Bike Commuter Journal – Cost of Bike vs Car Commuting

Friday, February 13 by JerryFoster

Laura Torchio Rainy Day Bike CommuterSo, how much money do you save by bike commuting? Probably a lot, but let’s run the numbers.

First, the car expense – according to the AAA’s Your Driving Costs 2014 report, operating a small sedan costs $7930/year, while a SUV runs $12,446/year, including gas, maintenance, depreciation, insurance, loan interest, etc.

What about biking expenses? Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics, refers us to transportation economist Todd Littman’s 2011 research, which gives a range of $100-$300 per year for operating costs, which is comparable to AAA’s numbers, since it includes depreciated cost of the bike, etc.

Startup cost varies a lot, like the variation in the cost for driving a small sedan and a SUV. Here’s hypothetical cases for a high quality and an economical setup, based on online prices from the same national outdoor recreation equipment company:

High Quality – $2153

  1. New commuter bike, including fenders, rack, front/rear lights – $1400
  2. Commuter Helmet, including attachment for front/rear lights – $65
  3. Front/rear helmet lights – $100
  4. U-lock plus cable – $100
  5. Multitool ($50), spare tube ($10) , flat repair kit ($3), frame pump ($45), lube ($10) – $118
  6. Rainwear – jacket ($100), pants ($75), gloves ($45), helmet cover ($30) – $250
  7. Pannier, handlebar bag or backpack – $120

Economical – $543

  1. New hybrid bike – $400
  2. Rack ($25), front/rear lights (to be seen, not to light the road, $20) – $45
  3. Helmet – $25
  4. U-lock – $20
  5. Multitool ($10), flat repair kit ($3), frame pump ($10), lube ($5) – $28
  6. Rain poncho w hood – $5
  7. Backpack – $20

Typical bike maintenance is easy enough to learn that many people do it themselves – fixing a flat tire, lubing a chain, adjusting brakes – a web search shows numerous how-to videos that are very instructive. Blogger James Schwartz assumed $50 per year for maintaining a $1500 commuter bike.

Clearly, bike commuting saves a lot of money if you can actually reduce the number of cars you own, since you can buy multiple high quality new bikes and gear every year for much less than the operating costs of even a small sedan. But it is very difficult in the suburbs to go car free, so what if you only have one car? Then the savings will only be based on reduced miles driven, which saves on gas, maintenance, tires and depreciation.

According to the AAA report, the operating costs (gas, maintenance, tires) for a small sedan is 16.3 cents/mile, and 23.8 cents/mile for a SUV. If your commute is 2 miles each way, like mine, then 4 miles roundtrip x  240 working days/year equals 960 miles biked each year.

The 960 mile reduction in driving would save $156.48 (operating costs) plus $33.60 (reduced depreciation), totaling $190.08 for a small sedan, and $228.48 (operating costs) plus $48.96 for (reduced depreciation), totaling $277.44 for an SUV. This is in the range for paying for the annual bike costs, but hardly a killer incentive by itself. It will help if your employer offers you the IRS Bicycle Commuter Tax Benefit – you can be reimbursed up to $240 each year for bike commuting expenses.

Of course you might choose to use the commuter bike for other errands, such as small grocery runs, to the bank, post office, etc. Since only 15% of our trips are for commuting, that leaves a lot of other trips that could be done by bike – e.g. 40% of all trips are 2 miles or less, and if you take the bike/walk trips out of the denominator, 69% of car trips are 2 miles or less.

Of course, you’ll save more in indirect costs, for example if you substitute biking for a gym membership, that could save about $1000/year. And the potential for saving money on health care is huge, since you may be much healthier with regular activity.

Perhaps most important, it’s fun! Of course, you’ll also be saving the world by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, since car exhaust is the single largest contributor in our area to CO2 emissions.

Last, longtime WWBPA readers might notice a strong resemblance between the bike commuter pictured above and the bike lane fairy,  who hasn’t made a public appearance recently. Could this be why? Please join us at the New Jersey Bike and Walk Summit next Saturday, February 21 – we’ll keep an eye out, you never know when you might see her next.

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Bike Commuter Journal – the Commuter Bike a Year Later

Tuesday, February 10 by JerryFoster

Commuter Bike After 1 YearMade a few changes to the commuter bike in the year it’s been flogged every day 2 miles to the office and back – for reference, see last year’s post Accessorizing the Commuter Bike. You may notice a little extra reflective tape on the trunk box, for example.

