My cost of bicycling (what’s yours?)

A while back I wrote a fact-check of the $308 figure that gets bandied about as the annual cost of bicycling in the US. As I discovered, the number is entirely false; it’s based on an old data entry error that quietly persisted until it became taken for granted as a fact.

I found (as often seems to be the case) that transportation economist Todd Litman had already come up with a much better calculation for the annual cost of riding, using the same metric that is used to calculate the yearly cost of driving. The price of a new vehicle is spread across the life of that vehicle, and the cost of repairs are calculated per-mile.

It’s interesting to compare these numbers with how much people actually spend. I figured I’d share my own bike spending over the last decade here and encourage readers to do the same.

So, here goes.
First, an inventory of bikes I have purchased in the past decade:

2005: A Kona mountain bike, off Craigslist. $250
2009: An Xtracycle conversion for said Kona. $500 ($400 for the Free Radical Kit on sale and $100 for a friend to do the conversion, including parts)
2009: A solid used bike from a friend, colorfully painted and covered and stickers, for traveling. $100.
2013: A used Brompton folding bike! My most extravagant bike purchase at $1250, plus around $150 for a touring pannier, so a total of $1400.

Next, maintenance. This should be calculated per mile, but I have absolutely no clue what sort of mileage I’ve been riding in the last decade except that it’s been wildly inconsistent — I probably put in 150 per week back in 2007, but nowadays I’m lucky to get in 20. And there really should be some kind of multiplier for weight carried, since that puts more wear and tear on the bike than mere pedal strokes. At the same time, during my years of heaviest mileage, I did most of my own maintenance; now I pay more for that.

Looking back at my spending for the last three years, which is what I have accessible records for, I’ve spent an average of just over $100 each year. Mostly on maintenance, but I also bought a new helmet during that time, new tires once, and–let’s get serious here–a coffee cup holder for my Xtracycle’s handlebars. Given that I spent far less or nothing it all earlier in the decade, $100/year seems like a more than safe estimate.

So, my total costs would add up to the following for various periods:
- 2005-2009: $125/year
- 2009-2013: $185/year
- 2013-present: $310/year

Considering that the cost of driving ranges from a few thousand to over $12,000 per year (the AAA estimates it at nearly $10k as an average for a new car), even if I were to spend the next couple of years splurging on double kickstands, pannier upgrades, and even a fancy cargo bike with an electric assist, I’d still be ahead of the game.

In case you’d like help visualizing just how far ahead, here’s a graph Tom of Seattle Bike Blog put together:

cost-car-vs-bike

What’s your annual cost of bicycling? Keep in mind that these calculations are intended for transportation bicycling rather than sports, which I suspect plays by very different economic rules.

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11 Responses to “My cost of bicycling (what’s yours?)”

  1. Jeshii May 28, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    I have been saving my receipts for this exact purpose! Haven’t gotten around to crunching the numbers yet, but I know my yearly is probably $500+. But that’s 3 old bikes worth of maintenance and new parts, so still not bad.

  2. Jason May 28, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    If I start from 2 years ago when I bought a new bike, A$1400, including rack, panniers and dynamo lighting. A$370 over 2 years for service and replacement of tyres and brake pads. I’ve ridden 7000kms (just under 5000miles) each year. At this rate I replace tyres yearly and brake pads every 6-9 months. If we assume the bike will last 10 years and maintenance costs increase slightly as the bike ages. That gives A140/year for the bike and A$200/year for the maintenance. A$340 total. There was a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the cost of ownership of a car and the cheapest was about A$4500/year. When you factor in hours worked to earn the money to pay for that, the effective speed of the car became 12.7km/hour. The speed of a very slow bike. note: All $ are Australian $ and prices paid in Sydney Australia (our most expensive city, recently ranked in top 5 most expensive to live in, in the world)

  3. Lin B May 29, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    I retired 2 and a half years ago and bought an e-bike so I would not use my car except to carry passengers. Bike=$1100. Accessories (rack, etc.)= $400. One new tire and 2 tune ups = $200. $1700 which will continue to amortize down over the years. However, I calculate what I saved from not driving (insurance reduction = $300 yr, gas savings = $720/yr, maintenance = $400/yr) and the bike has already paid for itself. The car gets $10 month in gas now, and 1 oil change a year, driving less than 1000 miles annually. Totally a no-brainer. And before someone asks why I didn’t just get a regular bike, I’m 64 and hadn’t been on a bike in years. The e-bike gave me the sense of security to start riding again, knowing I wouldn’t get stranded due to physical limitations. It also helps when I’m lugging home 40 pounds of dog food from Costco!

