I have been inspired to write a post about living car free based on my interactions with friends who are car-dependent. I don’t usually think of or refer to myself as “car-free”. I also don’t think of or refer to myself as helicopter-free, tractor-free or snowmobile-free. I suspect that most other people don’t either, but the car has an almost sacred position in our society, so much so that not having or using one apparently deserves a special term.
Guide to living “car-free” in (Greater) Manchester:
1) Distance: People who depend on cars tend to have a very distorted perspective on how far away things actually are. I know someone who lives less that 300 m from a bus stop at which a once-every-five minutes bus runs along a main road (with bus lanes) to a final stop about 300 m from their workplace. Because she has been dependent on the car for so long, 300 m (2 minutes walking) is perceived as too far away.
If you are thinking about reducing your dependence on a car but don’t want to take the plunge and get rid of it straight away, my advice to you is to try and go somewhere on foot first. Some people forget just how easy and stress-free walking is. Walk to somewhere nearby that you tend to drive to, it probably won’t take much longer and you’ll start to remember that it isn’t that far, and it isn’t that hard.
If it is still a bit too far to the nearest station for you to walk, consider getting a folding bike such as a Brompton or a folding Raleigh Twenty.
2) Cost: If you can get past the distorted perspective of distance, the next hurdle is the cost of public transport. Whilst it should be lower, car owners tend to inflate it by comparing the cost of public transport to the cost of fuel for their car for that journey. It is important to avoid this trap. The best way I can think of is to average it out over a year. Compare one year’s use of public transport to one year’s worth of fuel, parking fees, insurance, vehicle excise duty, maintenance and the initial cost of the car (or the total cost of a car loan taken out to cover it), minus the likely return for it at the end of its life with you divided by the number of years you are likely to own the car for. Suddenly the car is starting to look a lot more expensive. A good way to look at this is to think of it as a percentage of your income. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 10-20% of an average person’s income. If you don’t like your job much, think of it as time spent at work; for 15% of income that is 6 hours a week of a 40 hour week to pay for a car.
3) Convenience: Sometimes you may need to travel late at night or early in the morning. For me, these times tend to be parties and pub outings, where a car would be useless anyway. People who come to parties by car tend to leave very early because they need to abstain from drinking, and they seem not to have a very good time. If you find you need to travel regularly at all hours, a bike can be very useful. Remember the re-discovering of walking, and learning that a mile is really not that far after-all? Well its the same for cycling, except you will discover in a matter of weeks that 5 or 10 miles is really not that far on a bike. I’d bet that anyone could ride 5 miles in half an hour, even on a BMX dressed in a chicken suit. Once again perception of distance is the problem. I’d be willing to bet that that kind of distance range covers the needs of most people, especially if used as a supplement to public transport.
A bike can in fact be more convenient than a car. It will take you from door to door, you can avoid a lot of traffic jams by filtering along the stationary cars and areas such as canal towpaths and other non-car-worthy rights of way can be used to get around, in addition to the roads. The pushing of special magical underpants and high-visibility clothing by the motoring lobbies may be partially designed as a barrier to the natural hop-on and go convenience of cycling.
4) Weather: As Billy Connolly said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.” This applies to cycles too, there is a secret weapon cyclists can use against the rain which has long been forgotten here in the UK; mudguards. In all but the heaviest rain the vast majority of water hitting you will be thrown at you from your tyres. This is also the least pleasant water, containing filth from the road too. With mudguards you can avoid a lot of the wet, with the rest of the work being done with a raincoat, or if you want to go faster for longer, some bike-specific quick-drying clothes. You can always carry some spare clothes in a pannier if you think its going to be really rainy. If you get the bus or the train, this isn’t much of an issue anyway.
On a snow day, most cars will be rendered useless, so its not worth owning one on the basis that it will keep you mobile in the event of snow. During the Great Snow of 2010 I cycled everywhere, and I was a lot more sure-footed than the cars and a lot of the people. Just lower your saddle a bit and lower the pressure in your tyres (and make sure they are not overly skinny tyres). If you fall off its not that bad, the snow makes your fall happen in slow motion, giving you time to right yourself or a soft landing of you can’t.
On a nice day, being on the bike beats car or public transport hands-down.
5) That one thing: Whenever I discuss the ease of not having a car with someone for this long, it is common for them to give an example of one specific thing they believe is impossible without a car. Often it involves carrying a large object like a case of beer, or an item of furniture. A case of beer can be carried with a standard bike pannier rack, and even more easily with a Yuba Mundo. The Yuba Mundo can also tackle most of the furniture transportable by car. It is also worth remembering the fairly narrow range of large objects which a car can carry before it become necessary to have the item delivered professionally, combined with the generally infrequent need to transport these items. Even with a car, you’d probably get a wardrobe or a bed delivered instead. At least without the car you’ll have plenty of extra cash to pay for the delivery. Once again, it is perception which needs to be challenged.
