How to make money riding a bike

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How can you make money with a bike? Certainly not by racing one. I have a different plot in mind today. Let’s talk about bike commuting.

How often, when you are filling up your tank with gas, paying insurance bills or changing your oil, do you consider that the money exiting your bank account is actually discretionary? It is not actually a foregone conclusion that every so often you have to swipe your card at a gas pump.

I have included some calculations about exactly how much money you can save, but I ordered them at the end of the column – a little coda for those who want a bit more information. I will just say this: the estimated cost to own a car for a year in Australia (not including fuel) is between $6,500 and $7,000AUD (the estimate for the USA is about $8,000USD). As far as fuel is concerned, if your round trip distance to the coffee shop is more than five kilometres, riding your bike there can negate the cost of the coffee if you would traditionally travel in your car.

Let’s just say that you could put a jar on the counter and toss in the money saved each time you trade four wheels for two and buy yourself a serious present after a month or two.

I am sure you have also heard the phrase “time is money” before. You likely face a huge balancing act between work, training, other hobbies and time with friends and family. Here’s the next awesome thing: by converting the time you would traditionally spend commuting into a workout as well, you can multitask your way to extra minutes in your day!

Imagine that your typical commute to work takes 15 minutes driving or 30 minutes on your bike. Ride both ways to work, and you just got in a full hour of exercise – half of which you would have spent in transit anyhow. Add that up over a week, and you get two and half hours to do with as you please. I can’t imagine many people are going to argue with that…

Bike commuting is also an amazing way to connect with your community and the natural world around you. I feel a pride and ownership in the expertise with which I can navigate the side streets of my hometown. It is simply a more vibrant way to get from Point A to Point B than inside of a climate-controlled box.

As people who spend a large amount of time interacting with the elements, cyclists often tend to be people who care about environmental preservation. One irony that I have struggled with throughout my career as a professional racer is the fact that unlike cycling for transportation, competitive racing is actually anything but environmentally friendly.

The noble emissions savings I might accumulate by riding my bike around town are instantly negated (many times over) with one flight to Europe. I am often stunned by the quantity of trash – gel and bar wrappers – that I can pull out of my pocket after a long stage. Our sport is heavily dependent on equipment and innovation, and everyone always seems to want the latest and greatest gadget. Constant production of new trinkets (and the packaging that keeps them safe as they travel into our eager hands) is anything but sustainable.

I have had to acknowledge to myself that at least for now, I am involved in a sport that is not gentle on the earth. Acceptance of that fact is maybe one of the greatest challenges of my career. My staunch commitment to bike commuting is one (small) way I know of that I can soften that impact, and hopefully advocate for others – racers or not – to do the same.

Care to join me?

Tips from an avid bike commuter:

1. My preferred commuter bike is a cyclocross bike that allows me to go over rough terrain but still travel relatively quickly through town. What really matters in your selection, however, is that you are on a bike that you simply enjoy riding. If you spend a lot of time training, let your commuter bike be something that makes you smile – maybe a cruiser bike, or one with handlebar streamers!

2. If you work too far away from home to reasonably ride both ways each day, consider asking if there is a safe place there to store your bike overnight. You could ride to work in the morning and get a ride from a friend or take a bus home. The next day, reverse the ritual and ride back!

3. Many workplaces are starting to have showers for employees to use, but if your office doesn’t, toss a small towel in your bag that you can use to freshen up in the bathroom before work. Your rosy cheeks will make up for any deficits in make-up application.

4. Get a good map of your city and try exploring different routes. Some of my favorites aren’t the most direct path, but have the prettiest section by a creek, go around a fun corner, or pass by an interesting house. Enjoy your route planning!

5. Be prepared for anything. Get a good headlight, a tail light and a strong lock. Maybe toss a cheap raincoat or trash bag in the bottom of your bag just in case weather should strike! I always keep my bus pass (or a bus fare!) in my pocket, just in case

Further calculations for the intrigued:

The estimated average cost to drive a car per kilometer in Australia was estimated this year at about .70AUD (the estimate in the US is closer to 35 cents – but that is a different concerning story). That means that if you were to bike 5 kilometres round-trip to get a cup of coffee with a friend, you could save $3.50AUD, nearly enough to make the coffee date effectively free.

There are a couple of tools that you can use online to estimate the cost savings of your trip by inputting maps. Discovering one of those last year while trying to convince my roommate at the time to ride her bike more instantly transformed me into the most irritating roommate ever as I seemed unable to stop the running total of how much money she could be saving each week. The average driver travels 26 kilometres each week. Over a year, that adds up to almost a thousand dollars

Now if you really want to go big, the biggest gain is by getting rid of your car altogether. The costs of owning a car (not including fuel costs) include costs such as insurance, registration and depreciation are estimated at between 6,500 and 7,000AUD (about 8,000USD in the States). That doesn’t even include considerations such as parking or maintenance!


Mara was a swimmer before she was a cyclist. She swam competitively from the age of nine all the way through her senior year of college. A seasonal sport at Whiteman College, swimming left Mara with more time on her hands than she was accustomed to, so she turned to cycling. Her talent was immediately apparent. She won the collegiate national title (Division II) in the women’s road race at the end of her first season.

Mara turned pro with Webcor. She flourished on the States-based squad, winning the U.S Elite National Championships road title in her second year as a professional. The win, accompanied by consistent podiums achieved throughout the season, saw Mara move across to HTC-Highroad. Since then, she’s ridden for Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12, Diadora Pasta Zara, Exergy Twenty16 and UnitedHealthCare. She joins Wiggle Honda for the 2015 season.

She became the first American to win the Giro Donne (now called Giro Rosa), riding for the U.S National Team in 2010. She repeated the feat three years later.

Of course, Mara is much more than the bike. She’s an avid yoga practitioner and certified instructor. She a board member of both the City of Boulder Environmental Advisory Board and the Daily Camera Editorial Advisory Board. She’s a staunch proponent of bike commuting and a very proud new homeowner in the city of Boulder.

And now she’s an Ella columnist, too.

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