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What’s Your Monthly Savings as a Bike Commuter?

by Bike Shop Girl

As a bike commuter it has really cut down our family cost on every day things.  This morning while reading Treehugger.com they have a $$ saved article, and it got me thinking. How much as cyclist do we really save.  After all the the money spent on the gear, bikes, and extra food.  Do we break even?

Salsa Casseroll

My example (Prices guesstimated):

Biking :

Salsa Casseroll – $900
Rear Rack – $45
Panniers/backpack – $100
Helmet – $50-100
Lights – $40-100
Misc clothes per month – $40

Car :

Monthly payment – $250-350
Insurance – $75
Gas per month – $100

Now, we aren’t talking about carbon footprint, extra health, less health expenses and such.  In the end, the fact my family can have one car instead of two (family of two adults, two children and two dogs) and get around okay works very well.  We live in suburbia, and I have a 4 mile bike commute to work every day

What’s your story?

 
Burley nomad 269

40 Responses to “What’s Your Monthly Savings as a Bike Commuter?”

  1. Tim says:

    We are saving about $120 per month because I bike commute to work. That comes from savings in car insurance, gas, car maintenance, and a gym membership which I dropped because I get all the exercise I need and more. We sold our second car to pay for most of the one-time expenses for me (mores bikes & gear).

    Although my wife claims that I am literally eating up at least half of those savings in extra groceries every month. I’m down 30+ pounds in less than a year.

  2. Erich says:

    Similar to Tim, I save–in pure dollars–around $100/mo (when I can cyclocommute 5 days/wk). I also come very close to literally eating up that savings in additional groceries and paying for lunch at work (now and then, when left-overs aren’t an option). With gas prices on the rise again, . . .

    Do I break even? For me, I’m guessing I come out a little ahead.

  3. Brent says:

    I should point out that parking expenses can be high, especially in big cities, where it is scarce. I moved close to work in 1996 so I could walk, but also in part to avoid the (then) $135 monthly parking fee. The fee is now well over $200 per month. That avoided expense goes straight into my IRA.

    I got a refund check from my car insurance last week for being a low mileage driver (about 3,000 miles annually).

    And all this savings even while living in Los Angeles…

  4. Mike Mason says:

    I bike year round and with transportation and parking costs driving I save between $100-200 per month. Add trips to get groceries, coffee, visiting with friends and I’m sure I’m saving more.

    However, I do seem to find a new light/shirt/thing for my bike every. 2-3 months! So, point taken… and my wife thanks you for bringing it up.

  5. Sean says:

    I changed jobs 3 years ago to one without travel, one where I could ride my bike to work. Round trip is roughly 50km, which I try to do at least 4 days per week.

    I can’t help but think I’m further ahead $ wise when I consider the additional car carrying costs I would have incurred, though my increased latte habit has probably erased most of that :)

  6. Scott says:

    What price can you put on fresh air, exercise, sanity and health?

    I think there is an initial investment, especially in the pacific northwest where you have to spend almost as much on good rain gear and bags as you do on your commuter bike to get up and running. That said, if you shop right and take care of your gear, it will end up paying for itself in the long run. I think the duration is the key, and making wise choices on your purchases.

    Last year, my household had a combined commuter miles of a little over 4000 just back and forth to work. We put another 890 miles on our cargo bike going to the grocery store, farmers market and local farms to get our food a little cheaper. We are now down to one car from two, and we put gas in it once a month at the most, usually to go mountain biking, surfing and skiing. We’ve renamed it the “sherpa”. Insurance on one car and we only put about 5K worth of mileage on it, whereas we were doing close to 20K per year prior. Still has original tires, etc.

    In the winter of 2006, we spent close to 1K on good rain gear, ortlieb panniers, good lights, gore-tex shoes, etc. We are still using that same gear in 2010.

    I’m sure it all balances out. Like other commenters, I get a new cycling cap with ear covers, occasional coffee and donut in the afternoon, new woolie shirts, cool socks, chrome knickers. However, is there any difference between buying these and buying a new pair of Levi’s and a patagonia jacket every season?

    I’d say only one or two expenses for the bike have been a little outlandish. We spent close to 400 bucks on schwalbe studded tires because of 2 weeks of ice we had two years ago. They have less than 100 miles on all of them and have spent a lot of time in the garage collecting dust. My girl’s bike got a really nice tubus rack to replace her blackburn…well, maybe that wasn’t so outlandish, but she balked at the price initially.