There were two main issues – pain in the shoulder, caused by the straight handlebar, and pain in the neck, caused by dealing with the hydraulic disc brakes (mental pain, not physical).

Swapping the straight handlebar for a mustache bar provided the hand position that prevented shoulder pain (yep, even on a ten minute ride). Tried new grips, which didn’t help, then swapped the grips from my mountain bike to this bike – when that didn’t help it had to be the bar, because those grips are very comfortable on the mountain bike’s straight handlebar.

The next, more obviously self-inflicted issue, was that some idiot overloaded the light duty rack on grocery runs. The rack uses the fender as support, and the rivet-nut holding it to the frame pulled out (not just once, either), so the guys at the shop drilled and through bolted it to the frame – problem solved. (Also, bought a cargo bike so don’t need to overload the commuter bike anymore – an expensive fix, you might say, and my spouse would certainly agree – more in another post.)

The less obviously self-inflicted issue was dealing with the hydraulic disc brakes. One time, some idiot took off the wheel to put on the winter tires and closed the brake lever. You probably know that if you don’t have something for the brake to grab (disc, credit card, cardboard, etc.) it will not open back up, and the wheel will not go back on. Anyway, back to the shop to have the brake lines bled, and not for the 1st time.

The first time back to the shop was after a few months of winter riding and the lever went all the way to the handle without stopping much. Another time was to get the brakes to stop screeching, and to put some silicone around the fender rivets so they stopped rattling. The last straw was when some road gook got into the front brake on a ride to Hopewell, and I fought and listened to the tick from the brake all the way back to West Windsor, because there’s no way to loosen the calipers on hydraulic brakes in the field. I’d had enough – they were simply not idiot-proof enough for this idiot. The new mechanical disc brakes not only have ways to loosen them, they have dials for making adjustments and a fancy way to automatically align the calipers.  It sure sounds good.

On the sound advice from the good folks at the shop, let’s talk about bike maintenance and keeping your bike clean. If (like a certain someone) you just ride it and occasionally lube the chain (sometimes after wiping the main gook off), you will have a much harder time pedaling by the end of the year – maybe because the derailleur pulleys rust into place. Really, it’s a wonder I could pedal at all.  You might think this would encourage better bike cleaning, but instead it has me thinking about belt drives – anyone have experience to share?

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Bike Commuter Journal – Lessons Learned After 1 Year

Wednesday, January 28 by JerryFoster

After a year of bike commuting from Princeton Junction to Carnegie Center in West Windsor, I’ve learned a very important lesson – timing is everything. This morning, my timing was perfect – in two miles I was only passed by 3 cars! See the video and skip to the times in parentheses referring to each lesson.

Lesson 1 (0:00) – Start after 9am (or before 8am) to avoid serious rush hour craziness. I pedaled through the neighborhood using the sidewalk shortcut that brings you to the back driveway of RiteAid on Rt 571.

Lesson 2 (0:20) – Congestion is a bike commuter’s friend. Wait at the driveway until the cars queue up, stopped for the light at Cranbury/Wallace, then proceed through the line to the left turn lane toward the station.

Lesson 3 (1:30) – Time the train schedule, and arrive at the station when people aren’t rushing to catch the train, or have just disembarked and are rushing toward the offices along Alexander and Rt 1. This morning the station was quiet, only met one pedestrian going the other way in the tunnel.

Lesson 4 (5:00) – Follow the traffic platoon. Turning right from the station (Vaughn Drive) and riding on Alexander Road is the most stressful part of the commute, since there is not enough congestion to slow traffic – it’s a 5 lane race course. I ride in the middle of the right lane, so cars pass in the left, which is very safe and as low stress as possible, given the conditions, but still not low stress. If you wait until the burst of traffic heads west on Alexander and then follow it, you’re rewarded with as much no-traffic time as possible – this morning only 3 cars passed by on this stretch.

Lesson 5 (6:00) – Watch the gap in your mirror. When you see the next traffic platoon approaching, evaluate your options for moving to the middle turn lane to make a left into any of 3 places – 2 office driveways or Roszel Road.

