This is the story of why I traded in my car for a bicycle.
It’s not that many people have asked about this. Rather I have sensed that people wonder about this unusual lifestyle choice and do not ask.
My story isn’t going to be about lifestyle comparison or counting karma points. I want to convey the emotional parts of this transition.
I had some selfish reasons for wanting to get rid of my car. I don’t particularly like driving them or riding in them. I don’t know how to fix them if they break, and I’m not interested to learn. I didn’t like car down payments, car insurance payments, car gas payments, car breakdown payments and car break-in payments.
At the time I was considering this, I could also use the saved money. I calculated that on average my car was costing me about $300 every month.
I reached point where I realized I could get rid of my car, and I really wanted to. This path was very much in line with my values, and felt right.
Yet, I held back.
I was afraid. I was afraid I would lose my freedom. I was afraid I would lose my freedom to take a quick weekend trip to Kentucky to see my father. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to cut loose and hit the open road.
I was afraid that it would interfere with my business life, that I wouldn’t be able to make it to meetings.
I was afraid that winter would be too harsh to get around without a car.
I was afraid I would become a burden on my friends who had cars.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get my own groceries.
So I put off the decision, despite feeling it was want I wanted to do.
Soon after, my engine died in the middle of a four line interstate just south of Cincinnati, as I drove home for Christmas. I was indignant that the mechanic offered me $35 to buy the car. Instead, I paid $1400 to put a new something-or-rather in it, which was probably an engine.
I drove it home and decided to practice. I would leave my car parked in the driveway and pretend I didn’t own it, unless I had an emergency.
This helped me overcome some of my fears, but it didn’t help my car. Eventually, the battery died from sitting there, and the windshield wipers need to be replaced. Later, it developed some other reason it wouldn’t start, and seemed to have a brake problem as well.
In the meantime, it got broken into twice will sitting there, by thieves too incompetent to actually remove the stereo.
By the time I eventually sold it for it for what it worth then, about $800, I would have put several hundred more dollars into beyond the $1400 for the new engine.
While it was nice to conclude this comedy of errors, I had already begun receiving much value from the experience.
September 11th, 2001 was a memorable day. Besides the national crisis that erupted in the morning, I had my own crisis in the afternoon. I had a Cope Environmental Center board meeting that I needed to get to in a hurry. I decided this was the sort of important event worth driving my car to make it on time.
My emergency-use-only car didn’t start. It was useless. I grabbed my orange 1970-something road bike and pedaled towards Centerville. Other people were still showing up when I arrived. I’d made it fine without my car.
I can pinpoint the first time my car failed to start and I got along fine without it. I can’t recall the moment I knew I was comfortable with my decision. It’s like trying to recall the moment relaxation begins. Sometimes there is an instant release, but more often then is only an awakening, with the realization that you’ve drifted to somewhere pleasant and have been there a while. That’s what my transition was like.
When I awoke, a surprising transformation had happened. I found that my greatest fear, that of losing my freedom, was unfounded. Not only was it unfounded, it was completely wrong.
Getting around under my own power provided a sense of freedom and control far greater than driving my car ever did. I felt alive and connected. When the weather changed, I noticed.
I was— I am— making a difference. Each foot step or pedal stroke is my own power transforming time and space.
More than anything, going car-free has been an opening to understanding that this was only the beginning of difficult but worthwhile fears to face, and other potential rewards to follow.