Saturday, 27 August 2011

Is cycling really cheaper than using public transport in London?

My poor, punctured tyre
It’s been a troublesome week for help my chain came off, and this time my bike chain is not to blame. Firstly, I was the victim of a puncture caused by a drawing pin (is there a cyclist terrorist out there?). Secondly, after a wonky ride home in the rain the other day, I discovered that 7 spokes had broken on my back wheel. These are bad times for me....I mean,  how on earth do wheel spokes break? Is it that my immense, toned, all-over body muscle is just too much for my bicycle? Or am I just a heffalump? Whatever the reason, thank goodness that I still have my tiresome, heavy, single speed bike lurking around which meant I could resume my usual commute, if a little more tired and sad.
The hindrance of having mechanical problems with my bicycle have indeed made my purse a little lighter. It made me start to think whether the claims that cycling is cheaper than travelling by public transport in London may not be entirely valid. Let me explain. I have ‘broken down’ my bike and travel costs which I have incurred since commuting by bike for the last 3 months:



New bike chain and fit

New inner tube and fit

New wheel and fit


Waterproof Jacket

Tube travel when not commuting
(approx £14 per week x 12 weeks)

So that's a total of £535 in the last few months! This equates to 4.5 months worth of oyster travel card and could have saved my colleagues from witnessing my dodgy helmet hair.
Ok, ok, so I know there are many other factors to account for also. The fact that I don’t pay £50 per month on a gym membership and the fact that the more and more I cycle, the more this cost will reduce. And maybe if I was smart enough, I could probably maintain my bike myself and not have to keep traipsing into Two Wheels Good and giving them my entire pay each month (ok, maybe I’m just exaggerating now).....Oh, and also paying £110 for a helmet really isn’t entirely necessary.
BUT, one can’t deny that if you are a new cycle commuter, the first 6 months are a pay cheque squeezer and I’m done with the squeezing. It was no surprise to me when I heard the news that cycling generates £3 billion a year to the UK economy. Good news for the cycling industry, bad news for my bank account.
Peddle on kids!


Iainecg said...

Broken spokes are one thing - I've had a few on my old bike. My new bike has immense spokes (they even supply a couple of spares) I did the hub instead! (much scarier when that lets go, thankfully it went pulling away from a set of lights...

I think for newcomers to cycling, the things I wish I'd been told on day one are: get puncture resistant tyres fitted, Schwalbe's Marathon pluses are amazing, I had to replace one after it got a cut of 2 inches in the tread, which hadn't reached the tube but gave handling issues! I've got another that's done 10k (at least) and still doing fine - I think the sidewalls will fail through age before the tread wears out! They seem expensive, but I have never had a puncture on one, I've done 6k miles this year, hitting potholes and debris sometimes things like glass too accidentally, and still they're fine. I was also amazed how good they perform too, good grip - better than the ones my bike came with, and great in the wet (lift water like a water wheel!) They might be expensive, but you'll be better off very quickly.

The other thing I'd suggest is to replace the brakes with pretty much anything else in the shop! I don't think I've paid more than £10 for a pair of brakes, but they perform much better than the ones supplied as standard, perform better in the wet (actuallly, just perform in the wet will do - had a few scary moments downhill wondering if I'd make the junction...) I also find they last longer, much longer, standard blocks last a couple of thousand miles tops, the replacements have given much longer service.

Simple maintenance isn't that hard, just buying a chain cleaner and fluid (I think sub £15) and whizzing your chain through it every so often (I try to do it weekly, but I can clock up 300 miles a week!) clearing the road mess from the gears etc will help too (get some latex gloves - eacier than getting all the muck off your fingers!) It takes an hour tops to give my bike a deep clean, and a clean chain runs better and should fall off less. My bikes' still on the origonal chain and gears, and it's showing it now, although I'm trying to put off taking it in for a bit longer, at least until the 7k mark is passed!

Jemma said...

Thanks for the advice Iainecg! I am such a cycle repair novice and it can be quite daunting so your wise words have been really useful.

That's a top tip about the puncture resistant tyres, once mine need replacing I will investigate getting those. When I was cycling to work today, I noticed how many pot holes and bumps I go over, so I'm sure it won't be long until something else will need replacing.

Great tip about the brakes too. In wet weather mine are pretty much worthless! My friend mentioned that oiling the chain and simple maintainence often will help prevent any major problems so I'm definately going to invest in some latex gloves. With your advice and a little bit of practice, I think I'll be able to put a post together about basic maintainence. Thanks!

BTW, you are a speedy cycler!- 6k on your bike so far this year is FAR! Good work.

ndru said...

Now you probably see that it makes sense to fork out for a more expensive and more sturdy bike. Let's say you bought one for L400 (subtracted the immensely expensive helmet and jacket) you'd get a much better quality bike with many useful features, which would break much less often (if at all during the first year) and even if it did the cost would be covered by insurance. The punctures would be almost non existent with proper tyres (try Schwalbe Marathon Plus). THe bike would probably last for a decade or more, but even if it didn't and disintegrated after a year it would still cost you less than 10 quid a week, so a good deal, no? More likely it would be around a quid a week taking into account it could last for 10 years. Just make sure you buy bikes dedicated to daily service not racing bikes - those are meant to go fast not to last.

Jemma said...

Hi ndru, I agree with you, it makes much better sense to buy and expensive decent bike which doesn't run the risk of falling apart on me. This is what I did 18 months ago and bought a nice bike through the ride to work scheme. It was great up until I finished paying it off and then it got stolen. Now I am reluctant to buy a new or decent bike in fear this will happen again. And unfortunately I don't have any secure bike storage at my work and have to leave it outside everyday....Maybe I should invest in some bicycle insurance..

ndru said...

Ah, have you heard about bicycle insurance? Peace of mind costs me 60 quid a year. Totally worth it if you ask me. Plus you get additional benefits.

Jemma said...

It's on my list of things to get!..

Ciarán said...

Overall cycling is much cheaper than public transport in London.

But these are the things I've learnt since riding a bike everyday.

Get a track pump they're not too expensive and you'd be surprised how quickly your tyres loose air. 10psi out of 100psi makes a big difference to how easy it is to ride.

Go on a bicycle repair course. I went on one at On Your Bike ( but there are quite a few others across London. You'd be amazed at what you learn. Also factor in the cost of finding problems with your bike. I had a wheel that was about to fall apart and in the words of the mechanic, "It'll kill you".

If you are so inclined. Get a bike stand at home so you can do your own maintenance. I am that way inclined and have great fun.

Or, book your bike in for yearly services and check-ups at a trusted bike shop. If you do it every year then you won't get any nasty surprises.

Things I'd do differently next time.

Get a proper bike, ie a sit-up-and-beg Pashley preferably with hub gears, hub brakes, hub dynamo and chain guard.

Whilst I like tinkering I've come to realise that I need a reliable and easy to use bike. There are too many things that need oiling, cleaning and checking on a normal "hybrid" bike.

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