Monday, April 21, 2014

The Dangers of Math

My current commute is long: 42-45 miles one way.  That’s a lot of miles a week.  Due to the topography and my impending middle-age it just wouldn’t be feasible (or sane, or defensible, or reasonable, or desirable) for me to be a full-time bike commuter.  As much as I would like to claim otherwise…

I’ve had a few conversations with my wife when we agreed it would be feasible once the days are longer and the weather more stable for me to ride one or two days a week.  Best case it would take me two to two and a half hours to make the ride one way.  And that’s after losing a few pounds and getting fit and fast.  Currently I don’t think I could do better than three hours one way.

After those discussions had stewed in my beanpot for a while I sat down one day to calculate all the loot I’d be saving.  I was surprised once I counted all the costs that it might actually be cheaper on the surface for me to drive my car than for me to ride my bike.  This is going to take just a little explaining, so bear with me.



Gas is about $3.25 to $3.75 a gallon these days.  I know that’s a wide spread, but this thought process has been a few months coming.  My car gets around 30 mpg give or take.  My commute is roughly 45 miles (I’m normalizing the numbers because it’s easier math for me).

Per day I spend about $10.50 on fuel for my car.  At first glance I thought by riding my bike I could easily save $10-20 a week by riding.  But then I started calculating how much extra food I would need to fuel my body to cover those distances in a reasonable amount of time (three hours or less).  I was surprised.

According to one online calculator I would burn about 5,400 calories just by commuting back and forth from work.  Then I started doing the financials on some common foods.  For a $3.00 loaf of bread I could claim 1,540 calories.  It would take about three and a half loaves of bread to provide the raw calories I’d need for my travel for the day.  That would cost me about…$10.50.

Then I calculated cost-to-calorie ratios of some other foods and kept coming back to about $10—and sometimes even more—to supply the needed calories for my scheme.  The only way I could maximize my superficial savings would be to fuel up on junk calories.  That seemed to defeat the purpose by sacrificing my health to save a few pennies.

Though I would sacrifice my health for one of these


I haven’t delved too deeply into the hidden and external costs yet, but I fear I may be as surprised once I do that.  It is easy to presume that the maintenance and upkeep of operating a bicycle is cheaper than that of doing so for a car.  I started thinking about it, and something occurred to me: the amount of rubber that is lost from a bike tire might be equal to the amount of rubber lost from a car tire on the same trip.  The difference is the beefiness of the car tire.  So is my monetary cost in rubber lost equal across the miles?  Presumably for moving the same amount of weight the same distance it would be if the rubber were of the same general grade.

The biggest difference then would be that the automobile commuter propels greater weight around than the bike commuter and therefore it may end up being cheaper only because of the difference in weight and mass, and not in the fuel itself.

To offset the caloric fuel costs the frugal cyclist could bum food, take advantage of free food opportunities like Easter egg hunts, Christmas stockings, and other random party favors; or in season he or she could look into gleaning from fruiting trees and shrubs along their ride.  I recommend The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer.  Of course, foraging will add time to your commute.

One last thing to consider is that in our corporatist society time is money.  Would you prefer to spend half an hour behind the windshield or an hour to an hour and a half behind (handle)bars?  Would you give up more of your day to commuting if you could convert that commute to active transportation?



On Friday I proclaimed that I would commute by bike to work tomorrow, April 22 Earth Day, and I fully intend on carrying through on that proclamation.  However, due to an overly soggy forecast I may have to bump my 84+ mile round trip commute until later in the week.  I’ve planned and prepared for a bike commute tomorrow; however, I have no intention of making such a long and mostly untested journey in rainy conditions.  Wednesday I have a meeting late after work which negates the possibility of riding then.  That puts me out until Thursday or Friday.  It will happen, and it will happen soon.

 

 

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