Are You Thinking of Commuting by Bike? We Break Down the Costs and Savings

I love my commute.

I consider myself among those lucky enough to celebrate Bike to Work Day (Friday, May 17) 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, so I can make it on my cruiser without breaking too much of a sweat.

And it turns out I’m not alone — 872,000 Americans report that they bike to work, according to the most recent American Community Survey.

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 isn’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.

Costs of Commuting by Bike

Biking to work is a lot less expensive than paying for gas and parking, but there are some upfront costs and unexpected expenses you should consider. 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.
    Cost: $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 if necessary.
    Cost: $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.
    Cost: $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.
    Cost: $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.
    Cost: $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 incident in which I discovered 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.
    Cost: $60.
  • Weather gear: I’m in Florida, so a rain poncho, reflective clothing/gear, extra sunscreen and a good pair of sunglasses are essential.
    Cost: $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.
    Cost: $20
  • Toiletry kit and extra change of clothes: Helmet hair is real. So is the possibility you’ll get splashed by a dump truck.
    Cost: $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 or Lyft; it’s usually unexpected, so I keep a stash of emergency cash.
    Cost: $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 $737 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.