  4. Samuel J May 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Well. Since I haven’t bought a bicycle in two years, and I haven’t kept any records for the past four decades or so, I’m left with one two-part conclusion: I must 1) buy a new bicycle and 2) keep records from the start.

    In other words, nothing to report right now.

  5. Glenn May 30, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    I paid $320 for my Bridgestone CB-1 in 1991, it came with a Blackburn rack. Ten years ago I bought a $100 set of Sunlite panniers. I’ve replaced both wheels, the rear cassette, brake pads, levers, shift levers (mostly last year on all previous), two sets of pedals, two sets of bottom bracket bearings, one crank (left), the head set bearings, the stem/quill assembly, two pairs of grips two sets of tires and possibly a dozen tubes in 23 years. I haven’t kept records, but I’d be surprised if it came to $100 a year, including purchase and upgrades.

  6. Paul June 2, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    My wife owns a car, but I don’t. I keep track of expenses on Quicken, which makes it easy to run comparisons.
    Last year I saved $4500 by not owning a car. I count car rental as a bike expense. In addition, this takes into account the cost of two bikes I bought, about $800 for a new, last-year’s-model Specialized and $400 for a used Diamondback. Costs include my lavish accessorizing, for example, studded snows for the Diamondback.
    I never feel bad about buying some new piece of bike equipment or even another bike.

  7. Wil Barath June 5, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    My cycling costs are a little higher because I enjoy higher-end cycling gear. I spend $60/year on gloves, $28/year toward a helmet with some accessories, $100/year toward a jacket, at least $50 every year on padded shorts and probably the same on jersies, $200 per year towards my next bike, $160/year on tubes and tires, $80/year on new chain/cassette, $40ish/year toward new seat and pedals, $50/year toward new cycling shoes, $30/year toward lighting, $50/year toward new wheels (rim wear from braking), $45/year on brake pads, $3/year on bike computer battery, $7/year toward a new computer. That gets me about 12,000km of commuting distance per year. There’s other small incidental costs. Every 10 years or so I need a new pannier rack, one or more replacement pannier bags, tools, seatpost bag, backpack, water bottle, rain pants, booties… I’m pretty confident that I spent between $900 and $1000 per year, so I figure my cost per KM at about $.08, which is about 1/5th what most of the people who I know spend on their car if they use their car for commuting. Apples and apples. A lot of these “comparisons” are measuring an occasional-use fair-weather riding bike against a multi-purpose car, which is a ridiculous comparison to make.

    • Wil Barath June 5, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      I forgot to mention that I do all my own work on my bike. If I were relying on a quality bike shop (I work at one) to do that work then I would probably spend an additional $200/year for the various tire swaps, powertrain changes etc. Cycling isn’t free, but it can certainly give you a similar degree of freedom that a car does at a fraction of the price, and for most people it will be a net time savings in your daily life after you factor in the hours you work to pay for your car and its expenses. If you hate the weather, you can take the bus or a cab numerous times per year before those incremental costs will approach the costs of operating a car. A lot of people don’t consider that. Especially the younger and older people who don’t have the lengthy daily commutes.

  8. Jan June 15, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

    My bikes:
    surly crosscheck for recreation and long distance transportation: $1000 plus about $250 for a new saddle, tires, handlebars and brake levers to fit my tiny hands, and front brake.
    schwinn breeze for short distance transportation: $50 at a yard sale plus about $400 for dynamo lighting, dynamo/drum brake hub, wheelbuilding supplies, tires, and a rack.
    $150 for panniers.
    Annual maintenance costs are very low since I’m able to do most of my own repairs at a local bike kitchen.
    I bought both bikes recently (4 and 2 years ago) which leaves me with a pretty high $600 or so annual cost, but they are great bikes I intend to keep so the cost will get lower over time.