Lesson 6 (6:30) – The secret sidepath. On this wet and snowy morning, I went for the first office driveway and used the connecting multi-use path to the 2nd driveway and around back through the parking lot to make the left onto Roszel.

And that’s it! Somehow nobody passed me on Roszel (8:20), which is 4 lanes but very lightly traveled even between 8-9am – again I ride in the middle of the right lane.

Please contact us at wwbikeped@gmail.com to share your low stress bike commuting tips.

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Bike Commuter Journal – It’s Not About Exercise

Monday, June 23 by JerryFoster

Super Hero Cyclist

Please welcome back guest contributor Don Pillsbury.

Don’t I need to be a “Jock” to ride my bike to work?

When co-workers see me riding my bike to work, they often assume I’ve always been some sort of athletic super hero. And while riding does occasionally simulate the sensation of “flying,” I’m no Superman. I’ve never participated in any organized sport (well, except for the office volleyball league) and I don’t follow any professional teams. People familiar with my younger years are always surprised to hear about my cycling adventures.

As I meet other bike commuters, that pattern seems oddly common. A co-worker, who commutes 12 miles throughout the year, in all sorts of weather, said she hated gym class in school – she was always the last one selected for any activity. This same person became indignant when asked about her commute being exercise. To her, it was about saving money. A friend, who also commutes 12 miles year round, doesn’t mention his cycling during a routine annual exam with his physician and is then shocked when the doctor suggests the need for exercise – despite his trim physique.

For the bike commuters I meet, cycling isn’t exercise it’s just a means of getting to their destination.

One other trait I’ve noticed: the complete lack of remorse about eating whatever they want.

What is your background? If you commute with your bike, some or a lot, please let me know whether you consider yourself athletic or not. I can be reached at: drPillsbury@comcast.net.

Thanks Don! If you’d like to write a guest post, pls email wwbikeped@gmail.com.

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Bike Commuter Journal – All in the Mind(set)

Friday, May 23 by JerryFoster

Please welcome Jim Angelus as our guest commuter this week – if you’d like to share your commuter experiences, contact wwbikeped@gmail.com.

Everyone has an experience that births the compulsion to begin and end the work day on a bicycle.

Until ’98, my commute was limited to the overcrowded and undersanitized Lexington Avenue line in lower Manhattan. I was born in the city and lived there for 35 years commuting to ad agencies, where I was a creative director. Living in Hopewell 20 years later, a stark contrast – I rise at 6, am out the door at 7.

It wasn’t until taking *mandatory* retirement from my marketing job at Merck that cycling took over. It was 2001. I was out of a job with newly born twin boys; retirement at 45 not an option.

Time to redirect, refocus, narrow down, be practical, and use time wisely. I had been cycling the Sourlands, up through Frenchtown, Holland, and Lebanon townships trying to plan next steps.

Fortunately, logic and sound thinking didn’t reign – however, a self-absorbed plan to cycle cross-country with a close friend in ’02 did. This 3,215 mile/25 day ride from Point Reyes, CA to Keyport, NJ was the perfect gestation cycle that gave birth to the “third wheel” in my marriage.

A decade later in ’12, my German friend joined me once again, as we cycled from Seattle, WA to South Seaside Park, NJ – 3,300 miles/37 days later.

Today, I ride to work in South Brunswick, on Rte 518 into Rocky Hill, up the hill by the quarry to Rte 27. My ride home varies as does my mood. Sometimes a detour up Lindbergh Rd, other times Aunt Mollie Rd serves me well. Decisions! Decisions! My single speed wheels are picky and I must keep them happy.

Whit is planning a Lewis and Clark Trail excursion in ’15. Three’s a charm – I may just ride home…

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – Decades of Dedicated Energy

Tuesday, May 20 by JerryFoster

Ted Borer bike commutes for 30 yearsOur guest commuter this week is Ted Borer – if you’d like to share your commuter experiences, contact wwbikeped@gmail.com.

2014 marks my 30th year of commuting by bike. At this point bicycle commuting isn’t just a passing phase, it’s part of what defines who I am.

