bike

Commuting by bike vs. public transport

tl;dr – I swapped the train with a bike for my daily commute in Sydney. My health is improving and am (about to start) saving money.

To jump to the data, click here.

Why?

June 2016: I’m a fat guy with very high cholesterol. I need to try to be more active, or I’ll be young(ish) dead dad. Both my wife and a good mate (who’s into cycling) start encouraging me to jump on the bike and start riding for part of my commute…

I start riding my mountain bike to the nearest station. 3km. It kills me. But I stick with it. A month later I start riding one station further. 5km. As the months go on I increase the distance. A few months later I’m commuting 11km each way. I decide to take the plunge and try riding the full 23km and cut out the train all together.

How?

I’ve been doing the full 23km (46km / day) commute for around 9 months now, and I’ve never felt better. Initially it took me 90 min or so. Now that’s down to 55 min on a good day, which is roughly the duration of my commute via public transport.

Of course the mountain bike wasn’t ideal, so I replaced it back in October ’16 with a Reid Vantage Endurance 2.0, with upgraded wheels, tyres and other bits and pieces.

Benefits

Since I’ve started commuting on my bike, I’ve lost nearly 20kg. My cholesterol is lower. I’ve actually found a physical activity which I don’t hate. Plus, don’t have to stand in the awful halitosis cloud on the train every morning / evening. Almost two hours of exercise a day, for free.

All this got me to thinking about the costs. Cycling regularly isn’t just a buy-once scenario. You can do some of the servicing yourself (I only do the basic stuff), but on top of that you’ve got clothes, winter / wet-weather gear, tyres, wheels (I busted one after 4,000km) etc. To see the data, scroll down.

Tips

  • The idea of riding 23km is pretty daunting / scary to a newb, especially when there are roads involved. A year ago I would have told you that you’re an idiot for suggesting I ride that far. To tackle the whole road / danger thing, I used Strava heat maps to see where other cyclists to determine where the most popular routes are to avoid as much traffic as possible.
  • Go for a rack + pannier bag, rather than a backpack. Backpacks are uncomfortable and make for mega-sweaty-back.
  • I go for layers in winter. Jackets are cumbersome to deal with (for me) and a pain to ditch when you get warm (or sweaty when it rains).

The data

This spreadsheet outlines the cost of public transport (including petrol to the station) vs. cost of owning / maintaining the bike; plus, the weight I’ve lost (this is live data that syncs from my scales at home). To make it easy, it starts on the day I bought the road bike (not long after I started commuting the full distance to work).

The “estimated days commuting” is essentially a total of all weekdays between the ‘start day’ and the present. It’s more than the actual number of days I’ve commuted (due to bike being repaired, leave etc.), but it gives you a good sense of how it evens out if you’ve commuting every day.

This doesn’t include the cost of gear that I’ve been gifted (e.g. Cycliq Fly12, helmet etc.), or stuff I owned before I started commuting (random lights etc.).

This is ‘live’ data, so the figures will update each day, as I buy more gear, and as I lose (or gain) weight

Summary

Whilst it’s likely going to be another few months before the costs even out, commuting by bike has been far more enjoyable and economical than public transport. I truly love riding my bike. Above all, it’s been critical to my physical and mental wellbeing. I would recommend this to anyone who has the opportunity to try it out. If this fat idiot can do it, you can too.

2 thoughts on “Commuting by bike vs. public transport

  1. Like you I started cycling to get fitter, and potentially save money. Well I can tell you that I am a lot fitter, however the cycling bug gets you and I’ve not saved money! For my Sydney commute I save about $5 each way, and its also about 25km, so thats a saying of $10 a day for 50km or 20c per km ridden.

    So what I now do is take 20c per KM as “break even” and use that to subtract from the total cost of cycling, which leaves $x which is the cost of the fun of riding nicer bikes, bigger rides etc.

    You are, if you carry on, undoubtably going to live longer. Studies in the US suggest at least 1 day longer per day you don’t commute by car / public transport. So you could reverse the cost benefit thinking… if, on your death bed, someone offered you an extra 2 to 5 years for only a few $1000 would you take it? Hell yes, so actually cycling is cheap, super cheap.

    Ride on!

  2. Chiming in with another success story (but a different path) I started riding primarily to save money – the fitness/weight aspect was secondary. I spent £90 on a bike in London and about the same again on a jacket, helmet, trip computer and lights. My journey was 6km and that took me 20 minutes which was about 20 minutes quicker than the bus. The furthest I’ve ever commuted is 17km each way.

    My monthly public transport costs were about £90 so it took me two months to break even. I also dropped 10kg over those two months from 90kg down to 80kg. I’m pretty sure I’ve never dropped below the break even point since then.

    I started by pootling around the backstreets until I got the confidence to ride on the main roads, but these days I have “superhighways” that cover the majority of my journeys (I moved to East London because of the cycleways). I also joined a cycling club and would often do between 50km and 100km on a Sunday, although I don’t do that any more.

    Many things are different now, 9 years later. I have a £700 bike and a £200 camera along with clip-in shoes and pedals, I’ve spent about £90 per year on servicing and parts. I cycle about 3,500km per year and I save about £1,400 per year on public transport. I’ve had several different jobs and lived in several different flats but I’m still cycling to work and I’m holding steady at about 75kg.

    I agree with all of that advice by the way. Panniers, layers, work up to the full distance.

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