Monday, January 13, 2014

One Cyclist's Experience: A Switch to a Car-Free Life

Recently, I asked a friend if she would be willing to share her experience as a carless bicyclist. I had intended to use the information in another post, but because I think she shared some great insights, I thought I would leave it as it is and have it stand on its own.

Pati is a really great lady who I have known for a few years now. We met when Sam and I started volunteering at the Farmer's Market bicycle valet several summers ago, and we both just adore her. She is a spunky, full-of-life, happy lady, and it makes it all the better that she loves bicycles. She gave up her car years ago and has been a car-free cyclist for some time, so I thought she might have some great advice to share not only with me, but with others who may be interested in doing more biking and less driving. I haven't had an opportunity to meet up with Pati to take photos recently, so I'm going through my archives to see what I can find of her. But, without further delay, here are Pati's thoughts on cycling.

When did you first start riding a bicycle?
Age 5

When did a bicycle become your full-time transportation mode?

What prompted you to go car-less and use a bike as your means of transportation?  If you had it to do over again, would you make the same decision(s)?
When the price to insure my 1970 VW convertible (for basic, basic) coverage far exceeded what my sister was paying for a 2001 Toyota Camry. I rarely used the car and knew I wasn’t going to buy a new model to get cheaper insurance. I looked at my lifestyle and realized I didn’t “need” a car. I could afford the insurance and/or a new car, but didn’t want to spend $$$ on something I really wasn’t using and was at a point of continuing to downsize my life. If I had it to do over again…..YES, I would make the same decision – wish I’d done it sooner!
Pati with a group of others on a summer ride a few years ago
What type of bike(s) do you ride? Do you have a favorite bike?
Typically, for around town errands, I use a Specialized Sirrus – flat bar road bike – hybrid to some. Snowy days I ride a trike – electric assist – got that a few years after getting rid of the car. In Denver I bought large quantities of groceries at Sam’s – coming home ALL the way up hill. Had originally planned to get a “regular” trike, but found the electric and realized the benefit – it plows through snow like a snowmobile, but without the noise or gas. Favorite bike? That’s a tough one – I truly love them all and they all have their “special purpose”!  

In your mind, do you differentiate riding a bike for sport and riding for transportation? If so, do you dress differently for each, or pretty much wear the same clothes for either?
Riding for sport gets me excited – riding for transportation is just how I get around – although that is NOT to say it’s not enjoyable, because I much prefer riding a bike than driving in a car – ANYWHERE! Clothing – I would say “similar” – for sport, however, the rides are often longer in distance, so on cold days I wear more layers. For transportation I often go heavier on the clothes and am not as concerned about needing to adjust for temperature differences. The trike and one mtn. bike don’t have clipless pedals, so my footwear changes when I ride one of them.

Boy, bet you thought you’d get one word answers – so did I! ha
Pati talking with some folks during a summer concert bicycle valet
What advice do you have for someone just starting to cycle for transportation?
Having more than one bike – it’s inevitable you go to get on the ONLY one and it will have a flat or a mechanical or….you name it. If you have several “choices” you just jump on another one! That would be my advice. Be prepared for anything – weather wise, mechanical wise etc.

However, I think if someone is just starting to cycle for transportation they’ve already figured out a lot – I might offer advice/suggestions if they were on the edge of making that decision.

Any tips for making winter riding less intimidating?
Figuring out the “safest” routes to get to their destination. On the trike I’m not concerned about sliding out/falling over into traffic etc. On two wheels in the snow, I often take a different route than I would with the trike. As for clothing/temps, knowing about how long you’ll be out is a must. The “benefit” I’ve had since going carless is that I work from home. I don’t have to be out with volume traffic or go long, long distances – unless I want to – makes a big difference. For longer distance commuters the obvious accessories: lights, (maybe even backup lights), flat repair, extra clothing, food, water. Obviously around here one is almost always going to be “near” “help”.

If our community could change one thing to assist cyclists or make it more convenient, what do you think it should be?
Get our trail system repaired as quickly as possible [G.E.'s note: Our trails were pretty well destroyed after our September flooding]. I know a number of folks who use(d) portions of that for their work commutes. It’s also a great arena for kids/newbies to hone their biking skills. The Greenway is definitely a huge benefit to our community and I know Longmont is working on getting repairs underway. Having moved here from Denver, I can honestly say Longmont seems to have done a lot to make riding more convenient/safe within the city.
Pati stopping to help me with a bike malfunction on a casual group ride
Anything else you'd like to add?
Being carless was an easy decision for me – because there is only me – well three furry ones too. I do think it could be difficult for folks with kids, but really admire those who do it. Life is busy and “crazy” – in a car it’s even more busy and crazy. I am always much more relaxed wherever I am on a bike. I feel less rushed. When I go where it is necessary to drive a car (snowshoeing, mtn. biking etc.) I am more than happy to pay my way – or more. It’s still much less hassle than owning a car. I truly don’t expect to ever own one again.

In Denver my vet was within walking distance. Here I have a mobile vet – and if an emergency would arise, it’s not far to a vet. If I do get the dogs groomed, I found a lady who is within walking distance. Folks think they need to drive to do those things – no, not really. Being carless does make you think about your “trips” – I am much more efficient when I’m out. I watch my sister go in and out in her car several times a day. Folks tend to do that if there is a car in the garage.

All that said, if I ever “needed” a car I could always “borrow” one. I have a mother and a sister who own cars. I have great neighbors and friends. And, prior to “going all the way” I realized I “could” rent one if I really needed to. There are so many options. Now that my sister lives close-by, if it’s snowing or raining she WILL NOT ride her bike to the pool – if she is going “that” day and drives, I’ll often just hitch a ride – she’s the older one and has a way of making me feel really stupid – and she thinks I’m really stupid to ride in the rain and the snow and the wind and…….

But, the reality……I PREFER to ride a bike in crappy weather than to drive a car – TRULY. I feel safer and I find it to be an adventure – much more exciting riding in a snow storm than driving in one!

I will add that I am no spring chicken – at almost 63, I find being carless a very liberating “achievement”!

Even years ago, when I had “real” offices and/or freelance gigs, I would ride (despite having a spouse and 3 available vehicles) – then I had panniers and carried my sheets home at night to wash and back in the next day to work [G.E.'s note: Pati is a masseuse, so that's why she carries sheets - just to clarify!] – round trip was maybe 14 or so miles, but on unplowed bike paths – at least in the morning – it was a blast – so it’s been many years that I have preferred a trusty ‘ol bike to get me around. Became “easier” when I had my office at home, but much less exciting!

Sorry, this is really getting me to reflect/remember how long I’ve really been doing this and how much I truly love it!

Pati, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience. I would agree that there seem to be a lot of the needless or ill-thought-out trips made by car for many of us. I know that I've found myself really thinking about what I need to get done in a day when I don't have a car at my disposal, so it's interesting that you've made similar observations.

While I realize not everyone has a similar life situation, I hope Pati's thoughts were as interesting for you to read as they were for me. If you have additional questions or thoughts, I'm sure she'd be happy to offer any tips or advice that could be helpful.


  1. Thanks for sharing this story with us. I found it very interesting. Someday, after retirement, I'd like to live where I don't need a car. It's great to see others doing it already.

    1. I think it's challenging to live here without a car, but Pati is fortunate to have a lot of folks who can help with that when needed. I think it's doable, but not ideal. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be a lot of cities here in the U.S. that are truly able to support life without a car. I am definitely envious of those who make it happen though! :O)


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