How to: Become an unimaginably frugal bike-riding superhero
A few months ago I came across a highly readable and practical financial advice blog called Mr Money Mustache (or MMM for short). MMM advocates people to take control of their finances and spending, as well as maximising their return on investments in order to achieve maximum savings with the goal being to achieve financial independence as soon as possible. Once financial independence is achieved, people will then have the freedom to choose how they will spend their time. This includes going after dream jobs/hobbies/vocations (including volunteering), pursuing favourite recreational activities (such as travelling, camping, cycling and/or surfing), DIY projects around the house, or simply spending quality time with the family. MMM also espouses the humble bicycle as being one of the key tools that will help you save money and achieve your dreams of financial independence when coupled with other frugal and financially responsible habits.
The bottom line of MMM is to encourage his readers to focus on the true value of people, nature and life experiences, rather than wasting precious time or money on pointless and unfulfilling material items or pursuits that might only give you a temporary ‘high’, but will not positively improve your life and relationships in the long term. Otherwise, in the end, the things you own will own you. This is definitely something that I wholeheartedly agree with. I strive to live a simple, independent, frugal and enjoyable lifestyle that is free from the shackles of debt and material excess.
I love cycling because it is inexpensive per km travelled, practical, clean and generally a fun form of transport and recreation. One of my favourite articles on MMM concerns the immense financial benefit of riding a bicycle for transport. This message something that I would like to further reinforce with my own story of financial prosperity which I attribute, in part, to riding a bike for everyday transportation for most of my adult life – even though I have always had the financial means to own and operate multiple motor vehicles if I desired.
I’ve been riding bikes for transport since I was in primary school, it’s always been a part of my life. Even when I turned 17, bought a cheap car and got my licence the novelty of this quickly wore off as I faced the reality of the massive financial burden of car ownership. Rising fuel prices, insurance, registration, repairs and maintenance costs were piling up and even though I had a job at the time, my income was minimal and I quickly realised how overrated vehicle ownership and driving every day was. To save on running costs, I soon started riding to work again – much to the surprise and confusion of my boss and co-workers who believed common myths about cycling such as “the weather is far too hot” or that “it is too dangerous“ to ride. This was despite the fact that I had been riding for many years in the same town before I had a car! I lived in a small country town where owning a car and having a licence was still seen as an essential rite of passage to becoming an independent adult. The only people who rode a bike around for transport were children, economically disadvantaged, and those who had lost their licence for DUI offences or similar. No normal, employed, licensed adult in their right mind would ride a bike to work or anywhere else, even if the distance from my work to my house was a mere 1.9 km away (10 minutes ride at a very casual pace)!
When I eventually left my hometown I sold my car and most of my possessions before moving to my state’s capital city to start my university studies. Upon arriving I decided that I liked the freedom of not having to deal with the hassle, cost and stress of buying, maintaining or running a car, despite some logistical challenges and the occasional hard-learnt lesson of trusting public transport services. I bought myself a new bike, a Giant Rincon, for the first time ever and definitely enjoyed the effectiveness and ease of use of a fast, comfortable and practical bike for commuting. I also learnt the hard way about why bikes require maintenance and also why it is important to use a strong, good quality lock in dodgy areas.
Despite being a student receiving only a modest income each fortnight, the combination of a can-do DIY attitude, frugal spending habits, a growing aversion to pubs and clubs (after a few bad experiences) and riding a bike for transport resulted in a small but steady growth of my savings which I had accumulated during my pre-university gap years. This allowed me to take several epic trips to New Zealand, Europe and parts of Australia each year during my summer holidays – much to my car-driving friend’s surprise and ire. Quite simply my decision to avoid owning a car while I was a student meant that the thousands of dollars I would have wasted on buying, owning and running a car was redirected to various holidays around the world instead. This in my mind was a fair compromise given the rare inconvenience that not owning a car occasionally posed.
