What Would it Take?

When I see a fellow bike commuter on the road, I often wonder what motivated them to reduce their automobile use and choose a bicycle as their primary means of transport. For me, it’s a mixed bag of reasons including:

  • The improved health and sense of well-being that results from daily exercise and exposure to fresh air
  • A reduction in transportation-related stress (no more traffic jams)
  • An increased feeling of being connected with, and a greater awareness of, the natural world
  • A concern for the environment and the quality of life we leave for our children
  • The significant financial savings (upwards of $7000-8000 per year)
  • The pure childlike joy I get from riding and wrenching-on bicycles

I suspect the reasons people give up cars are as unique and varied as the people themselves. I’d be very interested to know what motivates you, and if you haven’t given up driving as your primary means of transport, what it would take to get you out of that car and onto a bicycle.

35 Responses to “What Would it Take?”

  • Brandy Thomas says:

    If I didn’t live so far out of town I would definitely bike instead of driving my car.

  • Sam says:

    I haven’t given up driving to work cos it takes an hour to cycle instead of the half hour to drive. I have tried cycling, and did enjoy it so now I need to get up the energy to get out of bed early enough and I am just NOT an early riser!!! ;-)

  • David says:

    I live within 10 miles of work and a whole lot closer to everything else I need (grocery store around the corner, etc). I wanted to get out of my car and on my bike, to change my lifestyle and feel better, be more fit. I was also concerned because my grandfather died of a heart attack only a few years older than me and I want to avoid that. And the cost savings is pretty significant. I sold my car because I didn’t even want it sitting in my driveway tempting me.

    I like going slower. I’m an amateur photographer and see a lot more on my bike. I have an Xtracycle and go to garage sales almost every weekend.

    Since I’ve started bike commuting more seriously (and a little watching what I eat) I’ve gone down a waist size.

    Owning things I can’t fix myself makes me anxious, especially a modern car. I still have a Vespa but I avoid riding it to work because traffic is insane on the way home: too many red lights and stop signs.

    Biking just feels better.

  • Dottie says:

    My primary motivation is the pure joy of riding a bike. I first bought a bike as an adult thinking it would be fun to ride on the lakefront on weekends. Once I started doing that, I loved it so much that I wanted to cycle more often. The second-biggest motivation is living in a big city where the el train is always crowded and parking downtown costs several hundred dollars a month. Riding a bike simply makes the most sense. I sold my car once I realized that I had not used it in two months.

  • Julie says:

    I actually wrote a post about this here: http://www.rocbike.com/2007/11/02/why-i-bike/.

    The gist? Initially to reduce my carbon footprint and get some exercise, but what keeps cycling is it helps me feel connected to my community and it makes me happy!

  • Alan says:

    Nice post, Julie; thanks for sharing.


  • Carl B. says:

    I only had to try it once to realize that for me, biking is the best available alternative. I work downtown and live five miles away. I commute the same time as everyone else and the roads are congested. Door-to-door times are 25 minutes by car, 45 minutes on the bus, an hour and half walking, and 20 minutes by bike. Parking downtown costs $140 a month and a bus pass is $75 a month. But the main advantage is that riding a bike is fun and the others aren’t.

    Before I tried it, I had no clue. I tried it because others at work were doing it and enjoying it. I was only expecting an enjoyable ride on nice days; I’ve been riding every day for over two years.

  • Josef says:

    I ride my bikes for the fun of riding and the exercise. To have more of that I began to ride into the office every day, taking detours when I feel like it — and I feel like it often.
    I have effectively replaced the use of my car; it is still there but I just don’t use it that much any longer. This saves me money. And I have gained a truly sustainable mode of transportation that gives me joy. That is what I think a sustainable lifestyle ought to be: it is more not less, more joy, deeper satisfaction and better health.
    That is why I have no difficulties to sustain this pattern — even in the cold and wet and dark season ahead of us here in the north of Europe. Actually, the weather is not that bad than many believe. To make this case I keep a biking diary (in German) online.

