The Cost of Cycling – part 1

Over on the Bicycle Dutch blog he has recently highlighted various benefits to society that cycling has. It is always refreshing to read about and watch the Dutch perspective on cycling. Upon reading this post and watching the accompanying video I thought it was time I air (again) some of my own thoughts on this topic about The Cost of Cycling. I’ll refer to his post as “BD’s” from here-on-in.

Topics in this post:

  • Where I live
  • Shopping locally
  • The time cost/saving
  • Public transport

Where I live

BD reports that while in Holland “a quarter of all trips – nationwide – are made by bicycle … the Dutch Government [is keen to get] to get another 200,000 commuters out of their cars and onto their bicycles.” If only there were such aims here in the UK. By comparison about 5% of adults here in Wales cycles at least once per week and somewhat depressingly, over 70% of adults never cycle.

Check out this chart I made illustrating transport usage in the UK based on figures from cyclinguk.org/statistics:

Transport usage in the UK

I live on the Isle of Anglesey in the UK and here relatively few people use a bicycle as their primary means of transport, aside from myself, (since ditching my car entirely over two years ago), I know for certain of only one other, although I am sure there are more – certainly in towns/villages where shops are nearby. For me, my nearest village shops are 1-3 miles away, and the nearest supermarket (where prices are generally cheaper and the range of goods on offer greater) is 5+ miles away where my nearest small town is. The nearest city to me is a 45 mile round trip away. There are also numerous hills to contend with; Anglesey is not flat like Holland.

With some cycle lanes added here and there in the UK, and such things, and bike to work schemes, I blame partly the lack of continuity of cycle lanes (government) and a lack of individual “drive” from people stuck in their cars/ways – it seems the Dutch government likely has its work cut out in this regard also to persuade those remaining stubborn people who shy away from the prospect of cycling, our portion of stubborn people stuck in the ways dictated to them is just far greater.

Riding a bike, just like driving a car, can be a habit and routine, I always recall how it felt to me when I found that I had switched from one to the other; I do miss driving a car, but I just can no longer justify owning a car.

Shopping locally

In BD’s he states that in Holland “Cyclists spend more in local shops! Although cyclists spend less per visit, they spend more overall because they shop more often than people driving.” I think there is more to explain here. Someone who cycles for groceries will spend more in local shops because it is harder to justify travelling further, a cyclist can’t carry as much as one can fit into the boot of a car, they will therefore spend less per visit, but will perhaps spend more overall because local smaller shops are more expensive, and a cyclist needs to eat more than a motorist, they are likely to be more health conscious and therefore spend their money on more expensive healthier foods. These are just some considerations but by no means facts. Personally, while the act of shopping locally seems like a noble one, I generally prioritise cost, but will certainly take into account how far I might have to travel to make a saving.

The time cost/saving

Cycling, unlike travelling by car, involves actually putting some effort into getting somewhere, unlike in a car where you can pretty much sit back and relax and let your vehicle do most of the work. Anything over 5 miles away is going to be an hour’s ride away or more by the time you’re back home, whereas by car it would take half that (using a trip to my nearest supermarket as an example). Scale trips up to ones off Anglesey, such as to my nearest city, and I’m talking about a day out. However, when you start to scale trips down it turns out that the bike can become king; this point is clear when I’m overtaking cars as travel down hill while navigating speed bumps into one particular village, or arrive in the same time it takes the bus.

There is time to be found or saved though:

  • Fitness and leisure are combined with day-to-day travelling.
  • Similar to car journeys you can combine trips and plan trips as efficiently as possible (when it’s your own effort it may make you more keen to do this).
  • With lower travelling expenses and vehicle costs you actually need to work/earn less, therefore you can find more time for travelling.

Public transport

Buses, incidentally, are an alternative, and an option for those who don’t drive and need to get further than a bike could get them, but due to the number of stops they need to take and the convoluted routes they often take in order to incorporate those stops, they might not get you anywhere particularly quickly. You can also take into account the time spent standing at a bus stop and the tales of the unreliability of the services as I have heard. I’m not a fan of public transport; I’d much prefer to be propelling myself somewhere, even if it ends up taking me longer, than waiting at a bus stop, or sitting on my backside doing nothing once I get on board (I can’t read on buses due to travel sickness).

All this on a day when it is being reported that “rail fares increase by over 3%”: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46731749

Click here for Part 2 of this topic.

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2 comments

    • Peter Hitchens’ story was a fascinating and entertaining read. His outline of cycling experience, up to the incident itself, certainly echoes how I see it. I love how the incident turned out though; I can imagine the number of cyclists passing the bus gradually increasing until the driver (and equally wrong passengers) are forced to accept reality! Finding myself in a similar situation I might be tempted to notify the bus company, but generally when road users make a mistake I hope the incident itself educates them and changes their ways.

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