BikeLife: It Adds Up Fast

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The United States Department of Energy says the per-mile cost of vehicle travel in the US is $.58. Replace car with bike.

The United States Department of Energy says the per-mile cost of vehicle travel in the US is $.58. This seems high, but we often forget the full range of costs when it comes to operating a vehicle. (People with company cars are the ones who know because they see how much they save.) Tires, maintenance, insurance, depreciation, etc. And in many places in the US and abroad, the cost is far higher. Ask your favorite New Yorker about parking.

As many of you know, I love bicycles. I always have. From my first yellow Schwinn to the latest titanium beauty you see here, I’ve always loved these human powered machines. I use my bike for both fitness and transport but feel like I could be using it even more. I also think that many of you can too. I know we all have legit reasons why bikes are not always possible, or in some cases even an option, but I also know that many of us FIND reasons why bikes don’t work regardless of what the truth might be.

I live in a city that is what I could call medium to low on the scale of bike friendly. Our roads are in poor condition, we have several bike paths but they are limited in scale and range, and getting honked at, yelled at, passed dangerously close or even having someone “roll coal,” on you is not outside the bounds of possibility. In fact, with most of these things, you should expect it. But so what?

This city also sits at 7000 feet of elevation and comes with four distinct seasons including a legit winter. (It was 24 degrees here this morning, and this is just the beginning of the season.) I’ve seen minus twenty temperatures here. I’ve seen flash floods, massive hail storms and triple digits on the mercury. But so what? You work around these things and you find a way by simply finding a place to start.

Think one day, one ride.

For example, I need to return library books. I got my email notice saying “Your books are due on “X” day.” I don’t like to keep books past their due date because I know what’s it’s like to have to wait for someone who hasn’t bothered to return their books. It’s painful and I don’t want to inflict similar pain on someone else. So Monday morning I need to return these babies. I will do so on my bike.

From my house I will start on paved roads, transition to improved rail trail, then on to paved rail trail while finally hitting the paved streets of downtown Santa Fe. Like most rides, it’s a mixed bag of surfaces and safety. Some stretches are incredibly safe unless I do something stupid like ride too fast, misjudge a corner or hit a section rutted by recent rain. Bike handling skills are essential for both safety and fun. (Many people who claim they can’t cycle do so because they are not confident bike handlers.) Other parts of this ride are not as safe and will require me to ride both offensively and defensively. I never ride justified that I “have the right to be on the street.” Nobody cares what your rights are.

The ride will be roughly twenty miles total, ten out, ten back. The elevation gain will be a mere five hundred feet. The total ride will take me approximately one and a half hours. I could do this ride quicker but if I stop to chat or see something to shoot it might take a full hour and a half. Making this trip by bike will save me ten dollars. Well, based on the DOE data, it will actually save me more, but I’m rounding down that data to $.50 per mile just to cover my bases and to prove just how fast this money adds up.

So far, in the week or so I’ve had this “new” bike I’ve saved forty dollars by using it in place of the van. I still use the van and will continue to do so but the quick savings surprised me and made me want to use the bike even more. It also made me want to take that saved money and create a micro-investment plan. What can I turn that money into? Think about this, on a hundred mile ride I’m potentially saving fifty dollars. I don’t know about you but that is a damn fine idea. And when you consider the health benefit of riding instead of driving that number, again, is actually even higher.

Cycling isn’t perfect and I know it’s not for everyone, but we have nowhere to go but UP here in the United States. The US and the Netherlands both came to the cycling idea at roughly the same time. One country committed while one did not. Apples to oranges you say? Yes, I get that, but where might we be had we made that same commitment based on the challenges we have here? Where might we be had we not defaulted to allowing oil and gas and the auto lobby to run rampant? Where would we be had we not allowed urban “planners” to build car centric cities? Where would we be had we not become the most obese country in the world?

And finally, think about this. At the very least, if you begin to incorporate cycling into your life, you can always fall back on wearing spandex to the local coffee shop instantly cementing your place in the annals of your town’s reputation. The tighter the better people. The tighter the better.

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  1. The efficacy of using a bike for transportation in this country is situational, dependent on where you live in proximity to work, stores, etc. In larger cities and towns it is feasible. You are probably saving more than .58 cents per mile based on what you usually drive, since that national figure would be an average among all the vehicles on the road. I drive a vehicle that gets an average of 38 mpg, so I suspect my cost is less than .58. Plus I live in a more rural area that makes using a bike for transportation totally impractical. This is the case for much of this country. Enjoy riding your bike, it is wonderful exercise.

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      You just reminded/inspired me to do another post about this very thing. A really cool side story that has been building here in the US for the last fifteen years. Cycling in rural America but perhaps not in the way you are thinking. I just finished the post.

    2. It’s true that cycling for transportation in remote areas isn’t always practical, and it’s the case for most of the country (territory), considering that about 97% of the country is considered rural, but 82% of the population live in urban areas (so it’s not true for the majority of the population). Cars in rural areas are essential, but then I know people in rural areas who will drive when they’re only travelling half a mile. Not all rural journeys require a car. Overall, the US is doing extremely badly when it comes to cars vs. bikes (or walking).

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      Have a new post coming about how bikes can impact rural
      America. Not as transit but in other ways. It’s an interesting thing that has been happening now for fifteen years.

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  2. I did a lot of riding when I was younger, but at 71, my bike handling skills on narrow rural roads and the hazards they entail, inconsiderate drivers, dogs, are not up to the task. We consolidate trips as best we can and exercise in other ways.

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