Fast forward five more years and I am still car-free and riding to work every single day; rain, hail, wind or shine. Although I admit that I have recently ‘adopted’ my girlfriend’s Toyota Camry while she is out of town for a few months to use for the odd trip to the beach, do some long overdue maintenance on it, and also to keep it in good running order. The past few months of temporary car ownership has again reminded me why I was driven away (pun intended) in the first place. This is despite the fact that I only use the car once or twice a fortnight, usually for an 80 km round trip to the beach. The novelty of flat batteries, repairing accidental damage, cleaning, and then trying to estimate the cheapest day for fuel refills quickly wore off again, just like it did back when I was 17 years old and bought my first car.
I have owned six bikes in as many years, four were used as everyday commuters and the other two were bought as projects. After a lot of experimentation, trial and error I am back down to two bikes. These being my drop bar Vivente World Randonneur as my everyday commuter and touring bike, and my flat bar Orbea AOS as my backup/guest/general use bike. On this note I want to make the point that it is critical that anyone who is seriously considering to use a bike for everyday transport is aware of the importance and convenience of owning two bikes that are both in maintained and safe working order. The reason for this is if you are, for example, doing some maintenance or repairs on your primary bike and there is an issue, such as the repair took longer than you had planned or you are missing a part, you will never feel flustered or rushed to get the job done because you will have a backup bike to use instead while the primary bike is temporarily out of action. Another good reason is if your friend comes to visit and you decide to go for a ride somewhere together, it is never an issue as you have a spare bike complete with spare helmet, lock and lights to use.
As an example, I have compiled a basic table showing my bike-related expenses over the past six years in order to show my average costs of owning and using a bike for the majority of trips*:
|Tools and misc||$260|
|Accessories and bags||$925|
|Average per year||$910|
|Ongoing average running and maintenance costs per year||$80 (personal and 3rd party personal and property insurance)$85 (servicing and replacements)$43 (new tyres every 15,000 km at $65 per tyre and 5,000km average travel per year)Total average cost per year: $208|
From here on all I will need to spend money on each year is my annual bike membership (insurance), and standard repairs and maintenance. I have estimated, based on the previous few years, that insurance will cost around $80 per year (now that I am no longer eligible for concession rates) and repairs and maintenance will cost around $85 a year (for both bikes). This will cover the average cost of oil, chain degreaser, replacement chains, replacement brake pads, replacement tubes, and anything else that needs to be serviced or replaced over the years. I also added the cost of replacing my high quality, tough, ultra-reliable Schwalbe Marathon tyres every 15,000km (about 3 years of everyday use) at the average cost of $43 per year ($130 for a pair).
It also helps if you know how to correctly ride your bike and use gears, and most importantly keep your bike out of the weather, reasonably clean and correctly lubricated. Washing the bike once every few weeks to remove dirt and grit and then degreasing your chain and re-oiling your chain and drivetrain will do wonders for reducing the frequency and severity of you parts failing and therefore having to spend money on replacement parts. Prevention really is better than the cure.
This amount as an annual sum is pretty darn low considering it covers the vast majority of my trips. What’s more is that now I have spent all the money on clothing for all seasons, tools and equipment I am able to comfortably ride every day of the year regardless of the weather, secure my bike no matter where I park, easily load up a week’s worth of groceries, and do 90% of repairs and maintenance on my two bikes myself at home (something which has effectively paid off the cost of the tools and repair gear I’ve purchased over the years). I won’t need to buy any other major items in the future, maybe a new cycling jersey after a few years and a wheel truing stand once I can justify the need for it, but other than that I am basically set.
