Replacement Miles

Like many bicycle enthusiasts have done at one point or another, I used to track my trip distances, average speeds, and weekly, monthly and annual mileage. It was a way to measure “progress” and “performance” as I imagined it. To what end, I can’t really say, since throughout most of that time I wasn’t racing. Perhaps I was “racing” with myself. Whatever the reason, that way of thinking clearly grew out of our still prevalent proclivity to view the bicycle as a sporting good here in the U.S.

Now, as a person who loves riding bikes, but is even more concerned with leaving the car in the garage, I use a different metric to track progress. Now, I think in terms of miles not driven, or what I like to call “replacement miles”.

Now, as a person who loves riding bikes, but is even more concerned with leaving the car in the garage, I use a different metric to track progress. Now, I think in terms of miles not driven, or what I like to call “replacement miles”. For someone like myself who is passionate about a future with fewer cars on the road and more bicycles being used for transportation, this is a more satisfying and effective way of looking at it. Don’t get me wrong; riding for fun is all well-and-good, and I highly recommend it. But now, if I put the bike in the car and drive across town to participate in a recreational ride, those miles don’t “count” because they didn’t replace a car trip*.

If tracking your total miles and elapsed times provides motivation to keep riding, by all means, keep doing exactly what you’re doing. But, if reducing automobile use is important to you, perhaps thinking in terms of replacement miles makes more sense. Doing so gets me out of the weeds and helps me to stay focused on the larger goal of only using the car when absolutely necessary.

*I don’t actually count miles ridden.

35 Responses to “Replacement Miles”

  • Janice in GA says:

    I’m tracking miles on car vs. miles on bike and trying to increase the percentage of bike miles. About the best I can do so far is 60% car vs 40% bike. But I try to save the car for longer trips, so it’s a little disproportionally represented.

    And driving to a recreational ride? I used to do it all the time, but now the idea seems a little odd to me.

  • Alan says:

    “And driving to a recreational ride? I used to do it all the time, but now the idea seems a little odd to me.”

    Same here. We only do it now and again to meet up with friends and fellow advocates whom we don’t see often otherwise.

  • brad says:

    We too have stopped driving to recreational rides. We ride from home, even for our vacation. This year we rode from our home in Montreal to the train station, took the train from Montreal to Toronto, and then rode our bikes back home for our vacation. We never once set foot in a car and it felt great! Last year our vacation was entirely by bike, no train involved, but we like using the train to get us to more distant destinations when we want a change of scenery.

  • Steven in Memphis says:

    I track both “replacement” miles & total miles in Excel (among other relevant cycling data). If my ride was a car replacement trip I mark a box with a “Y”, then my custom formula adds it to the correct category. So far this year 82.6% of my bike miles have replaced automotive trips. The only error in the system is that I almost always choose different and 95% of the time longer routes for biking than driving, so to say I replaced X number of miles would be incorrect.

  • Pete says:

    I never “tracked” my miles or elapsed time in a car, and I don’t on the bike either. I use the bike as much as possible because it’s more fun. Simple as that.
    I know it’s an amusing mental exercise to see how much you’ve replaced your car use. But does any “utility” cyclist really write down “.6 miles – coffee shop, 1.5 miles – grocery store” etc every single day?
    It comes back, again, to the habit of fetishizing what we are trying to make commonplace.

  • Alan says:


    You must have missed my footnote. :-) It’s a thought process, not an actual physical process of writing down miles, that I’m talking about.


  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    We have never driven to recreational rides per se. But we take bicycles with us now on almost all long-distance car trips and then ride them once we arrive. Not the same as driving to recreational rides, because we would still need to take the same trip in the car if we did not take the bicycles along.

    As for tracking mileage, I recently got a computer for my roadbike because I find it useful for long-distance bicycle trips to new places, especially when I am following directions (i.e. “after 6 miles, turn left”), as well as for figuring out how to plan cyclotouring trips. I need to know at what speed I am comfortable traveling and how many miles I can expect myself to cycle in a day or half day, in order to know how to plan a trip, at what point to arrange motel stays, etc. So for me, it is not a competitive thing, but mainly something that provides information and feedback about what is realistic to plan for myself at a given point and what is not.

  • Pete says:

    Yes, I DID miss the footnote!

  • Shazspun says:

    Haha, I used to track distance and time with the popular “mapmyride” app, I then used to upload to Facebook just to show my friends how far I’d ridden and how long it was taking. Not just to prove I was using my bike more than them, but to show how easy it was.

    However I found that the length of time my journeys were taking were increasing and my friends were questioning why I was getting slower. The reason? Well once I started riding a bike I found many more friendly people who would stop to talk to me if I was stopped at a junction or riding slowly past them. How often would this happen in a car?

    The car vs bike miles therefore doesn’t really interest me – only my newly found enthusiasm for making friends.

