Updated: 3 Jan 2000.

Bicycle Commuting Costs

This page is super-out-of-date. I don't even have the bike mentioned here. Don't consider this as gospel, nor as a "ooh isn't cycling expensive" exercise. These days, I mostly tootle about on a £70 ex-Post Office heavy roadster, which is essentially maintenance-free.

I've been cycling to work since April 1997. I try to cycle for at least ten months a year; there are times that the weather is just too grotty to be on a bike. Since starting, I've travelled nearly 11000km.

In June 1999, my commuting distance roughly halved to 6.5km each way, as I moved much closer to work. This takes me about fifteen minutes (depending how much other traffic holds me up).

I know it can be done for much less, but as I don't run a car, I can afford to run a good bike. There are some costs I could have avoided (wheels, luggage, lighting) if I'd known what to buy from the outset, so I hope this is useful.

Cost Breakdown

1997 Fisher Nirvana bike£450
Messenger Bag£40
Bike computer£20
Clipless pedals & shoes£90
New rear wheel£85
New front wheel£60
New transmission£250
New seatpin£15
Tyres & Tubes£100
Chains & Sprockets£50
Brake Blocks£100
Lubes & Solvents£40

But then, who'd want to frowst in a car, or catch this week's ailment on a bus? I've had thousands of kilometres of (mostly) fun, it keeps me fit, and is probably the fastest way of getting to work.

Equipment notes

1997 Fisher Nirvana bike

1997 Fisher Nirvana This is a fairly light bike with a lively alloy steel frame and reliable components. It has very distinctive curved handlebars, which I find comfortable. It had a very elegant saddle QR, which got swapped for a more secure hex-key one.


I'm on my second basic Bell helmet; the first one's casing started to crack after a couple of years, and the straps were getting very icky. I'm glad I haven't had the chance to see if helmets work or not.


I got the cheapest lock (Specialized Rapper) that my insurance company would cover. A cable loop secures the front wheel.


Since the bike is my main mode of transport, I can't afford to lose it. 12% of the bike's value a year is worth the peace of mind.


I had a reasonable toolkit from previous bike and car ownership, but gaps (like a track pump, a Shimano bottom bracket tool, and a Hypercracker for the rear cassette) were filled as required.


Glasgow's wet enough to need a full set in winter. I used to fit Crudguards for summer use, but I don't bother any more. It can rain at any time.


I had two Vistalite front units, which in winter I alternated between in use and on charge. The batteries on one set died quite quickly. I invested in a set of Busch & Müller Standlights (they stay on when you stop!) and a good dynamo. While the dynamo might slip occasionally in the wet, it's good to have the lights available at all times.

At the back, there is a Vistalite Eclipse LED unit and another Cateye LED. In addition to the very bright (LED) dynamo tail light, I think there's enough light there to be seen by.


Very mixed, and no fancy labels or "this year's colours" here. As you're likely to get very wet in the rain, and very sticky when it is hot, most of the clothing is light, wind-proof and quick-drying. Stuff bought from bike sales works for me, but even then, cycling clothes are quite expensive.

Gates waterproof socks (from a former incarnation as a hill-walker) made winter bearable.

Messenger Bag

Bought in the USA, the Timbuk2 bag is comfortable, durable and completely waterproof. Its large capacity means that I sometimes carry too much, unfortunately.


I've stopped using the messenger bad; too sticky in summer, and just about chokes you if you overload it. I had an old rack from a previous bike, so I bought a cheapo roll-top pannier from Edinburgh Bicycle. This has survived two nasty winters, doesn't let a noticeable amount of water in, holds all I need, and has good click-fix mountings.

Bike computer

Nearly always kept in trip distance mode, this little device charts the highs and lows of the commuting experience. Probably non-essential, but keeps me amused.


The stock saddle was rather narrow, so I fitted a Brooks B17 leather saddle. These are quite hard, but you get used to them quickly, and I wouldn't be without it. They are heavy, and do need to be kept dry. Don't forget the Proofide, or the special adjusting spanner, either.

Unless you're of a whippet build, I'd avoid the narrower Brooks Team Pro. I tried one of these on another bike, and found it to be supremely uncomfortable.


If I'd known about Scott Superblocks while I still had cantilevers, I probably wouldn't have upgraded to V-brakes. Their light touch is useful in heavy traffic, though; a two-finger emergency stop capability is very reassuring.

Clipless pedals & shoes

These give extra push when spinning up long hills, and allow quick getaways at traffic lights. It's a shame that the bike came with dreadful nylon pedals which wore out quickly, necessitating the use of old-but-sound pedals from previous bikes.

