How much does a rider spend, on average and totally, with the bicycle per unit-distance? And with the car per unit-distance? Are there any official or academical data?

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    What research have you already found? My bicycle costs me $0 per kilometre because consumables aren't directly related to distance covered, where in a motorised vehicle there is a clear fuel usage. Do read the Tour which is under the SE Help menu, this will help you learn why Stackexchange is different to chatty web forums. Voting to close as too broad. – Criggie Apr 24 '16 at 0:55
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    @Criggie sorry but vehicle maintenance is also considered in cost of ownership. In the same way, you can track the cost of various consumables (e.g., chains, cassettes, tires, brake pads, saddles, cables, grips/bar wrap), then amortize over the appropriate period of time or distance covered to derive the per km cost of ownership. It is also possible to include devaluation in this calculation. I have been collecting situation (personally) for a few years now. – Rider_X Apr 24 '16 at 1:31
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    If you pay for car parking, the saving goes up dramatically. For example to park at the station near here costs £7 per day; bike parking of course is free. – Chris H Apr 24 '16 at 13:17
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    It depends on how often your $5000 bicycle is stolen. – Daniel R Hicks Apr 24 '16 at 14:01
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    @DanielRHicks, like cars, they are also stolen. In any case you can make an insurance, like one does for cars. In the Netherlands insurances against theft, for bicycles are very common. – João Pimentel Ferreira Apr 24 '16 at 19:26

I commute by bike around 8,000-10,000 km per year and based on my book keeping it is at about 1/5th (or less) the cost of running a car. After accounting for paying for the bike (i.e., devaluation) and maintenance (e.g., consumables such as chains, tires, etc), and under the working assumption that I will sell and buy a new bike in 5 years time. I projected the total cost of ownership on a per month basis about $136. By comparison the Canadian Automotive Association suggested running compact car will cost you about $735 per month after insurance, fuel, devaluation and maintenance.

As an aside, an interesting tidbit on bicycle cost of ownership was that consumables cost 3x as much as the cost of bike devaluation once you amortize over 5 years.

NOTES

All calculations are in Canadian Dollars and Local Bike Shop prices. Clothing has not been included, nor has food costs.

Feel free to change or modify the Google Spreadsheet as these calculations are for the higher end of the commuter spectrum.

Bicycle cost of ownership

This cost break down is for a higher end commute bike with high quality racks, fenders and lights (vehicular quality due to the need to ride at night down unlit paths). These calculations assume the bike will be sold and replaced after 5 years of loyal service.

Below is a photo of the bike used to derive the cost calculations. It is pictured carrying a full load that includes work cloths, shoes, change of bike cloths, rain gear, computer, various papers, and food for the day.

Commute bike

1) Fixed Costs

These are the costs of buying a new bike and adding all the necessary components to make it a proper transportation machine, then the amount of money lost due to devaluation over the 5 year period.

Full purchase price

This was for a steel "all roads" road/touring bike that could take racks. Because most bikes in North America are sold naked, metal fenders and good racks along with "vehicular quality" lights were added to make this a complete bike. This put the total coast at $3230

complete bike cost table

Devaluation

After 5 years the bike (and all components) will be sold for approximately 40% of its original cost due to the higher devaluation in bicycles relative to cars. This gives us a devaluation cost of around $406 per year or $33.83 a month!

Devaluation costs table

2) Variable Costs / Consumables

These costs will depend on how much you ride and under what types of conditions you ride in. These costs are for a temperate rain forest where 30-40% of the riding is on dirt roads or paths which wears parts faster. Replacement mileages are on my records and are averages rounded to the nearest 500 km. Some are conservative estimates and have been indicated as such.

For the riding I do the cost in consumables is about $103 per month.

enter image description here

3) Final Costs

Just add (1) and (2) to derive the final cost. On a monthly basis it will be about $136.41, compared to $735 for a compact car. This is about 18.5% of the cost of vehicle ownership, i.e. the total costs of riding a bicycle per unit-distance are roughly 1/5th the total costs per unit-distance of driving a car.

