NYC $Bike-onomics

I’ve now been riding my bike in New York city for a little over 6 months , well over the entire humid summer, nice fall, and part of the polar vortex winter. Commuting to work in NYC is a very scary daily adventure. In the morning, I’m dodging massive trucks delivering fish in Chinatown, and in the early evening, I’m dodging delivery people biking the WRONG way with motorized bicycles. It makes me appreciate being alive every day.

Outside of the risk of dying…I’ll share some of thoughts on what’s the monetary cost/benefit analysis of riding my bike in NY (versus walking, subway, and taxi).


To start off, what does it cost to ride the subway? List price: one-way is $2.50 per ride, but since we get an additional 5%  when purchasing $5 or more, the true cost of a subway ride is closer to $2.38.

NOTE: Since I ride my bike to and from work at least once/week, the monthly pass won’t apply to me (based on my calculation, it would take around 10-11 trips a week to make up for the cost of the monthly).

If I average more than once/week roundtrip over the year, say 60, then for the year I will have saved:

~$2.38 * 2 * 60 = $285.60 for the year.

On top of saving money, having a  bike enables you to do some events that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Hence, its value is a non-zero health/social benefit. Examples include: going on a long-bike ride on the weekend with friends, riding events like the NYC Century and 5 Boro Bike Tour.

Let’s amount this value to $200/year – the rough equivalent would be renting a (nice) bike for these weekends/events.

  • The total benefit is  ~$250 (subway savings) + $200 (event enabler) = $450/year
  • Non-financial benefits: exercise, social/event enabler, enjoying the city, getting some hipster cred


Taking a look at entry level road bikes at REI, we can estimate to a bike costing say $900. For all the accessories (clips, pedals, shoes, lights, etc…), let’s conservatively guess a cool additional $300 investment.  Then, annual maintenance for tires, cleanings, things that break, new clothes, say $100/year (Mint blog suggests, ~$25-$60/month).

  • Starting capital: $900 (bike) + $300 (accessories) = $1200
  • Annual maintenance $100/year – $720/year (NOTE: I find $720/year absurd, even taking into account bike theft risk)
  • Non-financial: Annoyance of having to take care of it, store it, the worry of making sure it doesn’t get stolen, fear of death (i.e. getting hit by a car/taxi/ delivery person)


In NYC, one must also take into account Citbike, the bike-share program. It costs $100/year for a membership, and again, acting as a replacement for subway or taxi rides, it’ll be $2.38/trip savings.  So you’ll need to do about 42 subway replacement rides to get your value out of it.

Myself, I don’t use a Citibike to bike to work,  it’s too heavy/slow/not as enjoyable, nor to any “events.” I just use it to substitute for the subway, taxi, or cabbing.


Just buying a bike for commuting in NYC, may or may not financially work out depending on how much you’re spending on maintenance (and of course the bike). If my maintenance is on the lower of end of things (which is what I guess), I’ll probably pay back my investment in about 4 years considering depreciation. The non-financial benefits, for me, are pretty big and helps me to enjoy the city a bit more.

For Citibike, I’ve already gotten the full-value in the 8 months I’ve used it, I’ve easily logged over 50 rides on it. Those rides aren’t always subway replacements, some are taxi, and some are walking replacements (i.e. it just saves time).

As for time savings, it’s a wash. The subway isn’t always faster than riding into work (for me). On average it is by a few minutes, but I find the variance going to and from work much larger.