bikeI absolutely hate driving and unfortunately, the city where I live depends on cars -- overwhelmingly so. In elementary school, I would bike to school several times a week. Then, I would do it just for fun and to burn off all that extra energy you may imagine a sixth-grader might have.

But now, biking to school not only equals fun and a good workout but can also save you some big money. And, if you despise driving as much as I do, then the biking alternative only rises in desirability.

OK, gang. Fasten your helmets, and let's ride:
Before you can start saving money by biking, you'll first have to spend some. Bicycles can be expensive and the purchase process confusing. How many speeds? Mountain bike, hybrid or racing bike? Cannondale, Trek or Bianchi? They're all great brands.

Our vote, based on experience, goes to Cannondale's American-made bikes that are virtually indestructible and built for speed. The Web site roadbikedeals.com says that Cannondales "are relative newcomers on the cycling scene" and although a new Cannondale can cost up to $2,000, a used one on eBbay can sell for as little as $379.95.

Some bike stores can even outfit a new Cannondale recreational bike, suitable for short commutes, for not much more. As you put down the cash, think of how much you'll save on car insurance and parking fees.

Raleigh road bikes represent another reasonable, cheap bike. According to roadbikedeals.com, Raleigh bikes are "one of the few bicycle manufacturers that has made it past the century mark. They've consistently adapted to shifts in market and manufacturing trends."

A used Raleigh bike can be found as low as $300 on eBay. A bicycle that you can buy brand new and that is under $400 is the 2010 Kona Smoke. Bikesale.com says the Kona Smoke is, "affordable, reliable, comfortable, and, oddly enough, smoke-free."

Now if all of this sounds great on paper, but poor to your poor wallet, take heart. You can find a reliable used bike for under $100 -- or as little as free -- by trawling around Craigslist, police impound sales, or even the neighborhood garage sale.

Just be sure that no matter how good that bargain looks, spend $50 or so on a tune-up at a reputable bike shop. Get the tires and rims checked, brakes adjusted, gears aligned. This is not only your mode of transporation, but your first line of defense should a truck decide to run a red light. You want to be safe even as you save, right?

Speaking of safety, you'll also need a bike helmet. Former competitive cyclist Ross Kerber, now a reporter at Thomson Reuters, is fond of reciting this mantra to the adult riders he's trained: "Always wear a helmet, always wear a helmet and always wear a helmet."

Bicycle helmets range from pretty cheap, such as the Schwinn Intercept Adult Helmet from Walmart for $16.96, to the high-end Trek Sonic Elite for $99.99. And you do know never to buy a used helmet, right? Well, now you do: A crack from a previous rider's mishap can render it null and void come crunch time.

Not only will you need to protect yourself from injury but you will need to protect your bike from being stolen. According to the National Bike Registry bicycle theft is on the rise and "it is estimated that over 1.5 million bicycles are stolen every year. No where is bicycle theft a bigger problem than on college campuses."

So, if riding your bike, you must buy a bike lock. Consumerresarch.com listed the top four best bicycle locks. The cheapest lock called the OnGuard Bulldog Mini and sells for $22. It's lightweight and can easily be tossed in your backpack. If protection is important to you, then pony up $75 for Kryptonite's New York Fahgettaboudit U-Lock; "in tests that pit bicycle locks against hacksaws, bolt cutters and power tools, the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-lock consistently comes out on top." (True. But remember when Kryptonite had its older-model U-locks recalled a few years ago because someone figured out how to defeat them with a ball-point pen? Thank goodness they got it right this time.)

Currently, I pay $40 a month for my gym membership. My school in Worcester, Mass. is about 4.5 miles from where I live and that for me, is more than enough of a workout. As I ponder riding my bike to school, I'm looking at a $480 a year savings just from gym dues alone.

I also fill up on gas about once a week. The lowest gas prices in my area average about $2.60 a gallon and my car can hold about 13 gallons. Each week I could be saving about $33.54 and in a year I could save in the neighborhood of $1,750 by biking most of the time instead of riding.

Let's not forget that biking to campus can also save another kind of green. By biking you can greatly reduce your carbon footprint. "Motor vehicle emissions represent 31 percent of total carbon dioxide, 81 percent of carbon monoxide, and 49 percent of nitrogen oxides released in the U.S. A short, four-mile round trip by bicycle keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe," says the League of American Bicyclists.

Biking to campus can be a little expensive at first. But put the pedal to the metal, and you'll reap the rewards: In the long run you'll make yourself, your finances and the environment healthier for the effort.

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