Experiment #15: Does Biking Actually Save you Money?

I've heard so many times that "bicycling is a great way to save money". Or even better, you'll hear a cyclist toting his/her $7000 carbon fiber race bike as "paying for itself, easily".

Awww Jim Jim you pay for yourself
in happiness generation :D 
Buckle up your helmets ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to finally answer the question... does biking pay for itself?

When I started getting more into riding/racing, I was really frustrated with how much everything cost. Seriously, $100 for shoes? $50 for pedals? $100 for a license to race bikes? The expenses compounded quickly, especially with start up costs to riding. At some point, (well, January 1st to be precise) I decided I was going to keep track of how much I spent on things bike related and see if I could justify my spending habits with... riding my bike enough.

(1) Anything bike related means... anything bike related. If I had to fix the bike, if I had to pay to race the bikes, etc. if it was an expense I wouldn't have had without a bicycle, well... then it went on here.

(2) I have to be honest. Miles need to be put on Strava (Lo's Strava) but that means sometimes things don't sync properly. Chalk this up to about 100 miles.

1 dollar in allowed spending for 1 mile of biking

Where did the goal come from? I'm actually being extremely generous here - a dollar per mile is more than the reimbursement rate of the government for driving your car places. For my Ford Fiesta, I get about 28 miles to a 3 dollar gallon... that's a little different than the 28 miles per 28 dollars spent I'm setting as a goal here. Then again... I don't need bike insurance to ride my bike...  let's call a dollar per mile fair and practical. The purpose here is asking if biking can pay for itself.

Mid-term Result:
Absolutely Not.

[cue data]

For those curious as to exactly how much I spent on bicycles the last few months (please don't judge me too much, I have no children and buy used clothing),
the excel spreadsheet is available here: Bike Money Sheet

A breakdown of how I spent money on bikes.
Just keeping them operational was the bulk.
For those of you who want the high level, here we go. My total spending was $4637.76, and my total mileage was 2729.8 miles, so I am $1907.96 miles in debt to myself. I reasonably bike 150 miles a week, so this is 12.7 weeks of biking. That's more than a summer. There's no way I can overcome this debt in the next few months.

What is interesting is that some of this you could justify as a 'one-time' starter cost. Things like a bike rack + hitch were included (> $500) or things like a new wheel set (> $600). I was actually very on track with my goal until I bought a new wheel set... and things spiraled out of control after that (i.e. having to buy new bibs because team bibs gave saddle sores, etc.) However, I'm kind of going to call BS on these being one-time costs- cyclists treat bicycling like an addictive drug... they are restless using the same things for years. Maybe it's a new saddle or a new bike altogether, but very few cyclists I know have the self-discipline to not buy new things periodically (that's just true of people really, so let's cut the cyclists some slack).

My breakdown was interesting because racing actually initially cost me more than Clothing (...!) but race winnings brought that number down below the clothing (haha!). Functionality encompassed pedals to repairs to new parts, etc. While I could definitely cut down on the clothing and the racing, the functionality just came in under the budget. That's a narrow line.

Even more, my commuter mileage is pretty 'low' considering my race/fun mileage. I bike about 50 miles a week in commuter miles, putting me at 950 miles over 19 weeks. However, when you look at the money specifically spent on my commuter bike... he's a lot tougher and more durable than the mountain and/or race bike... JimJim does actually, in fact, pay for himself. He cost $600 initially and he's needed about $20 in repairs. JimJim is a golden child in this whole mess.

Another point to consider is that mountain bike mileage is extremely low compared to the time invested. I'll sometimes go out for 2 hours and bike a total of 10 miles. Some people have proposed that I do a different weighting scheme for mountain bikes to take into account the work out factor (i.e. not buying a gym membership), but I've never tried to say that my mountain bike pays for itself. In fact, I've never heard a mountain biker say that... it seems to be a roadie/commuter thing.

Girls just wanna ride bikes and have fun! 
Bottom Line:

"Racing Bikes" does not pay for itself 

"Buying Carbon Fiber Bikes New" unlikely to pay for self, ever

Steel Frame Commuters can pay for themselves if used. Keyword: if used. Bikes sitting in garages do not pay for themselves. 

Another bottom line:
Can you really put a price on happiness? Biking has brought me a lot of joy and introduced me to a lot of diverse and unique people in the Seattle area. That's a pretty invaluable thing that it's not really "fair" to try to compare to sitting in traffic and doing nothing :P

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