What you can save by cycling

Easy rider: Artist Liam Daly has no trouble comfortably lugging his materials around the city, thanks to his innovative cargo bike
Easy rider: Artist Liam Daly has no trouble comfortably lugging his materials around the city, thanks to his innovative cargo bike

Thursday June 30 2011

If you’re not already among those who have taken to two wheels in recent times, you won’t have to look far to find reasons why.

Beating the traffic, getting more exercise and saving money are probably the three biggest draws for this form of transportation.

For many people, though, the main pros of cycling are outweighed very strongly by the simple fear that mounting a bicycle is a sure-fire route to the pearly gates, thanks to frustrated motorists hell-bent on running you off the road, large potholes and badly designed cycle lanes.

But if you can overlook the ‘fear factor’ and see just how much cycling regularly can boost your disposable income, it might be enough to get you to give it a fair go.

After all, there is the ‘safety in numbers’ argument, i.e., the more of us who cycle, the safer it becomes.

At the moment, the bicycle accounts for only 2% of all trips to work. The Government aims to increase this to 10% by 2020 in line with the National Cycle Policy Framework.

1 Okay, fair enough. Let’s start with the most frequently asked question. How much can I save by cycling instead of driving to work?

If your commute to work is 6km each way and you drive a car that averages 35mpg (or nearly 7L/100km), then you will spend nearly €300 on petrol just for your commuting journeys over the course of a year.

Saving: €6 a week or €300 a year (based on commuting 60km a week).

2 What about short, non-commuting journeys?

Let’s say you do a four or five short journeys on the bicycle for shopping and other errands totalling about 20km each week.

That works out at about 1,000km a year (assuming you’re willing to cycle in the rain and during the winter months too). That’s another €100 a year saved in petrol costs alone.

Actually, it’s probably a bit more, since using the car for very short journeys means the engine never gets the chance to warm up properly and therefore uses more fuel than for longer journeys. So say €125.

Saving: €2 a week or €125 a year (based on 20km a week).

3 But you could also save on insurance, tax, NCT, parking and all the other costs of running a car, couldn’t you?

Well, this assumes that you don’t have a car or you plan to get rid of it. Most people who cycle to work normally do, but are choosing cycling to beat the traffic, get more exercise or even save on their car’s wear and tear. But doing away with the car altogether is probably a bridge too far for most people to pedal over. You could possibly reduce your car fleet from two to one, though.

But you’d save on parking costs at work, that’s for sure. AA Ireland estimates that the average motorist would fork out nearly €4,000 a year in parking charges, or about €75 a week (that’s probably a bit high, though).

You might also save on maintenance costs, too, since you’d be using the car a good bit less, but that’s far harder to quantify.

Saving: Up to €75 a week or €4,000 a year on parking charges.

4 I use the train/bus. What could I save there?

Okay, if you’re a commuter travelling about 8km to Dublin from Blackrock, you’ll be spending €3.70 a day on a return Dart ticket.

If we assume you work 48 weeks of the year, your train travel works out at €888 a year. Similarly, a bus user travelling into Dublin city every day from Drumcondra (4km) will fork out €792 a year.

Saving: Up to €20 a week.

5 I haven’t ridden a bike since my schooldays, but I’d like to get one now. If I use it for commuting most days, how long would it take to make my money back on buying it?

Let’s say you splash out on a new bike costing €450, along with important accessories including a helmet (€40), a decent lock or two (€50), lights (€20) and rain gear (€50). That’s over €600.

If you drive just 12km each day to work and back, you’ll make your money back on petrol costs alone in two years — shorter if your commute is longer. If you use public transport, you’ll make your money back in a lot less than 12 months.

What’s more, there is also the cycle-to-work tax-saving scheme, through which you can buy a bike and accessories worth up to €1,000 tax-free through participating employers.

Saving: Up to €510 through the cycle-to-work scheme.

6 But I can’t afford to spend €600 on a bike, even with the cycle-to-work tax scheme (which I don’t think my employer even participates in).

Well, a second-hand bike will be the way to go. There are lots for sale on online classified websites, and if you’re not sure what to look out for, bring a knowledgeable friend with you.

If you’re in Dublin, one good bike shop to try would be Rothar in Phibsborough. It’s a social enterprise that relies on volunteers to fix up old or broken bikes into very serviceable, dependable steeds for as little as €150.

7 I used to cycle, but my bikes keep getting stolen.

Yes, this is one of the serious downsides of city-based cycling, and it’s getting worse. According to the CSO, there was a 39% increase in thefts in 2009 compared to the previous year. Last year, thefts rose another 10%.

You can insure bicycles through your house insurance policy, but it may only cover theft while in the house or the garage or shed.

For this reason, it might be worth trying a dedicated cycle insurer such as Cyclesure, which can insure a bike worth €700 for about €60 a year.

This article first appeared in the Irish independent

Dublin artist Liam Daly (aka Eolai) manages to live without a car — thanks to his cargo bike. He reckons he saves at least €50 a week over running a car — or about €90 a week if he used taxis — to carry the loads he regularly hauls.

His bike is capable of carrying huge loads comfortably, and was the obvious choice when he started to look for a cargo-type bike while living in the US in 2005.

“I needed something that could comfortably carry my nine-year-old son eight miles to his school; get the weekly groceries, including a 10kg bag of dog food; accommodate canvases, frames, and art materials; take parcelled paintings to the post office; transport my dog to places beyond walking distance and hold American-sized loads of laundry,” he said. Specially designed cargo bikes are expensive, but Liam found a kit called an Xtracycle Freeradical that ingeniously converted his standard bike into a cargo bike. It costs about €500.

He brought it home to Dublin two years later and uses it every day. “Mostly it’s just a bike that I cycle around, but it fulfils all my needs, and when I find myself needing to buy a Christmas tree, a flat-packed foosball game, or a couple of large pumpkins for carving at Halloween, I don’t need to ask for help from a friend with a car.”

Liam is also about to do a “painting cycle tour of Ireland” in July and August. See bicyclistic.com for details.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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