    Also, I think of bicycling and driving costs not as an either or comparison, but in terms of how they work together to affect my transportation costs. I’ve mainly lived in rural, northern places, and in between winter, long travel distances, and a lack of public transportation, I’m not willing to go carfree. Like me, I think most Americans live in areas where giving up cars entirely is not a realistic option, but replacing some trips with biking may be. I was able to start biking more when I moved from a rural town to a small city and destinations were within a few miles, and my annual car mileage dropped from 12,000 to 3,000. I suppose that’s more money saved than I’ve spent on bikes!

  9. Nancy Baumeister June 16, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    For 2013: Vehicle $1200 (about 2400 miles), Bike $318 (about 2400 miles).

    That has been typical of recent years.

    I am actively investing in my bikes. Trying to make them even better so that I can drive less every year.

  10. fool July 11, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    i’ll be a curvebreaker. disregarding my single mostly-used-for-sporting-events bicycle, i have a small stable of bikes (4 at present) I’ve bought over the years. however, i assume that average cost of driving a car is for drivers of a single car – so does me having 2 loaner bikes (which i pay ~$80/year to maintain) and a fancy restored vintage bike that i ride more occasionally than constantly mean that my “total cost” is over 4 bikes? i’d have to have at least 2 – when one is in the shop, i still have to go to work/get around.

    at any rate, i spend at least a thousand dollars a year in maintenance (all on bikes i ride to get around town and do !sports), and get a new bike that costs serious money ($1500-3000) every 3-4 years. i also ride between 6 and 10 thousand miles a year, have a couple hundred bucks worth of “fun” lights (monkeylectric, EL wire, etc), and buy the expensive stuff – $80 tires (avg 4/year), a $100 toolkit that has been stolen off my bike and replaced 3 times since moving to portland, $100 saddles,panniers, $200 bike shoes and rain gear…the list is not short.

    i also do at least one serious “road trip” per year on my bike which means it gets beat up and my panniers and similar get worn out faster than they would with normal around-town kinda work.

    so, my costs are high. Roughly $1500-2000/year including the amortization of the investment bikes and replacement specialty clothes i wouldn’t buy otherwise – like bike shoes/bike shorts/rain gear.

    still, rather less than i was spending on gas and insurance alone when i drove a $40k car. which also needed $600 of tires every year, and every trip to the car-vet was $250 minimum (warranty deductible – warranty was $1000 or so for 2 years, and i went 3-4 times a year for something other than maintenance.) and the car? depreciated $30k over 5 years/100k miles.

    could be curious if some of these other expenses should be considered as bike expenses:

    - renters insurance, or the extra cost of homeowners insurance that covers “off-site” items like bikes (which paid for a new bike for me once. and has never been used for anything else.)

    - car rentals (i use car2go once a month to do a pretty big cargo transport. zipcar a couple times a year to haul pets to vet – my cat is too old to sedate, now, and just about has a heart attack on the bike – or move things my bike trailer can’t haul – precious few things, but they exist)

    - trailer? garage space? backup tires (i have snow tires – $120 – that’ll last for years and are used once a year)

    - clothes – rain gear in particular only lasts me a year or two. i have yet to find any that was actually functionally breathable enough for me to not arrive soaked from sweat and actually durable. i’ve been through many brands and many returns to REI/showers pass.

    - amtrak/airline transport of bike? i’ve given amtrak at least $200 over the past 3 years for my bike alone.

    - shipping of bike when you’re not willing/able to box for plane travel? I paid greyhound $90 to get my bike from austin to portland – and that was very dangerous since they wouldn’t insure it (i didn’t have a backup plan so had to swallow this, hoping my homeowner’s insurance would cover it)

    I don’t think all of those are necessarily “fair” expenses – but many are things that i wouldn’t need if i had/used a car.

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