Colorado Springs, 2008
In my younger days I rode my old Schwinn Continental 10 speed everywhere.
About a year and five thousand miles ago, I wrote a short article, The Road to Carfreedom, for Bicycle Fixation, as I was developing a car-free lifestyle. That effort has gone well. I gave up the car completely last summer and continued to commute the eight miles to work and back on through the fall and winter. It didn't take long to learn how to dress to avoid over heating or getting cold. We did not get a lot of snow, but it was a colder than normal winter and what snow there was stayed on the ground for many days, turning into ice. I did suffer a minor setback in mid-January when, due to a lack of attention on my part, I slipped on a small patch of ice near the side of a bike path and broke my clavicle. The worst part was having to endure the wife driving me to work and back in her car for five weeks before I was able to ride again. By next winter I will have a pair of studded tires.
My winter beater is a Giant Yukon mountain bike I got at a yard sale for $15. I re-cabled the front brake and shifters and trued the front wheel. It's a good bike, but weather permitting, I prefer my regular commuter, a vintage Puch, as it has become like an extension of myself. The freedom, self-reliance, and sustainability of exclusively using a bicycle for transportation is truly awesome. I carry a complete tool kit in a handlebar bag, so not much can go wrong on the road that I can't fix on the spot.
There are as many good reasons to ride a bike as there are reasons not to drive a motorized vehicle. With the price of gas continuing to climb and the weather improving, I see more and more people opting for bicycles, motorcycles, and scooters. There are eight bikes in rack outside the building here I work today; the most I've seen in the three and a half years I've worked here. Many news services are reporting an increase in bicycle sales. It is somewhat unfortunate that a change in material conditions is the only thing that seems to motivate most people here to travel under their own power rather than the power of fossil fuels.
For shopping, I use a rack and panniers for small loads, or my "cargo bike" with paper boy baskets on the back and a large wire basket on the front. For larger loads, I built a two foot by three foot flatbed trailer out of a two-place baby jogger. I got the stroller for free and used materials that I had on hand or scavenged. The large capacity and low center of gravity make it ideal for bulky or heavy loads. For groceries, I usually mount a large plastic tub on it, but I made it a flatbed to accommodate loads too large for the tub.
Living car-free has inspired me to become as self-reliant and sustainable as possible in other aspects of my life as well. I am growing a vegetable garden this year, with the eventual goal of being able to produce enough during the growing season to feed us year-round. This is an important goal, as the price of food is closely linked to the price of petroleum and will eventually become prohibitively expensive. Besides, garden-fresh vegetables taste better than those trucked into the grocery stores, and it is satisfying to nourish oneself by the labor of one's own hands.
So it seems that the bicycle has led me to turn my life around, and back to the realities that support us, the earth, the weather, and our own skills. Exactly the sort of quiet revolution that can save our culture...for me, there's no turning back.
See The Road to Carfreedom, Part 1.