This article examines how bicycle prices have changed over the past century, using data from Sears Roebuck catalogs and blue-collar hourly compensation rates. It shows that while the nominal price of bicycles rose by 720 percent, the time price fell by 95.5 percent, meaning it takes much less work to buy a bike today than in 1910.


In 1910 you could buy a bicycle for $11.95 from the Sears Roebuck catalog. That sounds like a good deal until you realize that the average nominal U.S. blue-collar hourly compensation rate was only 18 cents an hour. That means that it took an American blue-collar worker 66.4 hours to earn enough money to buy a bicycle.

Today you can buy a bike at Walmart for $98. The nominal price of bicycles rose by 720 percent, but the average nominal blue-collar hourly compensation rate rose by 17,978 percent, reaching $32.54 per hour. That puts the time price at about 3 hours of work today. If the time price of a bicycle had remained the same between 1910 and 2022, a bike would cost around $2,160 today (66.4 hours x $32.54).

Given that the time price fell by 95.5 percent (i.e., from 66.4 hours to 3 hours), the same length of time required to earn enough money to buy one bicycle in 1910 would get you 22 bikes today. That represents a 2,104 percent increase in personal bicycle abundance.