Electric Car or Bicycle? What’s Cheaper?

The Gas Bike

Back when I was driving crappy gas cars I was looking for a way to lower the cost of transporting myself around. When you realize that $10-20 from every weekly paycheck goes to gas simply to get yourself to and from work you want to improve on it. It’s simply wasted money. One of the more interesting ideas I stumbled upon was a motorized bicycle. So I went and bought an engine kit!

I took a crappy Walmart Mongoose bicycle and put the engine on that. I can do simple repairs on bikes so I wasn’t worried about purchasing a cheap one. The engine is a little 32cc, 2-cycle motor meaning I have to mix gasoline and oil together to power it. It has a 23.5 oz tank and can go about 15 to 20 miles on that tank. So, how much does that cost per mile to operate and how does it compare to an electric car?

Let’s do the math. 23.5 oz is 18% of a gallon of gas meaning each tank costs (considering $2.50/gal of gasoline) $0.45. Each mile therefore costs about 2.5 cents in fuel. If you compare that to the electric car which gets between 2 and 8 cents per mile, you can see that the gasoline powered bike does come out ahead, if only slightly.

It is fun to ride around though.

Even if the bike is slightly cheaper to operate does that mean anything? What about the utility you get from driving a car? By driving the car you might pay a few more pennies more per mile, but you get to drive an actual car. The bike can only go 20 miles (at most) which is worse than the car’s range and you obviously can’t transport people. You’re exposed to the elements and it only tops out at 30 mph. You need to go buy gas and mix oil into it, and all around it’s less convenient than the electric car. In most cases the car still comes out ahead just because it’s an actual car. It seems to be worth it.

A Pedal Bike?

Just for fun, I was curious as to how much a pedal bike costs to operate. Obviously you would think it’s free but you have to “fuel yourself up” in the form of food. There’s many more variables but you can get an idea of how much it “should” cost.

According to the MapMyRun app, biking burns about 30 calories per mile, more or less depending on how fast or slow you go. Consider the cost and calorie content of a pretty simple “fuel” for your body: bread! Each slice has 60 Calories so effectively each slice of bread gets you two miles of range. An entire loaf has about 20 slices and costs about $2, so the net mileage a loaf can get you is 40 miles for $2. This is an average of 5 cents per mile! Riding a bicycle and eating bread costs about the same per miles as driving an electric car! Or, put another way, driving an electric car is as cheap as if you ride your bicycle everywhere and ate bread.

As stated, there are quite a bit of assumptions here. If you have a road bicycle you will use less calories. If you’re skinny you’ll use less calories. And you could eat a cheaper “fuel” than bread. The most efficient food (“food”) would probably be straight-up corn or canola oil. Each tablespoon of cooking oil is about 120 Calories; the equivalent of two slices of bread. But oil is a lot cheaper than bread! It would be gross to do, but on an energy and cost basis riding a bike and drinking cooking oil as “fuel” would probably be about the cheapest form of travel possible you could find.

While you might not think an electric car is comparable in cost to a damn bicycle it apparently is. Obviously this is from a cost per mile perspective and doesn’t count car insurance, interest, or car payments. Bicycles are cheap and don’t have that sort of overhead cost. But from a fuel and cost per mile perspective a motor powered bike is about as cheap to operate as an electric car is! And, surprisingly, riding the bike manually and pedaling is also comparative to an electric car if you count the cost and calorie content of the food you eat! Even if they do cost the same an electric car offers much more utility than a bicycle can. Ride a bicycle or drive an electric car? The costs per mile are about the same!

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