Beat fuel prices by jumping on the bike

The Russia-Ukraine war is causing record-high petrol prices around the world, and with prices expected to further increase, many are turning to the bicycle for relief.

According to the Australian Institute of Petroleum, the national average unleaded petrol price rose by 3.3 cents to a record 183.9 cents a litre last week.

And as international tensions escalate, economist are warning that "it won't be too far before we see $2.10 or $2.20 as the common price that people will be paying right the way across Australia."

But as it often does in times of trouble, the humble bicycle is presenting itself as a useful tool to beat the bowser.

If we're looking purely at fuel costs, the average rate of fuel consumption of vehicles in Australia is 7.5 km per litre of petrol (or 13.4 L per 100 km) – which at $2 per litre, equals about 27 cents on fuel per kilometre. 

There are of course no fuel costs associated with riding a bike per kilometre, other than perhaps a banana for extra energy.

But there are other costs associated with both driving and riding. Let's look at some numbers.

Cost of driving a car

The average cost of running a medium sized car in Australia is calculated at $13,782 per annum. This figure was calculated earlier this year, when Australian petrol costs were at an average of $1.43 per litre, far below current prices.

This takes into account registration, loan repayments, maintenance, fuel, insurance, tolls; but notably not parking, which for city works can easily add an conservative $12 a day, times 226 working days a year, equaling an additional $2,712 p/a.

A recent German study tallied the total personal cost of car ownership at a staggering $1M over 50 years, 36 per cent of the average drivers' income. 

Cost of riding a bike

Bikes vary widely in price, but for our purposes we’ll take a very likely scenario of a bike for commuting costing $1,000.

There is no reason that a well-maintained bike can’t last for at least 10 years, which equates to a yearly cost of $100. You will also need accessories; at the very minimum a helmet ($80), lock ($100), pump ($40) and lights ($100). Assuming these last two years only, yearly cost goes up to $260.

Bikes need regular maintenance, and parts will eventually need replacing. Assuming replacement costs for tyres every two years, chain and cluster every year, chain rings every two years, miscellaneous items at about $100 a year, and labour costs of about $150, a fair estimate is about $430 a year to keep your bike running well.

It is also reasonable to add an annual cost for clothing you might otherwise not have needed (light rain jacket, gloves, trainers/bike shoes, shorts, etc.), at an annual cost of $200.

Add in the cost of joining a bicycle association (optional), and you’ve got a total annual cost of about $1,000.

Other savings

Harder to measure but still very important, the calculations above don't take into account societal or environment savings.

Other realistic savings to be made by using a bike instead of a car include lower medical bills for you, and a lower bill for the country. A fit and healthy workforce is also more productive, more alert and takes less sick days. Greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced, there is less wear and tear on roads, and bike infrastructure costs a fraction of car infrastructure. And what price do you put on being healthier, having more energy, and feeling happier?

A Danish study that dug deep into these calculations back in 2018 found that riding a bike cost society -4.79 units per kilometre in total, whereas driving a car cost 5.29 units. 

As described in Bicycle Network's 2022 Federal Election Policy paper, investments to promote shifts to active travel may incur health and costs benefits between $0.62-1.46 per km for the individual in Australia.

So, what are you waiting for?!

Of course, a bike is not a realistic replacement for every car trip for every person in Australia, but with petrol prices continuing to rise, even a small change of one or two short commutes per week could end up saving you hundreds of dollars each month.

On a similar note, Swedish Green Party leader Per Bolund retweeted a graphic saying “Fight Putin – Ride a Bike” that quickly went viral earlier this week.

The idea behind it was to draw attention to Russia’s economic dependency on oil exports. It was created by Twitter user Harry Gray, and people are now reported to have been printing stickers of the image and putting them on their bike or helmet.

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