$6,250. That’s how much driving your five-mile commute is costing you over a period of five years. According to Reuters, the IRS places the cost of driving at $0.50 a mile (AAA puts the cost between $0.53-$0.79/mile), which includes the cost of gasoline and car maintenance. If you have a five-mile commute, that’s 10 miles a day for 250 days a year; for five years, that’s $6,250. That’s enough for an international vacation every year. If you're 30 and put that $6,250 into a retirement account, it should be around $120,000 when you retire.
We know driving to work costs us, which is probably why more and more people are hopping on a bike for their commute. In addition to saving money, people who are able to bike to work get a step up on their health and fitness and can feel good knowing their carbon footprint has just gone way down.
If your bike has been sitting in the basement, take it to a local bike shop before using it as a primary means of transportation. Tune-ups can seem expensive, upwards of $100, but they'll get your bike in tip-top shape and have it running smoothly for a tiny fraction of the cost it takes to drive. If you aren’t sure about your bike, ask the shop about replacing it: often, you can get a great commuting bike used that will last you years for less than $600. Plus, the longer you ride, the more comfortable you'll become doing tune-ups yourself.
Just do it. Your brain is almost certainly the most valuable thing you own, and a helmet can mean the difference between walking away from a fall with nothing but a scratch and being laid up with a concussion for weeks, if not worse. A helmet is like your seat belt: ideally, you'll never need it. But wearing one is easy, and the consequences, if you do have an accident, are not worth the risk.
Bikes are valuable, and cable locks aren’t hard to cut these days. Investing in a $30 U-lock will almost certainly save you a lot of money in the long run. Remember to lock your frame and your front wheel. Otherwise, it's all too easy for someone to walk away with one or the other.
Does your workplace have an indoor bike room? More and more offices are investing in them, and if you work in a city there's a good chance a neighboring building has a bike room you can use, even if your building doesn’t. The same goes for showers, and if you invest in a couple of panniers and packing cubes, you can keep your work clothes looking fresh.
Biking to work decreases greenhouse gas emissions, lowers reliance on fossil fuels, takes cars off the road and out of traffic jams and keeps citizens healthier, lowering medical costs. All these factors make bike commutes attractive to local governments, employers and nonprofits, enough that some offer fantastic incentives. Incentives can offset the cost of getting started, so check out local government programs, your work’s policy on biking, local bike programs and clubs and bike shops and stores like REI to see about free classes, gear, coupons or even gift cards and cash.
We spoke about helmets and U-locks already, but a few other pieces of gear will make all the difference. Often, you can find these pieces for cheap or even free in the right setting. We’re talking about bike lights, reflective tape, a few tools and ankle bands. If you ever bike at night, lights are essential for safety, and even during the day, reflective gear is important for being visible. If you're afraid of getting a flat, bring a spare tube, some spanners and a portable pump on your commute, and you'll be up and riding again in no time.
Biking to work has benefits all year round, but the motivation and incentives go through the roof during bike-to-work month and especially on bike-to-work day (typically held in spring). Trying out the commute when hundreds of other people are doing the same, when there's free and discounted gear available and when private and public sectors are offering incentives is a great way to begin on a high note and kickstart the routine.
Just because you know the rules of the road from driving doesn’t mean you are necessarily ready to translate that knowledge to cycling. Some rules do change slightly and defensive riding on a bike is a skill to be learned.
Opencyclemap.org and bikemaps.org offer commuting maps, but the best biking maps are usually produced locally. Try searching for your town or city and “bike commute map” to find out what the biking enthusiasts around you have come up with. What you find might surprise you: there might be a beautiful bike path just a few miles away or a much safer detour you can take around the nearby construction. Some sites will even update information like the location of bike thefts and bike accidents so you can be aware.
Sometimes, biking all the way to work isn’t feasible. You might live 20 miles away or need to drop off a kid at school. But this is all the more reason to get creative with your commute. Maybe you can cycle to a co-worker’s house and carpool or drive there before biking the rest of the way together. Perhaps your child is interested in biking to school, and you could ride together. Riding to a bus or train stop or a vanpool is another option more and more people are utilizing. Everyone’s commute is different, and no one but you can decide the best routine, accounting for cost, health, time and the environment.
Even if you set yourself up perfectly and the stars align, there are still pros and cons to biking as a commuter. Consider getting on your bike and trying the new commute for a day or a week: the advantages and drawbacks of your specific situation will quickly reveal themselves. In the meantime, here are some things to consider.
The best thing you can do is go to a few local bike shops and ask if they sell used commuting bikes. The people who work at these shops know the local area and bike routes and will be able to hook you up with the best bike for your commute for much cheaper than a brand-new Consumer Reports top-pick commuting bike. That said, bicycling.com ranks the Raleigh Redux 1, the Brooklyn Lorimer and the Marin Presidio 1 as some of 2019 best commuter bikes.
Yes. But so is driving. Which one is more dangerous completely depends on how one measures danger. There are tens of thousands of car-related deaths a year in the US compared to a few hundred cycling deaths. But many more miles are covered by car than by bike. If you take this into consideration, there are more cycling deaths per mile then there are car deaths per mile. But we're often more likely to drive far distances in a car rather than a bike, and if you account for deaths per the number of hours driving or hours riding a bike, it's about equal. This isn’t factoring in the health benefits and increases in life expectancy that result from biking and exercising in general. A lot of factors, including route, gear and weather, influence the safety of cycling and the safety of driving. But at the end of the day, cars and unaware drivers are what make cycling unsafe: so, the more people who bike and fewer who drive, the safer cycling will become.
“Enough” is a hard concept to quantify. Is your ride one mile or 20? Are you biking there and back? Are you trying to keep your heart rate and blood pressure steady, or are you hoping to do a triathlon next month? These are all factors to consider. Most sources suggest 60 “active” minutes a day, so if you're biking 30 minutes each way to work, that certainly counts as your 60 minutes. If you are often running around for your job, up and downstairs, across the street, etc., maybe you don’t need your commute to be 30 minutes each way. The nice thing about biking to work is that you can take it as hard or easy as you want: you can sprint or cruise, tack on five miles or bike straight there — the choice is up to you.