I recently started cycling to work, after having been walking the same distance for a couple of years. I used to have to replace my shoes about every six months, because they were too worn. This weekend I replaced my chain, because it was too worn and earlier this year I replaced my tyres, but more because I wanted better tyres than because they were too worn.

After learning about the prices of bike components and how long they last, I started to compare the maintenance cost of cycling versus walking. Most bike parts are cheaper and last longer than my shoes. So is it possible that cycling is actually cheaper than walking?

  • 3
    In certain climates, you can walk barefoot year round. In other climates, it is essentially impossible to bicycle in winter months unless you are very inclined to heavily invest into specialized gear (like I am). You still cannot bike inside most buildings but are expected to wear nice shoes on a business meeting. In any case, caring and maintaining either shoes or bike components can prolong their lifespan but requiring user's life time to do so. All in all, I would say there are too many variables to be able to answer the title question. – Grigory Rechistov Oct 24 '19 at 3:48
  • 1
    @Grigory I don't know about you but when I walked (+bus) to work my shoes always died when the soles wore out. They weren't designed in a way that would make replacing the sole easy, and it would have cost as much as new shoes. Maintenance would have been no help. – Chris H Oct 24 '19 at 6:22
  • Some previous numbers on cost of cycling: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/38405/…. Note that one top answer has arrived to running costs 4 times of the other. – ojs Oct 24 '19 at 6:31
  • In practice they're both so much cheaper than the alternatives they might as well cost the same. If your bike doesn't get stolen of course – Chris H Oct 24 '19 at 6:31
  • 1
    Do you factor in the difference in time spent, and the monetary value of that time? – Misha R Oct 24 '19 at 20:39

Cycling is cheaper than walking.

I asked a few people what they think is cheaper, walking or cycling, and everyone answered that walking is cheaper. It seems logical, because to walk, all you need is shoes, while to cycle, you still need shoes, but you also need a bike and arguably a helmet and gloves.

There's a wide range of prices for both shoes and bikes, and it's up to everyone to decide how much they want to spend on each, but to make this a fair comparison I will use lower midrange UK prices in my calculation.

One pair of shoes is obviously cheaper than a pair of shoes, a bike, a helmet and a pair of gloves, so if you are comparing the cost of going 10 miles, walking is definitely cheaper:

enter image description here

However, at 10,000 miles, the numbers look very different:

enter image description here

The cost of walking 10,000 miles is 20 times higher, while the cost of cycling didn't even double. Already after 10,000 miles, the bike has payed for itself and is saving you money, even compared to walking.

I know that there are other components that you will need to replace, such as brake pads and cables, but these could last 10,000 miles depending on your riding conditions, and even if they don't, they are so cheap that they will barely make a difference to final cost. I also didn't include the cost of labour and the tools needed to perform the maintenance. Most maintenance tasks are easy enough that you can perform them yourself and the tools needed are generally pretty cheap. Again, it wouldn't make much difference to the final cost.

Now, there are a few things that would make a huge difference to the calculation. If you put a price on the time spent traveling, cycling is several times more cost efficient than walking. However, over short distances, you might find yourself spending all the time you saved, by going faster, on parking and locking your bike. Theft and accidents, can completely ruin the numbers for cycling, but you can also get mugged or have an accident, while walking, so it's not completely one sided. I left these things out, because they are too situational and hard to predict.

Cycling is also more energy efficient, but I don't think most people would notice any difference in their food consumption, so I don't think it's worth trying to estimate how much money that would save.

I think my calculation is fair and even if my estimates are a bit off, I think it's quite clear that, given a long enough distance, cycling is cheaper than walking. Any feedback is welcome and I really don't mind to be proven wrong.

  • 2
    Failed to account for cost of capital and full depreciation of the bike (A bike that has 10k km is practically worthless no matter how well maintained it is). Should also show where you get the figures for durability of bike components. Walking shows will last 1000 - 1500 miles (drpribut.com/sports/walkingshoe_fit.html) meaning you need pairs 7-10 of shoes ($200- $300 total). – mattnz Oct 24 '19 at 2:09
  • 5
    @mattnz it includes the full purchase price of the bike doesn't it? So complete depreciation over the length of the calculations. Considering depreciation would make the 10 mile figure look better as the bike would have resale value then. The difference in cost of capital is negligible if you have enough savings to get started, given interest rates - and if you don't, you can buy a second hand bike. – Chris H Oct 24 '19 at 6:27
  • 2
    ... I'd be more concerned with the time cost: bikes are faster but walking a little more reliable (very little with the right tyres). Does this affect your life in any meaningful way, e.g. if you get home a bit earlier so cook instead of getting a takeaway, just once a week, that will dominate the calculation, but if getting home earlier means you go to the pub once a week or will go the other way. – Chris H Oct 24 '19 at 6:30
  • Overall a good attempt at answering the unanswerable though. And don't forget a decent lock – Chris H Oct 24 '19 at 6:30
  • 1
    If I used the figures that I paid for my cycling equipment then walking would be a lot cheaper, it's an unanswerable question as everyone has individual needs – Dan K Oct 24 '19 at 10:01

As others have mentioned, I'd say factoring in time saved would be a significant consideration. If you want to put a figure on that, maybe look at what you get paid at work per hour and make the comparison using that figure. OK, it's a bit arbitrary but I guess it's one way of making the comparison...

  • 1
    This sort of comparison is often used but it's often inappropriate. How many people can choose to get paid for an extra few minutes if they shorten their commute? That is not just have a job that pays overtime, but have full control over how much they do – Chris H Oct 24 '19 at 12:24
  • 1
    Yes, I agree it's not perfect. But it's a way (And not much else.) of putting a number on your time which you could otherwise use doing something else be that working, getting home earlier or even taking a bit of a longer route for the scenery... – Richard Clinker Oct 24 '19 at 13:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.