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10 Reasons Why I Both Love & Regret That I Ditched My Car For My Bike


About a month ago, my beloved 1989 Chevy Celebrity gasped its last breath while I was driving on a rural road in central Texas. Devastated, I rushed it to the nearest mechanic, only to hear the phrase every owner of an ancient car dreads.

“You need a new engine.”

“I see,” I responded. “But is it driveable?”

“Maybe your husband should come in so I can describe the problem to someone with more experience.”

I told him I was unmarried and asked if the engine could be rebuilt, hopefully for less than $1,000, or possibly for free. I took his hysterical laughter as a sign that he was considering it, but alas, he was not. So I sold it for scrap metal, which netted me a quick $300 that I used to buy a nice bike. If you are in the market for a beater car, definitely look for one with a metal body. It is slightly less efficient on gas, but if you plan to drive it until it dies, you’ll get more money out of it for parts than a plastic-based vehicle. I once sold a 2003 Saturn and got about $60, which was just the last in a series of regrets related to said car.

Unfortunately this (likely foreseeable) car crisis coincided with my plans to move back to Los Angeles, to escape another Texas summer. I considered postponing my move until I could get the car situation handled, but I had already paid for classes at my hometown community college because I am a perpetual student and I didn’t want to figure out a new apartment. So I decided to go for it, sans vehicle. I am a person who is prone to expensive and time-consuming car problems as it is. Taking on a car payment on my already-stretched budget seemed like a mistake that would lead directly to me eating Ramen and drinking jug wine while crying about money problems. Plus, I had been hearing great things about the expanding public transportation system in Southern California, and I always wanted to be a person who rode a bike for the inflated sense of moral superiority…I mean, to save the environment. Plus, in a pinch, I could always use Uber. Which is now banned in much of Texas.

And so, with almost no forethought, I decided to go for it. I was going to join the ranks of cyclists and become a better me.

I have now been living without a car for over a month, and I have to say: I’m undecided. I really enjoy my expanded lung capacity, but the world seems much bigger now, and I am not sure if I like it. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

1. It is definitely cost-effective. This was my major reason for trying this out, and it has turned out pretty much as I expected. The upfront costs to getting a bike in road-worthy condition were more than I anticipated (about $200, plus the cost of the bike) but that is because I am an overly-optimistic judge of finances. I know I am not blowing your mind when I tell you cars cost money. If you are me, they cost lots of money. Between gas, insurance, routine maintenance, emergency maintenance, and parking tickets, they can easily get into the $1,000-range every month. Even with my current tendency to take Uber when I feel lazy, I am definitely doing myself a financial service.

2. Every part of my stupid body hurts. True story, I am the least in-shape skinny girl you will ever meet. I had a brief dalliance with biking as my main mode of transportation during a semester abroad in college, and I managed to get heat stroke on three separate occasions. In Sweden. (It was sort of impressive). When I started biking again last month, I would get to my class (2.7 miles away, according to my phone’s pedometer app) and immediately cry about having to go back home in three hours. Now, I am up to five miles at a stretch without dying, but I would be lying if I said I enjoyed it.

3. Google can’t help you. The biking directions have been in beta mode for as long as I can remember, and that probably won’t change anytime soon. I now use it as more of a general guideline than hard-and-fast directions. There is something so uniquely frustrating about a company saving every weird search you ever make for all eternity and still not discerning that you probably don’t want to take the most direct route if it includes a mile of uphill climbing. You should know me better than this, Google. You know everything else about me.

4. The moral superiority. I’m saving the planet, you guys. Seriously. Let me tell you about it…over the phone, because I sure as hell am not leaving my house if I don’t absolutely have to. Still, it makes for a better excuse for my biking lifestyle than “I cannot be trusted to notice a check engine light until my vehicle is literally emitting smoke.”

5. It forces you to be smart with your resources. I have a tendency to treat my car as an extension of my closet, and left to my own devices, everything I own will slowly migrate to it. Now I feel every extra pound I’m carrying, and it’s forced me to be judicious about what I need for the day. I have also gotten smart about my route. If work is a mile from school and three miles from my house, you better believe I will stick around the library for awhile to save myself the added seven miles. As someone who tends to procrastinate, this is probably useful. Even with the added travel time, I suddenly have way more hours in the day.

