Being car free
I've been car-free for six months now, counting from when Katie's gearbox failed.
Things I miss:
- Comfort, especially being sheltered from the weather.
- Fast startup and shutdown time. The car took about 15 seconds. A bike takes a few minutes, including heaping on clothing, checking lights and tyres, strapping the crutch on and wheeling the bike out of the kitchen. It will be faster when I can walk properly.
- Reduced luggage capacity. I couldn't take a tonne of stuff to Bosnia.
- Shorter distances. I couldn't drive to Bosnia in three days, let alone the single day some folk do it in.
- People admiring my wonderful weird car in the supermarket carpark.
- Walking properly. The hip isn't osteoporotic, so I probably wouldn't have broken it in an ordinary fall.
Things I don't miss:
- Crawling underneath a dripping sump trying to fix things.
- Paying a garage to fix things.
- Paying £100 a year for insurance.
- Paying £35 a year for MOT, plus the costs of getting her through it.
- Organising the tax disk. Actually, I rather enjoyed this as it was free and I enjoyed the smugness.
- Queueing for and paying for fuel, about £400 a year.
- The guilt at burning stuff that took a gazillion years to create, especially when I hadn't serviced her in a while and she belched smelly blue-black stuff from her rear end.
- Traffic jams, although I rarely suffered from these as Katie was so slow. The road in front was generally clear, and I ignored the queue building steadily behind me.
- Rushing everywhere. True, Katie rarely rushed, but people expected me to jump in the car at a moment's notice. Now they know I travel by bike, expectations have lowered.
- Car parking charges. I rarely needed to spend more than 25p but I still resented it.
Things I have lost:
- The flexibility of a car. Let's be honest: the car had door-to-door convenience, to any place I wanted at any time I wanted, further than a bike and faster than a bus.
- Respect from motorists. Katie was a bashed old Land Rover, and traffic kept well clear. Motorists give less clearance to me on a bike, though it hasn't been a major problem yet (touch wood).
- Some of my social life. I have cut back on my evening commitments: partly because I was doing too much anyway, partly because I no longer have a car, and partly because I now have health issues.
- A puncture-free life.
- My friends and family think I am nuts. But they knew that anyway.
Things I have gained:
- The open air. Apart from ice, weather isn't something to be afraid of. I had forgotten this, and I think it's important. Modern Western life-style shields us from weather, except for the brief dash between the home/office/shop and the car. A bike reminds me of the rhythms of the day and year, the varying levels of light and temperature, the rustling of hedgerow wildlife, the smell of rain on muddy fields.
- Time. I enjoy cycling more than driving. When I'm properly dressed, I even enjoy slogging uphill against icy rain driven by wind that is still fresh from the North Sea. My journeys take longer but I enjoy them, so it isn't wasted time.
- Fitness. I am fitter on the bike than I was six months ago; I can go further and faster. True, I did fall off and break a hip, which in turn has lead to muscle wasteage and I'm some way from walking properly, but I think the health scales tip slightly in my favour.
- Chatting to people I encounter. I saw a huge fluffy Tigger at a bus shelter, so I stopped and read the sign around his neck, "Free to a good home. Please take me home." I chatted to the woman nearby, who said there was once a whole line of dolls and fluffy toys with similar signs in the shelter.
- Money. I save about £500 a year.
- Smugness. I try not to be smug, but I do care about the damage caused by cars to our planet and society.
- Fairly rapid recovery from injury. I was fairly fit before the hip broke, and the impulsion to get back on the bike encouraged me to exercise properly. If I could have slobbed around in a car, I would have done.
- My GP's comment: "Crutches and a cycle helmet; that's not something you see every day."
Becoming car-free has increased the quality of my life. In theory I could have gained most of the benefits by using the car less and the bike more. In practise I needed to be rid of the car to force a change in mindset, a shift in my personal culture. If I had a car I would have used it because I was running late for a meeting or needed a load of shopping or it looked like rain or some other excuse.
Will I continue being car-free? I've gained more than I've lost, so I'd love to say Yes. But the hip fracture revealed another problem — my spine has osteoporosis — and I'm not clear whether or how much this will affect cycling. This, with some other issues, means I won't commit. I'm taking it a month at a time.
But it's looking good.