Dollars and Sense: Calculating Money and Environmental Benefits of Bike Commuting

Bikes parked -- Mackinac Island, MichiganAt the beginning of this year I changed jobs, trading a 35-mile one-way commute for a 2.5-mile local ride.

Living in St. Louis, where we have four distinct seasons – pretty-damn-cold, balmy-moderate, humid-and-hot-as-hell and fall – I waited out the pretty-damn-cold months to begin my life as a bike commuter during the balmy-moderate ones.

New to the game, I’m taking things a bit slowly.

I have a personality that tends toward the intense — or the oh-well. It can be a teeter-totter. It takes effort not to jump into something full-bore and then get disgusted with myself because I decide I’m not going full-bore enough.

So, aiming for pleasant, useful moderation, I’ve been riding only on non-rainy days, so far. Nice and easy — not all or nothing.

Calculating Gas Money Saved by Biking

Looking back at the bike commuting travel log I’ve been keeping, here’s what I’ve figured out:

For the month of July, I’ve ridden a total of 70 miles on 12 days. When compared against my main vehicle, a 1973 Volkswagen bus that gets only about 20 miles per gallon (and hence the reason I don’t drive it often), I figure I’ve saved 3.5 gallons of gas, give or take.

When multiplied by the average cost of gas in July – let’s use exactly $4 to keep the math as simple as possible – I figure I saved around $14.

Figure in that I also reduced other costs by opting for the bicycle. No wear and tear on the VW. Less motor oil used (VWs leak compulsively). Reduced frequency of oil changes. Lower auto insurance premium; I’ve dropped my coverage to account for driving fewer than 30 miles per week.

In all, I saved notably more than just the $14 in July.

Calculating Environmental Benefit of Bike Commuting

I’ll create an example of C02 impact that is relieved by bike commuting:

Using my household’s main car – a 2008 Honda Civic – for this example, consider that driving that car the average of 12,000 miles a year will emit 7,826 pounds of carbon annually, according to the calculator provided at terrapass.com.

If a bike commuter rides 10 miles per day three times per week, then 1,021 pounds of CO2 emissions will be saved from further smogging the air; that’s a 13 percent reduction in a Honda Civic owner’s carbon footprint.

Of course, a Honda Civic is one the friendlier cars to be driving; so less efficient cars will mean greater footprint reductions when parked in favor of bike commuting.

And I admit my Volkswagen, which I’ve named Boiohaemum, is no doubt guilty of a larger offense. (What to do about that will likely be part of a future post.) But through minimal use, I’m currently only adding gas to Boio’s tank every five weeks or so.

Given my round-trip work commute is five miles a day, if I ride just three days per week, then I too am reducing my CO2 footprint significantly.

If such a short, part-time commute is capable of reducing a rider’s footprint by double-digit percentages…

What could be a truly valid argument against bike commuting reasonable distances?

Becoming a Bike Commuter

This is a continuing project. There are so many bike commuters out there who ride harsh winters up north, long miles (I’ve read/heard of 30-plus-mile commutes), and through rain, snow, extreme heat.

I’m on my way to becoming a full-time, knowledgeable, year-round bike commuter with the intent to reduce gas usage to as close to zero as I can.

It’s somewhat of a patient plan, a bit of double-therapy for a guy like me.

Related posts:

How to Make Bike Commuting Popular

Travel Green: Bicycling in the City

College: Ditch the Four Wheels, We’ll Give You Two

Photo source: Adam Williams, all rights reserved.

  1. Scott @ NRDC

    Andy: I just had a bit of a friendly argument about this in the comments section at NRDC’s Switchboard blog. I was singing the praises of Summer Streets in New York City, and a commenter derided it (jokingly, I think) as akin to “China or some other nation where people are too POOR to use faster more efficient modes of transportation.” http://tinyurl.com/6mt5v9

    For the sake of argument, I asked, what WOULD be a more efficient mode of transportation, and gave pretty much the same arguments that you just did. Like you, I’m also trying to become a full-time bike commuter (although I suppose you can take anything too far — today I rode home through a thunderstorm that included hail and a tornado warning … not that I knew that at the time I set out).

    Read more about my biking adventures here: http://tinyurl.com/656wmf And good luck to us both.

  2. david downing

    keep up the good work. I was just visiting family in SE Misery πŸ™‚ and did my first ever humid road ride, brutal. Having a sub-mile commute in CO, I definitely have it easy. I’m psyched about every person I read about trying to bike more! You are a better person than I for riding in humidity in the summer or winter!

  3. Jim Kok

    I’m from Michigan and I rode yesterday.
    20 degrees with wind chill around 10 to 15.
    The roads were clear and free from Ice and snow.
    Its not the Ice that is so dangerous as it is drivers traveling on the ice. Face and toes got cold, the rest of me was hot.

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