Counting the Cost

Last October I was forced to look again at how I transport my two children. In three years of travelling by my beloved bakfiets cargo bike, both children had got to be awful big…and awful heavy. My poor knees were suffering and a diagnosis of osteoarthrosis made me accept that things were going to have to change.

After hours of googling and researching seemingly endless options, a Babboe City E-Assist was bought.

A temporarily two bike family

It has been a year with the Babboe now. In general, I love it (You can read my full review here). We cover around 70 miles on an average school week.

Last week we passed 3000 miles.

My reasons for choosing a cargo bike are many and varied. I would love to say that it is a choice born purely of principle – an environmentally sound and sustainable mode of transport. But, a fair bit of my choice is for selfish reasons – I like cycling more than driving, plus the thought of parking anywhere near my childrens’ school terrifies me.

Obviously, cycling is cheaper than driving. So I could argue that one of my very good reasons for cycling is that it saves us money.

But does it?

I thought I would have a stab at working it out.

The Financial Cost

Cargo bikes are not cheap. Especially ones with e-assist. After all, they are a wonderful piece of engineering, so why would they be cheap? One year ago my cargo bike, with rain cover and cushioned seat, cost £2335.99 (let’s call it £2336 for simplicity sake).

I am lucky enough to have Harts Cyclery just 5 minutes from my childrens’ school and Graeme Hart has become quite familiar with my cargo bike over the past year. I have broken a seat post and a saddle (don’t lift loaded cargo bikes through narrow school gates by the saddle) and had the rear wheel rebuilt with stronger spokes (because a broken spoke or two a week is just annoying). Recently I have become the proud owner of ice tyres to keep us upright on our sadly un-gritted route. Over the year the various parts and labour have added up to around £340.

Then there is the cost of charging the battery. I am sure there are clever formulae out there somewhere for working out exactly what it costs to charge the bike. However, I’m more of a ball park kind of person, so I have used an article on costs I found here. The article reckons 5-10p per charge. The article is 5 years old and the battery is pretty big, so I have plumped for 10p per charge. This is all very back of a fag packet (metaphorically, it has been many many years since I last had an actual fag packet to hand), but I probably charge the battery three times a week so 30p a week, for 52 weeks (£15.60). I have rounded  this down  to £15 because it’s a nice round number and therefore makes life simpler.

So, it has cost me around £2691 to transport the children by cargo bike for the year.

The thing is, I haven’t saved on the cost of a car…because we still have a car. We have thought and thought about it but we just have not been able to bring ourselves to part with the car. We don’t use it much, but it’s really handy when we do. So we have still had the cost of MOT, insurance, tax (vehicle excise duty that is), services and all that. Ha ha…I do pay my road tax  (VED) after all!

The only car related cost I have actually saved is the cost of fuel for those 3000 miles. On the back of my metaphorical fag packet, I multiply 3000 miles by 40p since that is the amount I can claim for using my car for work. That’s as good a figure as any. A total of £1200. Adds up, doesn’t it?

So, with a cost of £2691 and a saving of £1200, transporting myself and my children by cargo bike has not saved us money. Instead it has cost us £1491.

Ha ha, say the cycling doubters, cycling does not save you money after all – this is just what we need for an article in the Daily Mail.

But…and it’s a big but…

What about next year? I have no intentions of buying another cargo bike next year, or ever again to be honest. This one will do just fine until the children are both old enough to pedal themselves about.

Assuming I ride another 3000 miles next year, and have a similar maintenance cost of £340 (although I have now got the hang of lifting the bike by the rear rack, I have only broken one spoke in 6 months now, and the ice tyres should do a good few winters) plus the same charging cost of £15 for the year. I spend £355 and save £1200 (in fuel)….so travelling by cargo bike saves me £845.

This is fun, let’s make another assumption. Let’s assume that I am going to use the cargo bike for another 2 years. That’s a saving of £845 per year, making £1690. I have now paid off the first year’s cost of £1491. Even better, at that point I will sell my beloved Babboe on, thereby recouping some of the original cost.