  • Derek says:

    Racking up replacement miles is easy once you sell your car. ;-)

  • Mark K. says:

    Back in 2008, my wife and I undertook an experiment to see how little we could drive the car. During that time, I kept track of stats for our use of all modes of transportation, including tracking miles not driven.

    Our stats can be found here.

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    It makes total sense to have a bike computer for the type of long distance riding/touring you’re doing. In unknown territory, it’s good to have a paper map and a wired cyclometer in case an internet connection fails.

    In our case, a large majority of our riding is along known routes, so it’s more about focusing on what’s important to us (leaving that car at home), and less about knowing where we are or how far we’ve travelled.


  • Alan says:


    “Racking up replacement miles is easy once you sell your car. ;-)”

    I hear ya! :-)

  • Moopheus says:

    Putting the bike in the car to go across town? How big of a town do you live in?

    I’ve been using a bike computer lately too. What’s wrong with just knowing how far you’ve gone? Cars have odometers, too, and most of them aren’t racing, either. Actually, one feature I like is “trip time”: the amount of time actually spent moving, as opposed to resting or stopped at a light. I like this because it gives me an idea of when I need to turn around: when it gets up to around two hours, I need to start thinking of turning for home. It’s a reasonable proxy measure for how much energy I’ve got left.

    And having the mileage is useful for planning maintenance, just as it is with the car. And bike miles don’t just replace car miles, but also subway trips or even walks.

  • townmouse says:

    I do track miles ridden (because I like tracking things and because I am working on my Eddington number, a particular obsession of mine). It does help estimate how many miles we might otherwise have driven although that’s not really the reason I do it. And of course the journey by bike tends to be a bit longer than the car journey as I stick to the back roads. I also find it helps when planning rides with other people to be able to go back and check the mileage (Google maps and Map My Ride and the like don’t seem to be that accurate in my experience) and the toughness (based on the average speed I did). But my main metric for car use is how many days a week we simply didn’t use the car at all – no mean feat when you live a mile and a half from the nearest bus and five miles from the nearest shop.

  • Mark K. says:

    @ Pete – we did…for bike, walk, bus, and car even. Of course the point of what we were doing was to look at how we were actually using our car, and how we were not using it.

    That said, once I lost my job and we moved, the project stopped, and we now just live trying to reduce our car use as much as possible.

  • Alan says:


    Putting the bike in the car to go across town? How big of a town do you live in?”

    We live on the outer edge of a major metropolitan area. A couple/few times a year we may place the folders in the car to participate in a bike ride or advocacy event in the downtown area. The round-trip bike ride from home would be too far for us (particularly if the kids are participating)*, and the too-few train connections would turn a 3 hour bike ride into a 12-13 hour ordeal, so we occasionally bite the bullet and take the gas guzzler (Honda Fit)… :-)


    *It’s approximately a 55-60 mile round trip over a not very good/safe route, plus whatever ride we’re participating in.

  • Mike says:

    I think it would be nice to have an odometer and speedometer on my bicycle. It would be a lot of work to track mileage by recording trips, even with the various internet mapping tools now available, and it’s difficult to judge speeds.

    I’d probably want to get something for these purposes (a GPS device would be nice), but unless it can be powered by a hub generator, I’d probably think it was more trouble than it was worth.

  • Fergie348 says:

    I take the opposite approach – I keep track of money spent on fuel and try to drive that number as low as possible. Of course, if fuel prices go up as I think they should this would get harder to calculate but since fuel prices have been relatively static for the last few years it’s a decent rule of thumb.

    The only thing I track cycling miles for is to keep on top of drivetrain maintenance.

  • Sharper says:

    Considering that I used to drive everywhere and now bike just about everywhere, every mile is a replacement mile, but one of the big kickers for me to get out from behind the wheel more often was tracking mileage in both vehicles for May is Bike Month a couple of years ago.

    The best thing that’s happened to me, though, was installing that particular computer (a scavenged find from the Bike Kitchen) that resets itself every time the it’s removed from its dock on my bars. I have no idea how far I’ve traveled on that bike, and I kind of like it that way.

  • Joseph E says:

    @Alan: “We live on the outer edge of a major metropolitan area”
    I thought you lived in Sacramento. Or are you referring to the Bay Area as the major metro area. I can see the Capitol Corridor to bus trip being a bit long, if headed to SF.
    Or do you live 30 miles from Sacramento?

