The 2015 Edinburgh bike experiment – January edition

I am a self-confessed data geek. With this mild obsession in mind, I decided to embark on a wee 2015 project. I want to record my bike movements so I can see how much physical activity I do, how many miles I cover and the spondoolacks I have potentially saved in comparison to running a car or using public transport full time.

Maybe this little project will encourage more people to cycle. It could help to show the bike as a perfectly viable alternative to cars for getting around Edinburgh for folk with similar lifestyles to me. Hopefully it will be interesting. Who knows?

I am sure plenty of people have done things like this, but they are not me 😉 I am an adequately fit, young-ish woman (but by no means above average fitness-wise), with a very Edinburgh-centric lifestyle. I work, go to lots of places and do lots of things in the city. My average cycle speed is about 10-12 mph. It’s all very relaxed and accessible. So let’s see how we get on!

How it’s going to work

The cycling bit

Recording my activity on the bike is straightforward. I use Strava. You can follow me on it if you like. It is a geolocation service that tracks my miles, elevation, estimated calories and various other bits and pieces. Every time I use the bike, I just turn Strava on and it does all the work for me.

Comparing and contrasting for public transport

Because I record all my cycling activity, I can easily tell by the route if I would have used the bus instead. At the end of the month I tot up how many cycle journeys substituted a bus fare. Easy. If this is higher than the cost of a Lothian Buses Ridacard, I will substitute the Ridacard costs instead of individual fares.

  • A four-weekly Ridacard costs £51. It’s how I used to buy my Ridacard, rather than DD or annual pass. So that’s what I’ll be comparing.

Comparing and contrasting for the car

This is a wee bit more tricky. I’ve averaged out the cost of running a small car for VED, MOT and insurance. I’ve gone for a 2008 1.2l Ford Fiesta – it’s the kind of car I’d have if I decided to buy one. I’ve then used a petrol price checking website to figure out an estimation of the petrol I would have used instead of the cycling miles.

Broom broom, I'm in my imaginary car

Broom broom, I’m in my imaginary car

With my imaginary 2008 Ford Fiesta 1.25 Zetec Blue 3d car, I’ve come up with this monthly breakdown:

  • MOT – £4.58, based on an annual cost of £55
  • VED – £12.08, based on an annual cost of £145
  • Insurance – £22.50 based on an annual cost of £270

That’s a monthly running cost of of £39.16. Petrol goes on top.

For the sake of simplicity, my car will run perfectly for the entire year.

I’ve not factored in the initial £5,000 cost of the car – let’s just say I’ve owned my imaginary motor for a while. As I’ve paid off my £350 bike I will give the car and the bike an even playing field. Just for info, if I was paying the car off with a loan over three years it would be an additional £150 a month. My mind boggles when I think that I’d be paying £189.19 per month before starting the ignition.

All that fitness stuff

I use the bike to keep fit. Sans cycling, I’d have a monthly gym membership at Edinburgh Leisure. So let’s factor that cost into the equation also. A monthly card for classes only comes in at £30.50.

What about expenditure?

I will record any outgoing costs over the month that relate to the bike and any other public transport journeys if cycling is not an option (usually due to extreme weather).

Holes in the argument

I appreciate that this is not scientific. It’s more just for my own curiosity. Some of this will be estimation, but it should give a flavour of what happens when you ride a bike as transport for an entire year. I’m excited! So, let’s get the ball rolling for January…

The January Numbers

I would like to point out that January 2015 has had some really crappy weather. I still did 204 miles on the bike and burnt an estimated 7,300 kcal, the equivalent of 3 1/2 days’ eating or 5 MacSween haggis’ (haggi?).

I cycled away five of these bad boys this month. Via Zoonabar.

I cycled away five of these bad boys this month. Via Zoonabar.

Here is the month’s numbers crunched and presented:

Bike expenditure 

  • £6 – Brake pads
  • £15.50 – Bus fares, due to horrific weather affecting my commute
  • Total = £21.50

Public transport equivalent

  • Bus journeys substituted – 42 (this is the equivalent ticket cost of £63, so the Ridacard is more economical)
  • Ridacard cost = £51

Car equivalent

  • Monthly car running cost – £39.16
  • Petrol cost for 204 miles – £18.20. Now, the journeys I’ve been doing are in the city, so I’m going to round it up to £20 to account for congestion.
  • Total running cost = £59.16

Gym equivalent

  • Total cost – £30.50

Grand totals!

  • Public transport (£51) + gym (£30.50) – expenditure (£21.50) = £60 savings
  • Car (£59.16) + gym (£30.50) – expenditure (£21.50) = £68.16 savings

So January, the crappest month of the year has come out with a £60 margin. That’s better than a slap in the face.

Oh, there is one other thing…

I just bought a road bike. That cost doesn’t factor into this project. I didn’t need to buy it. It was an extravagance. I am only looking at the like for like expenditure of my trusty hybrid, which is the bike I do all my Edinburgh utility and commute riding on 🙂

Stay tuned for February

In which I promise the post will be a much shorter (and hopefully clearer) now that the ground rules have been laid!