6) Family: This is an area where I lack personal experience, but which I have read a great deal about on blogs such as the Lazy Rider Bicycle Blog, A Most Civilized Conveyance and the community surrounding Bike Portland. Basically the consensus seems to be that kids are fine as cargo when young, and solutions exist to transport kids on a normal bike. When they get older there are things like the Bakfiets or on the back of a Yuba Mundo, and eventually they can match your own ability to get around on two-wheels.
Of course often overlooked in these kinds of discussions are the countless families here in the UK who rely solely on public transport. Discounted child rates are common, in addition to schemes such as the Family Railcard.
Having addressed the main concerns people usually raise when talking about car dependency, I would like to look at some of the advantages of car freedom:
1) Richer: Without having to pour so much of your wage into the car, you’ll be a fair amount better off. If you cycle or walk a lot rather than heavily depending on public transport that money is going to be useful because,
2) Fitter: You’re likely to live longer, as much as ten years longer. A lot of car-dependents drive their cars to the gym to try and keep fit. If you walk or cycle to get around that is money that you won’t have to spend at the gym. The health benefits are not just physical, exercise such as walking and cycling is good for your well-being
3) Happier: Exercise produces biochemical changes in your brain giving you a pleasant feeling which lasts for a while after exercise. This has benefits if you are cycling or walking to work because it makes you,
4) More Productive: Starting the day with a bit of exercise such as walking or cycling makes you more mentally alert and productive. You might find that after walking or cycling in that work sucks a little bit less.
5) Comfortable: When I started walking and cycling more I noticed that I started to feel a lot more comfortable in general, clothes fit me better and I found myself feeling too hot or too cold a lot less frequently. I also started to be less-frequently ill with coughs and colds.
6) Not Drinking Too Much: OK, the theme starts to fall apart here a bit. Now that I cycle and walk most places, I get enough exercise so that I don’t have to worry so much about drinking and eating too much.
7) Not part of the problem: By choosing a car-free lifestyle you are setting an example to others that there is another way by not contributing to the wide ranging environmental, political and social problems associated with mass-car ownership, both locally and globally.
Drum brakes are underrated. I think they suffer at the hands of the relentless promotion of cycling a sport in the UK. In the rest of Europe drum (also called hub brakes) and roller brakes (roller brakes being Shimano’s slightly different take on drum brakes) are widely used because they are effective in all weather conditions, due to being sealed away from the elements in the hub of the wheel and even with very little maintenance they last forever. They may cost more than other brake systems can, but they are a long term investment and will save you money in the long run on disc brake pad and rotors or rim brake shoes (and fresh rims). Racing bikes don’t come with them because they are heavier than rim brakes, and mountain bikes don’t come with them because they are less powerful than disc brakes. Those two types of bikes pretty much cover bikes as far as bike shops are willing to promote and as far as most people here are concerned. If you are riding a bike primarily for transport and utility, drum brakes are a good option to consider especially because they do not require any special mounting points on your bike like other brake types. Simply build (or have built) a wheel with a drum brake hub, screw on the clip for the reaction arm (can be made to fit any for or frame) and away you go. I decided to upgrade the front wheel of the Twenty with a drum brake hub I got from eBay quite cheap because the fork on the twenty only had a mounting point for calliper brakes, and the steel rims on the wheel meant that the brakes were awful.
I used a Sturmey Archer X-FD hub laced to a Sun Ringle rim (they make 451 mm rims, bought from here). I used a 3-cross pattern due to the need to transmit torque from the hub to the rim, making a two cross pattern less suitable and a radial pattern a very bad idea. The lack of dish and the fact that it is a 36 spoked 20 inch wheel means this wheel is probably stronger than the Yuba Mundo rear wheel. I think it will last well.
The fork of the Twenty was initially too narrowly spaced for a standard 100 mm OLD hub, and the fork ends were keyhole shaped to aid wheel retention, preventing the use of a standard diameter axle. The “crotch” of the dropout (to use the technical term) is able to accept a modern 9 mm axle, so all i had to do was file out the narrow keyhole shaped section to become straight and stretch out the the fork a bit by holding one fork blade with my foot whilst pulling in the other with my hands.
Sadly I didn’t take an after filing picture because my hands were too filthy, but if you have a normal bike, take the front wheel off and look at the fork ends, that is what it looked like afterwards.
I took the bike out for a test ride last night. Drum brakes have a bedding in period like disc brakes, but even right away they were powerful enough to lock up the front wheel. I suppose the smaller wheel size makes drum (or any hub-located brake) more effective; to use an oversimplification, if it takes half a revolution of the drum for the brake to stop the bike, on a smaller diameter wheel, this distance will be less, and you will stop more rapidly.
I may be the first person to put a drum brake on a Raleigh Twenty, I haven’t seen any pictures of anyone else doing it, (and SRAM actively discourage using their drum brake hubs in small wheels) but I hope that this information is useful for anyone thinking of upgrading their Twenty with new brakes.
