Thursday, August 2, 2012

Making Cents of Commuting

Without a doubt, Americans could stand to lose a few pounds.  I’m sure you also wouldn’t mind saving some cash right?  No, it’s not too good to be true.  I have a way for you to lose weight and save money at the same time.  And it doesn’t involve taking pills—or at least it isn’t supposed to.  It involves pedaling, which, if you are reading this blog, you probably are already into. 

I’m talking about commuting to work.  I’m not talking about ditching your car, or adopting some crazy pedal-centric lifestyle.  I’m just talking about riding a bike to work instead of driving.  I’m about to break it down.  Commuting by bike is healthier, cheaper, more efficient, and many times, faster. 

Let’s take a second to set the scene.  For the sake of the calculations I’m about to lay out for you, we need to establish a couple things.  A gallon of gas contains about 31,000 calories.  For the sake of easy calculations, we will assume that the car that you drive gets 31 MPG—which seems like a fair average, considering some cars get much less.  We are also going to assume a moderate length commute.  10 miles sounds about right.  My commute to Cadence everyday is exactly 10 miles, a mix of both city and freeway driving, and the bike route I take is exactly the same length—making it a perfect example for comparison.

I realize that there are a whole lot of variables at work here, so bear with me.  In order to illustrate my point I’m going to make a bit of generalizing and assuming—not something I’m usually a fan of, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. 

Your Wallet

We are going to compare riding to driving in a couple different categories, the first being cost. Obviously both bikes and cars come in many different shapes and sizes, so let’s set up a hypothetical situation and flush out the details.  I’m will set this up like your standard middle school story problem, because I know how much everybody loves them. 

Gertrude, our driving guinea pig, buys a car to drive to her new job.  She spends a modest $18,000 on a nice compact that magically gets 31 MPG wherever she goes, and she also managed to get a dealership to finance the cost at 0% interest over 5 years (this is a bike blog, not a math blog.  I’m making this easy on myself).  So that makes her car payment exactly $300 a month.  The car has a 15 gallon gas tank, so at current gas prices of about $3.25 (where does she find these amazing deals?!?) it costs $48.75 to fill her tank.  With a 15 gallon tank, she would have to fill her tank only once a month.  Not too shabby.  

Conservative estimates for both insurance ($40/month) and general maintenance and depreciation ($110/month), brings us to roughly $500 a month total cost for our dear Gertrude to get to work. 

Myrtle, Gertrude’s twin sister, has also gotten a new job, which is the exact same distance from home as Gertrude’s.  She, however, has decided to buy a really kick-ass commuter bike to ride to work.  She also found a magical bike shop that finances bikes for 5 years at no interest (even Cadence is not that good).  She decided to really go all out and buy her dream bike for $2400.  That some serious commuter wheels.  With a whopping fuel cost of $0 and insurance also breaking the bank at $0, she pays $40 a month over 5 years.  If she maintains her bike properly, that breaks down to a cost of about $30 a month.  So $70 a month is the total cost to ride her bike.  

So that’s a $430 difference a month.  I don’t know about you, but I could really use an extra $430 a month.  And if you were wondering, that’s over $5,000 a year. 

Sidenote:  The numbers I used above are very conservative.  Many cars can cost much more than 18k, get less than 31 MPG and require more maintenance than I estimated.  You also definitely don’t need to spend $2400 for a bike on which you are commuting.  I used those numbers to show that even when the numbers are tilted greatly to one side, the cost is not even close. 

Your Gut

Commuting isn’t just good for your wallet.  It also does wonders for your figure.  For my ten mile commute I burn between 250-400 calories—depending on how hard of an effort I make—each way.  The days I commute by bike, I thoroughly enjoy my extra 800 calories of wiggle room. 

For comparison’s sake, a gallon of gas contains roughly 31,000 calories of energy.  So if your car gets 31 MPG, that’s 1,000 calories per mile.  Meaning over a ten mile commute, a car burns about 10,000 calories while a bicycle only uses 400.  That is one efficient machine. 

If you body was as inefficient as a car—or you had to tow 3,000 spare pounds of metal behind your bike—you would have to jam a couple Big Macs down your throat to give yourself enough calories to make it to work.  20 Big Macs to be exact. 

Your Life

I think it is safe to say that commuting by bike can change who you are as a person.  Don’t underestimate what getting out on your bike for an hour or two everyday will do for your mind—even if it is just to get to and from work.  Many times, as in the case of my commute, because of traffic, riding is faster—only by 5 minutes or so, but still.  More than that though, I don’t have to make extra time for another workout.  My commute is my workout.  In that sense, commuting saves me hours a week.  Hours I can spend hanging out, or cooking for my wonderful wife—just living life.  

Driving gives me road rage, while riding gives me a sense of euphoria and freedom.  Face it: it’s just fun to ride your bike.  I love the fact that I get to do that regularly before and after work.  It gives me a chance to wind down from the stresses of the day. 

I realize that commuting isn’t always practical or convenient, but if you are looking for an excuse to start, there is no better one than what I just laid out.  I know people who commute 25-30 miles each way every day.  It’s not for everyone, but it has the power to change a lot about your life.  Save money and lose weight at the same time—I have seen many infomercials, but I guarantee none of them can really deliver on that promise.  Commuting can. 

So what do you have to lose?  I’d say quite a few pounds and a few thousand dollars in yearly expenses.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

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