How much money can you save by cycling?

How much money can you save by cycling?

We often hear that cycling can save you money on transport but exactly how much can we really save? Cycling UK’s communications officer Christina Bengston investigates

The UK is experiencing a cost-of-living crisis. According to the Institute for Government this is being caused by “high inflation outstripping wage and benefit increases and has been further exacerbated by recent tax increases”.

The result? Rising energy bills, increases in food costs and soaring fuel prices.

As many of us think about how to save money, Cycling UK wanted to share with you how cycling can also play a part in reducing your bills.

Cyclescheme, a major provider of the Government’s Cycle to Work programme, did some research into the annual costs of running a car compared to those of owning a cycle. It found that running a car costs on average £3,727 per annum; a cycle, however, is just £396.

We recognise that it’s difficult or even impossible for most people to replace their cars with a cycle. But this isn’t about getting rid of your car and cycling every journey, but rather about making small, manageable changes that can make real differences.

Almost a third of people who have a driving licence also cycle, and more than 83% of adults who cycle also drive. According to Department for Transport statistics, 71% of all journeys made in England in 2020 were fewer than five miles, a distance that can be cycled by many.

Below, we will look at the savings you can make by switching from your car to your bike for short journeys, but first, let’s compare the big expenses.

Upfront costs

Carflation, a study by Money Barn, showed that the cost of buying a new car is overtaking wages at a staggering rate. Purchasing a new car in 2012 would have set you back on average £29,366. Ten years later in 2022 people were spending an average of £41,219. An increase of £11,853, or 40%.

Used car prices are lower, but the average cost is still rising dramatically with prices on average just over £3,300 higher than in 2021. Auto Trader’s June 2022 report showed that the average cost of a second-hand car is £17,252 compared to £13,950 in June 2021.

To put that in perspective, the UK median salary in 2012 was £21,500. In 2021 – the most recent year data is available for – it was £25,971, a 21% rise.

Your initial outlay when buying a cycle on the other hand is much lower. Research by insurance company Aviva showed that the average cost of a cycle in 2020 was £835, while that of an e-cycle was £1,201. But this includes top-of-the-range models, and you can pick up new cycles for much less.

Fuel costs

Fuel prices are at an all-time high, representing a significant outlay for car drivers. The RAC Fuel Watch has unleaded petrol at 190.65 pence per litre and diesel at 198.42 pence per litre at the time of writing. That means filling up the average 65-litre petrol-run car would set you back £123.92.

According to the most recent National Travel Survey, on average, people in England made 739 trips in 2020. The majority of these journeys (71% in England) were fewer than five miles. But cycling only accounts for around 3% of all journeys.

Imagine the money we could save if we switched those short drives to pick up a few items at the shops or dropping the kids off at school to a bike.

We did a little calculation for you to work out how much you could save per year on fuel by switching trips under five miles from the car to a bike. We looked at three different types of car: a Peugeot 208, as the UK’s most fuel-efficient car; a Ford Focus, as one of the most popular cars on our roads; and a Kia Sportage, as one of the most popular SUVs in the UK.

  • Let’s say Sadiq owns a Peugeot 208, Bob owns a Ford Focus, and Clara owns a Kia Sportage
  • In line with the National Travel Survey they each made an average of 739 trips in 2020; 429 of these were made by car
  • If 71% of their car journeys were between 1-5 miles, they each made 305 short trips by car
  • If we assume that all these journeys were 2.5 miles these short trips would add up to 763 miles per year
  • With unleaded petrol costing 190.65 pence per litre, Sadiq would save approximately £124.11, Bob approximately £126.48, and Clara around £163.73, if they switched those short journeys from the car to their bikes
  • (We used the Confused.com fuel cost calculator to work this out)

Graphic showing the fuel saving with a Peugeot 208 if all journeys of fewer than five miles were cycled instead of driven, the saving is £124.11 per year

Graphic showing the fuel saving with a Ford Focus if all journeys of fewer than five miles were cycled instead of driven, the saving is £126.48 per year

Graphic showing the fuel saving with a Kia Sportage if all journeys of fewer than five miles were cycled instead of driven, the saving is £163.73 per year

However, fuel is just one cost to consider when it comes to running a car. There’s also maintenance, insurance, Vehicle Excise Duty and more.

Maintenance costs

The average cost of a full car service depends on your car. For a small car it’s about £155, for a medium-sized car it’s £205 and for a large car £395. This doesn’t include the cost of any replacement parts, repair or labour cost (unless you’re capable of fixing your own car).

Cycle replacement parts are far cheaper than those needed for a car. A service costs between about £25 and £100, depending on your bike and the level of service you require.

One big difference is that many cyclists can do most repairs themselves; this isn’t true of cars anymore. Cycling UK has lots of helpful videos, advice and courses to help you improve your bike mechanic skills.

Vehicle insurance

According to the Association of British Insurers the average cost of fully comprehensive car insurance in the UK was £416 a year, in the first quarter of 2022. This is higher for electric vehicles: £629 in 2022.

However, premiums vary due to things like age of the driver and where in the country they live. They’ll be much higher for a 20-year-old living in Greater Manchester, for example.

Unlike with cars, there is no legal obligation to insure your cycle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, though. A Cycling UK membership comes with free £10m liability insurance cover. With individual membership starting at £33 a year, this is a huge saving. But even comprehensive cycle-specific insurance is much cheaper than that for a motor vehicle, at about £91.

