Last week I wrote about a couple of different commuting options – including bicycling to work. The potential savings can be quite impressive, but the cost of biking can get quite high as well, especially if you haven’t got any equipment at all. For example, in order to save a lot of money by biking to work, you’ll want to minimize all other transportation costs. That might mean that you’ll take the insurance off your car for a few summer months, or sell your car altogether. If you do so, you can potentially save thousands of dollars as well as get into better shape as you force yourself to commute to work. In order for that to happen though, you’ll still need to acquire a lot of equipment that can cost a lot – and that’s not even including the bike itself.
What’s the best, yet most inexpensive bike for commuting? To be honest, you don’t need a specific bike type for commuting. Some people use road bikes, a lot of people use mountain bikes, some people even ride BMX bikes. As long as it has two pedals, two wheels, and rolls forward, you can get to work on your bike. Now, you might be a lot more comfortable on one bike type rather than another, so you do have a couple of options to consider. If you live a long ways from work, and if you like to go fast, then you’ll want to get a road bike. They’re a little less comfortable to ride, especially if you’re not use to them, but they offer you the best chance of going the fastest, the farthest, and will the least energy spent doing so. They’re designed for riding on the road, and they do it well. Your other major option is to buy a commuting bike. These offer a more upright riding position, which is more comfortable, but doesn’t deal as well with long distance rides or maximizing pedal efficiency. They often come with options like panniers, lights, or baskets pre-installed. If you need to carry a bunch of things with you to work or from the grocery store, this is the better option. If you live a long ways and can store stuff at work, then go with the road bike.
If you’re unsure, and you want to prioritize saving money, then go with the most general purpose bike of all – a mountain bike. A few simple adjustments can make any mountain bike into a great commuter. Put on some skinny slick tires, remove unnecessary attachments, and add some fenders or a bag and you’ve got yourself a commuting bike. Find a good brand used, either from a used bike dealer or off of your local craigslist, and you’ll save hundreds of dollars purchasing your bike. I just bought a mountain bike for 1/3 of its retail cost off of craigslist, used lightly for two seasons, and after spending ~ $30 on tires, tubes, and a pump, I had a great little commuter that I’ve been riding around.
If you want to buy something new, you’ll be looking at a minimum of $500, and anywhere up to $2000.
Giant Revel 3
What else does your bike need to make it into a legitimate commuter? If you’ll be riding at night, or near dawn or dusk, you’ll need lights. Do not rely on reflectors, they’re simply not good enough. Invest in some quality lights with rechargeable batteries, and you’ll be set for commuting. Everything else can be optional. If you need to carry things back and forth to work, see if you bike can handle mounts for some panniers. It takes the weight off of you and puts it onto the bike. Make sure the bags are waterproof, and try to store them somewhere dry when not in use. If that’s not an option, get a backpack that’s comfortable to wear, waterproof, and designed to be used while on a bike. There’s a bunch of options at your local sporting goods store, ask them for their suggestions. You don’t want to skimp here, especially, as being uncomfortable while riding a bike is a horrible experience, and may prevent you from commuting on a bike entirely.
Some people will try to argue that you’ll need to take extra tubes, a bike pump, tool kit, etc, when you’re commuting. It depends on your situation, but if you live close enough to your work that you can get your significant other to come get you just in case you got a flat, or if you have a co-worker you can call to come grab you, then I wouldn’t bother with all the extra weight for such a slim chance of something happening.
You’ll want to invest a little bit in some commuting clothing. If you stick to only biking on days when the weather is nice, and if you take your time while riding to work, you can definitely just ride there in your business clothes. Lots of people swear by it, and I have a couple of co-workers who happen to do just that. If you’re like me, however, and have a really hard time just “taking it slow” when you’re on a bike, you might want to get some clothes to commute in, and then bring or store some other clothes to change into once you’re at work. At the very least, you’ll want some cycling shorts to wear under whatever else you’re wearing. The more you’re biking, the more you’ll want to be wearing some of these.
The gnarlier the weather you ride through, the more expensive your clothing options are going to be. A good lightweight, weatherproof but breathable jacket is going to start at about $150 and up, and pants will most likely be the same. Then there’s the option of getting lightweight or heavyweight layers, gloves, headwear, the list goes on.
If you add it all up, or if you decide you need to purchase it all at once, you’ll find that cycling can definitely be an expensive way to get to work. If you compare it to going by vehicle, it definitely is a lot cheaper, however. How much you’ll save will depend on how committed you are to switching from driving to cycling. Savings can be had, but it will take a fair bit of an investment first, as well as the willingness to park your car for awhile.
All is not lost, however. Even if you decide to just bike to work some of the time, in the end, you will be saving money, as well as getting into better shape. After you spend the initial investment, the only “upkeep” costs you’ll have for biking to work is annual bike maintenance ($70-150) and perhaps replacing a few small parts (tubes, tires) on an irregular basis.