  • lady clay says:

    I agree with all of the above, but one of the main motivations for me is actually that I get to commute and exercise at the same time – which leaves me more time for everything else.

  • brad says:

    Reducing my carbon footprint is my main motivation (I’ve made my living since 1989 by writing and consulting on climate change), but I also prefer my bike because I want the exercise and the closer connection to nature and my community that I feel when I’m on my bike.

    I made a resolution in January to get rid of my car in the spring, but it didn’t happen. I talked with a lot of friends who are car-free and who use a car-sharing program when they need to use a car, and for me the drawbacks seemed to outweigh the disadvantages….mainly the issue of having to get back by a certain time and the hassle of dealing with times when a car is not available. The convenience of having my car available whenever I need it is a little too powerful for me: it actually simplifies my life on the balance to have a car, even though I complain every time I have to take my car in for maintenance, move it for street cleaning, shovel it out after every winter snowstorm, spend a fortune on snow tires, etc.

    But I have been very successful at going car-light and it typically takes me 6 weeks or more to go through a tank of gas.

  • astarok says:

    Honestly for me the question is backwards. If riding is a realistic option, why on earth would I want to drive? I am fortunate that I live less than 10 miles from work and have a usable, relatively safe bike route. Some of that is by design. Access to bike routes and public transport were a big factor when my wife and I chose our home. I still remember the pure joy and freedom that came when I learned to ride a bike. 40+ years later that hasn’t changed. The truth is, all the solid rational reasons have nothing to do with it for me. Getting on a bike just makes me happy.

  • philbertorex says:

    I was stuck in traffic, and I happened to notice all the cyclists going by in the bike lane. One of them was wearing a vest that had “One Less Car” printed on it. That made sense to me. If the majority of people were riding bikes, instead of driving cars, the roadways would be able to handle all of them. On top of that, I was really bored with going to the gym, and riding seemed like a lot more practical, and enjoyable, way to get excercise.

  • cb says:

    Good post.

    Everybody should have a “Why I Ride” list/post to help them be more mindful about what it is they’re saying and doing when they take the bike out.

  • heather says:

    I started commuting by bicycle a year ago because I had been walking to work and I knew that once winter in Portland arrived, I’d be too lazy to walk in the rain. (Also, I was afraid of riding my bike in city traffic and commuting was the best way I could think of to overcome that.) Three months later, it was raining daily and I liked standing proudly by the elevator at work, dripping wet and feeling like I had accomplished something with my commute, when everyone else was clean and dry from their cars. Today, I wouldn’t trade my bike commute for anything. Rolling down the hill toward the office helps me wake up and get going in the morning. Gritting it out up the hill on my ride home helps me burn through residual stress from my work day. I’m now physically capable of riding climbs and distance I never thought myself capable of. My bicycle gives me joy.
    Although I was initially walking (and then bicycling) for environmental reasons, all of the personal benefits I derive from my daily bike rides would keep me riding now even if it had no environmental benefit at all.

  • bongobike says:

    Wow, Sam took the words right out of my mouth. It takes me an hour to get to work by bike, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to get up early enough to make the trip (getting old sucks). For me to give up my motor vehicle completely, it would take a dang-near perfect public transportation system, and we sure are very far from having that in Austin.

    Austin Capital Metro has got to be the most incompetent public transportation entity in this country. They continue to blow the deadlines for the start of light rail service because of screw up after screw up. As we speak, we have no idea when it will start operations, but it had been scheduled to start late last year!