  • don in portland says:

    I track miles on a spreadsheet for several reasons. Certain components, chains and tires in particular, have a practical lifespan after which excessive wear result in more flat tires or in the case of chains, premature wear and replacement of expensive components. This helps me keep track of preventitive maintenance issues on the five bikes I rotate thru. I also keep track of car replacement miles which is mainly commuting and to a lesser extent, errands. These miles include miles when I use the bus as part of my commute (there is no bus fare, it’s paid by a local business tax).
    In addition, I track my bike expenses and contrast that against my car replacement miles at the federal mileage cost rate. This gives me talking points with real data backup (I work with a lot of engineering and accounting type folks) when I talk to people interested in bike commuting, if I haven’t convinced them already by other arguments.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    @Mike: I have a Delorme PN-30 GPS that I can run off my hub generator. I bit the bullet and bought the new E-WERK by Busch & Müller (back up battery charged by the dynamo hub) which can put out USB power which keeps my GPS running (more often I use it to charge my MP3 player). It’s pretty cool (although also a bit expensive).

  • Perry says:

    2nd what Derek said, I very rarely miss having a car. Riding my bike is how I get where I want to go, mileage is irrelevant at this point.

  • Garth Madison says:

    I refer to the odometer on my bike computer to track my mileage, all of which is replacement mileage. I don’t really bike for recreation, especially since I started commuting by bike. I’ll use my bike to get me to recreational events, but would rather do something else as recreation to rest my biking muscles, even if that’s hiking. So for me that still counts as replacement, since I’d otherwise drive it. The main purpose I actually keep an eye on my overall replacement mileage is to give me ammunition to use when justifying bike expenses to my wife :) If I can point out how much money I’m saving in gas,parking, etc., it makes my life a lot easier.

    As a side note, we have some neighbors who are avid runners. You’ll see them miles from the house, running big circles around the residential neighborhoods. He lives 2 miles from work, and seems to always drive it, often in his massively heavy hummer. It boggles my mind. He’ll easily run in a 6 mile circle for recreation, but uses that big a gas guzzler for a 4 mile round trip commute to work. I’ve thought about asking him about it, but can’t think of a way to do it that doesn’t seem aggressively rude :)


  • Ryan says:

    Using is a great way to track mileage. I had a goal this year of completing 4,000 replacement miles but I have had to use a work truck for a couple of months so my goal has been changed to 3K and I think I will be able to hit it.

    World commute is great and allows you to associate your vehicles MPG and the gas prices for your zip code and computes how many gallons of gas you have saved and how much money too. If you join I started a group called cargo cronies that is for people that are out using their bikes as their transportation and hauling food, kids etc.

    I find it neat because you can plot up bar charts to see how your mileage stacks up throughout the different months.

  • rich says:

    This past June, a friend and I cycled from Vancouver, BC to Astoria, OR (essentially a North to South ride through WA with a few miles on either side). Of the many great memories I have, one of my favorites happened upon landing in Vancouver.

    I picked up my bike (in shipping box) from oversized baggage, went through customs, hauled it outside, opened it up, spread everything out, and reassembled my bike & bags on the curb at the airport. I then enjoyed a delightful (motorized transportation-free) ride into the city.

  • Alan says:

    @Joseph E

    “I thought you lived in Sacramento.”

    Nope. I have an approximately 25-mile commute into Sac, hence the combo bike/train/ped/bus turbo-modal commute.


  • kanishka new england says:

    turbo model i like that. had heard intermodal and multimodal before. if you could just get a ferry into the mix (:

    i never was a performance / lycra guy, so when a while back i started to get curious about mileage it was just for “patitng myself on back” and increasing accuracy of planning trips, as some have mentioned.

    my favorite has been very simple, just reset my cars odometer each week, and see how low i can get it for the week. very similar to replacement miles, but easier to think about/track

  • Alan says:


    “if you could just get a ferry into the mix (:”

    Ha! I like that.

  • Kallie says:

    Tracking everything would make biking seem more like work to me, but I know that others enjoy that kind of thing so for them I’m glad there are some pretty fancy bike computers available. To each his own. Maybe once I start doing some touring I’ll change my mind, but probably not – I’ve always been more of a ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ kind of gal :)

    Like Perry and Derek said…its all replacement once the car’s gone so tracking replacement miles would be silly for me.

  • Sharper says:

    @Alan: There’s a couple of ferries across Ryer Island in the delta (CA 220 and 84, if memory serves). It’s a very pleasant area to ride through, so keep it in mind if you’re ever dispatched to Rio Vista to take some photos or talk with a client and feel the need to hit for the cycle, as it were…

  • Doug says:

    3rd on Derek. Selling your car (or truck in my case) is a great motivator for getting on the bike. I’m closing in on 18 months of not missing a single day of commuting to work by bicycle…..and I live in a place that not only has hills, but hills and some of the harshest winter conditions in the lower 48.

  • kaniska new england says:

    another replacement miles type thought – it seems like you really are going car-lite, if when you think of leaving a place you instinctively search for your bike lock key instead of your car key in your pocket

  • shane g says:

    I track my km’s each month and compare them to my mom and close family who totally rely on the use of a car. It’s my way of showing, I can travel the same distance, Haul the same stuff, And enjoy it all at the same time. While of course saving money and stress.

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