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David Fiedler

Expensive Gas or Cheap Bike?

By April 1, 2008

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The March 28th edition of the weekly RoadBikeRider.com newsletter features commentary from "Uncle Al" Ardizone, one of those great people you encounter in bicycling who are free with advice and opinion on a variety of subjects, bicycling and otherwise.

Al's specific assertion with this newsletter was that with gas prices increasing again, the bike ridership will increase too as people start to realize that bikes are a practical means of transportation, especially given the cost, which makes them affordable for just about anyone. Just five tanks of gas ($325), says Al, will equal one bike well-suited for commuting.

But is this really true? The editors at Roadbikerider.com didn't let that assertion pass unchallenged. They asked Al to give an example of a decent commuter at that price. He had no trouble.

"A Raleigh Venture, which is a 7-speed bike with 26-inch wheels, priced at $260," offered Al. "Upright bars, fatty seat, rigid fork, aluminum frame. If you add fenders and put on skinnier tires, you'd still be below five tankfuls.

"There are plenty of mountain bikes priced similarly, and with the same kinds of modifications they'd be perfectly fine commuters," he continued. "A bike for shorter commutes doesn't have to be any kind of super bike anyway, just reliable."

Kinda puts things in perspective, don't you think? By using your bike for a commuter, you can call on that gas pump math for easy justification any time you need to buy clothes or equipment to make your commute easier or safer, or to have your bike worked on.

By the way, here's how they came up with that $325 figure. 20 gallons of gas at $3.25/gallon x 5 fill-ups.

Image: Raleigh Venture, from Raleigh USA


July 10, 2008 at 1:54 pm
(1) Bike Trailer Girl says:

Biking as a family is great too- hook up a trailer and take the kids, or even your dog along for the ride. Going to work? Cargo trailers hold all your office necessities!
Check out: http://www.bicycletrailers.com
It’s all healthy and definitely more economical these days. Fun? You bet!

July 10, 2008 at 4:42 pm
(2) Regular cycling commuter says:

Not quite this simple. The average commute distance in the US is 16 miles (apparently – I only looked it up in one place). The average commuter is going to take well over an hour to pedal this distance, even assuming they are reasonably fit. A less fit rider might not make it that distance even once. Got a shower at work? You are going to need one when you get there. The fuel cost for that commute for the month is under $100 (assuming a 25mpg car) The cycling commute will cost in additional groceries, as you have to fuel the rider, and repairs and maintainance on the bike. This kind of a commute distance is going to need a decent bike and good cycling gear. It’s not impossible, just not easy to do for the average commuter. It isn’t not something you can switch to overnight. It is a considerable amount of excersise which can be very beneficial, but those that lead very sedentary lives should seek the advice of their doctor on just how to safely work up to the point where they can commute this kind of distance daily.

July 10, 2008 at 6:38 pm
(3) Johnny D says:

Not to mention the hazards of bicycling on streets shared with autos and trucks!

July 10, 2008 at 6:51 pm
(4) Mya says:

And then that’s nice if it’s acceptable weather outside; in the summer we often forget about how restrictive the weather can be in other seasons- what if it’s subzero temperatures or raining torrentially?

July 10, 2008 at 9:51 pm
(5) JAZZIE says:

Hello! Good morning! I am very positive nowadays because of the sky-rocketing prices of basic commodities and that includes fuel. The reason behind it is that people would slow down a bit to lay down their money. They would think twice or thrice or a million times before they buy something. Consumerism and materialism attiude would slowly diminish. Ergo, we would have a cleaner and healthy lliving because people with cars would think twice before they use their cars. For me I can go out freely using bikes. I was reprimanded before because I was using my bike in going out to hear Mass in a nearby chapel. I was told that I will drive the car because it not a good sight to see a nun biking along the road.

