Biking on a Budget

A bicycle is an inexpensive way to get around.  Every time you chose to ride instead of driving, you save money and you are helping the environment.  

If you can get rid of your car, the savings are even more dramatic. I gave away my car eight years ago. I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Since then I have saved a lot of money. Bike repairs  cost a fraction of what you pay to repair a car. I use CarShare if I have to do a car errand. CarShare is available in Burlington and Winooski. Living without a car is a challenge, especially if you don’t live in Burlington or Winooski. A car is a necessity for most people who live in rural areas. No matter where you live it is still possible to minimize car use and maximize bike use. Some people who live out of town put their bike on a car rack and drive part way to work and then ride the rest of the way. 

A helmet full of cash!

If you don’t own a bike, you can get an inexpensive second hand one at either Old Spokes Home in Burlington or Winooski Wheels in Winooski. Other bike shops also sell second hand bikes. Old Spokes Home has a program that helps low income people get bicycles. If you choose to buy a second hand bike on-line, have it inspected by a bike mechanic before you make a purchase. This will insure that you are buying a bike that does not have hidden structural damage. The mechanic can also tell you whether the asking price is reasonable. Many years ago I was able to avoid buying a bike with a cracked frame because I had the bike inspected by a bike mechanic. 

For cold weather riding, gloves, hat, balaclava, jacket wind pants, and boots are helpful. When it rains, a good waterproof jacket and rain pants are essential. Riding while wet is no fun! I get much of my cold and wet weather gear at the Outdoor Gear Exchange consignment area. Buying second hand means big savings. The Outdoor Gear Exchange is on Church Street in Burlington. The consignment area is in the back of the shop. If you have gear you are not using you can bring it in and sell it. This will give you credit for more gear. The key to finding good consignment deals is shopping regularly. New items arrive all the time.  

Some people enjoy riding out in the countryside. If you don’t own a car, or prefer not to drive and ride, put you bike on either a local or commuter bus and get away from the center of Burlington. Bus rides are both cheaper and more earth friendly than riding in a car. Sometimes I take the early morning bus to Saint Albans and then spend the day riding back to Winooski. This helps me avoid riding in rush hour traffic. On summer rides, I save money by bringing along my own snacks instead of buying them on the way. I favor dried fruit. Costco has good deals on dried fruit. They also have a bike rack. I am almost always the only customer riding a bike! If you want to avoid taking Route 7 there is a back way to Costco through the Gilbrook Natural Area in Winooski.  

Owning a bike can save you time as well as money. For local rides, especially in rush hour traffic, I get to my destination more quickly than I would in a car. One big difference is parking. In downtown Burlington parking is always an issue but I can lock up my bike almost anywhere. Even if bike racks are not provided I can use a signpost. I also spare myself the aggravation of driving around looking for an empty parking spot! 

Learning to make simple repairs on your bike will save you money. Most bike shops offer basic maintenance classes. At a minimum you should be able to lubricate your bike and fix a flat tire. Good bike maintenance will help keep your bike running smoothly. You should also bring your ride into a bike shop once a year. Tell the mechanic to look the bike over and make any necessary repairs. Regular professional maintenance, in addition to the maintenance you do yourself, will help you avoid most major repairs. I am a frugal person but I am always happy to pay for necessary repairs. 

Bike riding improves your mental and physical health. While it may be difficult to put an exact dollar amount on improved health, it makes sense that active people usually spend less money on medical treatment. 

Finally, beware of expensive bike gear! It is tempting to think that because you are saving money by riding, you have unlimited cash to spend on fancy bike stuff or a new bike. Your expenditures can easily outstrip your savings!

About the Author: 

Peter Burns

Peter Burns is a long-time bike enthusiast, and one of the original year-round bike riders in the greater Burlington area. In addition to writing about walking and biking, Peter teaches a variety of bike workshops. He also works at a group home for people with psychiatric disabilities, teaches classes for the Vermont Humanities Council, teaches swimming at the Burlington YMCA, and is a regular host of Storytelling VT.  You can contact Peter at [email protected].