For the first year out of college I didn’t own a car. Living in West Philly, cycling was faster and cheaper than any other way I could get to my job in Center City.  Back then I’d wear my shirt and dress pants and carry my suit jacket and tie in a backpack. I could park outside the building entrance, while most of my co-workers had to walk several blocks from lots where they’d paid to park.  I kept a massive chain and lock locked around the bike rack directly outside our office building so I didn’t need to carry it back and forth, and the building security officers could see the bike.  I only had a few miles to ride, so washing up in a men’s room was all I needed. Without spending my income on car payments, insurance, maintenance, parking, or gas, I was able to save enough for a down payment on a house much sooner than my peers.

When I got a work assignment in Phoenixville, I moved to Devon and regularly bicycled through Valley Forge park to get to work. That was 12 miles and fairly hilly. So I didn’t do it every day. After my wife and I moved to Media, PA, I was able to find a bike trail that took me to the plant where I worked in Eddystone for a few years.

I was mostly a warm weather commuter until I got a job in Princeton and we moved to Pennington. After commuting by bicycle for a decade, I realized that it was a pretty high priority in my life. So I drew a nine mile radius around my new office and told the realtor we’d only consider looking at houses within that circle — and she needn’t bother showing us anything that involved crossing Route One.

Year by year I’ve sorted out what it took to ride comfortably in any weather. I ride 12 months a year but avoid the road when there’s a risk of ice or snow cover. My lifetime bike odometer should pass 85,000 miles this year. I expect to pass 100,000 miles before I retire. Not all of those miles were commuting. I’ve done fifty or sixty century rides, earned a Super-Randonneur award along the way. I’ve done some other ultra-distance riding, some very fast “training” rides with triathletes and solo,  and dozens of bicycle camping trips with my children.

We live in a pretty neighborhood with more property and a larger house than we could afford in Princeton. I enjoy a few miles of rural riding past cows and sheep, then a few miles of county routes that have steady, 45 mph traffic but great wide shoulders, then a few miles of urban traffic in downtown Princeton. It’s a wonderful mix. My 7 ½  mile ride takes 35 minutes at a natural pace. I carry books, phone, and clothes in panniers and shower when I arrive.  The fastest I’ve ever done the ride was 25 minutes home-bound — just after my wife told me she’d started labor with our second child! He’s now deciding on which college to attend.

As our kids grow up, my wife and I are beginning to do more and more riding together and anticipate seeing foreign countries by bike in retirement. But we have four college educations to pay for, so I expect to be bicycle commuting to work for at least another decade!

Ride well,
Ted Borer

 

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – Where to Ride

Friday, May 2 by JerryFoster

Alexander Road Bike CommutersLet’s say you’re tired of winter, especially this winter, and you can’t wait to get back into shape for the beach (or whatever). Maybe you want to ride your bike to work to start working off the winter weight, but there’s a dicey road section, perhaps a 5 lane arterial, between your house and work. What are some of the strategies to ride safely?

Strategy 1 – avoidance – do some exploring and you might find a quieter road section, a trail, or a series of linked driveways and/or parking lots. Be aware that driveways and parking lots require 360 degree vigilance, but are generally low speed so you have decent reaction time. Like sidewalks, trails require vigilance at intersections.

Strategy 2 – the sidewalk – it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk in New Jersey, unless the municipality has an ordinance restricting riding on a specific section, typically in downtown areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic.  The sidewalk can be more comfortable if pedestrian traffic is minimal, but care must be taken at driveways and intersections since motorists do not usually look for bikes on sidewalks.

Strategy 3 – the road – New Jersey law grants cyclists the same rights and responsibilities as the driver of a motor vehicle.  Experienced cyclists prefer the road for predictability and getting there faster, but care must be taken to actively manage the traffic around you. This means being aware of the road and whether there are safe places for motorists to pass, and positioning yourself so that you are visible to motorists, both those approaching from behind and those at intersections looking for gaps in traffic.

It’s worth quoting the New Jersey Statute verbatim:

“39:4-14.2. Keeping to right; exceptions; single file

Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction; provided, however, that any person may move to the left under any of the following situations:

(a) to make a left turn from a left-turn lane or pocket;

(b) to avoid debris, drains or other hazardous conditions that make it impracticable to ride at the right side of the roadway;

(c) to pass a slower moving vehicle;

(d) to occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic;

(e) to travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded.

Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded, but otherwise shall ride in single file except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.”

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has an excellent website for bike commuters – see the Frequently Asked Questions for good advice regarding riding on the road safely.

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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