Is It Worth it to Bike to Work?
From November 1998 to October 1999, a mountain bike was my sole means of transportation. I was living in northern Virginia at the time, riding around in a white shirt and tie with a little black name tag. Unlike many other guys riding around in white shirts and ties with little black name tags, I enjoyed climbing up stairs and park benches while still mounted on the bike.
I loved this fit and happy time of life.
After eleven blissful months as a serious biker, I was forced back into a Ford Escort – where I promptly gained 20 pounds. On arriving home at the end of my time in Virginia, my older sister welcomed me with “Hi. You’re FAT.” We Butlers don’t mince words.
I think it’s time to get back in the proverbial – and literal – saddle. My younger brother and my dad bike commute religiously. They love it. The blogosphere seems to be talking a lot about the way of the bike, and I want in.
Because I haven’t explicitly budgeted for the purchase, I’ll have to rob my growing buffer or my emergency fund. (YNABers the world over gasp in horror: “No! How could you?!”)
Calm down. I haven’t yet committed either of these Deadly Budgeting Sins. But there’s math here – math deserving due consideration.
I’ll break down the numbers. You weigh in on the purchase (please).
The Bike, The Helmet, The Upkeep
I haven’t shopped bikes yet, but I could do very well for about $500. I’ll need a helmet. Let’s call that $75. It seems fair to estimate another $100 of maintenance and accessories in the first year of ownership.
*Serious Bikers: please comment on my cost estimates.
$675 to start my new life as a bike commuter. After spending the $675, I’d still have a full three month emergency fund – just throwing that out there.
Increased Travel Time, Decreased Convenience
I’m estimating 45 to 48 minutes per day in the saddle, compared to 20 minutes per day in the car (five minutes from home to office, and I go home for lunch nearly every day). The bike adds 25 to 30 minutes to my daily travel time.
It also seriously limits my mobility from the office, making random errands during the work day impossible (or at least impractical).
On the Other Hand, the Bike is a Two-wheeled Cash Machine
Taylor (YNAB CTO) has a good friend Pete (your YNAB t-shirt is on its way, my man) who has tracked all auto-related expenses in his life for the last several years. Driving a 2005 Mazda 3, he calculates total operating cost per mile at $0.22.
*I have no idea how the IRS comes up with a number like 50 cents. Based on Pete’s data, the IRS number is outrageous.
The YNAB office is 2.5 miles from my house; I go home for lunch almost every day.
10 miles of driving x $0.22 = $2.20 per day
250 working days per year yields $550 in direct savings in the first year.
*You could argue I’ll drive less overall because the car won’t be available for this or that little trip from the office, which would bump up the bike-related savings. I’m sure it’s true, but I can’t quantify it.
Don’t Forget About the Shrinking Love Handles
A handy calculator estimates a 195 pound man will burn around 100 calories riding 12 minutes at 10 to 12 miles per hour. Two round-trips per day would earn me a 400 calorie burn. I plan to keep things calorie neutral by munching on bagels while riding. Just kidding, sweetie (my wife is, um, psyched about the 400 calories burned per day).
400 calories per day x 250 days per year = 100,000 calories burned. At 3,500 calories per pound of fat burned (by the way, is that a real thing?), I’d theoretically burn about 28.6 pounds of fat in the next year. That sounds pretty fantastic.
A bike-centric lifestyle would mean better health and less money spent on health care in the long run.
I’ll Also Be Happier, Less Stressed, and More Productive
As a bike commuter, I’d arrive at the office in the morning invigorated; I’d expect a corresponding bump in my output.
The ride home would be a good opportunity to detox from the work day, better preparing me for the daily post-work wrestling match with the kids.
The time outside would make me feel a little less terrible about spending my finite life staring at walls and computer screens (this really does give me serious angst).
The Bike Puts $750 per Year in My Pocket
All physical/mental/emotional benefits considered, I’m going to bump the value of the bike commute up to $3 per day, bringing the value of the bike to about $750 per year. Subtracting $100 for maintenance and accessories, the bike just about pays for itself in year one.
A full commitment to the bike commuting lifestyle would double the money, while leaving it in savings would generate $3.52 in interest (yes, I just made that number up on the spot).
The bike makes perfect financial sense: it doesn’t meaningfully affect the emergency fund, it pays a higher interest rate than the savings account, and it comes will big positive externalities (read: smaller love handles).
So I should go out and bike the bike tomorrow.
I actually ride it.
So, what do you think? Should I take the money out of savings to buy the bike?