  • Stephen says:

    I live in Tallahassee, with its hills, inefficient spoke road layout, hot summer weather and associated afternoon rain showers. We chose to live in a mid-town area rather than the outer suburbs, and I took a job that where I work downtown only a few miles away. My building had a shower in it, and I knew a few other lunatics who rode to work, So I began riding to and from work. It was stressful at first until I learned to ride in traffic without being terrified, and now it’s often the best part of my day. I also ride around on the weekends, preferring to ride my bike than drive for shopping. (I have to dress up and go to several night meetings during the month, we have a child in school, my elderly mother lives three hours away by car, and I sometime haul a small sailboat around, so i just can’t give up the car yet.) I usually drive during the hottest months, but I ride as much as possible otherwise, even when the weather gets chilly in the winter. And, believe it or not, it does in north Florida.

    I often think that if people knew just how much fun it is to commute by bicycle–assuming you have a reasonably safe and scenic commute–they’d do it in a NY minute. I just don’t enjoy driving anymore like I used to; it’s stressful and dangerous in the city. (In fact, I narrowly missed being in a significant automobile accident today.) I work with bicycle and pedestrian planning issues, and we’re trying to make the urban area more amenable to bicycle commuting.

    However, it’s a tough nut to crack; most people enjoy the perceived safety and comfort of their cars and trucks (and many people, due to work, family, and other obligations, don’t really have much of a choice), or they don’t want to sweat, or they’re scared of riding in traffic. The latter is a real factor–I often have people tell me they are scared of just that, and I can’t really blame them. There are some aggressive drivers out there, and it’s the ones who text or yak on phones that scare me. But if we don’t get out there and be seen, then things won’t get any better.

    I ride in regular work clothes and shoes, and I might sweat a bit, but it’s no big deal when it’s not 90+ degrees. I ride mostly for exercise and environmental reasons, I guess, but also because it’s just plain fun and I enjoy being outside when the weather’s nice. And when the traffic backs up during college football weekends, it’s a faster way to get around.

  • Tali says:

    My eyesight is too poor to get a licence. When I left home 13 years ago, I quickly found out that busses are a pain. So I got an upright tricycle and that became my preferred mode of transport. After I snapped the trike, I moved up to 2 wheels.

    When you travel at between 10 and 20 mph you don’t need to be able to clearly see what is 200ft up the road to be safe.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    I had actually gone car free over a year prior to purchasing a bike. I live and work in the same dense urban neighborhood, so I had gotten rid of the car simply to save money by not paying for something that I only used once a month. I initially bought a bike for safety, as walking home late at night, sometimes close to a mile in an area with a high mugging rate, never felt safe. I just wanted to go faster than the muggers. I quickly fell in love with the sheer joy of riding. I also changed the size of my environment to that of an entire medium sized city. Today I ride between 50 and 80 miles a week, whether I have anywhere important to go or not. Now my motivations for riding, in order of importance, are: sheer joy of it, expanded environment, health, cost and safety. The low carbon footprint thing is fine, but I’m not going to pretend that it is a significant motive for me. My footprint was already as low as humanly possible for an American, and I guess it still is, but that’s just the way it is and takes no effort on my part.

    Also, I competitively shop at affordable prices for everything I purchase now that I have every store within an 8 mile radius to choose from, just like suburbanites do. Unlike before, when I was forced to pay the 50% “downtown markup” for everything from toilet paper to milk.

  • Erica Lucci says:

    I haven’t given up the car(s) yet as I live 33 miles from work. I’d give up the car if I could live closer to work. But we would have to see significant recovery in the housing market before that can happen.

    Right now I feel good about commuting with my husband a few days a week so we’re not both driving cars. We bring out bikes with us and do part of our commutes by bike as well. I ride because it’s fun and I get exercise. I carpool because I can spend more time with my husband. http://ericalucci.com/carpooling

  • Lead S. says:

    I’ve never owned a car. He’ll, I’ve never had a license. I’m 43 and hoping to keep it that way. I walk or ride to work regardless of the weather. It’s all I know.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I commute by bike, my family is currently car-lite. I have been a cycle commuter most of my life, with periods of commuting by rail or mixed-mode commuting. I haven’t driven to work as my main form of commuting since 1992 and even that period was an aberration. I cycle commuted to school and university prior to my first internships.

