Why I Live a Car-Free Life and What I Get from it

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First, I suppose I should make a disclaimer, I haven’t owned a car in 10 years but I have used and ridden in friends’ cars over that time. And I will again, but not owning a car works for me. So there is another disclaimer, although it is not totally genuine. I’ve been told more than once that it is easier for me, as an avid cyclist, than it is for most, but I still think we can all depend on cars less. Yes, there are compromises but the trade-offs are so worth it. “Live simply” isn’t just a bumper sticker, and oh the irony. Ever since I worked at SmartTrips from 2000 to 2004 promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles, I have been told that “it’s not as easy for everybody as it is for you.” I’m going to say that it is for a lot of the athletic people out there. How much energy, effort and money do people put into skiing and even learning to ski? But that’s the thing, it’s an attitude, and it offends people. It’s choices. Living close to work may not make for the first choice in jobs or where you live, but to me, being outside more, experiencing the seasons, and so much more, makes it worth it. I don’t mean to sound like I have all of the answers, no where close. I have had two surgeries in the last two years for two different over-use injuries, and have been in and out of work because of that. I don’t like offending people either, but I am a little passionate about this.

The point is, I love it, being Car-free and using a bike to commute. And I just want to spread the good word. There are so many reasons, here are two of my earlier blogs showing a few, So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change and Cost$ of owning a car v. bike commuting costs.

I heard someone else say this once but I agree, “Whether I’m having a good day or a bad day, if I get on my bike it always gets better.” It’s true, if it’s a bad day at work, or we just lost a soccer game, at least I get to ride my bike after. I love dressing for the weather and being outside, and granted, sometimes it’s hard, but so is being in traffic. I like never being stuck in traffic.

The Why:

I have always ridden a bike and loved it, it just made sense to me. As a kid in Memphis I was way into soccer. Before I had my driver’s license I got onto a travel team but didn’t have a ride to all of the after-school practices. I thought I couldn’t be on the team because I couldn’t get a ride, but I could ride my bike less than two miles each way, so I made the team.

When I moved to Ft. Collins in 1992 the wide streets, ample bike lanes and bike trails made it easier, as well as the culture and attitude. So I loved being able to ride my bike to work on a daily basis, because as a FedEx driver I was stuck inside a vehicle all day. The benefits were more personal as my environmental ethic would develop from here. Bike tour - Glacier

In 1998 I  hitched a ride with some friends to Portland, Oregon. From there I got on my bike and rode north on 101 around the Olympic Peninsula, then east across the country to the coast of Maine, down the east coast and Blue Ridge, eventually to Memphis, Tennessee.

While riding through Glacier National Park in Montana, I camped next to an older (than me at the time) couple that was biking across the country the opposite direction. She was very nice and asked many questions as we were both setting up tents at the same time in the Bike-in campsites. At one point she asked me what I planned to do after my bike tour. I said I was considering applying for the Peace Corp. That’s when her husband spoke up, and he was really rude about it. He put down joining the Peace Corp and suggested I stay here to make a difference. He went on about it, and I was very put off by it. Some my favorite people and greatest mentors were in the Peace Corp, and were very productive in their work. And they were a big part of shaping my environmental ethic.  Like when I told my housemate Jack that I could borrow a rototiller for prepping our garden in 1993. He pulled out and showed me the dobba, his African gardening tool, basically a hand-made club with a horizontal blade, for pulling the soil apart, then breaking the clods up. He says, “No way! The majority of the world doesn’t use fossil fuels to grow their food. Why should we?” 

So, back to the rude guy in Glacier Park. He was very opinionated and almost obnoxious. His wife had to tell him to back off a few times, but some of what he said stuck with me. He said, “teach people here how to fix flats and use their bikes for commuting. Make a difference here. We’re not perfect in the US!” When I got back to Fort Collins shortly after my bike tour I never did apply for the Peace Corp, but was offered an hourly position at SmartTrips, a city program promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles. Down my path I went.

SoldiasI worked at SmartTrips for four years, and lived on Soldias farm the last two of those. The farm was 12 miles outside of town, but because of my bike tour I was comfortable in the weather, I had all of the gear, and I liked the long rides, so I tried not to drive into town more than once a week.

