The Road to Carfreedom, Part 1
See The Road to Carfreedom, Part 2

Paul Fox
Colorado Springs, 2007

In my younger days I rode my old Schwinn Continental 10 speed everywhere.

Then, it was just a matter of course. I look back on those days, now, with fond memories of cruising to school and back, to friends' houses, around campus, to the park to throw a Frisbee around, to parties, and silently gliding through the warm summer darkness. A few years after, the friend I lent it to wrecked it.

That was before I got my first car. That was before I started driving everywhere, trying to keep an old car running, keep tires on it; before license, registration, insurance, emissions tests, repairs, oil changes, and gas began constantly to drain my "extra" cash.

A few months ago I started keeping an eye out for a used bike in decent shape that I could afford. The local bike shop carries used bikes for $75 to $80. That's not a bad price considering they replace the rubber, adjust and tune them and provide a 30 day warranty. I kept them in mind but kept looking, and I'm glad I did.

I found an older 18 speed mountain bike at a local thrift shop, in near-new condition, for $30. The brand and model emblazoned on the oval shaped top tube is F.S. Elite Grand Teton. I think the F.S. refers to the Free Spirit brand that Sears used to carry. It has a heavy frame and two inch knobby tires.

I started riding it short distances, doing the grocery shopping and errands on it to begin building up my legs and getting used to the saddle. Within a couple of weeks I started commuting the seven and a half miles to work and back. The commute is along a bus route, so I was able to work up to the full commute by riding a mile and half to a bus stop, busing three miles and riding the remaining three miles.

Once the weather started warming up and more bicycle commuters got out their bikes for the season, a spot on the two-bike racks on the bus became scarce, so I started riding the entire distance. Work is about 400 feet higher elevation than home, and the worst hills are on the work end of the trip. If I got too winded to pump up a hill, I had no problem with getting off and walking a bit. But I find myself dismounting less and less as my strength and endurance improve.

Most of the ride home is downgrade, so it is more enjoyable but less of a workout. I know a heavy frame MTB with big knobbies is not an ideal commuting bike, but I look at it as "training weights." Once I get higher pressure slicks on it or find a good deal on a road bike, my legs will be tree trunks.

I sit in front of a computer at work all day and it is often slow enough that I have plenty of time to surf the web. I have found great inspiration, philosophy, ethics, and information on sites like Bicycle Fixation, Bicycling Life, Ken Kifer, Sheldon Brown, and others. My ideological roots are in the anti-establishment counter-culture of the early to mid '70s, and my ideology has matured along similar lines. Bicycling for mental and physical health as well as for ecological and sustainability considerations fits very well with that ideology. I am just surprised at myself that it has taken so long to start bringing my lifestyle into line with my ideology.

My short-term goal is to be as "car-lite" as possible. My long-term goal is to become car-free.

Epilogue: I have since replaced the MTB with a "hybrid" I picked up at the local flea market for $20. It's a vintage Puch Mistral lugged steel roadie frame with 26 x 1.5 slicks and straight bars. My 7.5 mile commute has gone from 70-75 min. (in the uphill direction) on the mountain bike to 55-60 min. on the Puch.

See The Road to Carfreedom, Part 2

Paul Fox