The following is by Gene Bisbee of BikingBis.com
People on a budget already know that one of their biggest expenses is their car. They can save money by leaving the car in the garage and still have rich experiences by riding a bicycle.
A scenic attraction always seems more picturesque when you arrive under your own power. A bike commute to work feels like a victory lap when you pass a line of cars stuck at a particularly bad intersection. Even an errand to the store is less of a chore when it doubles as exercise.
And leaving the car in the garage and shifting over to a bicycle for vacations, commuting and errands can save a lot of money.
On average, the nationwide monthly operating cost for a car ranges from $186 to $260 per month. That includes maintenance, repairs, insurance, fuel, registrations, licenses, inspections, parking and toll; it doesn’t include car payments, leases, or depreciation. Think of what you can save by leaving that car in the garage or doing without.
For me, bicycle touring is the most fun I can have on a bicycle. It’s also a good way to take a low-budget vacation.
There are a couple of ways to go: You can join a supported bicycle tour or you can just head out on your own.
The sag-supported bicycle tours run the gamut from small, privately operated tours that spend nights at tiny bed-and-breakfast inns, to mass across-state bicycle tours organized by non-profits.
Those small, bed-and-breakfast tours might be too expensive for someone on a budget, but the larger week-long bike tours are more affordable.
The vision of RAGBRAI with nearly 10,000 bicyclists sweeping across Iowa is an extreme example of a mass bicycle tour. Other large bicycle tours top out at 2,000 riders (such as Ride the Rockies), and others find that 200 is an ideal number (Ride Around Washington).
In addition to their affordability, another advantage is that you can probably find a bike tour that’s close to home.
In 2008 the Biking Bis blog identified 95 such tours in more than 40 states. (The list is at Across State Bicycle Tours. See also National Bicycle Tour Directors Association.) That means you can participate in a supported bicycle tour without going to the expense of boxing up your bicycle and transporting it to a location halfway across the United States.
And don’t worry about seeing the “same old stuff” on a bike tour in your home state. These tours stick to the backroads, giving cyclists the ability to explore regions off the beaten track. The host towns usually make docents available who can explain the uniqueness of their area.
Bicycling touring on your own, or with a couple of friends, gives you the freedom to spend as much, or as little, as you want. Unless you have limited time and a faraway destination in mind, you can start your bike tour by rolling down your driveway.
Check the Adventure Cycling Association: they’ve mapped 38,000 miles of bicycle-friendly routes and you might live near one of them. Also check your home state’s bicycle transportation web page; most states offer maps with good bike routes.
Overnight accommodations can be real money-savers on bicycle tours.
Traveling the backroads, you probably won’t be tempted with swank hotels. Roadside motels can be very affordable and don’t be hesitant to bargain with the owner. For a joke, we asked a motel owner in Virginia for the “bicyclist’s discount,” and the guy knocked 10% off the price.
Look for hostels. They offer extremely low accommodation prices in return for light chores.
You save the most by carrying your own camping equipment. Skip the private campgrounds and look for parks.
Many state and federal parks offer lower rates for cyclo-tourists who camp in special hike-bike areas. And you’ll find many national parks — such as Grand Canyon or Yellowstone — where bicyclists can go right to the front of the line at busy campgrounds.
Better yet, many small towns allow free camping at city parks. Traveling cross-country, we rarely paid for camping in the Midwest and West and only paid for lodging when we wanted.
And don’t be surprised by kind-hearted souls along highly traveled bike routes who’ll invite you to spend the night. You can find a list of cycling hosts at Warmshowers.org.
Learn to do your own repairs. Most bicycle maintenance is not a challenge. Changing and patching inner tubes, adjusting brakes and lubing the chain are easy skills to learn. Check Jim Langley‘s and the late Sheldon Brown’s websites for how-to directions. Even a complete bicycle overhaul at a bike shop is less expensive than most repair jobs on cars.
Exercise saves medical costs. A study found that insurance policy holders who didn’t exercise at least 8 times per month had 63% more visits to inpatient facilities, 43% more to outpatient facilities and 105% more emergency room visits. Exercise doesn’t mean you have to drive to the gym; even riding a bicycle to the store is a form of exercise.
There are countless other ways that riding a bicycle can save you money in this sour economy. Just take a second and pause before getting in your car and consider using your bicycle instead. You’ll discover infinite possibilities that lead to money-saving, rewarding experiences.
Gene Bisbee is a former newspaper reporter and city editor who writes the BikingBis.com blog in Bellevue, Washington. He took his first bicycle tour in 1965 and has been hooked ever since.