If you spot any inconsistencies or I’ve missed anything out, forgotten or otherwise ballsed anything up, PLEASE let me know in the comments. 


  1. Well done. Great idea. I may be giving up my bus pass too once it gets lighter for coming home. I was a non cyclist until last summer and by the end of the summer I managed to cycle to work a few times before the clocks changed.

    1. Hi Ryan thanks for your comment. I am so heartened by the longer days – once we get the light back it will be so much easier to commute and get out and about. Great to hear you’ve taken to two wheels; let 2015 be your year of cycling!

  2. Brilliant idea and goes to show how much better you’re off! I basically did the same but with a one week Ridacard (£17). Isn’t the four week one £54? And shouldn’t you factor in that a month is longer? (apart from the one just started)
    Oh, and I also bought a road bike in September – it’s so much fun!

    1. Hi Julia! Thanks for your comment. I checked the Lothian Buses website and an advance 4 week Ridacard is £51. You’re correct about the four weekly purchase though – for simplicity I’ve decided just to go four weeks per month instead of trying to add in the extra days!

      Have only been out on the road bike a couple of times so far, but really enjoying it. I think we will be good friends once the weather gets better…

      1. Ah, the £3 I’m thinking of are for the initial card!

        Are you going to use the road bike for commuting too? For a while (before winter hit) I actually preferred it because it was much faster and only took my hybrid if I needed to carry some stuff in my panniers.

      2. Yes, the extra £3 for the card! That makes sense 🙂

        Once the weather gets better I think I might use it now and then for the commute. But at the risk of sounding like a MAMIL, I want to keep this bike in good condition and the daily city commute won’t do it any favours. The hybrid is great for city riding – I love it!

  3. Interesting idea, a couple of thoughts

    If you were to buy a rideacard at the start of the month, you wouldn’t have to spend any more money on buses, so not sure it is fare to deduct £22.50.

    When I owned a car, i worked out it was £20/week to have it parked outside my flat, in terms of servicing, tax, and insurance etc. plus fuel on top. Things like tires and brake pads wear out on cars too, and generally cost a lot more than bikes! Plus there is the cost of parking (home and destination), which I didn’t have to pay for, but you might in central Edinburgh.

    If you don’t already there are lots of gizmos to track walking, turns out I walked nearly as far as I cycled last year, about 1500 miles each, but that is also free to do

    1. Hi Donald, thanks for your suggestions and thoughts on my experiment. RE the bus fares – I can see where you’re coming from with this. I’d have been paying for the fares regardless if I had the Ridacard. However, I’ve decided to include bus fares that are proper substitutes for bike rides, if that makes sense? So I had to shell out the cash for those tickets because it was too problematic to take the bike (ice, high wind etc). Otherwise I’d have cycled them. So I feel it’s fair to include the costs.

      I also haven’t even thought about parking! Gosh, that’s a really good point. Hmm. I can’t cost this out on a monthly basis for pay and display – maybe I should add a round figure at the end of the year – say £40 on parking tickets over the whole of 2015? That’s being conservative.

      Like I said – this is not scientific and now that I think about it there are lots of variables I could try and account for!

      1. I just had a look, and for a mid sized engine car it is £90 year (£170 in city centre) for a parking permit

        I wasn’t trying to say you should make this scientific, I think people just underestimate how expensive cars are to own, as they are fixed costs people pay without too much thought. I was surprised that it was cheaper to hire a car for one weekend every month than it was to own one. Not as convenient, mind you.

      2. Blimey, £90 for a parking permit also? The costs do rack up… I suppose when you are running a car it might not seem quite so bad, as the outlays go over the course of the year? Then there’s any big repairs that you might have to get too. Some of my work colleagues have been properly stung with expensive repairs in the last year. Makes me realise how lucky I am to not be in a position where I need a car. Lots of folk with similar lifestyles to me do have a car, though.

    1. Hi Gary, I took a look at the workplace challenge, but because it’s another app that I’d need to run I decided not to bother as I already use Strava and all my data is on that. What would be fab is a site or app that will upload your GPX files from Strava or sync with it 🙂

  4. I’ve tried to do this a number of times, and had to ‘amend’ my spreadsheet to which cycling purchases were mandatory, and which were discretionary. In the end just accepted that I had a ‘bike’ problem, never having gotten to the end of the year without spending considerably more than £1000 on bike stuff.

    So far this year for me:

    Brake pads: £9.99 (man)
    Tyres: £43 (man)
    Water bottle: £8.99 (man)
    Rack pack: £27.99 (disc)

    However, public transport would cost me £40 per week to commute so I am still cheaper cycling, and I have lots of shiny bike things… 😉

    1. Hi there, thanks for your comment! 🙂 I think I might have to introduce a spreadsheet for this also. For Jan I just totted things up on a piece of paper, but I can see the benefits of a wee workbook to keep me straight. Good idea!