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    I am sure there will be a teeth washing about some of my prices or replacement intervals, so I have posted the spreadsheet. Feel free to revise to your heart's content. – Rider_X Apr 24 '16 at 7:06
  • Great work, especially with making the spreadsheet available. In addition to the costs you justify, I find that about once per decade I do something brainless and break a wheel or take a fall requiring a new helmet. My point is that each person has to take their own cycling conditions, abilities and habits into account. Again, great work! – andy256 Apr 24 '16 at 10:14
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    @criggie look up basal metabolic rate. Compared to it, energy spent on riding the bike is very little. – ojs Apr 24 '16 at 12:50
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    @joao_pimentel - what I have done is give you an upper bound (i.e., most typical cycling use-cases should be lower cost, therefore resulting in a lower ratio; e.g., 1/10th). Cost of ownership analyses by definition are case dependent, it's intellectually dishonest to suggest otherwise. This is why all car cost-of-ownership calculators start by helping you to define your use-case (i.e., class of vehicle). The only way to drive a more general figure would be to average a large array of individual use-cases over their respective population proportions. – Rider_X Apr 24 '16 at 20:01
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    @gschenk - Cheaper tires are a bit of false economy as they wear faster, have higher rolling resistance and a poorer user experience. For argument take lets use cheaper $20 tires (as cheap as they come in Canada). Replacing twice as frequently due to faster wear, the yearly cost would be ~$114, an end-of-year difference of $128 or $10.68 per month. A $35 per tire would translate to $3.56 per month savings (assuming similar wear rates). Is $125.73 ($20 per tire) or $132.85 ($35 per tire) fundamentally different from $136.41 per month? – Rider_X Jan 10 '17 at 21:16

The answer is "it varies wildly". By the far largest cost is the initial price of the bike, which in itself has a huge range and is multiplied by how often you replace the bike. The second largest cost is maintenance, which may also cost premium or you can do it yourself.

For road and city riding with sensible part choices, the cost of wearing parts is below 5 cents per kilometer. Lightweight racing parts or bargain parts that wear out fast will cost you more.

"Fuel" costs are negligible, unless you ride several hours per day the base metabolism is several times more than what you put into riding.

For one take on official numbers, in my country the tax deduction for commuting to work is 0.25€/km for cars, 0.09€/km for mopeds and fixed 80€ per year for bicycles.

Edit: In order to illustrate the range of numbers, I plugged the numbers from my singlespeed commuter bike to the spreadsheet. The lifetime of the saddle is based on my other bikes, as are the rims and bottom bracket. The difference in per year/month comes from 5000km/year because of winter, vacations, etc.

Singlespeed running costs

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    I found maintenance was actually the biggest cost, about 3x as much as the bike once amortized over 5 years. See the calculations in my answer. – Rider_X Apr 24 '16 at 7:00
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    Yes. I see that you are using very high resale value for the bike and spending a huge amount on tires, saddles and bar tape. – ojs Apr 24 '16 at 8:47
  • Of course "it varies widely". Like the cost of ownership of a car. But that doesn't mean that nobody has ever computed some data. – João Pimentel Ferreira Apr 24 '16 at 14:28
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    @ojs btw thanks for the reply :) Where do you live? How such 80€ for bicycles were computed, if they were? It means that when someone drives 4000km per year, gets on tax deduction 1000€, but the same person would just get 80€ for the same distance travelled by bicycle? It seems a bit environmentally unfair. – João Pimentel Ferreira Apr 24 '16 at 19:34
  • I believe it's far harder to collect similar data on bicycles, because a) most cyclists do not join associations like AAA, b) they are not registered or taxed, so government does not have data. – ojs Apr 24 '16 at 19:41

I dont know if there is any pre-existing data but here is mine.

biking:

bike: ~$750 (based on what i paid for my Trek 1.1)

assuming you pop one tube every 700miles and your daily commute is ~10miles one way so 20miles a day thats 35days in between replacement tubes so ~10 tubes a year. ~$7 per tube (700c x 18-25mm - 42mm Presta) x ~10 tubes = ~$70 on tubes a year

on the off chance that you break a chain through the year add ~$24 (Shimano Ultegra CN-6701 10-Speed Chain)

tools/maintenance : ~$7 for chain/gear lube, ~$8 for a hex key multi-tool, miscellaneous stuff ~$20 (just incase i missed anything)

estimated total: ~$879

price/mile: ~$0.1204

cars:

depending on what you get a new car can run from ~$10k-30k (12k for a 2016 Nissan Versa)

assuming you get a brand new Versa and live in the city your mpg is ~29mpg you still have the same commute of 20miles perday so 20 x 365 = 7,300miles

7,300miles / 29mpg = 251.724gallons per year

251.724gallons x (the price of gas in New York city is)~$2.356 per gallon = ~$593.06 in gas per year

