The true cost of cycling

By Andy Chivers

Bicycle enthusiasts will tell you that cycling costs next to nothing and compared with running a car they are right. But a bike does incur costs which can be prohibitive to some people. We know that 20% of people stop cycling after they have their bike stolen, feeling that it’s not worth replacing, only to be stolen again.

The initial cost of buying a bike and accessories can easily add up to £300 before you even turn the pedals.  Several of our local bike shops sell second-hand bikes which may well be the best place to start.

Then there are the running costs. The fuel and the engine is supplied by the rider so the bike has a tiny cost per mile. But whereas public transport costs are predictable, there are unexpected costs with a bike which can mean the bike gets left in the shed. The commonest event is a puncture, which can mean it is time for new tyres. Although bike frames go on for ever, and wheels last ages too, brakes, chains and gears wear out steadily and need replacing at intervals. 

A flat tyre can really spoil your plans for the day so it’s worth trying to avoid punctures. Good puncture resistant tyres cost £20-30 each but can easily last for 5 or 10 years and give such peace of mind their value is doubled. When punctures do occur, bike shops will replace inner tubes for a few pounds but you have to get the bike, or at least the wheel to the shop, so it’s much more convenient if you, or a friend, can do the job at home.

Brakes and gears lose their new bike perfection so slowly that we don’t notice it until something fails. Worn gears cause the chain to jump on the cogs when you pedal hard, or it becomes difficult to change gear. With regular oiling, chains will last for several years and the cogs for even longer, but when you replace a really worn chain you need to change the cogs as well. This is about £25 for the parts and probably £10 labour. 

Brake blocks wear down, so the cables need tightening, which is what those cable adjusters on the brake levers are for. Have a look next time you are on your bike. Ignoring worn brake blocks can ruin the wheel rim so change the blocks urgently if you hear a scraping noise when you brake. Brake blocks are £3-4 a pair and last for a year or two depending on weather and use.

The best way to avoid surprising expenses is to keep an eye on your bike, looking for rusty chains and worn tyres. Don’t ignore a new noise, try to work out where it is coming from. Squirt a little oil on the cogs and chain when they look dry. And remember you are saving money every time you ride your bike, even though you may not notice it.

Cyclox members receive discount at a number of local bike shops. The best (and cheapest) way to keep your bike maintained is to learn how to fix it yourself, and Oxford’s Broken Spoke Bike Coop can teach you!

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