Car free – two years down the track – Part 1

Bromptons in uteThe two years since we sold our only car in a deliberate movement towards living a car-free lifestyle have gone by quickly! We figured that it was time to start reflecting on how the last two years have gone and how we have coped with the various activities life brings along.

Owning a car costs a lot of money. Registration, insurance, tyres, fuel, parking fees all add up over a year. Even when we only used our car for ‘essential’ trips, we still had to pay the annual fees. We already tried to do most things using a bicycle, and it was really a waste of money to own a motor vehicle!

To be honest, we didn’t really notice the financial benefit of not owning a car for the first twelve months. It wasn’t like we spent that much on fuel on our limited trips…until the first usual date of the annual registration. This was the time of the year we typically gave away what felt like all of our money to insurance companies, Main Roads and the mechanic. It felt good being able to keep that money in the bank, rather than having to build up the savings again. We did accumulate some new bikes and gear during the first twelve months however. Maybe that’s why we didn’t notice the savings…

Lawn mower being taken for a service on our cargo bike.

Lawn mower needed to be taken to the mower shop for a service.

One benefit we noticed from the beginning was an improvement in our fitness. Just being on the bike every single day, even if it was just for those couple of kilometres to work, meant we got used to sitting on the saddle and pedalling! When we still had the car, we would use it on the days we didn’t feel particularly enthusiastic, now we were forced to actively participate in our journeys every single time. Sometimes this meant we were riding 30-50kms just to visit people and go shopping, or go to the beach.

Unlike many cycle commuters who ride to work, our work trips are literally less than 2 kilometres each way. This alone would not keep us fit enough to go cycle touring and do over 100kms in one day with a loaded bike…not comfortably anyway!

When Jen did her Charters Towers-Greenvale-Mareeba-Mt Molloy-Cairns ride last year, she certainly felt the pain of combining days of long distance cycle touring with only a basic level of fitness.

It was after that enjoyable but tiring ride that we decided to make more deliberate efforts to ride longer distances as training, rather than relying on trips to the shops. Joining in with a bunch ride can be great fun, and we often like to head off for a longer ride with a few friends, which helps with the motivation!

Typical bicycle trailer rated to 40kgs. Fantastic for many applications but not up to heavy, awkward shaped loads.

So we got fitter, but how did we go with carrying things! There are a lot of big and heavy items that need transporting around and we usually rely on a motor vehicle to do this for us. We already owned a bicycle trailer, which got a bit of use and could carry a fair bit of weight. There was a bit of frustration though, because the trailer could only fit certain items in it’s rounded, oblongish cage, and once you went over the load limit (about 40kgs) it started having handling issues. A perfect trailer for a lot of jobs, but not for what we had planned!

That led to one of our ‘car-free purchases’ of a Surly Bill bicycle trailer. It is definitely strong and stable and is rated to carry up to 136kg. This has meant we can happily cart all sorts of things around, without having to rely on a car!

We recycle the cardboard that comes through our shop and this entails a round trip of about 7kms to the closest recycling depot. Bike boxes packed full of cardboard and paper need a pretty solid trailer as transport. This trailer rolls so well you hardly notice it…on the flat, and once you’ve gotten rolling…Of course the weight has an impact on the speed of acceleration, going uphill and into headwinds or crosswinds, but at least this weight is carried well!

Surly Bill trailer picking up a load of timber.

Surly Bill trailer picking up a load of timber.

When we built a fence and did some other backyard work, it was easy to pick up the fence palings using the Surly Bill trailer. We could only get half the timber at a time though, which could have been frustrating, but worked well for us because we could only use that amount of timber in our time off work anyway.

The decking timber was 4.8m long. That created a problem because there was no way we could cart timber that length on the trailer without it dragging along the ground behind! Using all that money we save from not owning a car, we went and hired a ute from Handy Rentals for about $60. Delivery can work well, but you don’t always get to choose your own products, and we are a bit fussy that way.

There was one day we almost wished we had a car. We had done building work all morning and into the heat of early afternoon…then we realised we were a few palings short…Needless to say we decided to pack up tools for that day. Rest is always good, right?

Of course, trailers are not the only piece of equipment that makes a bike-centric life more comfortable. We have tested out a fair range of other bicycle gear in the past two years and have made some choices based on reliability and efficiency. We’ll let you know in Part 2 about our gear and how we make sure we feel relaxed about relying solely on bikes for transport. In the meantime, feel free to let us know about the way you use your bicycle instead of a car for practical purposes!

One response to “Car free – two years down the track – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Car Free – two years down the track – Part 2- Tyre and tube choices | The Bicycle Pedlar·

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