Maintenance: according to cars.com the maintenance cost for the first year will be ~$323

estimated total: ~$12916

price/mile: ~$1.7693

none of these prices take into account for sales tax or shipping or store fees or cost past the first year. so biking destroys cars price per distance

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    You are running through a huge number of tubes but your cassettes, tires, brakes etc are not wearing at all. – ojs Apr 23 '16 at 21:17
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    For ~5000 miles, realistic expectation would be a couple of tire changes, one chain + cassette, one or several sets or brake pads and the odd cable, handlebar tape, etc. Still peanuts compared to both initial cost or the cost of driving, and you are still assuming that you throw away the bike and car after one year. – ojs Apr 23 '16 at 21:26
  • I suggest you rework this assuming the vehicles are wholely owned and paid off. The question is about running costs, not TCO. – Criggie Apr 24 '16 at 1:03
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    You can patch a tube for under $0.50. I don't know why you would replace the tube every time. – Kibbee Apr 24 '16 at 1:14
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    Typically these calculations are amortized over the lifetime of the vehicle (bike or car) – Rider_X Apr 24 '16 at 1:34

Based on some digging around in academic archives, there has been no systematic study like you are suggesting. That said, bicycling is several orders of magnitude cheaper than driving a vehicle on a yearly measure, rather than a distance measure. Some interesting points, the average length of a car trip is about 9 miles and about 42% of car trips are shorter than 5 miles.

http://nhts.ornl.gov/2009/pub/stt.pdf

http://www.solarjourneyusa.com/EVdistanceAnalysis7.php

I recently read an article, linked below, that claimed that Americans spent almost 13,000 a year on their automobiles, on average. I've been, off-and-on, bicycle commuting for about ten years and I haven't yet spent $13,000, in total. Now, because I prioritize bicycle commuting and otherwise living local, I strive to keep my commute short by picking a place to live that is close to the place where I work, so my average trip is significantly shorter than most Americans.

I would rather spend $1000 more on rent and/or recreation each month than spend that $1000 on an automobile. So, because I choose to live close to where I work, and make other lifestyle choices that support the cycling lifestyle, I reap numerous soft benefits from my choice to regularly ride a bike rather than drive a car, not the least of which is free parking wherever I want.

http://www.citylab.com/commute/2016/04/the-absurd-primacy-of-the-automobile-in-american-life/477882/

Also, as the citylab article mentions the environmental costs and infrastructure costs of driving have been externalized. We will have to deal with those consequences, probably sooner rather than later.

  • Thank you, I was wondering that one could find some academic study or any survey for such subject. I don't have access to such academical databases. – João Pimentel Ferreira Apr 25 '16 at 21:30
  • btw, thank you for your comment, do you already know this calculator for USA: autocosts.info/US ? Apparently it gives the car costs average according to the input of the users. The total yearly amount is enormous and as you said several orders of magnitude more expensive than cycling. – João Pimentel Ferreira Nov 19 '16 at 16:26

I own several bikes, different prices for buying them and they have a different resale value, also compared to buying price.
Most expensive, delta trike, about €1000, expected resale value about €200.
Used it for 5 years and is now stored till I want it again.
Cheapest second hand recumbent bike, €200, expected resale value about €150.
Is still in use, most of the time.

Both have about 5 years of everyday commuting duty with about €100 for bicycle repairs per year. (On average, not kept details.) So lets call it €500 per bike for the 5 year period.

I guess on an average I ride about 4000 km/year on the bike/trike, for daily commute as well as recreational rides.
That gives me €1500 for the trike for 20.000 km.
Against €700 for the 'bent for the same 20.000 km.

My maths is not good enough to come up with a reliable cost per km, but I call it almost free. Specially if I also calculate resale value and not just the cost of the bike/trike over the 5 years. And the bikes I had before that were in the same 'use price' range.

All the extra cost is food, as I do not need to pay for storage nor for air. And it saves gym cost, so I write of the food cost against gym cost.

To offer a counterpoint in the form of a small motorbike

Even though it's not what's asked for, it's relevant to the discussion. Here are the figures for my Honda CBF 125. In £/km rather than $/km, projected over 5 years as I've only had the bike for a year.

Most of the initial costs are likely to be repeated after 5 years due to either wanting a new bike or replacement lifecycles on protective equipment. There should probably be higher maintenance costs in the long run, but as this is a relatively new (and very simple) bike, routine servicing is all that's been needed.

