My decision to completely ditch my car was kind of circumstantial. It wasn’t really an outright decision; things just led that way. It broke down. It was an old car, and fixing it was going to be expensive. So I sold it for what I could.
As told to James Lynch | Image by Evan Barr-Beare
I was a little apprehensive at first. In the past I have done all my commuting by bike, but I have never existed without a car. I was mostly nervous about how I’d get groceries or the rest of the supplies that you just need for life. I knew my bike alone wouldn’t cut it, so I added a rack and two bags so that I could start making grocery runs. That made it a lot more reasonable. My biggest advantage is proximity to work and food. I have work and two grocery stores within a mile and half.
I live in Providence, Rhode Island, and non-bike commuters always ask about the weather. But even before I was totally without a car, I’d been surprised by the relatively low number of days that the weather is absolutely terrible during commuting time. When you pay attention, it all becomes a lot more reasonable.
And for when the weather isn’t great, the right gear makes all the difference. Rain pants and waterproof boots are a must for really rainy days. I have some Gore-Tex Arcteryx rain pants and a Gore-Tex North Face jacket. For boots I use a Gore-Tex Solomon pair. All my rain gear is technically hiking gear, but it’s what I had around and works. Actually, my helmet and gloves (I have three pairs, each more insulated than the last for when the temperatures drop) are really the only bike-specific gear I use to commute. I’m always in street clothes on my townie bike.
The bike is nothing special, but, in some ways, it’s my favorite. It’s an old Trek 820 frame from when they were making those in the U.S., around the early ‘90s. I side hustled in a bike shop. For one of the 12 years I spent in that shop I cobbled together the parts to build it from spare parts bins. I’ve been riding a long time and spent a lot of years in a shop so my connection to bikes of all styles and disciplines is pretty deep.
For gear, fenders and lights, to stay safe and be seen by motorists, are absolute necessities. Even if you don’t commute in the rain, fenders will help you stay dry on wet roads. Also, get the most puncture proof tires you can, especially if you’re primarily riding in urban areas. Even still, keep a tube and pump/CO2 in your work bag.
Infrastructure wise, Providence is certainly better than Cincinnati, where I lived before. But as with most places in the U.S., it could be better. I am glad to see, though, that there does seem to be movement within the last year and half that I’ve been here. They have added a few protected bike lanes, I even use one of them to commute to work every day now.
Of course, there are downsides to living without a car, and they can be hard to work around. On those rare days where the snow is really bad, I have walked to work. In addition to commuting and general transportation, I ride for fitness as well. The New England countryside and rural Rhode Island are beautiful for riding, but I haven’t really done much weekend getaway stuff. Despite the plethora of roads and gravel in this area with plenty of loops, especially for longer rides, I have been feeling a little claustrophobic. There is a loss of freedom.
There are solutions. Pre-pandemic I was using a car share, Zipcar, to get to races. I could use this to do some weekend trips, too, but adding additional trips to an already pretty busy race schedule made the trips really add up. Other than eliminating the races, the pandemic hasn’t changed my riding too much. I still ride weekdays for commuting, groceries and evening training rides, then on the weekends I’ve continued to do longer training rides.
I probably have too much advice for new riders, or those trying to eliminate their cars. Learn to plan a little bit, especially around the weather. Just because it’s not raining going into work doesn’t mean it won’t be pouring when you’re coming home. I’ve been caught out unprepared more than once and gotten very wet.
Make sure to take care of your bike as well. Keep your tires relatively topped off and your chain lubed and clean. I heavily recommend Boeshield. It’s a waterproof lubricant. It tends to stick around a while and it’s great at preventing rust while keeping things lubricated.
But the most important thing is safety. Assume no one can see you and get good lights. Learn to look into windows and windshields, especially of those drivers pulling out onto the road. You can often see which way they are looking and if they can see you. Signal clearly and ride confidently but don’t claim that lane unless you know the car behind you can see you. Become good at looking over your shoulder while keeping your line.
Hope this helps.
Providence, Rhode Island