      RE the bike addiction – I know where you’re coming from. My spending habits are more around “cycle chic” clothing than anything else, but as they are not mandatory spends I haven’t included them in a direct comparison (also, I didn’t buy any clobber in January). But I think I should record what I buy, just to see whether cycling becomes an expensive habit for all the added bits and pieces 😉 Running and maintaining a bike is ludicrously cheap, it’s all the shiny things you start to want on top that gets in the way.

      Like you say, even with these discretionary spends in hand, it’s still cheaper to treat yourself to all the added extras than to run a car or use public transport. Let’s see how the months go!

  5. also, your parking permit would only be for a zone near your house – as Donald says, parking it on the street while not in use – if you went across town, to another zone, you’d most likely have to pay and display.

    1. Hi Sara, thanks for your comment! I will leave the parking permit costs, as I am out in the west of the city and I don’t have to pay anything for parking. However! I used to do pay and display semi-regularly – maybe once or twice a month? I would always opt to take the bus into town to avoid the driving nightmare in the city centre. I will bear parking charges in mind for Feb onwards!

  6. Have you factored in the time saved? Because you have a reliable journey time (punctures excepted) you can probably spend 20 minutes longer in bed with someone you like (look in the mirror to work that one out) in the morning, and get home in time to do some useful extra job.

    Consider also a supervisor who I had on a construction project, with 90 staff, and a site 6 miles long – all worked using a single hired 12-seat minibus. He told all suppliers that free delivery would secure business with the project, and started the workforce in 3 waves 07.30, 08.00, 08.30, so that those who needed collection could be collected by the 1 minibus. Bikes were used to move up & down the site, and available to staff for commuting to work.

    In Southampton the local shops created a mini-directory highlighting the fact that you can get most of your weekly needs from shops and other businesses within 5-10 minutes on foot or cycling. The great deal on this is that many local shops will have the things you need in the quantities you will use without waste, and if you forget your purse you can pay next time (when you are a trusted regular customer) – you won’t get that at the supermarket check-out! It really is surprising what you can get locally, or delivered from an on-line source.

    From your figures (and adding that car ownership issue) you are boosting your disposable income by over £3500/year compared with running a car – factor in tax and that’s likely to be well over £4000/year projected pay value – all this without having to seek a pay rise and get a higher tax code. Convert this into the potentially bigger mortgage/rent you can afford, and you can then be more selective about where you live, so that you get a pleasant ride or walk to work, good local shops etc.

    For an employer the detail is interesting – a central Edinburgh parking space for a member of staff on or convenient to the workplace is likely to cost c.£3000/year, (with further opportunity costs if land is needed for increasing the revenue earning floor space (an employee gets c.12 sq.m to park a car but typically 6 sq.m for desk/workspace) One London HQ site estimates a value of £9000/yr for every employee who does not require a parking space on site….

    1. Hi Dave, thanks for your comment. Some great points you’ve raised! I haven’t taken account of time, mainly because I can’t compare and contrast the same journey in the car. I know that my bike commute is considerably quicker than the bus or car (by about 5 – 10 mins, depending on traffic), but outwith peak times my average 10mph speed is probably adding a wee bit of time. So I figure it will balance out over the year.

      RE tax, that’s a fab point. At the end of 2015 I will add everything up as a net and a gross. I bet the savings will be considerable, if I don’t let my bike addiction get out of hand! 😉

      RE employer, I’ve not factored in sick days and productivity. Again, I can’t really account for that with my non-scientific approach. I think that I take less sick days now that I cycle, but I can’t really tell. It’s more just my perception. I definitely get to work with considerably less hassle and stress than the bus or driving, so that counts for a lot!

  7. I think people under estimate how unreliable cars and public transport are . I am always early and on time on my bike. We have a car between us. I don’t need to look presentable in my job, my partner does so she has the car and I cycle. Cannot understand why people in house holds have two cars sometimes.

    More people need to think about using bikes More seeing the savings and and health befits it costs me 80 quid a month to use public transport. Which I did for a short time when my bike was stolen.

    And as many people have mentioned. More money for shiny bike things. 😀

    1. Hi Jenii! Can’t go wrong with shiny bike things! Although, over on the CCE forum there’s been lots of discussion about how the shiny bike things often negate any savings made from using the bike instead of the car or public transport! Not that I’m all that surprised – once the addiction sets in it is hard to stop feeding it…

      1. Shhh, let’s not tell anyone about that part 😉 I will see how my 2015 project goes. Even with the odd treat here and there I’m pretty sure I will come out comfortably on the savings front. Time will tell!

  8. HI Claire, this is my 11th month of a similar experiment on the Gold Coast in Australia. It’s going well, raising awareness and helping me stay fit.

    I’m gathering some statistics but nothing like your data collection – it’s quite impressive! So far I’ve pedalled over 2963kms. Many more than I’d expected.

    Keep the pedals turning! 🙂

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