Traditionally one calculates depreciation and resale value on motor vehicles for these purposes but for the sake of brevity, I've just written off the whole cost of the bike over the 5 years. This should cover any unexpected costs on maintenance for example. This being a small bike it's also remarkably cheap on fuel, a tank of fuel costs £10 and covers 230-270 miles.

enter image description here

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    That works out to $0.25 per km (CAD). About 1.6x the cost of the high end commuter bike example I presented. Thanks, that is interesting! – Rider_X Feb 23 '17 at 19:57

Just to give an example from the silly end of the spectrum, my tandem recumbent trike cost over $10,000 to build and another $2000 to transport to the beginning and end of the main ride I did, which was only about 5,000km (I rode from Broome to Perth). I estimate that that bike only travelled about 7000-8000km on its wheels during its life... round that up to 10,000. So purchase price alone accounted for about $1/km, and transport another 20c/km. Compared to that the 3x chain lube, 3 replacement chains and 20-odd puncture repairs which were the main maintenance cost were almost free, less than 1c/km. The flip side is that if I'd just bought a commercially made one it would have cost about the same, and I enjoyed the design and build process a great deal. I'd count half that cost as a hobby, and I'm tempted to say the whole 18-odd month process of building it and riding it was more of a great life adventure than transport.

My usual commuter bike has a Rohloff + front hub dynamo, so it's fairly pricey. But again, I built it myself, to my own design, and I enjoyed that. Excluding the wheels (which are shared across several bikes), the bike cost me about $500. But the total price is more like $3500 because of the wheels :) I built it nearly 10 years ago and I would be shocked if I ever rode it less than 5000km/year. So the bike cost is down to about 1c/km by now. Maintenance is obviously dominant, I go through two sets of tyres, a set of cables, a chain, and probably 6 sets of brake pads a year (because I chose the wrong disk calipers... financially I should swap them). Plus a change of Rohloff oil. I suspect that adds up to about $500 a year, or 10c/km.

I have lost track of actual numbers, but in my experience bicycle was several times cheaper than car. However, bicycle was still much more expensive than public transportation for me. This was due that bicycle maintenance is actually quite expensive, and that bicycle can not be used for some days (for instance weather is particularly bad, or the bicycle is in service) so other means of transportation need to be payed for that day

Excellent answer from Rider_X, but all answers so far are seriously flawed in not accounting for food to fuel the rider.

To give a somewhat worst case scenario consider the following. A small family car returning 50mpg vs a cyclist producing an average of 125W on a 15mi each way commute to work.

The car burns 0.6 gallons of fuel, which at current UK prices of approximately £5/gal = £3 per day. 5 days per week for 45 weeks a year = £675/year fuel costs.

On the other hand our cyclist pushing 125W travels at 15mph giving him a ride time of 1hr in each direction. At the given power, this translates to approximately 500kcal/hr or 1000kcal/day. He somewhat unwisely chooses to fuel this effort by isotonic energy gels bought singly at supermarket prices (Approximately £1 per 100kcal). He therefore spends £10/day fuelling his commute. 5 days per week for 45 weeks a year = £2250/year fuel costs.

In this case it costs an incredible £1575 per year more to fuel the bike.

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    That assumes the rider doesn't enjoy eating. For many of us, riding means we can eat more, nicer food. – Móż Apr 25 '16 at 10:11
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    You should add in rider fuel costs based on caviar and truffles, just to make it even more ridiculous. – Criggie Apr 25 '16 at 11:11
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    I didn't include food because there are a lot of issues surrounding the calorie: 1) as an bio energy measurement (a calorie of different food types aren't necessarily equivalent) and 2) studies have shown that strangely enough the body can sustain long term increased activity levels without increases in food input (I.e the body may be selectively discarding food until needed). – Rider_X Apr 25 '16 at 13:52
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    Most people eat too many calories and often ride bikes or use the gym to get rid of them. People driving cars often eat as much as those riding bikes all the time and spend more money on getting rid of the fat or suffer under the excess. – Willeke Apr 25 '16 at 22:49
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    @Willeke I've made the same point at work a few times. Often as a reply "if you give me a company car and make to drive it to work every day I will need to spend extra time riding for exercise and to allow me to eat the way I do now. That time will, of course, be paid for by my employer".... no-one has ever made me take the company car :) – Móż Apr 26 '16 at 0:31

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