The Cost of Cycling – part 2

Over on the Bicycle Dutch blog he has recently highlighted various benefits to society that cycling has. This is my second part to my response to that. Click here to read Part 1.

Topics in this post:

  • The excuses and global warming
  • The financial costs
  • Food and CO2
  • Overall health

The excuses and global warming

Obviously not everyone is fit and able to use a bike, but it seems to me that riding a bike for a short journey at least just isn’t a consideration most people have thought to make; they’ll just instead continue to use their cars as they always has and let the regular news droning on about global warming fall on their deaf ears. Some people use various excuses, such as

  • “that they are too unfit to ride a bike”, but generally the opposite would be true: riding a bike will get you fit.
  • “the roads are too dangerous due to all the cars/dangerous motorists”, again the opposite would be true if everyone got out of their car
  • “the weather is too bad”, it doesn’t seem as bad as people think it is and once you’re out in it and wearing suitable clothing it’s generally fine and as BD pointed out, it’s good for the immune system

As written about previously, I have become embittered about a lack of inaction regarding the changing of ways many people have yet to consider or implement – but every time I write about something “green” or people see me riding my bike everywhere, I hope it has some positive effect on attitudes.

Apparently we need to vastly reduce our production of greenhouse gasses in order to at least halt the progress of global warming (let alone reverse it). I have heard reduction figures of 50% being called for, and therefore if we each took this requirement on board it should mean 50% less car journeys, and 50% less energy usage in our homes. This is something we can all aim for. Even for people who don’t believe in man-made global warming, that is no excuse for not leaving this planet in a better condition than when we were born here. Not only is the popular way of living harmful to the environment, perhaps in ways we can’t really notice with our own eyes, but it is also harmful to us individually; obesity epidemic, a rise in Type-2 Diabetes, depression and anxiety, cancers – these should all be things that shout “we need change”.

The financial costs

Those are the costs to us individually and to our planet, but how about considering an individual’s financial travelling costs? I think the monetary saving is what swayed me most about gradually using my car less until the point I couldn’t justify keeping it, and using less electricity at home.

While the figures of 300 and 8500 euros for annual costs of cycling and driving a car respectively on BD’s post don’t match with my own – I would guess at closer to £100 and £1000 for my own personal budget-conscious expenditures – there is certainly a marked cost saving to be had from cycling. The only problematic cost is one of time as mentioned above; cycling to places over 5 miles away will typically take longer, and if you have a busy schedule this could be problematic.

As I began to cycle more and more I started to realise that riding a bike wasn’t without costs however, and this is what a lot of people I speak to about me cycling everywhere fail to realise. As a driver I’d always kept a record of how much money I’d spent on vehicle maintenance and petrol costs and used these figures to encourage me and observe my efforts to drive less (primarily to save myself money, but also to keep myself fit since I noticed when I didn’t ride my bike for a few days I didn’t feel so good).

When it comes to cycling and riding a bike only occasionally for leisure, you have to first take into account the cost of the bike, and then occasional maintenance, such as puncture repairs, new tyres and brakes from time-to time, or a new chain perhaps. There are similar expenses with owning a car, but generally a lot less for a bike, and with a car you have tax, insurance and an annual checkup (MOT) all required by law in the UK. Once I’d cut down on driving so much it ended up being that my main expenses were these – greater than the amount I was spending on petrol – and therefore making an individual trip, when I did make one, very expensive. The necessity of new tyres or if something went wrong with my ageing motor (such as when the clutch went) soon made me realise that keeping a car on the road just wasn’t worth it.