    Good subject. Thanks for bring it up. I think it’s been easy to accept these higher gas prices, higher healthy and car insurance, etc. These are considerable expenses now when you do the math.

  7. Ry says:

    I have to take exception with your math…
    $100 in gas for an 8mi round trip commute? Only if you’re paying more than $13/gallon for gas (@25mpg) or drive a car that gets ~5mpg.

    Also you can pick up a perfectly functional used car for one or two grand: you don’t need a $300/mo car payment for a local daily commuter.

    I’m not arguing against your point that it can be cost effective, but those numbers are no where near the reality of car vs. bike commuting.

  8. RY,

    I use my bike for various things like groceries, coffee and things like that. The fact I don’t have a car, keeps me more local than I would be if I had a car.

    Does this make sense?

  9. Ry says:

    Sure, makes a lot more sense when you put it that way.

    Fully owning a new 2nd car could add those expenses, but would you always need the 2nd car for those little errands?

    Devil’s advocating just a bit here. ;-)

  10. Aaron says:

    A peak bus trip (my other method of commuting) in Seattle is $2.25, so I save roughly $90 a month in bus fare when I ride to work. We are now a 1 car, 3 bike family, so I’m sure the car payment, extra gas, insurance, and maintenance money we save is comparable with your estimates. My company also subsidizes bike commuting $20 a month, so I can usually get reimbursed for extra gear that I by. They don’t seem to really keep track :)

  11. ha1ku says:

    I focus on the repeating costs of driving versus cycling.

    I used to live almost 50 miles away, requiring a daily commute. Last Summer I moved about 2.5 miles away from the office. So you can imagine the cost savings!

  12. Josh says:

    I changed over to the Cassaroll for my daily commuter last month. Man, I love that bike! Having gone down to 1 car, I’ll make the price back in 2 months of avoided car depreciation, gas, insurance and parking ($200/month in my downtown Seattle building).

  13. Dewber says:

    Raw numbers don’t add up to much for me, either ($80 to $100 per month in a very bike-able city). It really isn’t that expensive to drive in the US, especially with the huge supply of inexpensive used cars. In addition, many times I more than doubled my pay by driving 60+ miles round trip to work. Then the numbers alone can’t justify the ride to work. However, the quality of life now that I ride my bike to work…there is simply no comparison.

  14. John Smith says:

    There are inexpensive cars out there. But also inexpensive bikes. One of my current commuters, a Schwinn that I paid $20 for at Police Auction, has been upgraded with spray paint $8, rear fender $25, and new seat $15)

    I have two sets of studded tires (one on each of my winter bikes) these tires are worth more than the bikes.

    Bottom line – I spend more on locks and tires than I do on anything else commuting related. I run two bikes, one at either end of the commuter rail ride. I would like to ride nicer bikes but rampant bike theft at Chicago commuter rail stations makes that impractical(I may try again since I think I have found the lock solution that will keep the bike in my possession)…

  15. Rob E. says:

    It’s very difficult to gauge savings when you start to figure in all the external costs and variables. I think it’s reasonable for some people to factor in the cost of a car payment that they are not making, but I wouldn’t consider that part of the average bike commuter’s savings. I would guess that most bike commuters also have a car, which means a lot of the savings are harder to gauge like less wear and tear on the car. And in this state, whether I have a car or not, I need insurance if I want to be able to drive. That’s not the case in every state, though. And while I do have a car, I do not now, nor have I ever had a car payment, so I certainly couldn’t list that as a savings if I got rid of my car. I’m pretty sure that the only thing I would save if I ditched my car is registration, inspection, and tax, and the occasional repair/maintenance. That probably averages out to less than $200/year. Then you’d have to account for the fact that few times that I do use my car, it’s to travel long distance. Without the car that means air/train/bus which is almost always more expensive than the cost of gas. Pretty soon I haven’t saved anything.

    But then that’s what I would save, or not save, if I got rid of my car now. Maintenance/repair could go up considerably if I relied on my car for daily transportation. In fact, I’d probably need a newer car before too long. But at my current driving rate, I don’t know how/when/if I will be able to kill my current car.

