The Cash Cycle: How much money can biking save you?

Featured image by Morgan Bocknek

There are dozens of reasons to bike, but at the end of the day, only one convinced me.

Fresh air is nice. Exercise is good. Being eco-friendly is something I care about, theoretically. But saving money? There’s a compelling reason, and the one that was on my mind as I forked over $300 to buy a bike in September.

Right now, biking saves me anywhere from about $130 to $400 in an average month. As much as that is, it could actually be helping me more—63 per cent of all trips taken in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) are considered “potentially cyclable,” but only six per cent of them are actually walked or biked, according to a new study by Ryerson University.

The study defined a potentially bikeable trip as one that’s between one and five kilometres long, which would take about 20 minutes by bike. That’s an easy ride, even for beginners.

To arrive at that $130 to $400 figure, I tracked my bicycle trips during an average week and did a little math.

I rode my bike five times that week: twice to my work at Yonge Street and Queen’s Quay, once to a family member’s home at Dundas Street East and Keele, once to Evergreen Brick Works and once more to grab lunch in the area of King Street West and Portland Street.

Each trip started and ended at my house, which is near Gerrard Street East and Jarvis Street.

Assuming I’d pay the full $3.25 fare each way on the TTC, those trips would have cost me $32.50 in total, adding up to $130 monthly. They also would’ve eaten up more time—according to Google Maps estimates, transit was slower than biking by about one to five minutes for all of those trips.   

If I’d taken Uber, those costs would have climbed to at least $100 for the week, according to the company’s fare estimator. Over the course of a month, I’d be out $400, and would only be shaving off a few minutes from each trip.

At this point, I should mention that I’m not a cycling purist. I’m lucky enough to live close to most of the places I go on a regular basis, so I walk whenever a trip will take me less than 15 minutes. I also take Uber or transit from time to time, especially if I’m with friends who don’t bike.

Still, even the lower end of that spectrum of savings is a lot for a student. At that rate, my $300 used bike paid for itself within the first two months after I bought it. Even if I didn’t bike for the entire four months of Toronto’s winter, I’d still save over $1,000 every year, which more than accounts for the costs of maintenance, a helmet and a decent lock.

Going by Statistics Canada’s average prices, that extra $32 per week could buy me 20 kilograms of bananas, 28 cans of soup or nine dozen eggs. Do you know long I could survive off of nine dozen eggs?

In more smug moments, it’s also fun to look at the environment impact. The Ryerson study found that even taking one in five of those “potentially cyclable trips” in the GTHA would take over 700,000 cars off the road.

Another thing: the numbers don’t account for other, less quantifiable aspects of biking. It’s hard to put a monetary value on how much more energetic I feel now, or the bracing confidence I feel after weaving my way through the traffic at Yonge-Dundas Square, beating every single car on their evening commute.

With cycling culture growing and Toronto’s network of bike lanes constantly expanding—seriously, the City built a brand-new one outside my house last month—there’s more reason than ever to give biking a try.