Here in the UK (as in most other English speaking countries) we live in a car culture. This culture is so pervasive that you may not even be completely aware of it. When you are walking along a street and you want to cross, what do you do, stop and wait, check three times and hope that the traffic flow slows so that you can cross from one side of a road to another, or maybe even use a pedestrian crossing, press a button and wait 2 minutes for 5 seconds of time in which to cross the road. Have you ever been walking along a road with railings along side the pavement edge to pen you in so that your freedom to cross the road is denied? Have you ever done the “dad-run” to the kerb because an oncoming motorist has chosen not to slow down to let you finish crossing, and not even felt indignant about it? Have you ever asked yourself why?
Why is it that walking, the most natural and fundamental form of mobility is treated as the lowest in the transport hierarchy which places privately owned motor vehicles at the top. Why do we all generally accept it when almost all of us walk at least a little bit each day. For several generations all other modes of transport have been placed at the bottom of the list of priorities for architects, town planners and legislators. Part of this is because most of them drive a car and enjoy having almost total freedom when driving without realising how much it compromises their freedom when they are not driving. It is also partly down to the powerful motoring lobbies, manufacturers and driving associations such as the AA and RAC. It is a testament to their power that during the worst recession since WW2 we had a car scrappage scheme where the taxpayer subsidised anyone who wanted to trade in their old car for something shiny and new. This wasn’t means tested, so the Earl of Choking-upon-Carfumes could use the scheme just as easily as a pauper (although a pauper wouldn’t be able to afford a car to scrap). A progressive government would have introduced a car scrappage scheme where you scrap your old clunker for a shiny Brompton, Pashley or Moulton (to support British manufacturing) or for a year or two year season ticket for the train between home and work.
The reason I write this is that the same lobbies who deter people from walking, cycling and using public transport are the same voices behind support of bicycle helmets. I accept that some cyclists speak out in favour of helmets, but the difference is that they choose to wear a helmet but generally they are against forcing other people to do so. Australia is famous for its compulsory helmet law, which has massively reduced the number of injured cyclists by effectively killing off Australian cycling. Wherever helmet laws are made compulsory people stop cycling, and this is why the motoring lobby supports them so strongly, they want us off the roads. Sadly it is common to hear their agenda parroted by the media and then picked up by people who don’t cycle. I don’t wear a helmet for several reasons
1) Helmets offer no useful protection in the even of being hit by a car. In the words of a Transport Research Laboratory report, cycle helmets are effective “particularly [in] the most common accidents that do not involve a collision with another vehicle, often simply falls or tumbles over the handlebars.”
This is great if you are very new to cycling, or a child where you are likely to lose balance and fall off your bike when stationary.
2) Helmets make you feel safer, and appear safer to others. Taking (1) into account, the effect of risk compensation comes into play; you feel safer because of the helmet, and subconsciously take more risks. The same effect can be seen with the way people with 4X4 vehicles drive. People in cars see you with a helmet and subconsciously (I hope) feel it is safer to pass closer to you because the helmet will protect you.
3) Helmets are ignoring the bull in the China shop. The problem on the roads is not the inadequate ability of your skull to hold in your brains, it is the cars themselves, the manner in which they are operated and the numbers in which they are present. Helmets are a great way for the motoring lobby to move the focus away from the bull in the china shop by focussing on the inadequately rugged protective china display units.
In short, mass helmet adoption validates bad driving, bad cyclist infrastructure and excessive car use.
4) Helmets put off newbies. Most of you reading this will be cyclists yourselves, but imagine for a moment that you were not. Does seeing people on bikes in special high-visibility clothing and helmets make cycling look normal, practical and safe? Places with the highest rates of cycling also have the lowest rates of helmet usage, where cycling is seen as a normal means of getting around which you can do without special sports clothing and extraneous safety gear. Helmets are a barrier to the uptake of cycling.
The safety in numbers concept states that cycling gets safer when more people cycle (combined with the distribution of transport funds which follow an increase in modal share).
Anyway, just some food for thought. If you want to wear a helmet, thats fine, just as long as you are aware of the risks. Just as I am against helmet compulsion, I wouldn’t want to force anyone who wants to to not wear a helmet. When the only person who’s safety is at risk is you, I don’t see why legislation is needed either way.
I came across this on eBay, I have noticed it before but I am only just getting around to posting it now.
This is one of the biggest barrier to mass adoption of cycling in the UK. Every company selling bikes sells them as “Sporting Goods.” I doubt that the car would be in its sadly dominant position today if the places which sold them promoted them as sporting goods, showing off only the F1 cars in the showrooms, keeping the more practical transportation-oriented models out of sight. Yet this is what practically every bike shop I have ever visited does. If you want to get around on a practical everyday bike they can oblige, but the range of them is always small and they are hidden at the back of the shop (or they have to order them in from their supplier). It is ultimately self-defeating for these companies to promote cycling as sport. Far more people want an effective and easy way to get from A to B than want to participate in races, cyclocross and freeriding etc.
By all means keep the mountain bikes and track bikes and all of the performance clothing and components available, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But please don’t promote those thigs as cycling. Promote cycling as what it is (or at least could become) to the rest of the population; cheap and effective transportation.