    The only concrete savings I can claim are in monies that I would have definitely spent, but did not, thanks to my biking. If I were driving all the miles that I bike then that means about 425 miles so far this year then I figure in Jan. + Feb. I saved about $45 in gas. Plus if I paid to park at work, that would be an additional $52, so about $50/per month saved. If you figure my initial bike build at around 1K, you’re looking at 20 months of commuting to pay it off. And that’s if I don’t buy anything new in that time. In reality my bike is, and probably always will be, a work in progress, so it’s very difficult for me to say that I’ve saved anything.

    But for over a year, several years ago, I had to drive to and from work every day in rush hour traffic, and it was driving me crazy. Today my job still drives me crazy, but getting to and from work can be the best part of my day. So if someone could put a dollar amount on sanity, then that is what I’m saving by bicycle commuting.

  16. BillThBikeDude says:

    While I absolutely LOVE biking to work & have done so for the better part of 22 years, I have long since given up the dilusion that it saves a significant amount of money (for me). I live (& have always lived) more than 8 miles away from work, making my commute 16+ miles.
    For me, I need to add shower access (a.k.a. Gym membership) & lots of extra food to the list of expenses. Car payments are a wash, since I’ve always owned a car & a garage full of bikes. So the difference is gas & that has historically cost a lot less than good food.
    Regardless, perhaps long term health will be better. Unless, of course, I live a lot longer & then that get’s even more expensive. Oh well … it’s still very much worth it! I’m bikin’ every chance I get.

  17. Siouxgeonz says:

    So you make a $900 monthly payment on the bike, eh :)
    And… registration? parking? The accessories?

    I save a coupla hundred a month with the bike. Since I don’t always know where the more money in the ckecking account seems to come from, I suspect that lots of the money that I didn’t know where went somehow went into the car, or was something I wouldn’t have done without a car.
    An interesting question is whether being an impulsive-spending bike rider is cheaper than being an impulsive-spending driver… would some other hobby serve as the channel for the need to Buy Stuff?

  18. Andrew says:

    making minimum wage, i have a huge percentage of my income free for things i enjoy – even if its buying bicycle stuff!

  19. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    Over the last five years I figure I’ve spent ~ten thousand dollors. With the exception of tires, chains and other wear-out parts I have everything to keep using for a few more years. It would be less if I hadn’t moved to a much colder climit as that ment buying another set of clothes.
    That total includes 4 bikes (built for daily use), clothes for 4 seasons (also used for daily life), tools (also used for other things), camping gear (for bike camping) and better food (which I have to eat anyway). As for the food, I don’t really eat that much more as bikeing 20 miles is like for most walking to their car…
    I also tend to live close, as I usally don’t travel over 50 miles from home.

    Overall, for the purchase price of a cheap car, (that would be trash by now) and not including another $25,000 dollars it would take to operate the car, and another $5,000+ for medical care I would need, has been worth every cent.
    When I drove, There are many bad days that I remember.. but biking, can’t say I have a bad trip.

  20. Eric Moritz says:

    I follow the rule, even if I’m breaking even, I come out ahead.

  21. BluesCat says:

    In Phoenix it is impossible to get along without a car. Brutal summer heat, a lack of adequate public transportation and jobs at opposite ends of the city require my wife and I to be a two, air-conditioned-car household. My wife is scared to death to ride a bike on the city streets, so that means it is up to ME to carry the banner of Alternative Transportation.

    I am able to derive some savings by commuting as much as I can and riding the bike for errands. In gas alone this year I have saved around $55.00.

  22. Yeoh says:

    I like to think in terms of cost per mile. My custom Lightspeed that I bought 8 years ago at $4,500 is now down to .08 cents a mile just for the bike…and dropping with every mile I ride (for those counting, that’s 50,000 miles in 8 years). Given that reimbursement for mileage these days is around .45-50 cents per mile – I figure I’m saving money :)

  23. A Bike Commuter says:

    I’m not sure I get this article. The comparison at the top shows a number of one-time expenses for the bike and monthly expenses for the car. This strikes me as an ‘apples to oranges’ comparison.

    Obviously the initial cost for bike, helmet, pedals, water bottle and cage, lock, and – possibly – seat bag need to be quantified they are all one time expenses. Compare that to the need for monthly expenses such as tires, innertubes and maintenance.

