Biking Instead of Driving May Not be Easier on Your Pocket

Mar 23, 2012

New adult bikes start at $350 at Johnson's Cycle & Fitness.

Now that spring is upon us, you will probably see more bicyclists on the road. They’ll join the hard-core riders who brave the elements all year. While nice weather may prompt some people to hop on a two-wheeler, there may be another incentive these days. Bike storeowners in town told WUWM’s LaToya Dennis that four-dollar-plus gasoline prices are also driving business. John Jensen has been in the bike business a long time. He owns Johnson’s Cycle & Fitness on North Avenue in Wauwatosa. He took over the family-owned company about 30 years ago, so he knows plenty.

“This is the specialized line of bikes, we also carry Schwinn. They have the larger diameter wheels, they have suspension forks, they’re real upright, the saddles are wide so that they’re comfortable and many different frame sizes and many different colors in men’s and or women’s,” Jensen says.

The bikes will cost you anywhere from $350 into the thousands.

Dennis: “So would it be fair to characterize business for you as booming?”

“Without smiling, yes, the bike business is excellent. Repair work is through the roof, new bike sales are excellent, a lot of it is gas prices, a lot of it is the weather,” Jensen says.

Used bikes can also be purchased at Johnson's Cycle & Fitness in Wauwatosa.

Jensen says bikes have been flying off the rack since 2008, when gas prices hit what was a record high average of $4.11 a gallon. Lately, with gas prices on the rise again, he finds quite a few customers looking for a model to ride to and from work.

“Parking’s free in a lot of cases with some of the bigger companies. They’re putting bike racks right at the front doors and making the people with cars park you know blocks and blocks away. So they’re catering to the commuters,” Jensen says.

One of those commuters is James Burge. He stopped in Johnson’s to have work done on his old Huffy that he got for $5 at a rummage sale.

“Two or three days a week during the summer I’ll ride to and from work, and I really don’t ride much more than that,” Burge says. Burge says there are a couple reasons he started biking the 14-miles round trip.

“Spend a little more time outside mostly. I thought it would save a little gas, but it turns out I eat more food and it’s more expensive than the gas I end up buying,” Burge says.

That’s not the craziest anecdote Dan Ariely has heard about commuters thinking they’ll save gas money. Ariely is a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University.

“People will you know drive a few more streets or around the block to save let’s say half a penny. Now if you buy 14 gallons, half a penny on a gallon means you basically save 7 cents. The same people by the way then go to the convenience store in the gas station and they could buy a cup of coffee for 75 cents instead of 50 cents, which of course dramatically kind of undoes all of the financial savings,” Ariely says.

Ariely says people are sensitive to the price of gas because you can’t avoid it.

“It’s published in very big letters. The second thing is that when we buy gas we buy multiple units at a time and we stand by the pump as we watch our money drain away and the quantity comes in,” Ariely says.

So is purchasing a bike with the sole purpose of saving money on gas irrational? I ran my own numbers.

Dennis: “Alright, it would cost me about $67 to fill up right now. I live about 4 miles away from work so if I bike to work five days a week, I would be biking around 40 miles a week, which means I would save myself 2 gallons. Two times $4.19 is $8.38. So by biking to work 40 miles a week I would save myself $8.38. Yeah, not much at all.”

But if you’re like me and you’ve already purchased that bike hoping to save a bit of money, take solace in the fact that at least you’ll be getting exercise.