July 11, 2008 at 2:38 am
(6) Martha says:

You go right ahead and ride all you want……….but this 52 year old woman isn’t going out in 97 degree Texas weather to ride up to 12 miles each way. I’d have to get up at about 3 in the morning and take a change of clothes with me…….forget it. My idea – we need to drill everywhere we can and I don’t give a flea flicker about the environment or the snail darter or any other animal. People are more important than animals and we need reasonably priced gas to fuel our cars with AC to get around town. We don’t need 400,000 Fort Worthians riding bikes everywhere. I agree with Newt Gingrich – drill here, drill NOW, pay less !!!!!!

July 11, 2008 at 8:50 am
(7) wylee says:

Martha, you are the reason America hates Texas.

July 11, 2008 at 12:41 pm
(8) Bot Beau says:

I am with Martha!

July 11, 2008 at 12:42 pm
(9) Larry True says:

I used to ride a bike a lot more when I lived in Colorado and roads were wide and bike trails abounded. Now I’m 63 and although reasonbly fit I can’t imagine riding my bike the 12 miles to the office every day – in Albany, NY where it gets down to 20 below with snow and ice on the road average 6 months a year. Better I think to get everybody on 4 day weeks, working from home, telecommuting, etc. to get cars off the road. I have noticed that average speeds have fallen somewhat which is a good start.

July 11, 2008 at 2:02 pm
(10) didi says:

It’s interesting how people always jump to conclusions why they should not make any changes. Of course, riding on a bike is not for 120F degree weather, when it’s pouring rain, if it presents a lot of hazardous situations or if you are older, etc…

However, we have quite a few people at work who started to ride their bikes to work and they love it. They needed to make adjustments, but overall everyone is very happy. Getting fit and saving money at the same time. Again, I’m not advocating it for all people, but if you already have a bike and comfortable on it, just not give it a shot? Have fun riding!

July 11, 2008 at 2:20 pm
(11) gayle says:

Ride your bikes when you can. Walk when you can. Do not drive at least one day each week. If every one did this it would make a huge difference. The era of cheap fuel is over – we’ve used it up. Drilling in the few pristine areas left or off-shore for a few weeks worth of fuel is unacceptable. Conservation of resources is the most effective process available, but this is just not something that the corporate fat cats can make any money from – so you will not hear it from John Bush-McCaine. Too bad he sold his soul in 2004, he seemed like a reasonable person then – now he is just saying what the Republican fat cats want to hear.

July 12, 2008 at 5:46 pm
(12) Andy says:

Even now that gas is $4 a gallon or more, its still pretty cheap relatively speaking. What price do you put on an hour of your time? For me its roughly $20. So if commuting by bike takes an hour longer than by car (by the time I’ve changed, etc), it cost me $20. So in one week, that’s $100 it cost me to ride that bike.

On the other hand, if you ride the bike instead of going to the gym, the math works out pretty well!

I guess all I’m saying is when you run the math, remember to run ALL the math, and don’t assume time is free. Time is the most expensive commodity we have.

July 12, 2008 at 6:05 pm
(13) Andy says:

By the way, I should mention, I have a bike (a cheap one) and probably always will. I use it… for the exercise and fun of it, and when the car is in the shop.

July 12, 2008 at 9:08 pm
(14) daver says:

Want more American oil? take a look at this NY Times article on American oil reserves. Drilling more is only going to save you pennies, and won’t help you anytime this decade.

We have to CHANGE THE WAY WE USE GAS. Take a look at carpooling and using the bus. Just because it’s inconvenient doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Laziness and whining will get you nowhere.

I understand that it’s not always feasible, but we have to look into it. we can’t expect the country to go bankrupt making gas cheaper for us.

and yes, I love my bike. :)

dave from space squid

July 13, 2008 at 2:06 pm
(15) D. T. II says:

This is all well and good but none of the jobs near where I live pay enough to support my family on one income. In addition the increased rent/house payment to move nearer to work is more than I’m currently paying a month in gas and rent/house payment combined. Until my fuel bill and current rent/house payment exceeds those I would be paying to live closer to my job I’ll keep driving 120 miles a day. At least it gives me time to clear my head before and after work.

