Save more than £4000 per year by cycling instead of driving?

(June 16th 2012)

Previously I’ve said that I would talk about the cost, health and environmental benefits of cycling, and this week I’m talking about cost. People have been asking me if it’s really worth it.

Well, first of all it’s not worth it unless you really like cycling… but on the other hand, you might like cycling more than you previously thought, if it was more comfy because you have all the right gear. I don’t really like talking about how much I spend on things, but for the sake of the blog, and bringing forward accurate information, here it is.

Basically, to get everything I’ve got (detailed breakdown below) would cost just over £900. This may seem like a lot of money, for an option that is supposed to be cheap, but I wanted to be safe and completely at ease when riding.  Bear in mind also that this is the outright cost, and in future years costs could drop to £50-£200 per year in maintenance.

However, here are some facts that might help put things in perspective:

  • The average cost of owning and running a used car is £4,441 per year.
  • It would be £5,869 for a new car. Most people don’t like to think how much they really spend on their vehicles, but the AA and RAC both publish reports each year with helpful figures.
  • Just for my journey’s to work and back, a season bus ticket would be £500, but the journey would take 1hr door to door, and get me there an inconvenient half hour early, as opposed to a 20min cycle ride.
  • The average gym membership (according to research by Sainsburys) is £442 per year. If you preferred to cycle you could save time because your workout would be your commute.

Essential gear – Budget option:
This is not my own choice, but workable. If I’m going to cycle a lot I want to feel comfortable, but here is the minimum you could get to cycle frequently and safely.

  • Bike: Get a bike from the recycling center, and hope it works well enough as it is. (£10-30)
  • Bike Accessories: Get some of the cheapest cycle lights. Cheap ones will eat lots of batteries. Cycle on well lit roads only – the cheapest lights will only allow you to be seen by others, they won’t light your way (£6). Don’t use mudguards unless the bike comes with them.
  • Cycle maintenance: Buy a puncture repair kit, tyre levers (£5) and bike chain oil (£6), and a cheap pump (£5).
  • Lock: One can get a lock for as little as £2 in cheap shops. It may be very easy to break, but if your bike was cheaper than your helmet, you may not mind
  • Safety: Buy the cheapest helmet (£20), which may not be that comfy but will be perfectly safe, and get some reflectors if you can (£5).
  • Clothes: Cycle in your normal clothes, tucking your trousers into your socks. If it rains, the very cheapest thing to do is get wet. Alternatively, army surplus stores sell full waterproofs cheaply, although they are very sweaty (£25?). Thin splash proof jackets from tescos usually don’t work at all.
  • Luggage: Carry your stuff in a rucksack. You’ve probably already got one.
  • Navigation: Memorise maps from the Internet. Use Google maps on your phone if you already have one with a GPS function, although signal is usually intermittent, and this can lead to getting lost. Alternatively, spend £5 on a local map and keep it in your pocket.

Total: Roughly £90. Notice that actually, one of the cheapest things is the bike itself, unless you managed to get some of that other stuff 2nd hand too.
Essential gear – Mid range option:
This is my preference, and generally what I’ve gone for. My rationale has been to spend on what’s necessary to make riding a bike really enjoyable and not a chore, to encourage me to keep going with it.

