I’ve been mulling over a post like this for some time now, but with the purchase of a new (used) bike about a month ago, it got me thinking more seriously again about what sort of value I put on my transportation and what sort of costs are involved with each.

Since high school, I have owned only two automobiles. One was purchased for me by my parents at the start of my senior year (a used 1980 Volvo GLE), and the other is a co-owned car that I purchased with my wife (a used 2001 Honda Accord). With each of these vehicles there have been the associated costs of registration, insurance, taxes, maintenance/repairs, and fuel.

In that same amount of time, I’ve owned five bicycles, four of which are still in my possession. The price of these bikes has ranged from free (more on that in a little bit) to $670. With each, there have been associated maintenance/repair costs, some more than others.

In thinking about value that I place on my transportation, I inevitably arrived at the question of how much it was costing me per mile for each mode of transportation that I’ve had over the years.

Of course, there’s the sheer joy of driving on a nice day with the sunroof down or cruising along the bike path at a good clip with the wind at your back, but being a numbers person I’ve always wondered where the line crossed in my head when I felt that a purchase was truly worth its monetary investment.

In doing so, I’ve had to rely on my memory of numbers and distances and dollars in many cases, but due to many factors (one of which is somewhat obsessively keeping track of how many miles I’ve biked over the years) I feel that the estimates below are fairly correct. In all cases in which I couldn’t remember exactly, I’ve rounded down to the nearest close number. Of course, it’s impossible for me to remember how much I paid for gas with each car, so I’ve instead figured out how many miles were put on the car each year and then divided that by average miles per gallon and then totaled up how many gallons used at average cost at the pump that year.

First off, the automobiles…

1980 Volvo GLE – I’ve decided to exclude calculations on this car, mostly because my parents paid for it along with a couple of large repairs during the first few years of ownership.

2001 Honda Accord
Price paid: $12,000
Registration and taxes (for 4 years): $950
Insurance (for 4 years): $1,300
Maintenance costs, including oil changes (for 4 years): $3,000
Gas costs (approximately): $3,300
Total Costs: $20,550
Miles driven: 30,250
Dollars per mile: $0.68

Now, on to the bicycles…

1990 Trek 820 mountain bike
Price paid: $350
Maintenance costs, new tires/tubes/handgrips, cyclometer, tune-ups (for 6 years of ownership): $200
Total Costs: $550
Miles riden: 1,800
Dollars per mile: $0.305

1996 Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike
Price paid: $670
Maintenance costs, new tires/tubes/handgrips, bar-ends, tune-ups (for 13 years of ownership): $300
Total Costs: $970
Miles riden: 4,850
Dollars per mile: $0.20

1985 Fuji Espree road bike
Price paid: $5 (Thrift score! Thanks Tina!)
Maintenance costs, new tires/tubes/bell/seat (for 4 years of ownership): $75
Total Costs: $80
Miles riden: 1,070
Dollars per mile: $0.075

1982 Takara Deluxe 12 road bike
Price paid: Free! (Whee! Thanks Grauer!)
Rebuild costs, paint/chain/wheels/tires/tubes/grips/bell (for 8 months of ownership): $265
Total Costs: $265
Miles riden: 240
Dollars per mile: $1.105

1985 Trek 400 Series road bike
Price paid: $340
Maintenance costs, new tires/tubes/bottom bracket (for 3 weeks of ownership): $85
Total Costs: $425
Miles riden: 330
Dollars per mile: $1.29

In looking at the above numbers, I think we’ve already done pretty well in terms of our investment on the Accord. Over the years, I’ve found myself disliking the actual act of driving even more and more (mainly due to other drivers), but the convenience and speed of the car make it essential for both errands, commuting (sometimes), and longer trips. Unless it turns into a money pit of expenses (fingers crossed), I think that its cost per mile will just keep going down, and that’s a good thing.

As for my bikes, I feel like I’ve always managed to get my money’s worth. Both of the mountain bikes have long-since been retired, but both worked out for exercise and commuting during their times. I need to sell the Specialized, as I haven’t taken it out for years, and the Trek was sold many moons ago to another friend who rode it until the frame broke (so it had a good life).

The Fuji is obviously a major anomaly that will be hard to match again in terms of efficiency because the costs involved with it are so minimal. It also has a rack on the back with an expandable trunk pack, so I’ve made many jaunts to area hardware and grocery stores to retrieve items when it seems like a waste to drive the car (for the record, I’ve fit a half gallon of soy milk, a package of carrots, 6 bananas, and a block of cheese in that pack with room to spare).

The Takara was a winter project of mine and easily the least practical of the bikes that I’ve owned due to it only having one gear. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to ride (and eventually I’ll put more miles on it), but it’s at the same time too nice (I put a lot of work into it) to lock up somewhere and not nice enough (the gear ratio isn’t exactly long-distance friendly) for big rides.

The new (used) Trek road bike was bought mainly for exercise, since I’ve had some aggravated hip pain that has held me out of playing tennis (but has felt pretty good with the low-impact of bicycling). As with any sport I try out, I tend to get pretty engrossed, and 330 miles in just over 3 weeks is hopefully just the opening chapter on what will be a solid performer for me. I’ll probably get another bike at some point down the road, but the vintage steel rides like a dream, so I might be hooked.

Having said all of the above, it also seems somewhat logical to separate the miles on either forms of transportation into leisure and utility. Although I have been known to take somewhat meaningless drives for convenience’s sake, I can’t recall a time where I simply got in the car and drove for no particular reason. However, a large part of the miles put on my bikes have been for no other reason than to simply ride and exercise. Of course, there’s obviously health values in bicycling, but largely the miles put on my bikes are much less utilitarian in nature than the miles put on the cars.

Ultimately, the goal would be to reduce the overall cost per mile of transportation. To that end, the easy solution is to bicycle more. Fortunately, I live in a locale where a commute to work is very easy, and there are stores of just about every kind located within five miles or less (yes, I have on occasion been “that guy” you see with a grocery bag slung over each handle of his bicycle). Of course, hauling a shovel or a flat of plants home becomes a bit more precarious on a bicycle, but there are many drives that I take now that I could easily turn into bicycle trips (including picking up takeout from nearby restaurants). It’s also been shown that the 5 and 10 minute trips are the ones that do the most long-term damage to cars (due to containment build-up in the oil, etc), so replacing some of those trips with a bike ride might also possibly mean lower maintenance costs (and therefore more miles per dollar) on our automobile.

Fortunately, I enjoy biking a lot more than I do driving, so hopefully I can turn these numbers over just a bit more in the future.