What are the real costs of cycling to work?

The UK’s cost of living crisis is set to worsen with the energy price cap set to rise dramatically not once, but twice this winter, affecting an ever larger proportion of households. This is in addition to the rising cost of food and transportation.

For drivers, prices at petrol pumps have started to fall gradually, but are still around 40p a liter more expensive than 12 months ago and the cost of filling a family car remains fair below the £100 mark.

Public transport is not exempt either. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has already warned that fares in the capital are set to rise by 10% next January. (opens in a new tab)while rail fares could face similar increases, although a recent government announcement indicates they will not rise as much as the retail price index – currently at 11.8% (opens in a new tab) – which normally dictates annual increases.

You may be looking to save money across the board, by using less energy, shopping at a cheaper supermarket and, perhaps, considering traveling by bicycle.

We highly recommend cycling to work at Coach and have covered the real benefits people get from commuting, including saving money.

We will remove the caveat now. The bike is obviously not going to be enough if you have a 100 mile commute or if you are a tradesman who needs to carry a lot of equipment from job to job. But for shorter journeys – whether door-to-door or replacing a car journey to the station – it’s one of the cheapest ways and (especially in dense urban areas) the fastest to move.

But how cheap is it? To help you decide if biking could make a significant difference to the state of your finances, we’ve created this guide to biking costs, with a focus on commuting.

Initial investment

If you don’t already own a bike, this is probably one of your arguments against cycling if you really care about it. Even entry-level bikes (which we’ve reviewed in this guide to the best budget bikes) will set you back close to £200. If money is already tight, it might seem like an unnecessary expense when you factor in the purchase of accessories like bike lights (a legal requirement if riding at night), a bike lock (essential), a bicycle helmet and reflective winter clothing (there is no law that says you have to wear these, but many prefer).

If you have more wiggle room you can find some great hybrid bikes for commuting between £350 and £1000 which, even with the extras, will likely be a saving on an annual train or bus fare.

One way to drastically reduce costs is to use the Cycle to Work program (opens in a new tab), which allows eligible employees to spread the cost of buying a bike (and the accessories you need) over 12 months, with the payment deducted from your pre-tax payslip. There’s no limit to that, which means e-bikes are on the table too – particularly useful if you’re worried you live too far from work to cycle.

“I tried to reduce the amount of car use for my school in the mornings,” says Brighton-based Ben Kelly, who had considered buying an electric car but had to consider other options when he realized he couldn’t afford it. He opted for a £3,000 electric cargo bike, which is by no means cheap, was “considerably less than a car”.

Electric cargo bike in a bike shop

Electric cargo bikes can also be used for school runs (Image credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Since its purchase in October 2021, Kelly has covered 1,000 km (621 miles), mainly the 8 km round trip to school and back. “There’s a direct saving that can be calculated, especially with the cost of diesel and everything right now.”

The benefits aren’t just financial either. “I pull a car off the road, decongest and it’s a lot more fun – my kids love it when I say we’re going to take the bike out today. They love that feeling of spinning and beating traffic.

Daily outings

A bike isn’t just a cheaper purchase than a car or an annual public transport pass – it also costs less to run.

Compared to a car, the bicycle eliminates three costs at once. There is no excise duty on vehicles to pay, the only refueling required is to feed yourself, and bike insurance is not compulsory (entry-level policies aim to protect you against theft rather than personal responsibility).

There are maintenance costs to consider. Search by NimbleFins (opens in a new tab) put general service costs around £35 per hour (a service is recommended every three to 18 months depending on usage and other factors), and parts like tires and chains will need to be replaced once worn, but they are tiny compared to the savings you will have made.

“I resent now that I can’t cycle anymore because it’s good exercise and saves me money,” says part-time nurse Sue Saunders. She rides the 7½ miles from her home to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital as often as she can, and only rides in the depths of winter when icy, dark conditions make cycling dangerous.

“If I’m driving, it costs me £3 a day to park, plus fuel for those two journeys,” says Saunders. “[Cycling has] saved me a fortune over the years and it’s a nice relaxation to come home from work.

Even if you only switch to cycling once in a while like Saunders, you’ll still save money. A handy tool by Omni Calculator (opens in a new tab) allows you to see how much, depending on the distance to your place of work, the efficiency of your car and the cost of fuel. For example, leaving the car at home and driving the five miles to work just two days a week could save you £121.50 a year.

Maria D. Ervin