  • Bike: Get a fixed gear roadbike. It’s cheaper than a geared roadbike, whilst being great quality. (£270)
  • Bike Accessories: Lots of bikes these days come with no accessories, and it’s easy to underestimate how much they will set you back. I deciding that the following improvements were necessary, and here’s why.
  • A gel saddle – very important! (£18) !!! Later discovered that gel saddles are actually a BAD MOVE – read more here:
  • Mudguards – to stop the bike turning into an upwards-puddle-machine when it’s wet (£35 fitted)
  • Drop handlebars – many fixed gear bikes come with straight handlebars. This is beyond me, since having one gear, but NOT being able to move to drop position to climb hills seems unworkable to me. For the handlebars, new brake levers and cables it was £70 fitted.
  • A bell – to alert pedestrians that I’m coming past on mixed use cyclepaths (£2)
  • A drinks holder – to make it possible to have a drinking bottle for longer rides  (£5)
  • Pedals – I already had clip pedals, so transferred them from my old bike, but they would have cost roughly £35
  • Pannier rack – carrying luggage in a rucksack is tricky and sweaty. Rear panniers are much better and for that I needed a rack to attach them to. Plus, I often carry a guitar on my back, so any other luggage would have to go in panniers. I got my rack for free, but it would have cost (£30)
  • Lights: Cateye front and back light (£20). Worth it for the good battery life and bright front light. Although it’s possible to spend much more for a VERY bright front beam, this was the very minimum for cycling on unlit roads.
  • Total: £215 – as you can see, the accessories/upgrades were nearly as much as the bike itself!
  • Cycle repair: Puncture repair kit and tyre levers (£5) and bike chain oil (£6), 2 spare inner tubes (£12), cycle multitool (£6), spanner (£5), High quality portable bike pump (£17), track pump for home use (£20). One of the things I quickly realised was that I myself find it almost impossible to pump roadbike tyres up to full pressure with a hand pump, even if it’s a decent one. So therefore, a track pump for home use is an essential, and the portable one is only suitable for roadside repairs.
  • Lock: I spent £20 on my thick lock, have had it for 10 years, and have never had a bike stolen. It’s possible to spend much more, but I think the most important thing is to put the lock through both wheels and the frame.
  • Safety: I already have a helmet that I’m sad to say I avoid wearing on short cyclepath journeys because it’s cheap and uncomfortable. I’m planning on spending £50 on a decent one soon.
  • Clothes: My cycle leggings (£60), t-shirt (£25), jacket (£50) and raincoat (£50 in the sale, reduced from £120) are complete essentials to me. They allow me to ride feeling like I can move easily, and am at a comfortable temperature, reducing fatigue on long journeys, and just feeling good on shorter ones. I’ve had some cycle shoes for years that were £60. I can’t imagine not cycling with SPD shoes. These are shoes that clip your feet to the pedals. They make it possible to climb hills that would be impossible if I couldn’t pull up on the pedals as well as push down. They also give me much more control over the bike at all speeds. I also bought some waterproof shoe covers (£24), after failed attempts to waterproof my shoes with scotch guard. However, mainly I’ve been wearing them in the winter even when it’s dry, since they are windproof and stop my feel getting cold. Lastly, I made myself a snood (tube scarf) to pull up over my face when it’s really cold, because otherwise I’ve found that my lips actually crack. I made mine, but buying one would be about £12. I should have got some windproof gloves too (£35) but I didn’t, and my hands got really cold even wearing 2 pairs of wool gloves all winter. Silly me.
  • Luggage: I was lucky enough to get a set of 2 waterproof rear panniers at a car boot sale for £10, although I understand that usually they would be £30 at least. Some people have cheaper panniers that aren’t waterproof, but this makes no sense to me.
  • Navigation: I am currently stuck on this one. I’ve tried memorising maps and getting lost. I’ve tried having a map in my pocket and getting it out at every junction, which means stopping…. I’ve tried using my phone, but the GPS signal is too intermittent. I have a GPS from my old car which I thought I could use, but the battery life is only 1hr, and GPS cycle-mounts I could order from the internet all have reviews saying that they let water in! I have yet to try an old fashioned map and map case… largely because I got put off when I realised that if I wanted to order the OS maps for the trip I’m thinking of doing in summer, then it would come to over £100. So maybe a “cycle gps” is the answer… although they are 3 times more expensive than car ones, since they have to be both shockproof and waterproof. Any thoughts?

Total: £917 (if all new)
What I actually spent: £820

Verdict – more expensive than I expected, but still cheaper than driving by far.


1 Comment

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One response to “Save more than £4000 per year by cycling instead of driving?

  1. Steve I.

    In Winter, try mittens instead of gloves. With road-bike brake levers, they are not a problem and keep your hands quite warm. I’ve NEVER found gloves that kept fingers warm when it’s really cold out, but even cheap mittens work well. If it’s VERY cold, get some good ones from a ski shop.

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