The Home Economics of Bicycles

Our local NPR station, KPCC 89.3 is doing a story on bicycling, and how it affects home economics in these trying times…  These are my responses to their questionnaire.

Tell the story of how your bicycle is changing your financial picture.

Largely because we choose to bike as our primary form of transportation, and do not own a car, my partner and I have disposable income, even as poorly paid graduate students. We can max out our Roth IRAs (and then some) each year, and still have money left over to rent a car once a month or so, to get up into the Sierras or out into the desert, or to visit family in Santa Barbara. We live comfortably, but frugally, and have no consumer debt. The situation would likely be very different if we had even one, let alone two cars.

In what ways has the price of gas changed your relationship with the bicycle?

I’ve always used a bike as my primary vehicle, so the “high” gas prices really don’t have much to do with my bicycle relationship. Except in extraordinary cases (someone with a long commute and lousy fuel efficiency), fuel costs are not the largest portion of the expense of owning a car. Insurance, depreciation, maintenance, financing, registration, parking tickets, etc. are all significant, but they are “fixed” costs, which you will pay largely regardless of how much you drive, and so most people take them as given, because they assume they can’t live without a car. Most of the economic benefits of bicycling only accrue when you get rid of the car completely, and avoid those fixed costs.

What are the best and worst financial aspects of bicycling for you nowadays?

I can do all my own vehicle maintenance, and the most expensive possible bike repair is about the same price as a cheap trip to the car mechanic. I don’t have to pay for vehicle insurance, registration, parking, or fuel beyond food. I didn’t have to go into debt to buy my vehicle. There are no financial downsides to bicycling!

What else should we know about the money side of cycling?

One of the largest indirect benefits we’ve gotten out of not owning a car at all, aside from the financial savings, is that we’ve been able to turn the parking area at our house – a concrete slab between two houses on one lot – into a huge courtyard patio.  It’s the biggest “room” in our house, and it’s surrounded by tomatoes and cucumbers growing in containers, fragrant trumpet flowers that bloom at night, tree ferns, bougainvillea, and a small pond.  Six to nine months out of the year, that’s where we eat our breakfast and dinner.  From June through October, we cover the courtyard with a shade cloth to make it more hospitable.  It’s a wonderful living space to have in this climate, and we wouldn’t have it if we hadn’t substituted bikes for cars.

If you have one at hand, please upload a photo of yourself (with your bicycle, if possible) here. Please share some details about the photo: names, date, location, and the story behind it.

Zane and Bike Cargo from Home Depot

Photo was taken Sep. 9th 2007 at 10pm.  I’d just returned from a trip to Home Depot in Monrovia, where I got some wood to build some storage shelves in one of our closets, and some other hardware.  I brought it all home on my cargo trailer.  I went in the evening to avoid the heat of the day.  In the background you can see the courtyard we were able to create from the unused car parking area, and our own improvised household bike rack, built from galvanized steel pipes.

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Zane Selvans

A former space explorer, now marooned on a beautiful, dying world.

3 thoughts on “The Home Economics of Bicycles”

  1. Hi,

    I bounced onto your site after filling out the NPR questions myself. I’ve been car free for about a year and really appreciated your pic, as I find myself often preoccupied with how to get stuff from point A to point B.



  2. I love my car a lot and I am very possessive about it too. Your blog gave me an idea to know more about the vehicle. Good information provided. Thanks. Keep posting.

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