My previous bike lasted me some 15 years, and saw me through (and to trips to and from) high school and college. Eventually that bike became worn out to the point where buying a new one seemed the best way forward and 2012 was when I bought my first touring bike; my previous one being a road bike just wasn’t cut-out for rough roads and regular commutes and planned adventures. Fast forward to 2018 and around 30,000 miles later and I’d managed to wear out my bike’s wheel rims; by far the biggest expense to date (but less expensive than when the clutch failed on my car!)

tyres_receivedTypical annual expenses of riding a bike:

  • tyres
  • brake pads
  • chain + gears + cables

My occasional expenses:

  • a new saddle
  • handlebar tape
  • a new bell
  • various bearings

There is also the cost of clothing:

  • shoes/trainers
  • gloves (summer and winter)
  • waterproof coat
  • overtrousers

These things typically last me 1-2 years, and then everything else you wear out from cycling in them, plus panniers for carrying stuff. A great benefit of using a bike instead of a car is the ease and potential of maintaining the vehicle yourself, not only are parts cheaper, you can carry out work yourself with a minimal set of tools. With a bike being more simple to maintain than a car it’s also possible to keep things in check and notice when things are wearing out.

Food and CO2

And then there is food, or fuel, depending on how you see it. Riding a bike isn’t a free trip. While popping to the shops might have little noticeable effect on appetite and overall food consumption in a day, if you replace all of your journeys by car with ones by bike, then those miles travelled still have to be fuelled, and food isn’t free.

Indeed, there is also a carbon footprint associated with food production, in a similar way that there is a carbon footprint from burning fossil fuels, perhaps also if more cyclists are meat-eaters compared to non-cyclists – of course a cyclist could be vegan (the government call for people to eat less meat due to the greater CO2 emissions) but to me it seems more difficult to fuel myself sufficiently without meat in my diet. Apparently I burned 165,000 calories from cycling alone last year, but I’ve come to learn it’s not just about calories (that equates to £125’s-worth of porridge oats by the way), doing regular physical and strenuous activity will lead to a greater need for vitamins and minerals to help maintain and repair the body.

Overall health

Aside from the benefits to the environment, cycling can become a healthy part of your life, giving you time for fresh air and Vitamin D absorption – this can result in lower levels of stress and reduced chance of depression.

I actually find that cycling can become mentally unhealthy at times if it becomes excessive or obsessive: going out on the bike to avoid other things (flight vs. fight) and then becoming worn out. There can be too much time alone with one’s thoughts, the physical burden leading to fatigue and exhaustion which can lower ones’ mood. Cycling greater distances can lead to aches and pains and require recovery time, and will also require you to eat more. When thoughts become too focussed on cycling and eating then an unhealthy routine can result.

GCN, over on Youtube, recently posted a video on New Year Resolutions highlighting these issues and how one can lose sight of what makes cycling fun by chasing targets, although achieving them can be rewarding [link].

BD points out that public space is improved with cycling and there is reduced traffic noise – everywhere becomes far more peaceful without cars on the roads. Streets without cars are far more pleasant and it’s far easier to find space to park a bike (I know people who make such short journeys by car that the bulk of their journey is spent navigating their driveway and parking). Our habits and routines, when we leave them unchecked, can become so illogical (and addictions), as well as unhealthy for ourselves and the environment at large. BD states “40% less Cancer, 52% less Heart diseases and over 40% less premature death.” I think most people are addicted to their cars.

Children love riding a bike – “Dutch children are the happiest in the world”. Pack them in a car each day on the trip to school and not only are you teaching them this routine, but you’re allowing to miss out all of cyclings benefits. The main reason I started cycling to school was because I wasn’t comfortable using the school bus; throughout my high-school years I cycled every day and this was a great experience for me, I have fond memories of it and am sure it lead me on to today when I cycle every day for work.

As BD says at the end of his piece: “cycling could also improve your quality of life!”



  1. Came here following a link from BD. It is worth to note another difference with the Dutch context I think. The rural bicycling Brian does is different from the day to day bicycling for most Dutch people. Simply because there is not that much rural space in most of this densely populated country. Brian’s bicycling is what Dutch tourists long for when they go on holidays: in Limburg (there are hills there, yeah!), Zeeland and the north. But mostly in other countries (France! Germany! the UK!).

    Here, after a few kilometers there is already another village with 2 or 3 supermarkets. Bike lanes are full: annoying swarms of kids on bicycles going to school. There are intersections and roundabouts all the time. Organising those is a science, see BD.