At this point I blow raspberries to the cycling doubters.

The thing is, counting the cost is not just about finance either…

The Cost of Time

Time is limited when you have young children and there are always so many things to do.

The time which I have saved by cycling is really hard to work out. I know exactly how long I have spent on the bike over the past year. (I am a bit of a numbers freak and I love my Garmin.) However, I haven’t a clue how long all those journeys would have taken in a car (I am only comparing with driving because realistically, without the cargo bike I would have used the car).

I decided to concentrate on just the journeys I make to the school and back, since those are the ones I cannot do without and they are also the easiest to quantify.

What would you do with all that time?

It takes me 15 minutes to cycle one way to school or back. Once or twice I have indeed taken the car. I hate to be late and I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to parking so we usually have a bit of a walk from where we park. If I drive, I allow 30 minutes each way. I have one child doing full days at school and one doing half days at nursery. This means drop off in the morning, pick up at lunchtime and a second pick up at 3pm. Let’s assume I go home after each pick up / drop off, cos I usually do.

By bike, that’s 90 minutes a day. By car, that’s 3 hours a day. Half the time.

I do this four days per week in term time plus a slightly simpler Friday because of the half school day. Per week that is 7 hours by bike or 14 hours by car.

The school year consists of about 38 weeks. Per year that’s 266 hours by bike or 532 hours by car.

So, by travelling by bike I am saving around 266 hours a year. That’s more than 11 full days (24 hours).

What could you do with 11 full days?

The Cost of Calories

So that means I can eat both cakes, right?

I am no fan of seeing cycling as a means of burning calories – it is so much more than that. And besides, the evidence suggests that it is better to be fat and fit than it is to be skinny and inactive.

However, calories are fun to quantify.

I could go through all my records and add up all the calories my heart rate monitor tells me I have burned on the bike, however, that would take ages. Even with my spare 11 full days, I frankly can’t be bothered. Instead I have averaged a few examples then rounded them to a nice easy number, to give 40 calories per mile.

3000 miles at 40 calories per mile = 120,000 calories.

For those like me who love traditional Christmas fare, that’s around 480 mince pies.

The Final Cost

Frankly, who knows.

What I do know is that I love cycling. I love the fresh air, I love the freedom, I love the simplicity, I love the time spent chatting with my children. Riding bikes is a fundamental part of who I am. These things cannot (and should not) be quantified.

Recently, aspects of cycling have been getting me down, especially on the school run. But that’s all it is; passing moments of frustration and sadness. They are nothing compared to everything I gain from travelling by bike.

If you are wondering if the cost of a cargo bike, or any other kind of bike is worth it…it really is.

Now, pass the mince pies please.

15 Replies to “Counting the Cost”

  1. A lady after my own heart, to be sure.

    Because I chose to move to a cycle-friendly city in Southern Ca and we are retired and have only a few time commitments, living without a car is not only far more economic; it is far more hassle free and easy to manage. I can rent a car or take Lyft whenever I want!

    “There is nothing compared to everything I gain by traveling by bike.” is Diana’s statement that says it all for me. Errands drudgery left my life for good with exit of my last automobile, which I loved, by the way. (A Suburu Forester). For anyone who loves cycling like Diana and I do, it is a great life. And I haven’t even bought my first cargo bike yet.

  2. Why on earth do you keep on owning a car. I gave up car ownership in 1976, and typically my annual motoring costs then dropped to under £1000/year – all inclusive. I always drive a near new car, with the major benefits

    1) If anything needs sorted – its someone else’s problem
    2) I can hire the right vehicle for the job – no fuss about trying to fit flat pack furniture in the family saloon – a van for £7-£9/hour from car club or the Hertz 24/7 big vans at IKEA and B&Q. Or hire a 7-seater for the family holiday ….
    3) You pay only for what you use, and can convert your driveway/paved area into a bigger lawn (reinforced to take the occasional hired car if you want)
    4) When you want to impress you can even hire a Bentley or Lambourgini – for an eye watering daily rate (c.£600-£700)

    PS if you do join the Enterprise Car Club (official concession with CEC) or Co-Wheels/other options let me send you my membership number, so we both get introduction offers of hire time credits!