    I ride because:
    * It is less expensive both in terms of my cost and wear and tear on the Earth.
    * It keeps me sane and in better shape. I am healthier when I am commuting by bike vs transit.
    * It is more social. When I ride I can chat with others, I wave at people and interact. Driving is very isolating.
    * It is beautiful. I see Osprey diving into the river after fish. I can see can Raven take flight over my head. I see rabbits and geese. I get to see and be a part of the natural world that surrounds us. Cycle friendly routes tend to be much less gritty then the highways of a motorist.

    One thing to remember is that being “Green” generally is cheaper than the alternative. Conservation is cheaper than being a wastrel.

  • duds2wheeler says:

    i am co-generating with planet earth..bioelectric on my part, geoelectric on her part. we humans run on gas (hydrogen/oxygen/nitrogen etc) and electric (generated by our nickel iron cored spinning planet, and our own bodies..)..and a steel framed bicycle seems to just amplify the signal, at least in my head..planet earth is spinning revolutions and traversing a circuit, and so am i..blissful synergy!

  • Iain says:

    I have been using the bike to commute 2-3 time per week for 2 years and I have just done the math for the next step; for Sarah and I to go from 2 cars to 1 with me using a combination of bike and bike/train depending on the time of year (can be wintry here in Scotland at times where the train steps in reducing the distance from 10 miles to less than 3) the saving using the calculations in “Divorce your Car” by Katie Alvord taking into account the fixed costs that occur regardless of distance travelled. My commute, as I stated above, is 10 miles each way, in the car I am stressed and get uptight at the smallest issue (commute time 20 minutes) on the bike I have time to think see alsorts of wildlife (the journey is 80% in the rural Aberdeenshire) and I am calm (commute time 40 – 50 minutes). The savings are over £100 per month and the environmental is immeasurable, I am also keeping fit whilst getting to work too.

    I am really looking forward to going car free as a person and car lite as a couple. Wish me luck and the will on the darkest days of this coming winter.

  • Matthew says:

    I had no need to change to bicycle commuting. There’s a bus stop less than a block from my house that takes me very close to work, and my work pays for an annual pass. The bus system is relatively reliable and comfortable here in Seattle, free for me, and it allowed me time to read. Although I’m concerned about my carbon footprint and address that in many ways, what got me to jump from mass transit to bicycle was the sheer joy of it. My commute is ten minutes longer, but I arrive at work invigorated and I blow off steam on the ride home so I’m all smiles when I hit the door.

    The biggest impediment to getting started was fear of riding in traffic — not my fear, but my wife’s. She’s slowly getting over it but she still worries. I also took out a bigger life insurance policy, which at least helps her feel like she has a backup plan. She gets really quiet every time she sees a “ghost bike” displayed where a cyclist was killed.

  • beth h says:

    I wrote this letter in response to a newspaper article on America’s strange love affair with the SUV.

    Patty Wenz’s article [“SUV LUV,” Willamette Week, April 19, 2000] deftly tiptoed around the most important way to assuage one’s guilt about driving a gas-guzzling, air-polluting vehicle: Stop driving. Period.

    I sold my car 10 years ago, after deciding that it cost too much to own and wasn’t so enjoyable in the first place. This decision was carefully thought out, since it raised a host of other issues, particularly where I would live and how much time I had to devote to certain activities. I found that riding a bike took less time than driving a car because I could ride around the congestion; but planning my trips suddenly became important. How’s the weather? What extra clothing should I carry? Do I need plastic bags for books? Do I have time to change clothes between activities if needed? And since time was now more carefully considered, what activities were most important for me to spend my time on, for myself, my family and community?