    Since we bike commuters are an alternative group I don’t think we need to look for the newest car or bike. The analysis might look more like this:

    CAR
    Initial Cost: $5,000 (used)
    Lifespan: 5 years
    Cost per year: $1,000

    Monthly Expenses
    Cost of Car per month: $83
    Insurance: $75
    Gas: $40
    Maintenance*: $25
    TOTAL PER MONTH: $223

    BIKE
    Initial Cost: $500 (used)
    Accessories (helmet, bag): $100
    Total Cost: $600
    Lifespan: 5 years
    Cost per year $120

    Monthly Expenses
    Cost of Bike per month: $10
    Insurance: $0
    Gas: $0
    Maintenance*: $10
    TOTAL PER MONTH: $20

    * Maintenance cost estimated for tires, routine service, etc.

    OK, this doesn’t include the cost of other transportation for the cyclist (e.g., taxi for night out or bus for snow day). But look, the monthly cost for cycling is only 10% of the car.

    Cycling instead of driving puts more than $200 right into your pocket each month. That’s like giving yourself a raise of almost $2,500 per year. You could use some of the savings to buy a decent trailer and cut down on even more car trips.

    While your actual numbers might be different from the above example, there is a clear cost differential. Also, some value must be accorded for convenience, speed (trips over 5 miles), protection from bad weather, the ability to take passengers and other factors.

    There are, of course, numerous problems for bike commuters besides the obvious things like snow (for those of us in less temperate parts of the country), rude drivers and parking in urban centers. Some of us have kids, and I haven’t figured out an easy way to get a sick kid to the doctor’s office.

    For single folks a bike is often a great choice once you get over the idea of having a car because EVERYONE has a car (no they don’t!).

    For families a bike often allows a ‘car lite’ lifestyle which can defray the costs of bringing up a family.

    The cost difference between commuting by car vs. bike is stunning. Multiply the savings by thousands of people and not only do we relieve road congestion, improve health, add civility to our daily lives, reduce pollution, etc. but we also might help the economy by reducing our oil imports and adding to discretionary income.

    Peace.

  24. jamesmallon says:

    Owning a car and trying to make savings by not paying the gas you would have used is a negligible savings, esp. when put against the costs of cycling eqp. This is also why car owners won’t move to transit en masse: they are still paying most of the cost of car ownership when their car is stationary, so they might as well use it. You still have depreciation and insurance screwing you out of hundreds each month.

    The real savings is when you can lose the car, as you lose all the depreciation and insurance costs. Half of the days I use transit (TTC and GO, in Toronto) and the other half I ride. Occasionally I use a car-sharing service, so I am not hard done by at all. The result is great shape, and something like an extra $1000/month remaining in my account.

  25. Bren says:

    Even if gas is $3.50/gallon and you’re getting 20 mpg, gas costs only 17 cents a mile. I don’t know about y’all, but my legs only get about 5 miles per pastry…

    Luckily, I have found the solution to this quandary. Trader Joe’s sells chewy granola bars at 6 for $2. That puts each bar at 33 cents, and since they’ve got about 160 calories which should take you at least 2 miles, they are my new food-based gasoline substitute.

    As for my monthly savings, I like to pretend that it is really enormous so that I can justify owning and constantly upgrading/tweaking a road bike, a cyclocross bike, a fixed gear bike, and a touring bike…

  26. NT says:

    Interesting topic. I have been attempting to track my savings from bike commuting for about 3 years. (I started commuting in ’08 when gasoline was around $4/gal)

    Since I still own and drive my car some, I don’t save any of the “overhead” expenses such as licensing and insurance. Based on that premise, I have been calculating my savings as:

    1. Gasoline
    2. Motor oil and filter changes (that I do at home)
    3. Tires

    Obviously gasonline is most of the expense, but tires and motor oil do add a couple cents per mile travelled.

    With the above assumptions, over my 15 mile round trip commute and some trips into town, I am just able to cover most of my gear, not counting the initial expense of my bike.

    So that way I look at it is I am able to “pay-off” most of the gear I have an get more exercise getting to and from work that most people get all day.

  27. Dewber says:

    James Mallon got it right: if you can completely lose the car, you save hundreds, possibly thousands. I would just say ride the bike when you can. Even when I drive to a date, I try to combine trips so that I use every drop of gas wisely. What a dork, right? It ain’t easy being green.