6. My body is my temple. You know what I love more than anything? Pizza. And pasta. And wiping out my weekly food budget at Taco Bell. However, riding a bike with a stomach full of empty calories does not feel good. This experience has taught me that food really is fuel and not just a method of putting yourself in a grease-coma, so I have been making an effort to eat better. Luckily, I quit smoking over a year ago; I do think my smoking contributed to the previous heat stroke experiences, and I won’t be starting up again anytime soon. Alcohol terrifies me now, not just for reasons I mentioned in a previous article, but because riding while drunk could seriously kill you. I know the same could be said for drinking and driving, but the fear is just more immediate when you can feel every gust of wind on your face. And as much as it causes me physical pain, I realized that coffee was making me nauseous on my morning ride, so I stopped that for awhile. I started buying it at school, though, because I am not a fucking cyborg and I really do need caffeine to function. Plus, I am saving so much in car repairs that I can afford to relax my spending a bit.

7. My friends are seriously the best. I have one friend that lives around the block from me, and I love that this experience has made us both hang out more. I am insanely grateful for the people who will drive 40 minutes in rush hour traffic to take me to a movie with them. I try to buy them dinner (especially since being in a car means I get to stuff myself past the point of all reason rather than responsibly drinking a green smoothie), but I know it is frustrating for my friends who are accommodating my new life choice.

8. I am developing mechanical skills. A few days ago, I hit a curb that I thought was flat. It wasn’t, and my bike chain fell off. Despite this being literally the easiest fix of all time, it took me about half an hour to fix it by the side of the road. And I was so proud I high-fived myself and texted like three people to brag about my genius. My male friend said he was proud that I was developing dude skills. He was wrong: I am developing life skills. I have ovaries of steel.

9. You feel more connected to your city. I can get my eyebrows threaded for $4, right around the corner from me. I never would have seen that from a car. I also discovered an all-you-can-eat sushi special that looks either delicious or terrifying; I’m not sure which one. I live in such a culturally interesting place, and I didn’t notice that as a car-driver. Sure, I miss Texas BBQ and air conditioning, but I am really enjoying being out in the world more.

10. We do not live in a bike-friendly world. Yes, I live in a place with amazing weather and adequate pubic transportation, but “better than some places” is still not good enough. I would really like America to transition away from being such a commuting economy. It’s not mentally healthy, and it contributes to obesity. Finding jobs that I can get to without spending two hours in transit has been an awkward experience, and any form of construction tends to make bike lanes impossible-to-use. Plus, cars straight up do not know how to deal with you, and their displeased honking can be a jarring wake-up call.

Ultimately, I am glad I made this decision, although I am not sure how sustainable it is in the long-term. The mental health benefits from the exercise alone have done wonders for me, and I see now that I was unnecessarily miserable sitting in traffic all day. I will still need a car for certain errands and day trips, but I am finding myself more focused and present in my daily life. And my thighs could probably crush someone. So that’s pretty cool. If anyone has any tips, please send them my way. I am still learning about this and can use all the help I can get!

Caly is an Austin cliché who is working on her Paralegal Certificate. She has read more biographies of trashy celebrities than any feminist should, and if you have a good one, send it her way.

Image via Flickr

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  • Kathy VR

    “adequate pubic transportation”
    I know you meant *public* but this made me guffaw!

  • Hailey

    This is super helpful! I live my entire life in an area that’s roughly 10 square blocks, so I’ve been toying pretty seriously with the idea of ditching my car for a bike. It sits in my driveway 80% of the time, but I live in an area that has virtually no public transportation. You brought up some great points to consider before I take the plunge!

  • GinFizzGirl

    really enjoyed your style of writing and humour. Good read! London needs to improve its biking lanes as well.

  • Anna Yugova

    I enjoyed the read! I live in Nashville, so from September till June I try to suspend my car insurance so that I’m not tempted to jump in the car when I’m feeling lazy, and I could write a list like yours. Not having a car limits you in many ways in a place like Nashville but it’s worth it for me.