    Ten years ago, I drove a car. I also worked at a job I detested, because the money and the benefits were too good to pass up, or so I thought at the time. After I sold the car and bought a bicycle, my world suddenly opened up. As I became attached to the freedom of bicycle travel–and accepted the risks involved with it (since, let’s face it, you are more exposed on a bike)–I became more open to taking risks in other parts of my life. I quit my awful job, and learned how to do things I was interested in. I became a bike mechanic. I went back to school. I’m finishing my college degree. I cannot ever think of any aspect of my life as “dead-end” ever again.

    It seems like an awful lot to attribute to getting out of my car, but one single act is often all that is required for real change to begin.

    — Beth Hamon, North Commercial Avenue


    When my partner and I were dating and got serious, I informed her that I would never again own a car, that her car would NEVER be “our” car, I would only help drive it on VERY long trips, and that if we were to have a good relationship I really need for her to be okay with all of that. That was about a year after I’d written the above letter. We married in 2003 and to this day it’s HER car, not ours. She’s not only okay with all of that, she’s begun looking for ways to drive less herself. (Yesssss!)

    In 2010, I will celebrate 20 years of carlessness. I will probably throw a party.

  • dave says:

    I’m near a small town, have a commute of about 7 miles. No public transportation, but plenty of tractors. I started riding to reduce my carbon footprint; I ride when I can because I enjoy it so much.

  • Brent says:

    I don’t bike to work, it is too far, and since the light rail is three blocks from my house, and four blocks from the office I just take the train and read. I used to bike to work, but my office moved much further away.

    That being said, I have driven my car less than 800 miles in the last six months, and it recently failed its emission test. It might be cheap to fix, it might be expensive, I don’t know. And frankly I don’t care. I am not bothering to check. I have the bike set up with a couple of great Basil Cardiff rear hang on baskets, and have ordered a Pletscher kickstand, and a Wald front basket. A friend of mine is swapping with me – she gets the car and its associated problems, I get her 50cc motor scooter (which is currently in the shop having its carb cleaned and getting tuned up as it hasn’t been started in about a year.) I also joined a car sharing group (which I haven’t used yet) and can rent a car from Hertz 5 blocks away for $30 a day on the weekend with two weeks advance notice. I live five blocks from the grocery store, and about 7 blocks from Denver’s 16th Street Mall, so I think I should be pretty set.

    I am ready to go car free. I find the car to be a source of stress. Cancelling the car insurance will pay for two car rentals a month by itself.

  • Nate Briggs says:

    Hey Alan:

    I started bicycle commuting to save my life. And it has.

    It was 1996 when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and the doc told me that one of the best things I could do would be to exercise, in some form, every day.

    I would never go to a gym. I don’t swim that well. Walking bores me. And I don’t have the body type to run long distances.

    But I have loved bicycles since I was nine years old. It’s just that I never thought of riding as a “serious” means of transportation until that diabetic discussion.

    Approximately 7 years ago, a prominent citizen here in Utah was diagnosed with the same disease I have. He considered that the most necessary thing he could do was to stay in his office, close deals, and make money. He did not exercise. He did not watch his weight. He did not do anything differently.

    As the surgeons sliced off one body part after another, he went through all the classic stages of the disease, and – earlier this year – was taken off dialysis at his own request.

    So now he’s in the ground. And I’m still rolling: with all my parts still intact.

    I can’t imagine a more dramatic demonstration of what riding every day can accomplish.

  • David says:

