How I Gave Up My Car For a Bike

Your longtime host and narrator, Jenn, has allowed me to come onboard and share a few of my experiences in living the green life. Where much of her life revolves around being green, and helping others to do so as well, I’m just a student–and one driven as much by pragmatism as idealism. Although, “driven” is perhaps the wrong word. A couple years ago, I decided to sell my car. On purpose. And, as the name of this blog suggests, I find it much easier to be green!

For starters, here are a few things I did not like about owning a car.

1. Buying gas. With pump prices well above $2 a gallon at the time, I hated having to go to the gas station every couple weeks and just watch the money tick away.

2. Maintenance. First of all, oil changes aren’t any fun. Beyond that, I never bothered to learn much about cars and why they break–and I think for good reason! If you look under the hood, there are an intimidating number of things that could (and, with my car, probably did) break. And that doesn’t include the wheels, breaks, exhaust system, mirrors, windows, windshield wipers, rear defrost, radio, AC, and door handles, that also fell apart, broke off, or otherwise malfunctioned while I owned my car.

3. Driving. I don’t like it. Road trips I can deal with–there’s something about the open road that can be exhilarating, but most of my driving involved in-town or regional driving and commuting. And there are few things that we willingly subject ourselves to on a daily basis that are more miserable than being caught in traffic. Dealing with scores of exasperated drivers, avoiding potential accidents, and planning a route that avoids construction, are not to my mind enjoyable activities. In fact, they seem tailor-made to raise one’s blood pressure.

4. Parking lots. When you get to your destination, you have to find a parking spot and then walk the rest of the way. On my campus, this trek frequently ends up being a half mile or more. So much for door-to-door convenience!

5. In order to get even a used car in reasonably good shape, you have to be prepared to drop several thousand dollars. If you want to go for one that’s newer, and gets good gas mileage, prepare for that price to push well above $10,000. Living on a student budget, I don’t have that kind of cash lying around! Especially not when you factor in the first four points–it can become an ongoing expense that wears away at your income for years to come.

So, for these reasons and more, I sold my car to my roommate for $1,000 and with that, some Christmas cash and an assist from student loans, I bought this: a BH Speedrom with Ultegra components. Actually, mine was in blue. Was it expensive? Sure! Was it necessary? Probably not. Is it the most fun investment I’ve ever made? Almost certainly! For less than the price of an average used car, I got a high end bike that will get me from here to there for years to come. Plus, it turns the negatives of my driving experience into positives:

1. I don’t have to buy gas. This has easily saved me $500 a year. I have to fill up the tires with air occasionally, but that’s an ongoing expense of two minutes rather than twenty dollars.

2. Maintenance is learnable! I don’t know everything about bikes, but I know a lot more than when I started. And, even better, people at many bike shops (my shop of choice is The Cycologist) are willing and interested in helping you learn how to do it yourself! Now, I don’t do everything myself, but the basic maintenance of cleaning, greasing, changing flats, tightening brakes, and the like is fairly straightforward. Additionally, there’s fewer things that can break on a bike. Alignments off? Must be a spoke. Brakes don’t work? Something is loose. Even if I don’t know how to fix it, I can rest fairly well knowing that I don’t have to replace the radiator, oh and I should do the transmission, and the muffler’s falling off, and….

3. Bicycling is fun! The things that always bugged me about driving–bad traffic, other drivers, and the sheer stress of driving–are a lot less of a hassle on a bike! Bad traffic? Take a side street, bike path, or just stick to the bike lane. As far as the stress, well: biking is exercise! Rather than raising your blood pressure, it raises your heart rate, and lets you burn off the stress you might have felt from getting stopped at that red light when you were already late.

4. Bike racks. At least where I live, there are more bike racks than parking spots. In fact, some of the parking spots are bike racks. There’s that door-to-door convenience!

5. The price tag. My bike was expensive! But just try finding a decent used car for the $3500 I paid for my handsome machine. Once you factor in the lack of maintenance costs, there are very few vehicles cheaper than a bike–even a fancy shmancy one like mine. Plus, you don’t need to spend all that much! My other bike is a 1995 Trek Hybrid, complete with steel frame and fat tires, and cost me less than $100 on craigslist. It gets me around, and I can throw some bags on the rack and haul a month’s worth of groceries the two or three miles home from the store.

I didn’t get into biking to save the planet–I got into it to save my budget. In both respects it was the green choice. Cheaper, better for the planet, healthier, and all around more fun. When was the last time driving 55 mph was really exciting? I’ll tell you what: the first time you ride 55 on a bike, the thrill is one you won’t soon forget.

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