There was a time when the cost of going for a ride was almost inconsequential. Especially for me, having previously owned mostly small or mid-capacity bikes, I could spend a couple of hours or so out on the bike, not buy anything and use no more petrol than I’d use to drive the car down to the shops. Well, not much more anyway. So it cost basically nothing.
These days it’s different. The costs of going for a ride are increasing all the time, and it’s enough to stop some of us from riding, or at least change the way we go for a ride. This isn’t just a personal matter, but perhaps more importantly, it’s something that needs to be considered by bike clubs and people who organise group rides.
Like most people I would think, I’ve noticed my costs going up. The cost of going for a ride is no longer the “inconsequential” amount it used to be! 
The cost of my favourite indulgence is, if I stop and work it out, a significant figure in the family expenditure. I notice it especially when we have a couple of wet weekends in a row; there is noticeably more money in the kitty than there is when every weekend is fine!
What really got me thinking about this, and the inspiration for writing the article, was an email I received from a reader, Peter, who said he no longer rides with his local Ulysses Club because the rides were costing him around $100 for a day out with the club. As a consequence, he now goes for rides on his own, rather than with the club. And he says he knows a few others who have done the same thing.
My initial reaction to this was to wonder what on earth they were doing to spend $100 on a ride! But, as Peter explained, it’s not as extreme as it might at first appear. “Maybe not all of the Ulysses rides would be that expensive, but on the rides I was doing the costs were up. A tank-full of fuel to start the ride and Ulysses always went on scenic rides all over the countryside to make life interesting, stopping along the way for a smoko. Those stops were costly unless you did what I started to do and that was to bring a thermos and nibblies of my own (a few did this). On each run we all put in for a raffle. Okay, that was a whole $2, but it all adds up. Then onto where we were going, and at times there might be an entrance fee to a place. We might travel around 500kms for a full day ride. We would normally stop at a pub at our destination for a meal at lunchtime, then home again. After a 500km ride, with all the bits and pieces, it was easy to spend $100, especially with fuel. This began to be awkward for me, and I might add a few others in the club that I knew. We wanted to ride with the Sunday rides but often the costs just beat us.”
Okay, let’s look at this in a bit more detail and work out how much it might cost. (By the way, I’m writing this in late 2011, so if you’re reading this in later years the principle will be the same, just adjust the figures to account for inflation).
At present prices (say $1.60 for Premium Unleaded), on a 500km ride, for average bikes it’s going to cost between $40 and $50 for fuel. (Okay, under $30 for a scooter, and $55 for a big bike if you fang it!). That’s a fair slice of that $100 right there! Now, a coffee will cost you $3 or $4, but if you indulge in a couple of scones or slice of cake to go with it, you’ll be paying around $8 or $9. Double that if you have a similar stop in the afternoon on the way home.
Lunch, even at a pub, can cost you $20 including drinks; or more if you go for the fuller-plated side of the menu.
So let’s add that up. Say $45 for fuel (that’s an average of just under 18 km/litre), $16 for morning and afternoon teas, $20 for lunch (including drinks), and we’re up to $81. $83 with the raffle-ticket. Throw in an admission-fee for a museum or whatever, at say $10, and we’re getting very close to Peter’s $100. And that’s at average prices. Okay, if you ride a scooter ($27 at 30km/litre), have two small coffees but decline the scones and cake ($7), have a reasonable lunch ($20 with drinks), don’t pay to visit the museum, and don’t buy a raffle-ticket, you’ll still be paying $54 for your day out. (And you’ll feel like Uncle Scrooge!).
At the other end of the scale, if you ride a thirsty bike ($50 at 16km/litre), indulge in the goodies ($18), have a hearty lunch ($20), drinks ($10), and pay an entrance-fee to some local attraction ($10), your costs for the day are $110, including the raffle-ticket. Do this every weekend and I reckon the cost of the rides would be prohibitively expensive for most people. (By the way, you might’ve noticed that I haven’t included much for drinks – because you shouldn’t be drinking a lot while you’re riding, should you!).
Now, as I said at the beginning, this is something that needs to be considered; not only on a personal basis, but especially by people who organise group rides – be they with a club, or just socially. You want the rides to be long enough for people to enjoy, and be entertaining, but you don’t want to drive people away by making it unaffordable. I’ll offer a few suggestions in a moment, but first I’ll take you through a time-line of my expenses with riding.
Back in my trail-riding days (when you had to watch for stray dinosaurs as well as the usual roos and wombats!), a full day’s trail-riding would cost just a few dollars – whatever it cost at the time for about 5 litres of petrol. (My DT175 held 7 litres and a tank would usually last a full day out on the trails). We didn’t buy lunch (because there weren’t any shops!), so lunch consisted of a couple of sangers and a bottle of cordial brown-bagged at home. Later, when I got into road-riding, my rides were initially fairly short and on a small capacity bike. Cost: Just a few litres of petrol; and occasionally a couple of dollars for a coffee.