Clipless shoes are remarkably comfortable to walk in. I'd forget I was wearing them, if they didn't creak so badly.

New rear wheel

This was a very unplanned upgrade; the cheapo Weinmann rim wore out and started to disintegrate. The hand-built Mavic replacement was much more rigid, but the rim was overly light, and wore out in about a year.

New front wheel

I had very little warning of this failing; the brakes started to clunk, and by the time I got home, there was a long crack round the rim. The lightweight Mavic replacement seems to be holding up well, even though I do most of my braking on the front. I guess the front doesn't get all the transmission grot thrown at it, unlike the rear.

New Transmission

At the 8500km mark, the front chain-ring and rear sprockets had become so hooked that shifting was difficult. The rear mech (Shimano Alivio) had become completely sloppy, and the back rim had cracked. Some serious work was required.

The new chain-wheel is an Ofmega Alpine, which is showing signs of wear 3000km on, but the alloy rings are light and easily replaceable. The gear shifters and mech are by SRAM, and still change sharply with minimal cleaning and adjustment. The back wheel is Bontrager Maverick (recommend to me by personal e-mail from Keith B himself; what other manufacturer would do that?) built onto a Sachs (now SRAM) hub. It all runs very sweetly through a new sealed bottom bracket.

New seatpin

I know that at 90kg, I'm no lightweight, but to have the seatpin bolt snap on a road bike was unforgivable. The new one has held up, so far...

Tyres & Tubes

It took a while for me to find the right tyres. The bike came fitted with rather dreadful OEM-grade Tioga City Slicker IIs, which combined a "dead" ride with virtually no puncture resistance.

I then fitted narrow (1¼ inch) City Slickers, which were very fast. They gave a harsh ride, and were a little uncertain under wet braking conditions. After three months, the paper-thin sidewalls shredded, and I was in the tyre market again.

Continental Avenues are on the bike now, and they are great. They may not be very light, but the huge 1¾ inch carcass give a sprightly ride, and yet cushion the worst of the road shock, and they give phenomenal grip. I've only had a couple of mend-at-home punctures, and they were caused by huge shards of bottle glass which might have blown out lesser tyres. Avenues have a very definite "wear-out" level; once you start getting a few punctures, it's time to replace them.

Inner tubes are pretty much-of-a-muchness. I'm not keen on the heavily ribbed Nutrak ones; they're difficult to patch, and their Presta valves need massive pressure to crack open. I'm also no fan of "instant" patches, which wear out after a couple of months and result in the slowest puncture imaginable.

Several punctures were caused by inadequate rim tape on the new rear wheel. I would have been happy to spend the extra 50p on a rim tape when buying the wheel, rather than having to replace a new inner tube with 32 neat stress punctures at the spoke eyelets...

Chains & Sprockets

I seem to be rather harsh on chains, with three to six months being about average. The curved-sideplate Shimano chain that came with the bike lasted considerably less time. I'm on my third rear cassette, and it looks like it will last a few months yet.

Brake Blocks

Yes, it really does say £100 up there. I used to measure block life in terms of weeks, unless it was Shimano blocks. With them, I got less than two weeks before they were gone.

Aztec and Yehstar blocks lasted 6-8 weeks (at around 130km/week) before wearing out. Aztecs needed careful toeing-in or they'd squeal. Yehstars (ceramic blocks in dreadful packaging) didn't have quite the same bite as Aztecs, but they lasted a little longer, and were much quieter.

In December 1997, I found some Scott-Mathauser Superblocks that were designed for U-brakes. They looked like they would fit V-brakes, so I forked out £30 for a full set. They took a little persuading to fit, but ever since I've had excellent braking, and they're only half worn. No matter how I adjust them, they always give a little Eep! as I come to a halt, but given their longevity and performance, this I can live with.

Two years later, I'm still only on my first set of replacement pads. These blocks are very hard to find now. Apparently Kool-Stop 'salmon' pads use the same synthetic/iron oxide compound. I'd guess these won't last so long; they're thinner, and Kool-Stop make their money from selling replacements. Scott-Mathauser are (were?) an engineering company, more interested in excellence than commercial viability.

Lubes & Solvents

I like dry chain lube like Krytech for summer (it's cleaner, even if you have to replace it frequently) and a sticky synthetic oil lube for winter. The latter may pick up road-grode, but at least it keeps the chain running. Bearings and cables get Finish Line grease, and everything else gets a fine film of GT85 spray.

De-greasing bikes used to be a horrible affair, using nasty petroleum solvents. Modern vegetable-derived solvents are much nicer. The citrus and mint ones are (almost) appetising!


Stewart C. Russell, Kirkintilloch, Scotland