cost is fuel at an average of $1,681 per year.

To compare, the basic setup for a bike commute can cost:

  • Around $200 for a used and tuned bicycle from your local used bike shop
  • $100 for a bike rack and pannier to hold your belongings as you ride
  • $25 for a helmet
  • $15 for a tire pump
  • $15 for a secure u-lock
  • $15 for bike lights

All together: $370 for a basic setup that will get you to and from your destination with no additional costs. To be fair — your bike will require some maintenance, and accessories will sometimes need replacement over time, but many types of maintenance skills can be easily learned and accessories don’t have to be pricey (no matter what hard-core bicycle hobbyists tell you).

If you assume that you will spend around $400 on the first year of owning a bike and maybe $100 a year after that, and you use the bike to replace a five-days-a-week work commute and some trips to the grocery store, you could be saving a pretty penny in gas money.

If you manage to replace your car entirely, you can end up saving thousands. This is true even if you decide to upgrade to some more high-tech accessories and bicycle choices to make up for not having another form of transportation. As you get experience riding, you will figure out the best areas to invest.

Not sure you want to commit?

If you simply want to dip your toes into the possibility of biking and test it out, you can rent or borrow a bike. Many cities have bike share programs that will let you see what riding around your area is like.

You can also combine biking with other forms of transport. This may be a good option for those with a particularly long commute. For example, most city buses have a bike rack on the front that enable you to bring your bike on the bus with you. This is a great solution to take the best advantage of both biking and bus transportation.

For example, instead of walking to a stop, taking two buses, then walking again (taking at least an hour in the process), imagine biking 15 minutes to a stop, taking the most efficient bus across town, then biking the last half mile to work. This is most likely still cheaper than owning a car.

What if I sweat? And other practical concerns

A lot of people resist the idea of biking because they feel that it’ll be difficult to do without showing up to work sweaty. They also worry about the different kinds of weather challenges. As a bicycle commuter myself, I have to admit that is part of it. My best advice is this:

  1. Get a waterproof backpack or pannier to protect your belongings on rainy days (not necessarily expensive).
  2. Bring a change of clothes and freshen up in the bathroom before work starts.

If you’re especially lucky, your office or place of work may have a gym available to employees or nearby. Many workplaces offer discount programs on nearby gyms. You can use the gym for a quick shower in the morning when you arrive. A lot of bicycle commuters use biking to replace their regular aerobic exercise.

Some beginner commuters also worry about safety. They may hear about cyclists getting hit by cars. In my experience, cycling can be a safe activity if you wear a helmet, follow road safety tips, and utilize back roads and cycling lanes as much as possible while avoiding the busy, bike lane-free streets. Your local biking association or club likely has advice for beginner cyclists and even some guided rides to introduce you to bike routes in your city and get a chance to practice bike safety with others. There is always a risk, but driving can be a risky activity, too.

Have fun biking (while saving)

This may seem like a lot to think about, but most bike commuters quickly adjust to the downsides of bicycling, just as those who drive cars get used to the traffic and the irritation of finding parking spots.

Bike commuters who stick with it love being able to exercise instead of sitting in traffic. They often enjoy positive benefits to their health. They also like being in touch with nature and skipping the traffic and crowds. They like being part of a community of cyclists that care about issues affecting transportation, city development, and other common everyday concerns. They also love the money they save and the environmental benefits. Hopefully you enjoy these things about bicycle commutes, too.

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