July 14, 2008 at 1:16 am
(16) Kim K says:

I’m lucky enough to live about two miles from the university where I work and go to school, so there’s almost never an excuse not to ride. I used to live 5.5 miles from my old job, and it is true that even a round trip of 11 miles is not for every day, especially if it’s blazingly hot or there’s a blizzard. And it is true that high-speed or crowded roadways are never a place for a bicycle.

But, it’s not all or nothing. Every day will be different, just as with all other things, and you may or may not want to ride.

Commuting by bike takes a bit of research into the best routes (look up your local cycling club or city website to learn about which streets have bike lanes, or where bike-dedicated paths may be), rules of the road, and an initial investment, but it is indeed a great replacement for the gym. You have to be alert, but you can still think. And I find that when I am biking regularly I tend to be more alert through the day, and it’s a great way to unwind on the way home.

Most of all, you need patience, to gain the knowledge and habits that will allow you to really enjoy your bike and use it well. It takes some time to get used to this mode of transportation, and you might find that things will change a bit that may surprise you. You will start thinking about buying those snappy nylon coolots at REI because they’ll dry more easily, either from a dash of the elements or a bit of sweat. Watching the weather report will be salient in a different way, as it may determine whether you will ride to work tomorrow. Your butt may change — in a good way. Etc.

In terms of the cost of time, well, I also used to think in terms of “how much would I make in the time it takes me to do this?” But, now I don’t, because no one is paying us for our commute time (or to do the dishes, or whatever) in the first place. Consider the time it will add to your lifespan due to stress relief and regular exercise (though, again, riding on congested roadways is a bad idea, as it can be the equivalent of smoking all the way to work). Also, if we want to live well, we all have to get exercise, so many of us take extra time to go to the gym. If the bike commute is not too long, it combines the commute to work, to the gym, the workout itself, and the commute home into one (two) time slice(s).

Plus, think about how many compliments you’ll get on your nice butt.

(I just have to add — in terms of the oil thing. Previous commenters have made a point of truth: buying gas is still cheaper than moving to where we can commute, and some of us just can’t due to length or roadway infrastructures. So, I just can’t wait until we run out of gas. That’s the day (and it’s coming) when our free market society will change its direction more drastically toward what are presently alternative energies. I like gasoline. It gets me to some great places. But it’s dirty, greenhouse-gas-generating, toxic, and carcinogenic. I like coal too — it keeps my lights burning and my computer running. But I just can’t wait until those cleaner sources get pressed into the market in an affordable form. Yeah. Thanks for listening, all of you big companies out there. I’m ready to spend my money on you!

And don’t forget to opt to integrate more bike paths and human-powered commuter routes into our cities’ infrastructures. Thanks!)

July 14, 2008 at 7:48 am
(17) Dave K. says:

Fortunately, my wife and I commute to work together. Often she goes to school in the evening or runs some errands. So on those days, and many others on which I just want exercise or one of us needs to work late, I throw my bicycle in the back of the car so I can ride it home. Neither do I have a shower at work, but saving the gas on two cars really adds up! Plus the exercise is fantastic.

In fact, our local bus system here has bicycle racks on the front of each bus. So you can take the bus to work and ride home. Or take the bus and ride easily to your office and back to your house (if you are not near a stop).

Yes, I wish I had a shower at the office but there always are ways to plan around that (be creative). And there always are a series of side roads to get you home to avoid traffic. And with the importance of exercise, it could be a money-saving and healthy part of your day.

July 14, 2008 at 6:35 pm
(18) Megan says:

I just started biking to work, and I love it! Even for a 10-15 mile ride to work each way, and I’m on a crappy bike, and not in great shape, it only takes me about 30 minutes longer than getting to work in morning rush hour traffic. Additionally, I factor in the fact that if I ride my bike to work, I don’t have to fit excercise in at any other time in the day. Have a gym membership? Cancel it! riding your bike to work can be your workout.