    Small and good supermarkets are everywhere because of zoning choices made in the 70s. The big surface supermarkets with a huge parking lot as I have seen them while on holiday in France were not permitted. Supermarkets were supposed to be located in new shopping centres in the heart of every newly build neighbourhood. Only in suburbia you can park a car more or less properly and for free near a supermarket (outside the shopping area). Although by bicycle you can drive up to the entrance. Convenient! In the old city centre parking is the option for the car fanatics and the elderly. The most convenient (and cheapest) option there is the bicycle. Sending your kids to the supermarket with a shopping list is even more convenient. They get out of the house to do something useful.

    The major supermarket chains (Albert Heijn, Jumbo) have specialised in just-in-time logistics to offer some 8 to 22 thousand products, as many as they can fit in a given space. In surface supermarkets may seem small or average to foreign visitors, but in choice they are internationally remarkable. A befriended French journalist once did a report about the remarkable story that in the Netherlands both choice and quality of food is among the best, all over the country. Not suprising, considering the geographic location (it’s a hub, in a delta) and colonial history. Prices are the same in all supermarkets, except for touristic hot spots with outrageous real estate prices.

    Since the Great Supermarket War I (2003-2006), started by Albert Heijn, prices were leveled. This affected Dutch people all over the country because many would previously shop in different supermarkets for different products to get a few cents price difference. After all, petrol and parking costs are not prohibitive to do serious comparitive shopping. You could argue that the bicyclist has the supermarkets in a hold: “don’t over price other wise I jump on my bike and drive elsewhere!” The local culture of hunting for bargains also helps.

    Kids nowadays hardly remember the First Great Supermarket War, but when in the Netherlands, just ask middle aged people about it the consequences. Especially the demise of comparitive shopping by bike. Although ALDI and Lidl have some kind of guerilla war going on with a loyal following. Nowadays the bargain hunters also shop online unfortunately (with deliveries by cars, not bicycles).

    Another note. Petrol stations here have become experts in selling snacks to motorists. They are notoriously consuming too many calories because of that. There was a price war amongst gas stations too once (hey it’s the Netherlands we are talking about!) and since then they have specialised in retailing really unhealthy but enjoyable/comforting snacks to people who sit in their car. Also train stations have become good at it. Because of zoning restrictions there are no kiosks in the street selling to bicyclists. Supermarkets cater to the hungry bicyclist. You just casually combine it with doing regular grocery shopping.

    • Thank you for your detailed input!

      Certainly urban and city travelling infrastructure is going to be more involved, but here where I live where there are simple cycle routes to use I find the authorities implement awkward things, and leave others seemingly unfinished – I intend to give examples of these in a future post. In busier areas more attention does need to be made, but in the end over-population will win out, no matter how much science is employed – all will be affected.

      I think here in the UK cycle routes in urban and city areas, where commuting by bike has become more popular to the point of them being as busy as the actual roads (from what I have seen on Youtube), have seen more attention, but often they are a disconnected affair with some of them being next to useless and some posing a danger.

      The act of ‘not using a car’ here in the UK is generally an alien thing; where shops or schools exist just round the corner from a home, people will still drive rather than walk or cycle – parents think they are doing their child a favour by driving them to school. People will do a big weekly shop using their car, even though a daily walk or cycle and a smaller shop would be possible for them. And supermarkets cater to this type of buying/living with their bulk deals. I do like being able to park my bike just outside an entrance though, and being able to dive in and out of a shop (not on my bike I might add!) means I can quickly hunt for those bargains; for people in a car it’s not worth their time finding a parking space.

      I too have noticed what you have observed regarding petrol stations and their wares. Coffee on the go and high energy drinks, along with ready to eat snacks which generally aren’t the healthiest, seem to be a recipe for disaster when coupled with a motor vehicle driving; I would need to be on a bike to burn off all that stuff! But being a full-time cyclist perhaps makes me more health-conscious.

      Thanks again.

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