Cycling is friggin’ expensive. No doubt the constant demand for costly and exclusive parts from well-heeled cyclists has contributed greatly to the sport’s clichéd position as “the new golf”.
That having been said, not everyone needs a pair of Obermayers. Far more burdensome—at least from my tax bracket—are the opportunity costs associated with being a competitive racer. Last summer, when I elected to pursue paid writing opportunities instead of training (and managing this blog), the roughly 10 hours a week I’d otherwise spend on the bike were quite effectively monetized; my least well paying gig was $40 for roughly an hour’s work.
Sure, I was chained to a computer for 12 hours a day (this was, after all, in addition to my day job), thirty pounds heavier, constantly irritated and under stress, struggling with pre-hypertensive blood pressure and a terrible diet—but I was also $12,000 richer. It was (and would still be) an extremely significant portion of my overall income.
Nowadays I’m poorer, happier, and faster. But it sure would be nice if there were some remuneration to reflect the most important societal benefit of a few thousand training miles: my improved health. A tax benefit from the state. A slice of my healthcare contribution back from my employer. Significantly reduced rates should I decide to quit and get my own heath insurance.
I suppose I should be thankful that people are beginning to at least try. From VoMax’s twitter, I got word of this nascent legislation, designed to allow up to $1000 of pretax deduction for fitness-related expenses, including race entry fees and equipment purchases. At first glance, that’s not an insignificant carrot
But the problem with this legislation is that it doesn’t reward people for being more physically active. It incentivizes them to spend money on things that facilitate fitness and physical activity—the same things I had even when I was fat and slow, and that millions of other out-of-shape Americans have gathering dust in a back corner of their garage.
Furthermore, the measure takes self-conscious aim at “rich” activities; hunting, sailing, horseback riding, and—most ominously—golf expenses are all explicitly excluded from the pretax deduction. With no lesser man than John McCain already taking aim at bicycle related “pork”, this thing is screaming for a bike-excluding rider, especially from a country obsessed with reviving its automotive industry.
Politics aside, it’s still tremendously complicated to quantify what being in shape means. Metrics based power output or speed are uncomfortably reliant on natural ability, and susceptible performance enhancing drugs. Awarding a benefit based on hours trained would be prohibitively open to fraud, and the old Body Mass Index standby is a pathetically inaccurate way to measure anything, let alone fitness.
If you think granting government access to more detailed information (blood pressure, percent body fat, etc.) would work, you clearly haven’t been following the news. Similar private sector efforts have met with lackluster support and, of course, are based on BMI. As lovely as it would be, I just don’t see any administrative solution to encourage getting the miles in.
So it seems the only recourse left for hard-training cyclists is to get their money’s worth and really, really love cycling. If I can be considered both a representative sample and a rational actor, the total benefits for a solid season of training are worth at least $12,000 a year.
That ought to make the pricetag on your next carbon wheelset a comparative bargain—even if the government never gets around to paying you back.
thoughts on “Addressing The Costs Of A Cycling Habit”
For those that pay for health insurance, many carriers have weight loss or BMI programs, whereby they provide cost savings or other financial incentives to get in better shape.
Great post, Cos. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I think the only way to encourage health among taxpayers is to make being not healthy prohibitively expensive. Cigarettes, alcohol, and fatty foods loaded with sugars and preservatives could be heavily taxed, thereby making poor health a luxury that only the wealthy can afford. Not sure how the math would work, but this may also drive down the cost of wholesome locally produced food. A tax rebate on fitness related expenses is a fine start, but let’s make it harder to be out of shape.
Changing health insurance to be more like car insurance will go a long way to forcing healthful ways on the heathens.
If you get a speeding ticket, are caught drunk driving, or receive a violation for passing a stop sign or a serious accident while text messaging you know your car insurance premiums will increase. Consequently, just before accelerating over the speed limit, before taking that extra drink, before coasting through the signal and before picking up the cell phone while driving you might just think twice about the lingering financial discomfort you may soon suffer when caught.
That’s not to say that people don’t drive like dummies. Some still do. But they are discouraged from doing so. And they pay the price of their stupidity.
Health is a whole different story. Eat fast food every day. Gain weight. Smoke. Drink to excess. Never exercise. Who cares? Health insurance will still cover me. And they will spread the cost of my bad habits to everyone then charge me the average. Where is the incentive to be healthy.
If you want to encourage people to exercise, eat healthy, maintain a healthy weight, drink in moderation and avoid smoking you must make health insurance more like car insurance.
I read that tax on cigarettes is a large portion of the cost, up to 79% of the cost. It looks like it’s lower in the US, but still very significant. Also, every large city in Canada (now that Calgary finally got it’s act together) bans smoking in bars, restaurants and most public places. I don’t remember there being a difference for basic coverage (which is a bit lame), but extra insurance coverage is around twice as expensive if you smoke, with my insurance company.
So to me, if you still want to get lung cancer that badly, be my guest.
To me, the culprit is driving. People can buy cheaper houses in the suburbs, where they sit in a car two hours a day, yell at cyclists riding two-abreast because they’re too lazy to move their hand two inches to the left and then two inches to the right to pass safely, and if the trend to SUVs is any indication, get to pay too little for gas in order to do so. All the while, this makes cycling perceived as dangerous.
The $150 I get for fitness-related spending though, is a joke. If it was $1000, that would cover a cheap bike and gym membership, but what am I going to do with $150? Buy a pair of running shoes, which it turns out are bad for me anyway? It’s a drop in the ocean…I spend more than that on watching cable TV.