How To Think About Transportation – And Why I Always Bike

I always bike everywhere and rarely take a car or public transportation.

I’m lucky to be living in Copenhagen that is relatively flat and bike friendly. I have also lived for a while in San Francisco and biked around (and God knows that is not a flat city!), and to be honest I would bike no matter where in the world I was living.

I am a big fan of walking, running and biking. Somewhat a fan of public transportation, carpooling and car sharing services. Definitely not a fan of personal cars.

My main reasons for loving walking, running and biking are:

  1. It’s cheap
  2. It’s time-saving
  3. It’s healthy
  4. It’s beautiful
  5. It’s better for the environment

Woah, five bold statements right there!

I think they should all be arguments for how you should think about transportation and why you should bike. Let us dive into them one by one:

1. What different modes of transportation cost

You can transport yourself in many ways, but the costs are very different:

  • Walking costs a good pair of shoes and new soles every now and then.
  • Running costs a good pair of running shoes that should be changed more frequently than normal shoes.
  • Biking costs a bicycle and repairs once in a while.
  • Public transportation costs a fixed fee per trip/time interval.
  • Driving costs a car, gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, fees, taxes.

So, if we only look at the numbers, these are the yearly costs for only:

  • Walking: $70 (a good pair of shoes at $100 every second year – $50 per year – and new soles at $40 every second year – $20 per year)
  • Running: $150 (a pair of running shoes at $100 once a year and new soles at $50 once a year)
  • Biking: $100 (a bike from $150 every third year and repairs at $50 per year – this is highly conservative as I have had my bike for more than 15 years with good maintenance)
  • Public transportation: $1,080 (this one is hard to set as it varies greatly from country to country and even city to city, but assuming that you only use public transportation for all travel, you will need a monthly/yearly subscription for all modes of public transportation, and I don’t think $90 per month – $1,080 per year – is way off for this)
  • Driving: $9,500 (this is based on the Consumer Expenditure Survey released by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and includes per-year values of purchasing a car, gasoline, oil, repairs and others)

Now, if we only look at costs, it is obvious that walking, running and biking are superior to public transportation and even more to driving. Since this is a personal finance blog, this should be reason enough to just sell that car and start biking tomorrow!

Are you thinking: “Screw you, I have a busy life, and I don’t have time to walk, run or bike – not even public transportation!“?

Then read on!

2. How much time different modes of transportation take

So, how long time does it actually take to walk, run, bike and drive? Well, that of course depends on how long the distance is. Let’s take two examples.

If you live in a city, I will assume that you have less than 5 miles from your home to work. Roughly 30% of the American population have between 1-5 miles to work. I would always recommend to try to live close to your work – you save precious minutes of your life every day by not commuting for long. Of course, I know that this is not always possible for different reasons.

We’ll assume that you transport yourself to work 10 times per week (to and from work, Monday-Friday), 48 weeks per year (2 weeks of vacation and 2 weeks of being sick at home). This gives 480 trips per year.

I picked a random distance of 5 miles in San Francisco (uphill that is) on Google Maps and found out how long time it takes to walk, run (average of walking/biking), biking, using public transportation and driving. Here’s the results:

  • Walking: 99 minutes (47,520 minutes per year)
  • Running: 66 minutes (31,680 minutes per year)
  • Biking: 32 minutes (15,360 minutes per year)
  • Public transportation: 41 minutes (19,680 minutes per year)
  • Driving: 14 minutes (6,720 minutes per year)

Generally, there’s no surprises here. Driving is faster than everything else, but wait a minute… biking is faster than public transportation? Uphill?! Impressive 🙂

Keep in mind that this is time spent from A to B, and does not factor in the time you have to spend on e.g. parking your car. If the distances were shorter, the transportation times would become more similar, and the opposite is the case if the distances are greater.

Living outside the city or far from your work? No problem.

Roughly 75% of the American population lives within 1-20 miles of their work. Excluding long distance commuters (>50 miles to work), the average commute to work in the US is roughly 14 miles.

Again I picked a distance of 20 miles in Google Maps. This time from the outskirts of New York City to Manhattan. These are the results:

  • Walking: 365 minutes
  • Running: 239 minutes
  • Biking: 113 minutes
  • Public transportation: 75 minutes
  • Driving: 33 minutes

The difference is now a lot bigger – and spending more than 6 hours walking to work might be a stretch. However, biking is still fairly attractive in terms of time despite the distance of 20 miles.

We are not going to stop here, because the above does not really matter. The Google Maps transportation times do not reflect how long time it really takes.

How much time different modes of transportation really takes

To understand how much time transportation really takes, we need to combine the time spent on transport with the money spent on the mode of transportation. Remember that you also spend your precious time on earning money that you then use for transport. Time is money friends.

The average American works roughly 1,800 hours per year which equals 108,000 minutes. The average American earns $44,148 per year.

We learned previously that the average American spends $9,500 on cars and related costs every year. That equals 22% of the total income of an average American spent on car ownership. This means that the average American spends 22% of his/her time at work or 23,760 minutes (9,500/44,148) on working just so they can afford a car… to commute to work.