  3. PS – forgot to mention taxis – in areas of deprivation & VERY low car ownership folk have worked out that typically a bus pass (c.£1/day for annual card) or a bike (even less than bus pass) plus £5-£8 on a taxi home with the weekly shopping costs less than the £12-£16/day to keep a decent car on the road.

  4. Brilliant calculations Diana – I think you definitely deserve both cakes. It’s the ongoing savings that really do mount up over the years. However, I agree with you it’s the ongoing health benefits (physical and mental) that will eventually outweigh anything else. In 10 years I’m guessing you’ll be significantly more mobile and fit than peers who have sat in traffic jams everyday.
    Looking forward to reading more of your blogs next year. Have a great Christmas, Karen

  5. Hi Diana

    Fantastic article. Our maths is very similar to yours – many years until we would ever cover the cost of our Winther cargoo by comparing to petrol saved.

    I just got ice tyres for it (schwalbe marathon winter). I’m trying to decide when to fit them as they look like quite a bit of effort to swap on and off. How much noise/trouble do they are on but there isn’t any ice/snow?

    Thanks!!

    Agatha in W Yorkshire

    1. I just have the rear ice tyre at the moment. To be honest, I got my local bike shop to fit it for me cos it is just easier! I’ve had no problems riding on it when there is no ice or snow. It sounds a bit like riding through gravel, but other than that, I can’t say I have noticed any difference. Never thought I would find myself wishing for ice…so I can test it out properly!

      1. I’ve had ice tyre’s same ones as you Agatha but whenever I put em on it warms up again ha ha. Should explain this is on a cyclo-cross bike TBH not difficult to fit, they are good fun on the ice and make a lovely reassuring noise with the rolling resistance .

  6. Taking off the front wheels to swap over the tyres doesn’t look too hard although I’ve not tried it. Putting the rear tyre back on is really difficult because of the massively heavy rear hub motor. It was really hard to fix a rear split inner tube. Not looking forward to the work involved to swap the tyres over so I’ve been putting it off. I was wondering if it will be so noisy that pedestrians will notice the rumble 🙂

    1. I don’t think anyone but me really notices the noise to be honest. I’m the same as you – I don’t mind changing front tryres but dread having to do anything with the rear one, especially when fully loaded with two children!

    2. I don’t think anyone but me really notices the noise to be honest. I’m the same as you – I don’t mind changing front tyres but dread having to do anything with the rear one, especially when fully loaded with two children!

  7. Job done. Did one front wheel yesterday with the box balanced on a step stool. Was just starting on the other one when I found a broken spike so I abandoned that one and took it to a local bike shop to change the broken spoke (no charge to change the tyre because they had to take the tyre off to fit the replacement spoke. I fitted it back on yesterday them tackled the rear one today. I figured out, belatedly that refitting the rear into the frame needed me to slightly pull the rear frame apart to get the wheel axle in with its requisite shims. It never occurred to me that the frame would be slightly flexible and need me to do that so I fumbled for ages trying to get it into a space that was just a little bit too small to go in. I guess it wouldn’t be a problem if you were dealing with a regular bike you could turn upside down because gravity would do the work, but the trike needs you to lift the wheel into the slots whilst just slightly pushing the frame open. Really useful tools for the job: brake pad spacer (thin tool that goes between the pads and the rotor whilst you tighten the screws so that when it’s removed, the pads are evenly spaced), a tyre bead jack (helps us weedy people put a heavy duty tyre back onto the rim), 1.5mm pin spanner (needed to get the hub caps off the front wheel). I could have managed without the brake pad spacer but it makes any pad change much easier. I don’t think I could have dealt with the spiky heavy duty marathon winter tyres without the bead jack and the Winther hubcaps are impossible to remove without a pin spanner. So I reckon I can justify the cost of having acquired these. Now I need to get brave and try riding with the new tyres on!

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