    There are so many reasons as to why I use a bicycle as transportation. Initially it was by choice to avoid two complete knee replacements 22 years ago when I was but 34 years of age. The docs up in Boston made the mistake of lending me a video of the procedure. I bought a mountain bike instead.
    Then I was trying to figure ways to continue riding as a stay at home dad with my baby daughter (now 16) to care for. She started in a car seat strapped into a trailer at 10 weeks old.
    20 months later little sister was born and she soon took to the car seat and trailer and big sister moved into a bike seat on the back of my single person mountain bike.
    With the realization that both of my daughters were A.S.D, Autistic Spectrum Disorder kids, the older one diagnosed with Aspergers and the younger as Autistic we kept on riding.
    Big sister, just before her 6th birthday, we bought a tandem with kiddy cranks on the back and took to towing little sister in the trailer with the tandem.
    Little sister at 3 1/2 years old, though she was completely uncommunicative ( at first we thought she was deaf ) and zero eye contact, took to climbing up the side of the tandem where I had it parked against the deck railing and take the stoker seat.
    Soon we bought a Piccolo trail a bike which big sister took to and little sister rode behind me.
    Soon this child who did not speak, would never make eye contact, she started to hum and then sing and clap her hands as we rode along. The first time she ever called me daddy was when riding on the back of the tandem.
    Since 2000 I have been a single parent raising my two girls. they were getting bigger and I looked for ways to continue to ride. 6 1/2 years ago we got a Santana triplet with little sister riding behind me and big sister riding in back as tail gunner. Now at 16 and 14 years of age big sister rides behind me and little sister takes the third seat.
    My oldest, still rides with me. My youngest just starting high school (2nd day of the school year) and is doing 3 hours a day at school. We ride the tandem as we did today to school and back.

    So in a way my goal to continue to ride started and continued with selfish reasons, but the benefits are immeasurable and my girls are the fittest, healthiest and happiest kids I know.

    What ever your beliefs, The Cosmic Consciousness, Unknowable Essence, The Force or the ID, I have no doubt that the bicycle in what ever form it may come in, is a device of divine inspiration.

    We ride because we can. From here to there and back again.

  • Doug says:

    I was tired of being completely dependent on an automobile for transportation. It’s a very expensive way to transport oneself. I sold my truck seven years ago to see if I could get around without a vehicle. I started out using a mix of biking and mass transit. Now I ride everywhere, everyday, all year round in Northern Minnesota.

  • s0fa says:

    I’ve never had a driver’s license. When I was in high school the one car of the house was a hotly guarded commodity and very early on I opted out of trying to stake a claim on it. I walked everywhere I needed to go until I widened my horizons. Where I live afforded me decent enough public transportation that I was never dependent on a car. I picked up a bike one day and biked across town, getting where I was going in the same time it would have taken if I had left the house and caught the bus right on time panting and sweating profusely, but I still had the realization that if in the worst shape I’d ever be in I was as fast as the bus that I would quickly beat it and did. The rest is history.

  • Alan says:

    Wow, wow, wow! Thank you, everyone, for sharing your wonderful, inspirational stories.

    All the best-

  • Brent says:

    By the way, I meant to say I have driven my car less than 800 miles in the last SIXTEEN months.

  • Steve says:

    I’m a laid off cabinetmaker (since November2008). I started riding my bicycle for two reasons. First, I needed to get some exercise as I was putting on weight. Second, I was getting bored looking for jobs that weren’t there.

    What it has really taken for me to start though, was seeing how important bicycles are in Europe. Another part, was realizing that now, finally, in America, we are getting the kinds of bicycles we should have had thirty years ago. Most of my life, there have been only two choices of what to ride: a coaster-brake Huffy-esque bike or a ten-speed racer. Neither is really suitable for city riding. Now I can have a bicycle with an upright (and comfortable) seating position, gears that can be shifted while standing still, enclosed drum brakes and drive chain, and dynamo lighting that doesn’t feel like you are dragging a boat anchor behind you.

    I would love to be able to commute to work (if and when I finally start working again).

  • Jack says:

    I do a partial commute. The roads nearest my house are too narrow and crowded for my comfort. I drive about 7 miles and then take a 10 mile bike route that includes 2 greenways, some older residential streets and a short section of a busy but wide road near work. It is really enjoyable. I started this to get some exercise, but now I am enjoying the experience. The greenway nearest home includes a pedestrian/bike bride over a busy highway. I always savor that crossing. I look down at the traffic and am glad I am not in it.

    I also measure my ride by the number of rabbits I see. I have yet to have a day without at least one rabbit. This morning I saw 2 rabbits.

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