The same calculations can be made for the other modes of transportation based on their costs above. This is how many minutes you have to work to afford the mode of transportation per year:

  • Walking: 171 minutes
  • Running: 367 minutes
  • Biking: 245 minutes
  • Public transportation: 2,642 minutes
  • Driving: 23,760 minutes

Now it is obvious which one of these takes the most time.

Let’s combine the time spent on work to afford the modes of transportation with the amount of minutes you have to spend in actual transportation and see which mode of transportation comes out on top using the 5 mile example:

  • Walking: 47,520 minutes + 171 minutes = 47,691 minutes
  • Running: 31,680 minutes + 367 minutes = 32,047 minutes
  • Biking: 15,360 minutes + 245 minutes = 15,605 minutes
  • Public transportation: 19,680 minutes + 2,642 minutes = 22,322 minutes
  • Driving: 6,720 minutes + 23,760 minutes = 30,480 minutes

As you can see, biking comes out on top being the most effective mode of transportation. You spend nearly 50% of the time compared to driving.

Public transportation is also attractive, and running is nearly as attractive as driving. Walking, however, is the least attractive mode of transportation.

If you live within 5 miles of your work, there is simply no reason to own a car. You should sell it tomorrow and buy a bicycle. If you still need the car occasionally for other trips, I would argue that it will nearly always be a cheaper option to rent a car for those trips rather than owning it.

So what do you do with your newly gained time? You can either work less or save up more money.

To be fair, let’s quickly take a look at how the modes of transportation look with a 20-mile daily commute:

  • Walking: 175,200 minutes + 171 minutes =  175,371 minutes
  • Running: 114,720 minutes + 367 minutes = 115,087 minutes
  • Biking: 54,240 minutes + 245 minutes = 54,485 minutes
  • Public transportation: 36,000 minutes + 2,642 minutes = 38,642 minutes
  • Driving: 15,840 minutes + 23,760 minutes = 39,600 minutes

Now public transportation and driving are the most attractive forms of transportation closely followed by biking.

Ok, ok, bicycle haters. I hear you. Driving might be more effective if you live 20 miles away from your work, but the average American actually lives closer. The closer you live to work, the better the case becomes for biking.

Similarly, biking is often faster than Google Maps predict if you have a good, racing bicycle, which makes the case for biking even better. A good bike will of course also influence the amount of money you have to pay for it.

Not convinced yet? Is it a stupid methodology?

Well, I got more for you!

3. Which modes of transportation are healthiest

I don’t feel I even have to write this, but choosing a mode of transportation that enables physical exercise is always preferred to transportation modes that do not.

It is recommended for adults to do moderate intensity exercise for 38 minutes per day. Guess what normal bicycling is? Moderate intensity exercise. If you bike faster or uphill, it can even become more intense and you’ll.

I simply do not understand why people would sit still in a car rather than exercising and reaping all the benefits that follow from e.g. biking such as a longer life.

If you spend time in a gym, you can save some of that by bicycling instead – if you do high intensity bicycling several times per week, you might be able to skip the gym altogether.

Previously, I wrote a post about how exercise is one of two of the best investments you can ever make.

4. Why cars are not the most scenic mode of transportation

Walking, running or biking are simply better options if you want to have scenic experiences during your transport.

Being out in the open, you experience much more of the landscape.

Breathing the fresh air while being able to look up and down, left and right, is a much better experience than being in a confined car or bus.

5. Why walking, running and biking is better for the environment

Global warming is real, I’m not even going to discuss that.

Motor vehicles account for more than 20% of all heat-trapping gas emissions in the US. This is a serious threat to your kids, their kids and the rest of our precious world.

Motor vehicles account for half of all cancers caused by air pollution.

Motor vehicles emit particulate matter, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and other hazardous air pollutants. These gasses pollute the air causing everything from damaging your lungs and respiratory system to causing cancer in fetuses, newborn children, young people… and everyone else.

If you stop driving cars, you will be part of saving your health and the planet.

I don’t think you need more good arguments to sell your car tomorrow and start walking, running or biking 🙂

Carpooling is of course better on the environment than driving alone in a car. The same goes for public transportation. However, they are both still worse for the environment than walking, running or biking.

What are your bad excuses?

I know you might have several excuses as to why you are not riding a bicycle to work.

“I’ll be sweaty when I arrive”

I bike in a suit every day to work and it has never been a problem for me. Leave in good time or bring an extra shirt and change on arrival.

“It will rain before I get home”

I use rain clothes and a plastic bag for my bag – I am 100% dry on arrival in the office.

“It takes too long”

That might be true, but remember that you should spend some time on exercising anyway – and the car takes time to park.

“It is dangerous to bike”

Bicycling is just as safe as driving. Remember that you are always at risk in traffic – and always wear a bicycle helmet!

“I’m not in good enough shape to bike”

That is exactly one of the main points of biking – you will get in much better shape.

“I can’t fit my family on a bike”

Teach your kids to bike and bring the whole family  – it is much more quality time than being stuck in traffic on a highway.

“Sometimes I need to go long distances and I need a car”

You are right. Sometimes you will need a car, but I will bet you that it will be cheaper to rent (or borrow) for those occasions than to own a car.

These are the reasons I bike – and I love my bicycle. I hope they have inspired you to at least try it out!

Am I a fanatic? Do you bike? Or what are your excuses not to? Let me know in the comments 🙂