As time went on I got bigger bikes and my rides typically consisted of a couple of hours or so out in the afternoon, with a mandatory stop for a cuppa along the way. $10 would easily cover it. Even as recently as, say 5 years ago, I could go for an afternoon ride, with the afore-mentioned stop for a cuppa, fill the tank up when I got back, and still not need to take any more than $10 with me. A day-ride, including lunch, could usually be covered by $20.
These days I ride a bike with an engine the size of a small car engine. And I usually ride it further than I did my previous bikes. That has increased my fuel costs; although not by as much as you might think, because the actual consumption is less than a litre more per 100km than my previous bike. (It doesn’t get worked very hard!). During the past 5 years I don’t think the price of tea or coffee has gone up much, but the price of petrol certainly has! So allowing for the fact that it costs a lot more, and I use a bit more of it, my afternoon rides now require me to have at least $20 in the wallet. A day-ride with lunch and I’m looking for $40 to cover costs. And that’s riding only about half the distance Peter was talking about, and doing lunch “on the cheap”.
Even then, it’s easy to go over. For example on a recent ride I had lunch at a club and had a cuppa with a couple of scones on the way home.
When I filled the tank on my return I was scratching for loose change to add to the $40 I’d taken with me. Breakdown: About $15 for lunch and drinks, $8 for the cuppa and scones, and about $19 for petrol. I shouldn’t have had the scones!
Okay, some suggestions from The Old Bloke. Remember we started out with Peter telling us how his rides were costing him $100 for a day out on the bike. If you look at how I calculated that amount you can pretty easily work out what you’d have to do to reduce the costs. But even if your rides aren’t costing you that much, if the cost of riding is stretching the family budget it might mean that you need to go for shorter rides and /or spend less while you’re out on a ride.
One thing I do is, especially in summer when the afternoons are longer, I’ll try to substitute some day-rides with half-day-rides. I’ll have lunch before I leave and then just buy a drink while I’m out. I’ll often do close to the same sort of distance, but do it without the cost of buying lunch. If you’re riding on your own then this is easy enough to manage, but if you’re riding with some mates then you might need to settle on a style of ride that fits in with how much you, and the other riders, want to spend.
For people who organise rides for, say clubs, it becomes a lot more difficult, because there is usually a wider spectrum of people to please. Some will want to do long rides with a slap-up meal in the middle; others will want short rides with a coffee-stop destination. Everyone will be different. The obvious answer is to put on a selection of rides; some long, some short; some with lunch at a swish eatery, some with a lunch of fish-and-chips. Although even if you do manage to achieve that level of variety, there’s bound to be some people who complain there aren’t enough rides that suit their style of riding! No, you probably can’t win.
A point about lunch, seeing as I’ve mentioned it so much. The traditional lunch-stop for bikers is a local pub somewhere. But they aren’t always the best value. They probably used to be once, but these days there are pubs charging prices that border on restaurant rates. Clubs are often (but certainly not always!) a cheaper alternative. Okay, the dress-code, rules and atmosphere are different, but as long as you’re not too outlandish that shouldn’t be a problem. Apart from the atmosphere, perhaps.
Personally, I don’t mind clubs; although I much prefer the smaller quiet ones. There are a couple of favourites I have that usually don’t have many people around, and you can eat lunch looking out over some pleasant scenery. I like that. And it costs me around $7.50 for a burger & chips.
The advice here is that it pays to shop around. If you have a few regular destinations, check out the pubs and clubs and see what the price (and the quality of the food!) is like. I’m not fond of cafes in general, but you’ll find some that provide good food at very reasonable prices. These sorts of places usually have seating inside and outside, to suit your preference. I’ve found a couple of cafes I like. Bakeries, especially in small rural towns, are another place to try. Some will be expensive, but most will be quite reasonable. And the food is usually pretty good – if a bit limited in menu.
Of course you could always take it with you; but Vegemite sandwiches and a thermos of tea don’t exactly fit the biker image! (Unless you ride a trail-bike – no eateries on the fire-trails remember!). 
Obviously, how far you ride will have an effect on how much you spend. Now, far be it from me to suggest how far you should go when you take off for a ride, but realise that the further you do go, the more it is going to cost. I must admit I’m only just starting to seriously consider this. My mindset that petrol is a relatively inexpensive cost with a bike is hard to shake. But these days, of course, that’s not the case – petrol is expensive! So distance, with the resultant cost of fuel, is another variable to factor into the cost of riding. 
Of course in all this I'm referring just to money you spend while you're out on the ride. If you add in running-costs, like the cost of tyres, general wear-and-tear / maintenance, then the real costs of riding are, of course, a lot higher than this! 
Okay, in closing I just want to emphasise again that I’m not trying to be a spoil-sport, or a Scrooge in writing this. This article is just to say that, for many of us, the costs of riding are something that need to be considered; and those costs may mean – as it did for Peter – that certain aspects of how we go riding might need to change.
For people who organise rides, such as with a club or social group, this issue is something that needs to be carefully considered, so that the cost of the ride doesn’t make it prohibitive for those on restricted incomes.
Well, there it is. Hopefully this has not only drawn attention to the issue, but also suggested a couple of ways to work through it.
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