Bike/fuel project

(Eds. note: I originally wrote this article in 2006 and had it posted elsewhere)

This isn’t exactly groundbreaking but I’m curious to see how long it will take for the bicycle I bought this year to pay for itself in terms of the cost of gasoline. The idea is to track how much I spend on my bike, how many miles I ride, the fuel efficiency of my car, and
the price of gas, and then find out when I break even. This is somewhat simplified because I’m not taking into account other car expenses like insurance (which I’m paying anyway), and maintenance, but that’s ok.  The more incentive I have to ride the bike the better my ass looks in these pants.

First to track the bike things I bought. I lost some receipts, but this is a pretty close count.

Date What Cost
6/2006 Helmet ~$40
7/12/2006 1980s Miyata 610 road bike $222.99
7/2006 chain/lock ~$20
7/2006 portable tire pump ~$10
8/2006 lights ~$20
8/27/2006 new tube $3.43
10/22/2006 gloves $21.75
10/22/2006 bike multi-tool $7.58
10/22/2006 bike computer/odometer $27.17
n/a car oil change (see below) -$35.00

The total (so far) is $337.92.  Let’s just go ahead and round that up to $340.

The question then is, how many miles do I have to ride the bike to save that amount’s worth of gasoline. This depends on the price of gasoline, and how efficient my car is.

In the course of this experiment (which is ongoing) gas prices in the USA have been fluctuating quite a bit. Here in Seattle I guess it was at around $2.60/gal when I bought the bike, peaked at around $3.00/gal this summer, and now is down to $2.40 (and going down for the election). Unless it gets significanly cheaper in the next however long this takes I’m going to assume a price of $2.50 2.65/gal (updated 12/5/2006). Thus our next calculation:

$340 / $2.65 = 128 gallons.

My car (1997 Ford Escort wagon) gets around 27 city/35 hwy MPG, so I estimate 30 MPG on average (actually, I’m going to use 27 instead, since I ride in the city).  It’s a sweet ride. For the purposes of this experiment, I’m glad it’s not a hybrid. This brings us to our final calculation:

27 MPG * 128 gal = 3456 miles

Oh crap! That’s how many miles I have to ride to get my money’s worth. I realize bicycle riding has other advantages like reducing carbon/other emissions and making me exercise, but this is America and we don’t do those things!

So, how long will it take to ride that far? One thing I’m noting is that I’ve had the bike more than three months longer than I’ve had the bike computer/odometer, so I get to try to remember some of the trips I made in the last three months and count that toward my goal.  Some guess work will be involved here but I’ll err on the side of underestimating. I noticed today that work is 2.15 miles away, so I can count the round trip to and from work at 4.3 miles per day.  And I’ll go ahead and estimate I’ve ridden to work maybe 20 days so far.  I think I’ve ridden more than that but my memory for that sort of thing is crap.. gimme 86 miles right there.  Better yet, let’s just round up to 100.

Date Where Milage
various Work and back 100
various Ballard and back 100
various To Sand Point and back 18
6/2006 Marymoor/Red Hook 40
8/27/2006 West Seattle from Ballard and back 28
10/22/2006 West Seattle from Ballard, one way 14

Total: 223 miles. This is lowballing it, but that’s fine. Looks like this will take a few years!

One convenient thing at least is that having bought the odometer, I don’t have to remember anything anymore. I can just look at it and report back here periodically; see the table below.

Update 4/30/2006

What do you know, the price of gas has gone up.  It’s about $3.30 around here these days, which brings my milage goal to around 2800. I’m not redoing the numbers again though, so that’s mostly just an academic observation.

An interesting side note, I’m not a great subject for this experiment as I live 12 minutes from my work by bike. My friend Seth rides every day from Ballard to Capitol Hill for his job which is something like 7 miles, so he puts on 14 miles a day at least. Of course, he also spends a lot more money on bikes than I do. But still, it would be interesting to do this experiment with him as a subject, as I imagine it wouldn’t take long for him to break even on one of his more modestly priced bicycles.

Date Odometer reading Where Miles to go
11/3/2006 11.6 work and back 3225.4
12/5/2006 44.2 work and back, mostly 3192.8
4/30/2007 246.8 work and back, mostly 2990.2

Update 12/05/2006

Since I almost exclusively ride my bike in the city, it’s not right to use the “mixed” 30 MPG that my car gets, but more proper to use the 27 MPG that my car gets in city driving.  Using this figure lowers the milage goal from 4500 to 4050. Also, around every 4050 miles I’ll get an oil change, which runs about $35. Subtracting that number from my bike cost is an easy way to factor that in. This changes the bike cost to $340, and the number of bike-equivalent gasoline gallons from 150 to 136. Finally, today I spent $2.65/gal to fill up my car, which is different from the $2.50 I used earlier.  It’s not going down anytime soon.. the result? I only have to ride 3456 miles.. let’s round that to 3460. It’s amazing how small fluxuations in the price of gasoline affect these calculations.

Update 8/5/2011

I’d say it’s time to put this project in the failure pile. Or maybe the “not to be completed probably ever” pile, for a few reasons. The first is, I never ride anymore. Since my last update we moved into a valley, and just about every direction is up an enormous hill. For a while I continued to ride to work at the UW, as that direction’s not so bad, but then I was laid off. Subsequent jobs have been on the other sides of enormous hills, and since nobody wants a gross sweaty coworker, I don’t ride to work anymore. And I don’t do hills.

Secondly, we have a different car. I’m not sure how that affects anything, but there it is. I needed a second reason.

On the other hand, fuel is quite a bit more expensive than it was in 2006. I buy diesel now, which is a bit more even (right now about $4, though it was even more expensive earlier this year). So the number of miles I have to ride keep going down over time. So, it’s almost like I have been riding.. hmm. Anyway, if I ever get back in that habit again I’ll resurrect this.

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