  28. Doug D says:

    I used to track this pretty closely and in spite of some pretty loose spending by me on bike products the bike came out ahead:

    bike:
    bikes – $2000 per year
    clothes, bags, bike snacks, shoes etc.- 2000 per year

    car:
    gas savings – $120 per month
    insurance savings (actual discount)- $60 per month
    parking – $200 per month (downtown parking would be double this)
    car repair and depreciation savings – $3000 per year

    This assumes that my $5000 used car is good for about 50000km with no repairs or will cost about $3500 per year to maintain (going 30000 km per year) or will require a car payment of about $3600 per year.

    The fact is that I could cut the bike expenses down under $500 per year with very little effort where the car expenses are already pretty minimalist. If I were to compare apples to apples, I would need to get a pretty spiffy car or a pretty crummy bike.

  29. Well this week happens to my 1yr anniversary of commuting to work, before that I used my motorbike.

    In South Africa having personal transport is a luxury as even a 2nd hand car will set you back at least $8’000 (cheapest new cars are $12K-15K here).

    Our petrol is $4 a gallon, not to mention our roads are in a state of disrepair.

    Just on fuel alone I’m saving $100 a month, even though I’m only 4miles from work (serious uphills, traffic, unnecessary trips to get a cooldrink).

    As with Tim, I’ve lost 28 pounds in a year and still going strong. My health has made an about turn, I’m saving over $100 a month by just not going to the Dr anymore. My general well being is the best in years.

    Even though my savings seem to go back to my bike, I still save over $200 a month – but even still, I cannot put a price on my health.

  30. BillThBikeDude says:

    These notes are great! Two distinct points of view seem to be coming through:
    1. Don’t own a car & rely on the bike for all of my transportation.
    2. Own a car, but commute by bike anyway.

    Has anybody ever tried to quantify the miles per gallon of food that a bicyclist burns/requires? The next step would be to measure this cost against mpg in the car. The numbers for a cyclist wouldn’t be linear because riding for 60 minutes burns a lot more calories per minute than the same workout for 10 minutes. But, at some point, it becomes measurable with the basic crude variables being average heart rate, ride time, weight, distance & average cost of food.

    I’ve bike-commuted for 22 years, approximately 75% of my work days. My hunch is that the cost per mile to ride is more than driving, simply based on the fact that I eat a lot more when I ride.

    This is my situation. I’m sure that if I structured things differently, i’d have different results. For instance, if I didn’t have the sunk cost owning a car(s), if the commute was less than 5 miles & I didn’t make any attempt to ride hard (i.e. training-like), I wouldn’t eat measurably more than my old couch-potato/winter slothful self. Or, if I was content with cheap-o food & drinks, maybe I would actually see some savings.
    But, there is no doubt in my mind that I am a better person in a number of ways when I bike (my wife agrees). It’s a lifestyle with benefits that for me are not measured in $$.

  31. Brent says:

    @BillThBikeDude:

    “Has anybody ever tried to quantify the miles per gallon of food that a bicyclist burns/requires?”

    You can probably use this message board post — comparing the per-trip carbon output of an electric car and a bicycle — as a touchstone:

    http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/tesla-roadster/3486-bike-vs-roadster.html

  32. Rob E. says:

    I have a very hard time thinking that food eaten is anywhere near mpg in gas. It may be for someone with a very high metabolism, or who has an exceptionally long commute, but I’m just not convinced. I know for my part, I eat a lot whether I’m biking or not. ;-) The biking may increase my appetite a little, but one look at the scale shows that I am eating more than is required to get myself to work and back, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    Then there’s the exercise issue. Many people feel that without cycling, they would spend more time in the gym. If that’s the case, they would burn the calories there, rather than on the bike, and it seems the net change in food intake would be nil.

  33. Brent says:

    “I have a very hard time thinking that food eaten is anywhere near mpg in gas.”

