I made a change to my daily commute that could save me over $1,000 a year

I made a change to my daily commute that could save me over $1,000 a year
I made a change to my daily commute that could save me over $1,000 a year

To get to work every day, I have to trek from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Midtown Manhattan. That entails squeezing into a pocket of space aboard the crammed L train, often after a few too-packed trains have come and gone, and then transferring to the uptown F or M. Though I've mastered the art of reading a book while my body is contorted like a Tetris piece, it's not the most pleasant way to start the day.

Recently I considered mixing it up and trying to bike to the office. If I did that every day, the savings would add up more than I had realized: The 30-day unlimited subway passes I buy now add up to $1,452 a year.

But, though I'm an active person, I'm generally pretty lazy. The idea of all that extra effort and burning in the thigh region in the morning and afternoon did not enthuse me. Plus, I'd never biked in Manhattan and the city's congested streets are intimidating.

So could I do it, and would it be worth it? In honor of National Bike-to-Work Week, I tried it. Here's how the considerations break down.

CNBC Make It reporter Jonathan Blumberg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Richard Washington | CNBC

The savings are significant

No matter where you live, biking to work instead of driving or taking public transit will save you hundreds or thousands of dollars every year. A monthly metro pass in D.C. comes out to at least $972 per year. In Chicago it's $1,260 and in Los Angeles it's $1,464. If you drive, the costs of gas, maintenance, insurance and car payments add up, too. Across the U.S., the average commute costs $2,600 per year, according to the Citi ThankYou Commuter Index.

My bike, in contrast, was free. It belonged to my mother before I took it from the garage without her noticing when I moved to New York. If you don't have a mother who hasn't touched her bike since the '80s, you could buy a Citibike membership for just $169 a year or use a comparable bike sharing service.

For close to that price, you could just buy a used bike that's probably of higher quality than mine. As I discovered squeaking through the city, my chain is rusted, the gears need grease and the seat is threadbare.

In any case, even after buying a bike as well as a helmet, pump and occasional tube replacement, you could still save over $1,000 per year.

The time spent isn't that much worse 

The main reason people offer for why they don't bike to work is that it would take too long but, according to a recent study highlighted by The New York Times, odds are they're overestimating. So if time is what's holding you back, try a test run.

Although Google Maps promised I'd make it in 40 minutes, it was my first time biking in Manhattan, so I got turned around once or twice. In all, it took 50.

My typical commute on the subway usually takes half an hour but that isn't a guarantee. In the event of something holding up service on the notoriously unreliable New York transit system — such as a fire on the tracks, a man crawling around underneath a subway car or, as was the case 10,000 times in January, "who knows" — the ride can also take much longer.

Williamsburg Bridge
Richard Washington | CNBC

The ride was easier than I expected

Overall, the seven mile-trip was surprisingly manageable. There were bike lanes almost the whole way, and traffic didn't really become and issue until I was north of 34th street, where lanes and lights seem to serve no purpose.

The Williamsburg Bridge was the biggest challenge. It was there, as I hyperventilated to the bridge's peak, where the M train seemed to taunt me as it passed overhead and, at the same moment, an elderly woman zoomed by on my right. Fortunately I was too focused on the burn in my quadriceps to feel it in my ego.

It's good for you and the environment

Billionaire Richard Branson has raved about the benefits of exercising in the morning and after my trip his excitement finally made sense to me. I felt awesome the rest of the day and even passed on coffee.

And, though many people do, in most places you shouldn't worry too much about air quality. Unless you're in a highly polluted city like Delhi, research has found that the health benefits of biking outweigh the risks of inhaling pollution in cities like New York, Barcelona and London. And besides, if you bike to work you spend less time in the subways, where apparently it's not particularly healthy to breathe either.

CNBC Make It reporter Jonathan Blumberg in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Richard Washington | CNBC

Biking benefits the environment, too, by reducing your carbon footprint. Transportation, made up largely of passenger vehicles and public transit, contributed to 28 percent of green house gas emissions in the U.S. in 2016, according to the EPA.

In cities that have large biking populations, residents see improved health and extended life as a result of less smog, reports The Guardian.

Just be safe

If you do want to save some money on your commute and decide biking to work is the way to go, take the necessary precautions. Wear a helmet, watch out for drivers and passengers opening their doors and make sure you have lights and reflective gear if you're riding in the dark.

I'd also recommend packing a change of clothes and some deodorant for when you get to the office, something I realized I needed around the time that older rider, who I now am telling myself was on performance-enhancers, dusted me on the bridge. You should also drink plenty of water.

And finally: Choose a scenic route through some bustling neighborhoods. Experiencing New York in a new way was the best part of the trip.

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