So I got myself a bike. This is interesting, because I haven’t been a bike person since I was, oh, 14 years old.
Beyond that, there have been various cycling experiments. I remember two ill-fated attempts at mountain biking — chugging my way up a monster hill, cursing my short-of-breath self the whole way on one occasion. On another, trying to follow two seasoned mountain bikers on some up-and-down horse trails at Roman Nose State Park in western Oklahoma. They were riding Canondales, I was suffering on some Wal-Mart contraption with a seat that wouldn’t stay in place.
There also was the day I locked myself out of my house and car and had to ride my cheap-o bike a few miles to church. And three years ago, I hopped on a bike that was really nice but not fitted for me and cruised some bike trails for about 14 miles.
That last adventure was decent, though there is something to be said for having full range of motion when you’re choosing your ride. Anyway, I bring this up because this is the next chapter in my urban living thing.
You might remember a few weeks ago where I wrote about being priced out of a walkable neighborhood in downtown Tulsa. It really spoiled me to be able to walk just about anywhere I needed to go, but the rising cost of rent, parking and everything else shoved me out the door.
Now I’m in a bigger, cheaper place. That’s the good news. The bad: It costs money to park your car anywhere near my gym and my job. I could rent a space in a parking garage for $100 a month, or feed meters for about $2 a day (parking is free downtown after business hours — for now).
That’s $400 to $1,200 a year, just to park. None of this will do. I moved out of my old place to save money, and one way to do that is to not pay for parking. Fortunately, I am within biking distance.
I’d like to tell you that I bike to work because I want to save the planet. No greenhouse gases coming out of that bike, you know. Or that I do it for the exercise. Or perhaps that I’m so super-committed to human-powered transport that I’m taking a one-man stand on my ride. All of these are worthy goals. But no. I am not so noble.
I’m doing it for the money, or rather, my desire to spend less of it.
The act of cycling is free, even if equipping myself for it is not. Once those up-front costs are out of the way, it costs nothing to pedal or park. In a couple of months, I will have saved as much money on not paying for parking as I have in buying the bike and the assorted gear that comes with it.
I’ve learned some things in this process. So I give you this list of what I’ve gleaned since I turned into a bike commuter…
You don’t have to spend wads of money on a bike. I went on Facebook and asked, “Anyone got a bike they want to sell?” I ended up getting two offers I couldn’t refuse, spending $225 on both. One I’ll use on the commute, the other for exercise on the bike paths. Sure beats laying down several hundred — or thousand — bucks on a new ride.
You will need to buy some stuff, if you don’t have it already. A helmet, bike lock, reflector vest (if you ride home at night), lights, and, if your bike is old, a tune-up. So there are up-front costs to doing the bike thing if you’re not a cyclist. I was not, so in lieu of parking fees, I bought bike stuff.
You will need to plan more of your day ahead of time. It was easy when I walked to work. Even in a car, it’s simple. Grab your stuff and go, right? Not so on a bike. Anything you want to take with you (food, work attire, etc.) needs to be carried, by you, on your bike. So for me, that means stuffing a backpack with work clothes, a shaving kit, my lunch and anything else I need to take with me (having a place to shower before going into work is a big plus). I travel to the gym first, work out, shower, then go the last block to my office. Sounds simple, but these logistics take time that walking and driving commuters don’t have to fret. And oh, the weather. The elements might make your ride unpleasant, especially if you’re not ready.
You will need to be more careful. It’s a good idea to pick a route that doesn’t just get you to the job, but one that is the safest. There are some streets I avoid altogether, mostly because I don’t trust drivers. Most people behind the wheel of a car are not paying attention to pedestrians, cyclists, or even other drivers. Even with all the information out there about the dangers of texting and driving, PEOPLE STILL TEXT AND DRIVE. So keep that in mind when you hop on the saddle.
You will get an exercise benefit, even if the commute is short. I ran 24 miles last week, biked 8. That’s a total of 32 human-powered miles. In one week, that might not make a difference. But over a year? It will, and that’s a good thing.
Eventually, you’ll save money. Lots of it. I mentioned the parking fees I won’t have to pay. Let’s not forget about all the gasoline you won’t be burning, the oil changes that won’t be needed, the wear-and-tear on the car that won’t happen, and everything else that comes with exclusively relying on a car for your commute. I still have a car, but I only drive a couple times a week, and for short distances. I know what it’s like to have long commutes — I used to spend $250 a month just on gasoline. The extra effort will be worth the cash not spent on driving.
I know this won’t be possible for a lot of people. Some folks don’t live close enough to work to get there by bike, and moving closer to work isn’t an option. But if it is an option, maybe it’s time to take a look at parking the car — at home — and relying more on your own two legs rather than an internal combustion engine to get you from Point A to Point B.
Got any bike commuter tips? Or stories? Share ’em in the comments.