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.

7 comments on “Being car free”

  1. Garry wrote:

    There is stuff you can get for osteoporosis. Enquire about it. I'm not in any way expert in that area myself.

  2. Patrick wrote:

    "With one leap, Jack was free."

    I'm pleased to hear it's looking good Alan.

    One of my brothers (58) is car free. At least he's never driven. He travels all over the country in trains and taxis and is highly mobile. One of my sons (31) doesn't drive either, but he lives in London. Neither has substituted a bicycle for a car. I cycle a lot but I think I'd find it hard to manage with no car. It would mean either less travelling or more time spent travelling. It's obviously easier to cut down on motoring rather than doing without altogether. I like travelling on the bus and for some journeys it's more convenient. I often cycle to the supermarket. Six litres of milk is heavy! It literally flattens your tyres.

    Younger people I know sneer at bus travel (much more than they do at bicycles). The first thing a seventeen-year-old does nowadays is buy a car. That is a shame and where the issue really begins.

    Is Bosnia a hypothetical destination or do you really go there?

  3. Alan wrote:

    I may be going on Alendronate for the osteoporosis, but I have queries about it: it isn't licensed for blokes, may preclude dental work, and so on.

    I took aid stuff in Katie to Bosnia after their war. It would be possible on a bike, of course; it's only a thousand miles from here. I'm looking for a suitable Chopper, ha!

  4. Mary wrote:

    I congratulate you Alan. Its a wonderful feeling to watch the bird droppings build up on mine as I cycle past it twice a day!

  5. Patrick wrote:

    Alan wrote: I took aid stuff in Katie to Bosnia after their war.

    My brother did that too (not the one who doesn't drive). The school where he teaches hired a lorry to carry the aid. "Carry the aid" sounds odd. It would be better with a dedicated noun for "aid."

  6. Mary wrote:

    It is a very sad fact of life. Our local bus service is being throttled due to cutbacks, forcing some people to buy a car when they would usually have used the buses.

    I have not seen a child cycling to school since I was there myself. :(

  7. Hilary wrote:

    Great stuff Alan! I'd love to go car free but unfortunately there is no denying that a car is quick and convenient (theoretically no reason why a bus can't be but it never is!). I had a CycleWight meeting last night. It felt very wrong to go to a cycling meeting by car but I'm afraid the prospect of a 24 mile round trip on a dark frosty night was just too much. I wasn't alone, only 4 peopled cycled and they all lived very close to the venue!

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