After working at SmartTrips and moving to town, I started my bike courier service in 2005 hoping to create a business based on conservation and a career in sustainability, also as a positive protest to invading Iraq. Again, it just made sense to me. I was comfortable on a bike year around, I knew the town well being a FedEx courier and doing most of SmartTrips deliveries and errands by bicycle. Since I had been in town for a while and wasn’t using my car, and it had stopped running from not being used and maintained anyway, I was happy to get rid of it when the opportunity presented itself.

Now I’ve been officially Car-Free for 10 years and I embrace it more and more! There are trade-offs but they are so worth it to me. I still have a ways to go figuring it all out, but that’s life.

Here are just a few Benefits:

  • Daily Exercise, it feels good to get the blood pumping on a regular basis.
  • Outside more, experience the seasons.
  • Less stress, never stuck in traffic.
  • Bike commuting is very social. You can ride and chat with someone going your way, or stop and talk much easier than when in a car.
  • Money savings (gas, insurance, maintenance, car note)
  • Not contributing to:
    • Oil company profits
    • Pipelines under Rivers! Destructive Oil Exploration and Transport!
    • Destroying watersheds, ecosystems and indigenous peoples water supplies to get us fuel for our cars.
    • Adding Greenhouse Gases causing Climate Change
  • Learn to appreciate staying closer, and all our town has to offer!
  • It’s more fun!

Thanks for reading another one of my rants!

Bike Commuting in the Winter, or Urban Mountain Bike Season

winter commuter

If you can dress to ski in it you can dress to bike in it! I’ve often been asked about riding in the cold, and that’s always been my answer. People pay a lot of money to ski in really cold weather, so biking in it is not too different.

Riding in the winter can be tricky, but I think it’s a fun challenge, just like mountain biking. I was not able to mountain bike or do long road rides for a while because of my job and an over-use injury in my hip. So bike commuting in the winter is now my mountain bike season.

There are similar skills required for both:

  1. You have to take your time around corners,
  2. Power through crusty snow and ice like through rocks,
  3. Stay out of icy ruts, or ride straight until you’re out of it.
  4. Use the front brake less and get your weight over the back wheel on slippery hills.
  5. And you get to pull out you’re gear for it! (A good pair of rain pants that fit over jeans will get used a lot in Colorado.)
  6. Be careful and aware of cars! Both mountain biking and biking in snow or ice can be dangerous, but then cars add an additional danger with bike commuting in the winter.

I know that fat bikes are popular and look fun, but you don’t need a fat bike to commute in snowy conditions.

My nineties era 26″ wheel mountain bike works great for me in snow and ice. The geometry of the bike keeps you upright and over the back wheel, instead of forward like a road frame. Also, it’s lower to the ground than a road bike or 29’er, so I feel more stable, and it’s easier to put a foot down.

Like mountain biking, you really have to pay attention to what you’re riding over, and ride appropriately. In the dead of winter when the ground stays below freezing and snow turns to ice, know there are always slippery spots, especially in the mornings and evenings.

The smooth, clear ice is the most dangerous in my opinion. One slight turn, weight shift or brake and the bike goes out from under you.

crunchy ice
Icy, rutty snow
Ice with ruts
Crunchy but grippy ice

 


 

 

 

 


 

Cold, frozen icy snow in January and February (photos above) is much different than soft, wet snow in the spring (below). The cold, icy snow (above) is harder to turn in and get out of the ruts. But you can ride through the wet, soft spring snow easier and turn out of the ruts easier.

Spring wet snow
Soft, wet, spring snow

Tips from Mountain Biking:

  • Lower your seat for better stability and avoiding falls
  • Lower the air pressure in you tires for better grip, but not too much so that you get a flat
  • Use your front brake less, and never on slippery ice
  • Ride straight out of (icy)ruts
  • Power through (pedal hard!) the crunchy stuff like riding through rocks

Some other tips:

  • Ride in the tire tracks from cars, where the snow is already packed down
  • To avoid cars while navigating icy roads use side streets
  • Keep bike inside at night
  • http://barmitts.com/
  • Dry clean chain often and keep lubed. Chains rust faster in winter weather.
  • BE VISIBLE for cars!
  • Wear good boots and waterproof ski/rain pants.
snowbike
Spring Storm April 2013