21 Apr 2010, 9:53am
simple living:
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  • the pros and cons of cycling to work

    It’s easy enough to calculate how much money cycling to work saves me. I’m a civilian cyclist, not one of the hard nuts in Lycra and sinews like steel cables. It’s apparently called utility cycling.

    Biking to work scores as an experience compared to driving if it isn’t raining, particularly at this time of year.  I get to hear the birds, indeed cycling regularly I get to even know some of them blackbirds individually by song.

    I hear the high-pitched excitement of the nestlings as Dad comes to the nest bearing food, and the sparrows get up a racket in the hedge because it’s just what they do at this time of year.

    Another plus is that a bike journey is very repeatable in duration. My journey time varies by less than a couple of minutes a day, probably from the one set of lights.

    I had hoped that cycling might help me lose weight. I am someone who hated sports at school, and despise exercise unless it does something useful for me. Walking for the sake of it? Nah. Walking a few miles to go see something interesting or to shoot pictures in an interesting landscape, now we’re talking… Thus working out how to avoid the cost of a gym subscription has never been a problem for me. I don’t see the difficulty, pay good money to smell stale sweat and ache afterwards, what’s to like about that 🙂

    The nasty little secret is that biking doesn’t do that much in terms of calorie consumption. Not the way I do it. I average 8-10 mph over a distance of 13 miles round trip. These guys reckon I use about 260 calories each way with leisure cycling, which I find hard to believe. That’s about a Mars bar a day each way, not that I eat rubbish like that any more. However, according to this post, I would use somewhat less than half that just sitting at my office desk, so the difference is a marginal 300 calories.

    Whatever the reason, leisure cycling makes precious little difference. There’s only one way to lose weight and we all know what it is. You don’t need to pay anybody for a fancy diet plan or crap like that, just knuckle down and eat less. It works well enough for me but it takes months.

    There’s no point in cycling like a nutcase because the time I save en route would be wiped out and then some by the time it takes to shower and change at work, and the experience would be worse so I wouldn’t keep it up.

    For the keener cyclist there’s another financial incentive. It costs an outrageous amount of money to knock a couple of pounds in weight off a bike, going to titanium bits and bobs. Knock a couple of pounds off the rider does the same thing to your ride, costs nothing and won’t get nicked with the bike either!

    That’s not to say cycling has no physical benefits. It does improve my fitness and stamina, and makes hiking easier.

    19 Apr 2010, 1:05pm
    personal finance:
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  • how much is it costing you to get to work

    petrol at 101.9 ppl

    This photo was taken less than a year ago and is already obviously out of date

    You generally think of work as one of the things that puts money into your bank account, but working does also cost you. Getting there and back is a hit, as is the cost of coffee, lunch, and any socialising you do. If you walk to work then getting there is free, of course, but many people have a significant journey to work and back. This is easy enough to work out if you use public transport, but it is one of those nasty little creeping expenses that mounts up stealthily over the years if you drive to work.

    In my attempts of purge life of some of these costs, I am cycling to work. When I moved here I made sure that I did not live too far away from work – my London commute was 1 1/2 hours each way for a journey of 15 miles, and I knew that I didn’t want to live like that in future. I live about 6 miles from work, which is far enough away to not see it on the weekend and close enough to bike. In the interests of getting visibility I figured I should change my drop-handlebar bike for something more upright, so I wanted to evaluate the business case. I’d have a car anyway, so I will stick with simple fuel costs for calculating my savings. The results were interesting – the following Javascript calculator is preloaded with my costs, but it will let you work out your own costs if you put in your own distance, MPG and petrol costs.

    It surprised me – a classic old personal finance saw is that the cost of a daily skinny latte mounts up over a year, and here I was paying about the cost of a latte just to get to work and back. It validates my viewpoint on the bus service, which would cost me over twice the cost of driving. And it does add something to think I am saving £1.64 on a bike day, which adds up to about £300 a year, allowing for the fact that I don’t bike every workday, particularly in winter.

    The bus service is a non-starter for two reasons. One is that due to my company’s decision to outsource a lot of the work, the outsourcing company brings people in from India on temporary 3 to 6-month contracts. Their employees aren’t here long enough to get their own cars, so they naturally use the bus. As a result it’s hard to get on the bus unless you join at the starting bus station in town. Secondly the bus service is a ripoff, £2.50 each way!

    Running a car is one of the big hits in personal finance. There’s already the big one-off hit of buying it, plus the fixed costs of running a car – tax, servicing and insurance. All of these things are part of the decision whether to get a(nother) car in the first place. The utility of having a car is pretty clear in most people’s cases, unless you live in the centre of London or New York. When I living in London I got a car just before leaving the city, and I had to park it about 200 yards away!

    I was surprised at the cost of what is a pretty short commute. People don’t often factor in the cost of going to work in their decision of where to live, it is usually mainly the amenities of the area and the practicality of of the commute in terms of time.  As an example, many colleagues come in from 20+ miles away, and these guys are effectively taking a £1k a year pay cut every year compared to me, and the guys doing this with Land Rovers (assuming 25mpg for the LR) are eating a £2000 pay cut.

    It also meant in about seven months I’d recover the cost of the bike. I don’t cycle in December of Jan/Feb and I don’t do it if rain is forecast so I’m only halfway there so far. As petrol costs rise the case for cycling gets stronger.

     
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