    A person burns between 30 to 100 calories per mile by bicycle, depending mostly on speed, but also on fitness, etc. A car going at 20 MPH for an hour, and getting 20 MPG, burns about 31,000 calories, or about 1,550 calories per mile, or 15 times as much. To be fair, though, the car might weigh 15 times as much, too. A motorized bicycle with fuel efficiency of 200 MPG is fairly close to a rider’s efficiency. I believe electric bicycles have much higher efficiency than humans…

  34. Rob E. says:

    The question at hand is whether or not it costs more in food to bike than it does in gas to drive. So I guess the questions to be answered are: How many calories does a person at rest burn? How much does it cost in food to make up the difference in required calories? Do you even have to make up the difference in calories? For some people, I’m sure they do. For me, if I strive to get more calories to balance my biking, I’m not helping myself out at all.

    The calories burned by a car are not especially relevant. All one needs is the miles per gallon and the cost of gas.

    For my part, I’m fairly certain my monthly grocery bill has not gone up by the amount I would have spent in gas. I’m not convinced my food consumption has gone up at all. If anything, exercising more regularly makes me more health conscious, and less prone to unhealthy snacking. I know there are people for whom that’s not true, people who dramatically increase their food intake in response to exercise, but I don’t think it’s an across-the-board figure.

  35. Brent says:

    “The calories burned by a car are not especially relevant. All one needs is the miles per gallon and the cost of gas.”

    Hmmm…well, let’s see: a muffin at Starbucks costs about $3.00, provides 400 calories, and might get me about eight miles down the road on my bicycle. I get eight miles per $3.00.

    A gallon of gasoline costs about $3.00, provides about 31,000 calories, and might get me about twenty miles down the road in my car. I get twenty miles per $3.00.

  36. Rob E. says:

    The point is you can figure that out using your MPG, cost of gas, and distance to work. You do not need the calories burned by a car to figure that out. Calories required to move a car figure in to the MPG, but if you already know your mpg, you don’t actually need them to make the computation. If it were a word problem, the calories burned by the car would be the red herring the teacher threw in there that would have you cussing them out when you got your graded test back.

    Also, I don’t think you can equate eaten calories to miles travelled with nearly the precision that you can calculate miles per gallon. And the cost of a muffin is not necessarily the cost of calories. I eat breakfast every day. Usually it’s the same breakfast, or at least if it varies it has nothing to do with whether or not I bike to work. On that basis, I guess my caloric cost of biking to work is zero. It’s a free ride every time I don’t drive.

    Also, the fact that you pay 3.00 for a muffin and feel that it gives you 8 miles of travel does not mean that universally food eaten to bike > gas required. Some people might go further on that muffin. Some people might use cheaper and/or more calorie dense food.

    I can believe that some people require a lot of calories as a result of bicycling, possibly more calories than than you could afford from the equivalent amount of gas. I can easily believe some people spend far more on food than gas. I just don’t believe that you can say definitively that food required for biking costs more than gasoline. Not with the data at hand at least.

  37. Agree on Rob.E about using cyclists alternative fuel sources with different cost values.

    The Calories to $ is not the same for you as it is for me. My breakfast consists of Pronutro and fructose and this comes to 2500 Calories to the US$ for me.

    Now I burn 565 Calories on my morning commute of 4 miles, which translates into 6cents per mile cycling.

    Also following sport nutrition guidliness will have a big impact on the food choice. Hence my reason for using fructose and pronutro.

  38. Fritz says:

    I’m young and have never owned a car–only borrowed. But here’s how my expenses worked out on the few days I took a car to DC.

    Bike:

    Initial Cost–Bike: $70
    Initial Cost–Reelights: $40

    Car:
    Parking: $10/day (7am-7pm)
    Parking: $275/month (private lot)

    I give food a wash since I tend to eat more than I need to when I don’t bike and I tend to eat about the right amount when I do bike. In terms of bike fixes I had a piece of glass in my rim which cost me 2 tubes within a week–but that was nothing compared to the $500 timing belt I had to replace in the car.

    Granted, I have a cheap bike and fix it up myself, but one month of car usage costs more than my bike has.

  39. adp says:

    I am self-employed in the financial services and find that commuting by bike makes money. I have a very fuel-efficient car that’s paid off, and it’s insured for liability only. My bike is an old Miyata 210 that I keep rebuilding as needed. So there’s not much advantage in savings. The biggest advantage is that I feel more relaxed and focused, and therefore more productive, at work. Also, the gentle exercise relieves stress and, in my opinion, prevents lost days to illness.

  40. Stop the spam says:

    Dude, you need a better spam filter for your comments.

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