Just for a comparison, if I had chosen to buy and use a car for my daily transportation instead, this is probably how my expenses would have looked:
|Car (modest late model sedan in good condition)||$5000|
|Registration and 3rd party personal insurance injury insurance (yearly rate)||$2520 (6x $420)|
|3rd party insurance (property)||$870 (6x $145)|
|Standard maintenance and servicing (assuming driving around 15,000 km per year and having it serviced every 10,000 km / 18 months by a qualified mechanic)||$1710 (9x $190)|
|Unexpected repairs or breakdowns||???? (my last unexpected mechanical issue cost me $2,000 all up due to cracked head gasket and other issues from a failed cooling pipe)|
|Replacement tyres (every 45,000 km / 3 years)||$720 (8x $90 per tyre)|
|Fuel||$11,700 (10l to 100km in mixed traffic and road conditions, 15,000 km of driving per year, average price of unleaded fuel of $1.30 per L).|
|Total||$22,520 (plus the massive wildcard cost of unexpected repairs/breakdowns)|
|Average per year||$3,753|
|Ongoing average running and maintenance costs per year||$420 (3rd party personal insurance and vehicle licencing)$145 (3rd party property insurance)$285 (servicing)$120 (tyres)$1950 (fuel at extremely low rate of $1.30 per L)Total average cost per year: $2,920|
Now I don’t know about you, but to me the idea of saving $2712+ each year is a fairly attractive compensation for the slight inconvenience of not being able to drive long distances. On this point I was never particularly bothered by this anyway and found that as a cyclist I had a better connection to my local area and businesses and made efforts to visit friends who lived in the area or could meet somewhere easy to access. Generally I would “think bike” in the sense that when I look for a new house to live in I will think about the quality and connectivity of the bike paths in the area, what the local roads are like, and how far away the house is from where I work and where my friends and family are. Additionally with the advent of online shopping, it is now extremely cheap and easy to buy the majority of your goods and have it delivered to your door – avoiding the supposed ‘need’ for a car to drive around all day trying to find a product you need. For example some of my favourite online stores such as Wiggle, ProBikeKit and Evans Cycles have a massive selection of bikes, accessories, tools and clothing – with the added bonus that they will usually offer free and fast shipping to your door. Combine this with a non-materialistic attitude that focuses only on products that are practical, useful and durable and I really didn’t miss not owning a car at all. The only aspect that made me consider buying a car again was to use solely as a beach/surfing vehicle, as I currently live too far from the beach to ride (something I am actively working to fix) and public transport is very flakey and time consuming for this type of journey.
Whatever reason(s) you ride your bike, or are interested in riding your bike, be it environmental, fun, convenience, or necessity, it is definitely an added bonus to know that riding a bike for transport is one of the most effective way of fast tracking your journey to financial independence and security. The more people riding a bicycle means that there is less traffic congestion, less pollution, fewer serious accidents and injuries, improved health and wellbeing, higher levels of productivity and more money in your bank. Everyone wins!
If you want to learn more on how to become an unimaginably frugal bike-riding superhero then do yourself a favour and check out some of my other helpful articles and product reviews on this website. I’d also suggest that you go spend some time to read the many articles over at MMM.
All the best and happy cycling!
*As a side note, I want to make a point that I have a tendency to buy high quality, thus somewhat expensive, bikes and accessories. My attitude is that I prefer to do my research and then buy something that will be durable, reliable, functional and enjoyable to use – even if I have to pay a premium for it. This was mainly because I bought a lot my gear with bicycle touring in mind and commuting as a secondary purpose. When you’re on the road in the middle of the countryside somewhere you don’t want things to fail.
However, most touring-grade bikes and equipment are MAJOR overkill for short to medium commutes (2-15 km). You DO NOT need to spend thousands of dollars to get a commuting bike and accessories for regular use. A number of my friends, who use their bike for practical trips (e.g. to work, university, the grocery store etc) on a daily basis, have spent around $400 in total for a simple single-speed bike, helmet, light set, a few essential tools, and a decent lock. Their ongoing costs for necessary maintenance is around $40 a year due to the fact that single-speed bikes are mechanically simple and therefore extremely cheap and easy to maintain.
The bottom line is that you don’t need fancy gear to bicycle commute (although it might make it faster or more comfortable). The most important thing is that you get on your bike and ride. Every km you spend on your bike instead of in a car or on public transport is saving you money and putting you on the right path to early retirement or that next big holiday you’ve always wanted to take!
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