Yesterday President Bush signed the Bicycle Commuter Benefits Act into law. This is pretty exciting stuff since I’ve been commuting to work on my bicycle three to five days per week for nearly four months now. The Bicycle Blog says,
The benefit — up to $20 per month — begins with the new year in 2009. Employers may reimburse employees, tax free, for “reasonable” expenses related to their bike commute, including equipment purchases, bike purchases, repairs, and storage if the bicycle is used as a “substantial part” of the commuter’s trip to work for the month.
They also have the nitty gritty info on the law itself, for those of you who wish to read it, and I suggest you all look into it.
$20 per month doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s on top of gas savings. My civic currently gets around 33mpg, my commute to work via car is 16 miles round trip, provided I don’t run errands before or after work or during my lunch break, I put about 80 miles on my car just driving back and forth to work. Doing the math, 80 miles is roughly 2.42 gallons of gas, I filled up last week for $3.35, a steal if you ask me (barf), so my commute to work via automobile costs me roughly $8.11. If I drive every day of the month, I spend roughly $32.44 per month, nothing to scoff at.
On the other hand, riding my bike 4 days per week will save me roughly 2 gallon of gas or about $6.70. I say 4 days because one day of the week it’s usually raining, I’m running late or just need a break from cycling. Some weeks I ride all 5 days, other weeks it may only be 3 days, so 4 is about my average. One month of cycling to work instead of driving will net me roughly $26.80 in gas savings, top that with the $20 that I hope to get my employer to pay for pedaling to work and I could be looking at an additional $46.80 per month! The money is supposed to go towards bike repairs, maintenance, and other items that support persons in commuting to work.
$20 will actually buy a decent amount of cool things that will keep you and your bike in tip top shape. Here are 10 great products that cost $20 or less.
Bicycle Tubes. As a commuter I always carry at least one tube with me. Honestly, I should probably have two at all times, but these are just part of the expense of riding a bicycle, thankfully they range in price from $3-9. My personal experience with them says stay away from the ones with slime inside, or labeled self sealing. Not only are the a pain to install quickly, when they get a hole in them, and they will, they leak a messy goo inside your wheel that takes forever to clean up and gets everywhere
Bicycle Pump. When you get a flat, you’ll need a way to put air back into the tube. Most compact pumps will fit easily into your travel bag while others will clip or bolt onto your frame so you don’t forget them. Costing between $11-20, this easily fits into the budget and is a must have. Additionally, a floor pump with a proper gauge is needed for anyone who rides a bicycle. Generally speaking, I re-inflate my tires every other time I ride. More air in road bike tires provides less rolling resistance and better tire wear too!
Bicycle Repair Kits. The $20 per month is supposed to go towards the upkeep of your bike, and you can’t keep up on it if you don’t have common tools. Bicycle specific repair kits can varry in range from a few dollars to several hundred, but the one pictured at left is only $16 and includes most of the basics, including a set of common allen keys, small crescent wrench, tire levers and a patch kit, all in a nice little bag so you can take it with you in case you break down on the rode.
Presta valve adapter. These things cost as little as $1.50 and will let you inflate your tires at a gas station if you are running Presta valves. Some are more expensive at about $7 and include a small key-chain with them, but whichever you choose to buy, get a few of them because you will loose them. I’d suggest keeping one in any and every bag you plan on commuting with, a seat bag (if you use one) and if you wear shoes with laces to bike in, consider lacing an adapter into one of the laces so you can be sure to always have it with you. Compact hand pumps, like the one shown above, usually only provide 80-90psi, most rode and commuting tires need 120-140. Use the pump to get you going again, use the adapter to finish the job off at the nearest gas station.
Bicycle Saddle Bag. You’ve got your tubes, tools and adapters, now you need an easy way to carry them all. A bicycle specific saddle bag will provide you enough room to store a spare tube, some tools, your house keys and maybe a cell phone as well. Best of all, you won’t ever forget to take the essentials along with you! Bags range in price from $7-50 depending what features you want and need. Look for one large enough to carry everything you need (obvious), but some other really nice features include being water tight, internal pockets to keep things organized, reflective stripes on the back and / or a hook for a blinky light.
Bicycle tail light. Blinking tail lights come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and range in price from about $5-25. Take that useless reflector that came with your bike off and invest in one of these. Look for a red one, 3-5 LEDs and one that offers a few different blinking patterns. The one I bought came with a mount to put it on my seat post, as the saddle bag I bought had every feature I wanted except a place to clip a blinking light to. When you install it, take note to where the on / off button is and practice turning it on while you are riding. You may leave for your commute while it’s still sunny out but half way home it could be pitch black. Also take careful note to what size batteries it takes and how they need to be changed.
Bar Tape. Most road bicycles use bar tape wrapped around the handlebars. After sweating on it for countless months, being caught in the rain and pulling on them while you climb that hill of death, it wears out. Reward your hands with some new tape. Ranging in price from $7-25 depending on color, material and add-ons. The ones pictured at left are about $8 and have a small amount of gel in them as well as reflective bar end plugs. There are also enough color combinations to make anyone happy. Changing your bar tape takes about 15 minutes and anyone can do it, your hands will thank you for it.
Bicycle gloves. For warmer weather I don’t like gloves, but now that fall is here, I wear a pair of thin, full fingered ones. Fingerless and full finger gloves offer a bit of padding in the palm and the back sides can be used to wipe the sweat from your face if need be. Prices range from about $11-45 depending on what season you are buying for. Most gloves tend to fall apart at the seams between thumb and forefinger so pay close attention to how it’s stitched in there.
Water bottles and cages. With prices starting at $2 for water bottles and about $3.50 for a water bottle cage, pick up several, these things don’t last forever. I generally like to have one bottle per day of the week and try to rotate them as best I can. While 99% of the time only water goes in my bottle, I don’t even want to think about all the rode grime that gets kicked up onto the mouth piece, so I wash them on a regular basis. Clear is also my color of choice, only because in a quick glance I can see how much I have left. Cages come in many shapes, sizes and materials. Tried and true aluminum and steel tend to be the cheapest but will destroy the outside of your bottles a little bit faster. Plastic ones do almost no bottle dammage but often don’t have as secure of a grip on the bottle, so find a happy middle ground when shopping. Bottles and cages come in a rainbow of colors to fit any style too.
Bicycle chain lube. In order to keep moving forward and shifting gears smoothly, your chain must be lubricated. WD-40 is not an option here, don’t use it. Lubes cost between $8-15 per bottle and a bottle should last a pretty long time. Start with a clean chain, common degreaser will work with water, then apply the lube. Every 2 weeks reapply the lube, more often if you are riding in the rain. Once every two months clean the chain and relube. By a lube that will fit your riding needs, as some are better for wet weather while others are better for shedding dirt and mud.
Other essential items that will need regular attention are tires, which range in price from around $25-60 per tire, so I didn’t include them in this list, but could be purchased by saving a few months worth of twenty’s. Lastly, there are a few maintenance items that are best left to the professionals, like truing a wheel. Most local shops charge $5-10 per wheel, depending how much you ride and over what kind of terrain, you could easily need this done every 6-8 weeks.
I’m really excited to hear that this bill has passed, hopefully my employer will hop on board in 2009 and I can start to collect. While it is true I save money and help out the environment, cycling to work does have costs to it that add up, and this little government kickback will most definitely help out.