  • Aileen

    I sold my car shortly after moving across the country to Denver (same-ish story, repairs I couldn’t afford) and moved to biking and bussing. It did really limit me in that I couldn’t whisk away to the mountains on a weekend, and friends drove me around occasionally, but it was totally doable. Moral superiority is pretty rampant in Denver so I don’t feel like I got to adequately cash in on that. Check out the bus system where you live. It’s probably not nearly as scary as you think it will be, and could help for those cross town errands and trips!

    • DisqusThisNow

      You can always rent for a day trip.

      • Aileen

        True! But she did mention that friends are picking her up to go out sometimes and that they seem annoyed at having to sit through traffic to get her. A bus trip could possibly solve that problem. A bus ticket is also far cheaper than renting. Just giving a helpful tip, as she asked for at the end of the article.

    • Caly

      Definitely a good idea

  • DisqusThisNow

    1) Cost effectie yes but so is an ebike.

    2) An ebike would let you have some assistance on hills and you can arrive to important destinations not being sweaty and save the hard sweaty pedalling for the trip home.

    3) ebike motors flatten hills

    4) 8 ebikes can be made from 1 car

    5) You can carry a little more weight but not as much as a car.

    6) If you choose to be lazy and never pedal you will get fat. If this worries you go for a weaker motor say 100W instead of the lregal maximum.

    7) Slightly larger travel radius with an ebike vs bike but not as far as a car.

    8) You need to develop battery and electrical knowledge in the long term. Seriously though this is like grade 5 science needed.

    9) not much I can say here, an ebike should be a similar experience.

    10) Not many people are willing to give up cars for a bicycle, but a few more might be willing to drop down to an ebike.

    Unless you live in a mountanous region a simlpe 24V 200W motor will suffice for a decent price. Save the 500W motor 48V monsters for the appalacian mountains of Frisco hills.

    With ebikes, just like electric cars, the batteries are the largest cost. Running a smaller 24V pack will be less expensive than a 48 or 36V pack.

    • Caly

      Interesting. I was just looking into an ebike this weekend but I wasn’t sure if the price justified it. Thanks for the info!

  • Good move on the switch to the bike…It gets getter. I ditched my car for my school commute when I went back to school. From January to April, I used my bike to and from university (about 4 miles each way). I thought it was great, even though it was winter and I live in the Canadian prairies. 🙂

    In fact, I liked the experience so much, I walk or bike far more than I use the car these days (grocery shopping, shopping, walking to work and back, etc. It’s all about location!

  • Hang in there–doesn’t take long to get into good biking shape, then everything will be much easier!

  • My glutes are amazing because I walk everywhere. If the world was safe for biking in (I see you aggressive drivers), maybe I would consider biking. But our world is for cars and it feels safer to navigate that as a pedestrian.

  • Riding around Philly on a bike is the way to go, unless you’re intimidated by speeding, gigantic buses that give no shoulder room to bicyclists, then you might as well walk bc its about as fast as the bus

  • Slackerjo

    I bike most places because it’s cheaper and easier. I also join the car share in my city. I use the car mostly for groceries in cold weather. I live in a food desert and getting groceries without a car is extremely time consuming and difficult.

  • Yes! I walked to work for two months and I was so spoiled with my car! While it definitely saved us a ridiculous amount of money, we figured out a different arrangement where I got a car again. But in a pinch, I would drop the car in an instant to save money or get out of debt.

  • I really would love to bike to work, also for a healthy combination of saving the planet and moral superiority. But since I work 9 miles away from my house (one way), I’d need some serious conditioning to make that work! I teach, and the thought of almost 20 miles with an extra stack of books makes me want to die a little. First world problems. 🙂

    • Hmm, I was thinking the same with my work! And then this thought of possibly moving closer to my job came up… hey, it was brief inspiration 😛 It’s not going to happen anytime soon but it makes you think about what you can do to make it work!

  • So my partner and I own 4 cars together (and that’s because he’s a car guy and insists on having 2 daily drivers and 2 summer only cars). I don’t see this changing while I’m with him but I do think our expenses with these cars have been reasonable, they’re all paid for at least!

    It’s good to read this and imagine what it might be like if I had to drive everywhere. I agree my city will seem a lot larger! And it makes me even more grateful to have a vehicle (or 4) that I could rely on at all times. 🙂 Maybe in the summer, I’ll try biking as much as I can around my area and experience some of the things mentioned in this post first-hand 😛