Are You Thinking of Biking to Work? We Break Down the Costs and Savings

Can biking to work save you money?
Tiffany Connors lives just a few miles from the Penny Hoarder office in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., and bikes to work almost every day. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

I love my commute.

I consider myself among those lucky enough to celebrate Bike to Work Day (May 18) by doing what I do almost every day: pedaling to the office.

My job at The Penny Hoarder is close enough to home — 3.2 miles, according to Google Maps, and I live in the relatively bike-friendly city of St. Petersburg, Florida, — that I can make it on my cruiser without breaking too much of a sweat. (Check out your community’s bike-friendly rating from The League of American Bicyclists.)  

But before you turn too green with envy, (get it? going green? I’ll stop) there’s a dark secret you should know about biking to work.

It ain’t as cheap as you might think.

Don’t get me wrong: It is so much less expensive than filling up a car with a tank of gas, shelling out for a new alternator and paying to park in a downtown garage. I know because I used to do all that.

But for those considering cycling into a bike commute, you should be aware of some perhaps unexpected costs that come with wheeling it to work.

Bicycle Budget Breakdown

Biking to work is a lot less expensive than paying for gas and parking, but there are some upfront costs and unexpected expenses. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Here’s a breakdown of my initial investment in my bike commute. I included my costs, but your mileage (and expenses) may vary.

  • Bike. I got my seven-speed cruiser on sale, but buying used would have been a cheaper alternative. Total: $160.
  • Repairs. I add air to my tires and lube the chain, but my inner mechanic ends there, so I take it to the local bike shop for anything beyond that. I also carry a mini repair kit, giving me peace of mind that I can at least make it to the nearest coffee shop. Total: $30.
  • Lock. I got a simple U-lock that I’m happy with, but depending on how worried you are about your bike getting stolen, you can shell out more than $100 for a combination of cables, chains and more. Total: $25.
  • Helmet. After trying on a few in the store, I went with the cheaper version because it felt just as safe and resulted in the same helmet hair as the pricy version. Total: $30.
  • Lights, mirrors, turn signals. Besides helping keep me safe, lights and a mirror are my way of telling drivers that I’m a courteous commuter, so I expect the same from them. (It doesn’t always work.) I’m eyeing a replacement rear light/turn-signal combo, but I use hand signals for now. Total: $35.
  • Bags. A rear-attaching waterproof bag holds my bike essentials, while a backpack carries my laptop and a change of clothes. After an unfortunate discovery that leftover lasagna does not travel well in a backpack, I now pack a separate lunch bag that I attach to the front of the bike with a carabiner clip. Total: $60.
  • Weather gear. I’m in Florida, so a rain poncho, reflective clothing/gear, extra sunscreen and a good pair of sunglasses are essential. Total: $140.
  • Laundry. I pretty much doubled my weekly laundry load because even on pleasant days, I work up a sweat. At $5 a load, that’s an extra $20 per month.
  • Toiletry kit and extra change of clothes. Helmet hair is real. So is the possibility you’ll get splashed by a dump truck. Total: $10.
  • Extra cash. In every bike commuter’s life will come the day when you simply must take a bus, drive or call an Uber, and it’s usually unexpected, so I keep a stash of emergency cash. Total: $20.

Grand total: $530.

Lights, mirrors and reflectors can drive up the price but they help keep bicyclists safe. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Compared to the cost of driving — AAA estimates that owning and operating a new vehicle costs an average of $706 per month — I’m saving in the long and short runs by biking. Plus, I figure I get additional psychological savings by exercising in the sunshine during my regular commute time, which gives me that multitasking glow.

Happy biking!

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her worst day riding is still better than her best day driving.