Road Tax

Fortunately, Road Tax was abolished in 1937 thanks to the work of Winston Churchill, so no one pays this anymore. Roads and their maintenance are paid for via general taxation and council tax – which everyone pays, no matter their choice of transport.

What some confuse with Road Tax is Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). This is determined by how polluting your vehicle is. It’s why if you drive an electric car with no emissions, you don’t have to pay VED, but if you drive a gas-guzzling SUV, you’ll pay a lot more. It’s also why people cycling don’t have to pay VED – they burn calories, not carbon.

As a guide, with an average family car, such as a Ford Focus, you’ll pay £190 in the first year and £165 in following years.

The costs

So how much does owning a car cost compared to owning a cycle? We worked out some average costs of car ownership versus cycle ownership, using the three marques mentioned above, plus an electric car, against an average cycle, an average e-cycle and a reasonably priced hybrid and e-cycle from Halfords. See the tables for the details. 

Costs in first year of owning a car compared to a cycle
Model Cost Insurance Servicing VED Fuel Total
Average cycle £835 £91 £50 £0 £0 £976
Carrera Subway 2 Hybrid £375 £49.49 £50 £0 £0 £474.49
Average e-cycle £1,201 £110 £50 £0 £4.10 £1,365.10
Carrera Impel im-1 Electric Hybrid £1,099 £82.59 £50 £0 £4.10 £1,235.69
Peugeot 208 £19,080 £416 £155 £190 £124.11 £19,965.11
Ford Focus £23,500 £416 £205 £190 £126.48 £24,437.48
Kia Sportage £27,250 £416 £395 £945 £163.73 £29,169.73
Tesla £48,490 £629 £204 £0 £51.22 £49,374.22
Costs in subsequent years of owning a car compared to a cycle
Model Cost Insurance Servicing VED Fuel Total
Average cycle £0 £91 £50 £0 £0 £141
Carrera Subway 2 Hybrid £0 £49.49 £50 £0 £0 £99.49
Average e-cycle £0 £110 £50 £0 £4.10 (+ £250)* £164.10 (£414.10)
Carrera Impel im-1 Electric Hybrid £0 £82.59 £50 £0 £4.10 (+ £250)* £136.69 (£386.69)
Peugeot 208 £0 £416 £155 £165 £124.11 £860.11
Ford Focus £0 £416 £205 £165 £126.48 £912.48
Kia Sportage £0 £416 £395 £165 £163.73 £1,139.73
Tesla £0 £629 £204  £0 £51.22 (+ £3,900)* £884.22 (£4,784.22)

* Cost of replacement battery if required

Comparing the costs of owning an average bike to an average car, in the first year you’ll save £23,461. In subsequent years you’ll save £771. 

More realistically, though, you’re more likely to replace a second runabout car with an e-cycle. So let’s compare the Impel e-cycle with the Peugeot 208. The savings are less, but still significant.

In the first year you’ll save £18,729.09 and in subsequent years £723.09 or £473.09 if the Impel requires a new battery. Keep in mind, though, that cars of three years and older require an MOT costing £54.85 every year, and you’re unlikely to buy a car outright, so you’ll have loan repayments to consider, too.

Costs of driving vs benefits of cycling

In addition to the high cost of owning a car, there are also lots of hidden costs to driving and benefits to cycling you might not immediately think of.

Parking costs

Parking for cyclists is free. Whether you’re parking in a bike stall or designated space, or you’ve locked your bike to a pole, railing or tree, it won’t cost you anything.

The average cost of parking a car in the UK is between £1.10 and £1.65 per hour. It might not sound like much, but with frequent shopping trips, it adds up. It’s not just shopping trips, either, if you work in central London and drive your car to the office you can expect to fork out around £3,168 a month!

Health and wellbeing

The benefits of cycling to our health and wellbeing are enormous and widely documented.

Cycling is excellent exercise. It helps people meet their recommended physical activity guidelines and improves their physical health while reducing the risk of premature death and ill health.

Cycling to work is linked with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer, and a 46% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), compared to commuting by car or public transport.

The importance of exercise on our mental health and wellbeing is often underestimated by individuals and even some health care professionals. Aerobic exercises – including cycling – have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression.

The planet

Climate change threatens the future of our way of life and economy, as well as our health and the natural environment we all treasure.

Cycling provides a highly efficient transport option and it is part of the solution for a low-carbon future.

A dramatic, worldwide increase in cycling – from a current c.6% of all urban passenger miles to 11% in 2030 and 14% in 2050 – could cut CO2 emissions from urban passenger transport by about 7% by 2030, and nearly 11% in 2050.

If people in England became as likely to cycle as people in the Netherlands, there would be around two million fewer car-driving commuters. Consequently, English authorities could reduce CO2 outputs by more than 1,500 tonnes a year on average.

Put simply, switching our short journeys (five miles and under) from a car to a bike is one of the simplest lifestyle choices that individuals can make to reduce their carbon footprint.

 

If you’re thinking of making a switch from the car to the bike for some of your shorter journeys, make sure to read our advice pages. Whether you’re a beginner, need help planning a route, or tips on commuting, Cycling UK can support you.

First published in March 2022, this article was updated in July 2022 with the most recent research; with additional material by Cycling UK digital officer Rebecca Armstrong.


References for table data

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