Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It costs me more money to bike than to drive.

So last week I set my Facebook status to something along the lines of "I haven't put gas in my car for three months", which prompted one of my cousins (I have many) to point out how much money I must be saving.

If I did save a bunch of money, that would be a sweet bonus, but that's not why I do it. I'm definitely not saving money by riding, that's for sure. 

I put 13.2 gallons in the tank last week. The car traveled 276.1 miles on that 13.2 gallons of gas. 276.1/13.2 = 20.9167 miles to the gallon.

My driving commute is 7.9 miles. At 20.9167 miles to the gallon, 7.9 miles comes to 0.377 gallons of fuel burned on my drive. At $2.679 per gallon, that is roughly 1 dollar and one cent in each direction.

So I spend roughly $2.02 per day when I drive my car to work.

I spent $35.36 ($2.679 per gallon) on those 13.2 gallons of gas. I assure you, I spent a heck of a lot more on food during that time.

I have to point out that on the days I ride my bike, I cannot stop thinking about food. It's like being a teenager all over again, but without the acne. There's a good reason for that. My heart rate monitor tracks calories burned. An easy ride is about 350 calories in one direction. A 20+mph headwind means nearly 550 calories in one direction.

But for argument's sake, we'll say I burn off 750 calories each day I ride my bike to and from work.

What does 750 calories look like?

I'll skip over most vegetables. While I like vegetables (the vitamin and mineral content simply cannot be beat) and eat more than I need in a day, exclusively fueling up on them is cost-prohibitive, not to mention outright painful given the quantities needed.

A cup of romaine lettuce has about 10 calories. I need 75 cups of romaine lettuce to get 750 calories. 75 cups = 4.68 gallons. I can't eat that much lettuce in a week, much less a day. A cup of diced celery is 17 calories. I think you can see where I'm going here.


A 4oz apple contains 65 calories. I will need to eat eleven and a half apples to make up the calorie difference. That's 2.8lbs. At $2 a pound (I don't eat Red Delicious apples), we're looking at $5.60 each day.

Gym-Rat Candy

A chocolate Powerbar is 230 calories. They are available at the grocery store for about $1.59 each. I need three of them, that totals up to $4.77. (Don't kid yourself, they're candy: the fat and protein difference between a Powerbar and a Milky Way is insignificant.)


A 4oz grilled chicken breast is 130 calories. I will need to eat nearly six of those to make up the calorie difference. That's a pound and a half of chicken, or about $4.50, if it's on sale.


Bacon is roughly $3 a pound in your grocer's refrigerator case and is split up into 16 one-ounce slices, each packing a walloping 50 calories. That means I need to eat 15 slices of bacon to fuel up.

Who am I kidding? 15 slices? Make it 16. I'm not leaving that last slice of smoky, salty goodness in the package for tomorrow, I'm eating it now. I burn off $3 worth of bacon a day. 

Fast Food

Burger king has a "Buck Double", after state and local taxes (it's prepared food, grocery items are not taxed in Nebraska), it comes out to $1.07. It contains 410 calories. A small onion rings with sweet and sour sauce is 1.49+tax, or $1.60 and brings another 360 calories to the party. That brings my total to 770 calories for $2.67.


The banana is the training fuel of choice for many athletes: they're tasty, they're compact, they're full of energy, they're inexpensive and they're packaged in an all-natural bio-degradable case. A 4oz banana contains 121 calories. I need just six of those. Bananas are roughly 50 cents a pound, so it's $1.50 a day.

Yes, the banana saves me about 50 cents a day over gasoline, but that's certainly not enough to make me feel smug about how much money I'm saving when I check my bank balance. I eat a whole variety of foods, not just bananas and they're more expensive.

No, if I truly wanted to save money, I would eat heavily processed factory-foods almost exclusively. Supermarket junk food is almost always cheaper than gasoline when used as a bike fuel. Cases in point:

Pop Tarts

Pop tarts are 205 calories per pastry, they come two to a pouch. You need two pouches, or 2/3 of a box, to get your calorie needs met. That amounts to $1.33 a day to fuel up with pop tarts.

Cardboard Pizza

Tombstone pizza. 1/5 of a cardboard pepperoni pizza is 312 calories. I need to eat roughly half of the pizza to meet my calorie needs. They're 4/$10 (on sale), or $2.50 each. So it's $1.25/day to fuel up on a Tombstone death disk.

The Greatest Food Ever

An apple fritter contains 650 calories and costs roughly 99 cents.That means it's about 1.20 to fuel up on this glorious amalgamation of dough and fruit.

Mac and Cheese

Kraft Mac and Cheese: A box of prepared mac and cheese (with 1/4c milk and 2 tablespoons of butter) will get you about 600 calories. The box is about 79 cents, the milk is about a nickel and the butter a dime. I still need 1 and a quarter boxes (or 2.5 servings) to make up the calorie deficit incurred by riding my bike. It will cost me about $1.15 per day to fuel up with Kraft Mac and Cheese.

Broke college kid food

Ramen noodles. A single brick prepared according to package directions contains 380 calories. I saw cases of ramen at the grocery store for $2.40/12, or 20 cents per brick. I only need two bricks to make up the difference there, so it only costs 40 cents a day to fuel with ramen.

I eat a wide variety of foods, and frankly, gas has to cost $4 per gallon for me to break even on fuel costs.

What I don't save in money, I save in time. I get 3-6 hours of exercise each week without setting foot in a gym, where "normal folks" stand around for upwards of an hour waiting in line to ride a bike that goes nowhere.

But let's not overlook the real lesson here: if I really wanted to, I could maintain my weight while eating two apple fritters and a pound of bacon every day, followed with a heavy dose of leafy vegetables to help rid my body of toxins.

I just have to bike.

I pedaled off 798 calories today. I think I'll have another slice of bacon.

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