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Friday, January 16, 2009

Cycling and Frugality: Lemond and Uggs

(a stealth post by Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar)

Being frugal doesn’t mean depriving oneself of pleasures small and large. In fact, as you know, frugality allows one to indulge in pleasures beyond the means of the non-frugal. This is the point that Ms. Dr. Frugal Scholar made so well in her recent post on indulging in a pair of Uggs (strange name!). As we know, sometimes it is hard to reconcile expensive purchases within the tenets of frugality.

But I can do her one better.

I have a road bike, and not an old clunker from Goodwill. (That one Ms. DFS bought for me 15 years ago for $100, and I rode it into the ground). I now have a Lemond Zurich, and it wasn’t cheap. The last year these were made (the company is temporarily out of the market, after being bought by Trek), the Zurich went for $2,600. Of course I’d never pay that much-- I bought mine used on Ebay several years ago for $775 plus $85 shipping. That’s still not cheap.

However, expense is relative, and depends mostly on how, or how much, one uses a purchase. A Wustof knife for $100 is a good deal for someone who really cooks: it will last a lifetime. But it’s a waste of money if it’s used only for slicing Domino’s pizza. Ditto any other purchase one can think of.

So let me do some calculations. (Are you listening, Ms DFS?) Over the past four or so years I’ve ridden my bike well over 13,000 miles. Let’s say that I average 3.5 minutes per mile. (That’s about 17 mph.) Over 13,000 miles that adds up to 758.3 hours. Divide this by the price of the bike, and you get just over $1.00 an hour. That’s well worth it, and the cost per hour will keep going down; in four years it will be close to .50 an hour!

Here’s another way of figuring cost: 13,000 miles for $860 is only about 6.6 cents a mile. That beats any hybrid, and I’m not even counting the health benefits.

OK, I admit that I’ve fudged the numbers somewhat, because there have been additional expenses. I bought some mid-level clipless pedals for about $90 (road bikes don’t come with pedals or saddles), a cycle computer (to register time, distance, speed, etc.) for about $25, aerobars for about $90, various tires, tubes, shoes and cycling clothes, and I have paid for a few repairs and tune-ups. Even so the cost per mile or per hour is relatively small, certainly no more than 12 cents a mile.

And let me point out that I come out far ahead of Ms. DFS in the luxury-frugality competition. More numbers: MS. DFS’s Uggs and shipping were $93. In order to get the same return on her investment she will have to walk 775 miles (at $.12 a mile) before she gets down to the cost of a mile on my bike with all the extras included. Let’s say one can walk three miles an hour; that makes 258 hours of walking.

OK, I admit that this is just foolish, but the underlying question is not. How does one assign a dollar value to pleasure? Certainly I could have gone the same distance on a $200 bike, or a $400 bike. It might even have been 70% as much fun. (And Ms. DFS could walk 775 miles in sneakers.) But I think that because we so frugal in most areas, we can indulge in the few that are important to me. It’s a matter of triage. (Ms. DFS, bless her heart, has never raised a peep about the cost of my bike.)

You still have to decide if you’re going to make use of your bike. I see often see two-year-old bikes auctioned off on Ebay with only five or six hundred miles and for a $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000 loss. (Yes, some of these bikes cost upwards of $7,000.) A common explanation offered is “I don’t have time to ride.” Of course it’s a good idea to sell something you aren’t going to use, but it’s even better to make sure you really like an activity before investing heavily in equipment.

So before you spend wads of cash on a good bike and all the extras get one from Goodwill (or a yard sale—or even a new one on-line for $200 as our son did) and use it for a few years. It will work just fine and you’ll discover just what place cycling occupies in your life. And you may never want a better bike, but if you do at least you’ll be sure it will get a lot of use.

So I think my bike was worth it, but am I fooling myself?

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Such an excellent post without any comments seemed a shame. I bought a mountain bike a few years ago and had an accident not long after getting it, which put me off riding. My partner, an avid rider, felt I needed a road bike and selected one for me that I have ridden twice. I think it is far too big and I find it very difficult to ride. All that said, I did ride the 10 miles to work on one or another bike a handful of times and really enjoyed the challenges: choosing a route that felt safe, getting up and away early enough, finding a place to shower and dress for work, getting everything organised the night before. However, I found it was multi-tasking at its best: save money, get exercise and help the environment. Since retiring I tend to walk more places than ride, so probably should sell at least the road bike. I rather fancy one of the very old fashioned step over kind -- with a basket, of course! One sees a number of grey haired ladies cycling about on these!