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8 Bikes You Should Buy Instead of the Annual Oyster Card

The “great value” London zone 1-6 travelcard costs £2,364, and comes with a year’s worth of life-sucking commutes and rush-hour madness. But what if you got a bike instead?

The benefits of recreational cycling are immense and have already been well-documented. In this article, I want to focus specifically on how switching to cycling can benefit Londoners in particular.

So without further adieu:

1. It's Healthier

According to polls, London commuters suffer more stress than those in any other major city in Europe. For crying out loud, they even made a ‘Meditation bus’ after that 24-hour Tube strike early this year.

Cycling has been proven to help manage blood pressure, aid in weight loss and even improve your self-esteem. As a bike mechanic, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact that recreational cycling can have on one’s health, body and mind. And trust me, nobody needs stress relief more than a 9-to-5 commuter.

Per British study, even a small amount of cycling can have substantial health benefits, including improved strength, stamina and cardio-vascular fitness, stress reduction, weight loss and more.

If you're switching to cycling, however, air pollution in the city must also be addressed. In January of this year, Mayor Khan issued the highest air pollution alert in London for the first time, and the city’s filthy air was dubbed a health crisis. We passed Beijing levels of air pollution during that week.

And yet, according to an international team of researchers, the health benefits of cycling still outweigh the harm from ‘filthy air’, in all but 1% of the world’s cities:

"Even in Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world – with pollution levels ten times those in London – people would need to cycle over five hours per week before the pollution risks outweigh the health benefits."

2. It's Faster

Remember that legendary Top Gear episode where they tried to find the quickest way to get across London? James

drove, Hammond hopped on a bike, Clarkson got in a motorboat, and The Stig opted for the good old Tube. The results?

1. Bike

2. Boat

3. Tube

4. Car

According to that same poll from a minute ago, London commuters are also late for work more often on average, and an overwhelming majority adds another half an hour to their commute to allow for any delays.

Peter Thum-Bonanno of FindProperly took a more methodical approach to the Top Gear problem. He devised a ‘commute time minimisation algorithm’, and input travel data for over 750,000 London-based journeys. His results were clear:

"‘I was really surprised by this. Nearly all journeys less than 5km are faster by cycling. Only until journeys are longer than ~13km is it quicker in most cases to take public transport!‘"

His data even suggests that public transport is slower than walking for short journeys. I’m still kind of skeptical of his methods, to be honest, but there’s been plenty of other anecdotal evidence to support his findings.

For example, Andreas from London Cyclist picked three routes:

1. Swiss Cottage to Covent Garden

2. Covent Garden to London Bridge

3. London Bridge to Mornington Crescent.

He made all three journeys both by bike and via Tube. When it was all said and done, he concluded:

"[...]I mentioned earlier the result should be neck and neck. Needless to say I was very surprised when I totalled up the times[...]The bike was on average 33% faster. Someone could therefore save 1/3 off their travel times or in the case of these journeys nearly 30 minutes!"

He was also less than impressed by TfL’s journey planner:

 

My guess is it doesn’t calculate the time required to get down to the tube and back out again.’

3. iT'S CHEAPER

This is less straightforward than it sounds. Most folks just assume that cycling is always cheaper than public transportation. This is simply not the case.

BBC compared the cost of cycling to the cost of public transport in 12 different cities:

We took the average cycling costs for a country – the cost of a bicycle, accessories and maintenance – and compared that to the cost of a monthly travel card on public transport.’

Basically, cycling still requires a (potentially significant) initial investment, plus add-ons and continuous maintenance costs. An annual Oyster card, on the other hand, is a simple, fixed cost of about £2300.

We found that although cycling has a high up-front cost, those costs are soon recouped in a city with expensive public transport. The lower the public transport cost, the longer it takes for cycling to become cheaper than transit.‘

In Krakow, for example, the math is on the side of public transport. A monthly travel card costs around £20, while a brand new bike is about £390.

Much to no one’s surprise, the cost of London’s public transport is comparatively abysmal. So the BBC concludes:

"If you live in an expensive city like New York or London, cycling is the most cost-effective option. It won’t take much time to pay off the initial investment of the bike, compared to the cost of monthly travel cards (assuming you just buy a brand-new bike for about £300 or $200, it takes 2.1 months in London and 1.7 months in New York to break even compared with a monthly transit card)."

Doing the math

Here's a thought experiment. What if, instead of spending £2,364 on a Travelcard, you spent that same amount of money - on a bike?