For those who say we should just drill, try thinking long term. You say people are more important than animals and the environment, but people LIVE in the environment. Even if you don’t care about animals or trees or any of that, having the appropriate balance of wildlife is part of what maintains our ecosystem. When we damage the environment we damage the air that we breath, we kill off species that other species depend upon for food (including species that I assume most of you making this argument eat, like cattle), and we damage plant life and water which we also consume and which are consumed by the animal foods that we eat as well. Sure, you say drill now, but when in 20 years we are completely out of oil, not only will you no longer have a choice but to bike or walk to work in that 97 degree Texas heat, if Texas is even still a place where it is possible to live given the progression of global warming due to continued polution and destruction of the eco system, but you also will have no or limited clean water to drink, and significantly limited (and therefor extraordinarily priced) food options. I’m not a crazy tree hugger, I just think it’s important to think longer-term than just, “Right now, I don’t want to sweat”. Environmental destruction of those animals that are less important than you are, impacts you almost as much as it does them.

July 15, 2008 at 11:13 am
(19) Pooper says:

How much you want to bet that Martha has heart disease, lung cancer, or at the very least hardening of the arteries. Attitudes like hers make me crazy. People are more important than animals? We ARE animals.

July 15, 2008 at 1:03 pm
(20) Phillip not fillup says:

I love some of these counter arguments…
“We donít need 400,000 Fort Worthians riding bikes everywhere.”
“The cycling commute will cost in additional groceries, as you have to fuel the rider…”
“Not to mention the hazards of bicycling on streets shared with autos and trucks!”
I bike to work 2 -4 days a week in a major city. If you plan your route, use common sense, and are courteous, you won’t have any problems. Biking is actually safer than driving, if you want to consult some stats.
In some major european cities, everyone bikes everywhere. Parents have extra seats on their cruisers for their kids, and/or baskets and racks for groceries.
I realize middle-aged and older Americans will cling desperately to their polluters, as that’s the only way of life they’ve known, and the only one they can imagine. Hopefully the younger generation continues to embrace the bicycle, because in many instances it makes much more sense. Clearly.

July 15, 2008 at 2:27 pm
(21) terrymac says:

I commute via bike; gave up the car years ago. I’m not sure that cycling can be justified by the price of gas alone, but factor in the cheaper maintenance, insurance, exercise ( cancel the gym membership ), car payments, auto taxes and fees, and cycling can be a great big win!

These last few months, as gas has risen to $4.50 / gallon, I have seen a surge in bike riders. All those short trips to the grocery, to your friends? Bicycle, save gas, enjoy the exercise.

July 15, 2008 at 2:45 pm
(22) Regular Cycling commuter says:

Hey, I wasn’t suggesting NOT to ride a bicycle. As you can see by my handle, I ride one to commute regularly. As much as possible, in fact. But how many Marthas are out there? There are a TON of people out there you are just not going to change. They’ll give up their cars when they are forced to, and not before. There need to be MORE solutions than just bicycles, because they simply can’t work for everyone. Martha, you and your “I donít give a flea flicker about the environment” attitude is too bad. What will it take to change you? $10 a gallon gas? $15 dollar a gallon gas? When it can’t be had for any price? Got any children, Martha? Know anyone that does? Where will they be when they are 52? Don’t you watch the news or is your head in the sand? We are getting a warning from this planet, and it is loud and clear one. If we keep choosing not to listen…

July 18, 2008 at 12:03 pm
(23) climbinkayaker says:

I am a Fort Worthian. I bicycle to work 13 miles each way. I am middle aged. I care about the environment, and myself. Martha IS the problem here. We do need 400,000 people on bikes. Imagine that clean air!!! Level orange ozone alert today. What the hell is wrong with you?! I guess you can do what you want, but just be kind enough not to run me over. I’ll wave at you when you’re in the nursing home with diabetes, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure.

July 18, 2008 at 12:22 pm
(24) Across Arlington says:

Yeah, what my brother said. (climbinkayaker)

Hey Marthas out there look this up: Woonerf.

Yes I’m a cycling advocate, and yes this is where we’re gonna be taking you over the next 20 years.

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