The Real Costs of Biking to Work
The benefits of biking to work are easy to see. First, it's an automatic way to introduce exercise into your day without having to stress about going to the gym. Then there's the fact that you are powering yourself, which means paying no gas or mass transit fees. And there are the other, less measurable benefits of enjoying just a bit more fresh air on the way to and from your office and not being held hostage to train schedules or traffic jams.
But biking, or cycling if you insist, still carries a price tag. In fact, if you really love it you may get a bit carried away, as I have, and end up paying significantly more than you would if you commuted the conventional way. (But I still feel like I come out ahead.)
Read next: 4 Easy Tips for People Commuting to Work by Bike
For most people, however, biking to work can be a big money saver. Here's a breakdown of what you need, and how much it will cost you to get started.
Your local bike shop can help you find the right bike for as little as $300. Craigslist and bike swaps offer tons of good stuff for $200 and even less in some cases. But unless you're prepared to get a home toolkit ($50) and spend a decent chunk of hours learning how to be a basic mechanic, budget $40 for a professional tuneup. Of course, if you already have a suitable bike, you're ahead of the game.
A decent floor pump isn't expensive—just over $30 or so. It's important to check your tires every week or so and top off any pressure loss. The most common and very annoying mechanical (that's bike-speak for "problem") you can have while riding is a flat, and they're rare if you keep your tires inflated properly—especially if you have tires with puncture protection, like Continental Gatorskins. But in the event that the unexpected does happen, it's good to have a frame pump that attaches to the bike, also around $30.
Basic tools: $25
Tire levers, a patch kit, and a set of Allen wrenches are all you really need for basic maintenance. Avenir makes a roll that has everything all in one neat package for $25, but you can also put together your own kit from items purchased at a bike shop.
Tubes and lube: $15
Chain lube is important to keep down chain wear; a few drops go a long way. You may not ever use a spare tube if you keep your tires pumped, but budget for two in just in case.
If you commute home at twilight or later, you'll need lights. Light in Motion makes great but expensive ones, and there are plenty of cheaper options that work well. Illuminated streets don't require crazy-bright for you to see where you're going; the idea is to make sure that others can see you.
The kind of lock you need depends on where you store your bike. If you're in a suburban or rural area, the Wirecutter's pick of a standard U-lock is probably fine. But if you live in a city with high rates of bike theft—I'm looking at you, New York City—you might want something heavier, such as ABUS's U-540. Consider it a bike insurance policy.
Debates on the efficacy of helmets rage in the cycling world. One side says that helmets are head protection and make cycling safer; the other contends that drivers aren't as careful around helmeted riders and that it doesn't make a difference when a car is involved. You can do your own googling and decide for yourself, but oat shouldn't be a factor: A decent helmet starts at around $40.
Grand total: $525 and up
Depending on what you have on hand already, you may come out of this exercise with a much lower number in the outlays column. And how much you save depends on your situation. Rural bike commuters will likely keep their car as well as their bike, so savings will be more along the lines of gas and maintenance. Urban commuters, depending on how often they travel by bike, could stop buying unlimited transit passes and instead pay as they go, which can be decent boon for savings. I pocket around $200 every year by cycling.
But whether you break even, come out ahead, or invest a little in your bike habit, it's important to consider the stuff that doesn't show up on the balance sheet: fun, exercise, not having to drive, not having to crowd onto the bus or subway, and, most of all, being in control of your own transportation.
Bike to Work Week is May 16-20.