Let’s crunch some numbers. If you were to set aside a generous £300 for some top-of-the-line cycle clothes and another £300 for yearly maintenance & servicing costs, you’d be left with about ~£1,750 to splurge on a brand new two-wheeler.*

So what sort of a bicycle can a cool ~£1,750 get you?

I’ve sorted the bikes by type and listed what I feel are the best on-budget bikes for each category.

Note: I'm not in any way affiliated with any of these bikes. They are just really nice bikes.

(*Btw, if your employer is part of the cycle-to-work scheme, you can also get a serious [I’m talking 20-40% serious] discount & up to 12 month interest-free finance.)

Low on space

1. Tern Verge X10 - £1,500

Speed: +++

Weight: ++

Convenience: ++++

Light and relatively compact with road-racing oriented components and modern styling. The X10 strikes a good balance between the convenience of a folding bike and the performance of a full-sized racer. And it’s well within our price range.

2. Brompton M6L Nickel - £1500

Speed: ++

Weight: +

Convenience: +++++

The old British classic. Timelessly good looking and folds down to the most compact size. On the flip side, its traditional manufacturing techniques & materials does mean it is one of the heaviest folding bikes out there. BUT IT’S SO PRETTY THOUGH.

Need for speed

3. Giant TCR Advanced Disc 2 - £1775

Speed: +++++

Weight: +++++

Convenience: +

The Giant TCR may not have the best component specs with most parts being produced in-house. But that is not what you’re paying the premium for. The frame, disc compatibility and ride quality of the TCR are all punching waaaay above its price point.

4. Willier GTR Team 105 - £1800

Speed: +++++

Weight: +++++

Convenience: +

The Italian answer to entry-level, high-performance carbon bikes. Flashy paint job and better specced as far as parts are concerned makes this one of the nicest looking bikes for our budget. Be advised however - the money spent on bling has been saved on the frame.

Adventure edition

5.Salsa Vaya GX - £1450

Speed: ++++

Weight: +++

Convenience: +++

Salsa is calling this a “road-adventure bike”, and that sums it up pretty well. The Vaya GX is able to eat road miles while dealing with off-road trails with ease. With a steel frame and some burly components it is not the lightest or the fastest bike out there - but it will take everything you throw at it.

6. Surly Ogre - £1800

Speed: +++

Weight: ++

Convenience: +++

More mountain-bike than anything else, the aptly-named Ogre is a bicycle meant for the harshest of commutes. Riding through rooty paths, over logs, down flights of stairs, basically anything short of 1m drops. Fat tires and a bombproof build make this a heavier but more capable bike than the Salsa.

Smart & Stylish

7. Cannondale Bad Boy 1 - £1500

Speed: ++++

Weight: +++

Convenience: ++

When it comes to smart-looking city bikes, Cannondale is the king of cool. Simple, understated, low maintenance. Sure, the benefits of a mono blade fork on this kind of bike are questionable, but boy does it ever make it look badass.

8. Canyon Commuter 7.0 - £1620

Speed: +++

Weight: ++

Convenience: ++++

There is so much innovation going on in this bike that I can’t possibly do it justice here. This is quite possibly the most city commute-specific full-size bike out there. It features a welcome shock-absorbing seatpost, integrated lights, full mudguards, and a cool rack for bags. Nothing says “chick magnet” like a stylish bag rack.

Moving forward

But wait - you get a new travelcard each year, right?

Just as an added thought experiment - what if you were to set aside this same amount of money (~1.75k) for a brand new bike: Every. Single. Year?

Now this is where things get good.

Bikes have a very active second hand market. If you were to sell your well-maintained (thanks to that £300 we used on servicing) bike at the end of the year, you’d easily get back %60 of the cost. So that means you’d have (quick bit of maths: £1.75k + (£1.75k x 0.6)) - about £2800 at the very least to spend on a brand new bike for the new year!

I’m not going to list all of the many (oh so tempting) options for a bike in that price range. But this should give you a pretty good idea:

Genesis Croix de Fer Ti

Do this for 5 years and - thanks to the magic of compounded resale values - you’re riding a very, very nice ~£8k bike. Something like:

Colnago C60 PLGL (custom-built)

Tip: Don’t commute on an £8k bike - it’s stupid.

And what do the tubers have to show for their ~£12k spent over the same 5 years? Other than a higher-than-national average blood pressure and an increased risk of stress-related health issues - not very much indeed.

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