Your transportation costs are best thought of per-mile. Most Americans apparently have a much more vague and forgetful way of looking at it; car payments and gasoline are just a background fact of life.

The Federal Government will refund you 50 or 51 cents on the mile which is a decent approximation. That builds in purchase price, maintenance and fuel. So that 10 mile roundtrip to the grocery store is a $5 cost. But we can go deeper than that.

Giant Freedom Twist Electric Bike

Giant Freedom Twist Electric Bike

Because I was drunk, stupid, or both I bought an electric bike a while ago. The theory was I’d use it because of the crazy hills on the commute from home to work. The reality was the rain was so depressing I rarely used it. Along the way, I kept a spreadsheet.

Recorded costs of electic bike

Recorded costs of electic bike

I got the bike at approximately half-price as it was second hand. From there I recorded all my trips. Right now my cost per mile for the bike is $5. Yes, $5 per mile. I need to ride it another 2,300 miles before it comes close to Federal reimbursement levels. Moving as I have to Colorado, it’s now almost entirely useless. The boost going up hills (and there is only one near me now) doesn’t outweigh the unfortunate speed limit built-in. It tops out at 20mph or so, when I can get up to 35 on my other bikes down hills. This is some safety constraint imposed on electric bikes.

It’s been fun, but it’s not worth $5/mile. I’m mainly using my normal bike now, every day, and will be selling the electric thing.

In contrast, my car (we’ve gone from three cars to one) is currently costing $1.74/mile. This includes again, the purchase price, gas and maintenance but it has a higher error bar since I didn’t keep track of all the costs exactly. Over time this will drop as the purchase price is amortized over the lifetime of the vehicle.

It’s much easier biking to get groceries knowing that I’m saving $10 or $20 of driving costs, rather than thinking of the car as “free”. As the saying goes; a car burns gas and makes you fat, a bike burns fat and saves you money.

Compare and Contrast

United Airlines will fly me from San Francisco to London, and back, tomorrow, for $2,647. At 5,367 miles each way that’s 25 cents a mile with the added benefit of food and speed. If governments didn’t interfere so much, it would cost half as much again (about 50% of the cost is taxation).

So my electric bike costs twenty times what a 777 costs, and my car costs seven times a 777.

If only I could take a 777 to the grocery store.