Make it easy to use bike-centered transportation

Guest post by Esther Arellano Harlow
Esther and Timo in USA Today!
Esther and Timo in USA Today!

Bicycling brought me together with my sweetie, Timo, and we were car-free when we got together. We relish our fun and healthy lifestyle (no gym memberships!), and have figured out some ways to make living by bike easier in a car-oriented world. Here’s how we’ve customized our wardrobes, home, budget and habits to make living car-lite work more smoothly:

Wear “normal” clothes to bike

I wear an extra waterproof layer top — a bike jacket, pants, shoe covers — for rainy Portland, but much of the time it’s dry or just drizzly. I wear a lot of merino wool, which is soft, warm and very water repellent. Add in wool tights under my skirt and heels, a heavy wool coat for winter, and a set of bike fenders and I stay dry and warm.

Timo thrifts men’s wool slacks, sweaters, and sports jackets. Our friend Patrick runs the blog Velocouture, documenting everyday bike style — if you can wear it to walk, you can wear it to bike!

Make bike storage simple

We are lucky to have our own house, but no garage, covered porch, or deck on which to store our bikes. We bought an inexpensive Rubbermaid shed to store our bikes. At 7’x7′, the shed takes up only as much driveway space as a car.

We also use a freestanding vertical rack to help keep multiple bikes organized and accessible. There are also ceiling hoist and wall mount options out there, which you can use indoors and in living space.

It is very important to have somewhere to keep your bike safe and out of the weather where you can easily access it!

Make your landing strip bike-friendly

Our foyer doesn’t only collect jackets, keys, and scarves, but also helmets, bags of groceries, and wet clothes.

Since we come in the back door, we use the enclosed stairwell as a mudroom: I hung hooks along two walls for storage and for air-drying, and we have a flat shelf for unloading bags. At my last house I used the laundry room for the same purpose.

Having a space that makes it easy to get on and off the bike with your things, regardless of weather, is also important! If the accessories that help you bike aren’t convenient, you will be less likely to bike.

Make errands do-able with a $30 bike basket

You can strap two full paper grocery bags directly onto a rack with no special bags or equipment. I recommend old inner tubes as straps, which you should have if you’ve ever changed a flat. If you don’t have any, you can get used ones from a bike shop. The tubes are free, reused/recycled, and safer than bungees. Plus, those things can STRETCH!

You can also strap a milk crate or the legendary grocery basket onto a rack! I use the great Rackit rack and the Baskit that snaps directly onto it.

We shop for fresh produce and meats on the way home from work during the week, and make bigger trips with panniers for staples and specialty items on weekends. Instead of making trips to multiple stores to save a few dollars on specific items, I try to buy everything at one store — I figure paying an extra $.60 for Band-Aids at the store I’m at is worth saving a trip.

Consider getting items delivered

I know it’s not THE most environmentally sound way of doing things, so I try to use it sparingly, but online shopping saves me a lot of time and definitely some money. I buy a year’s worth of contact solution and face wash on, and household wares on Amazon. It’s like Costco, but from the comfort of my kitchen table, and with reviews. Another car-free friend of mine makes quarterly Safeway delivery orders for nonperishable staples, like beverages, which are more difficult to carry by bike.

How to transport the big stuff (and kids!) with your bike

We have a trailer and are turning one bike into an Xtracycle. We have recently used the trailer to haul home a Shop-Vac and 40 gallons of plants I transplanted from my old garden. Timo can carry his bass and amp on the Xtracycle for band practice, and we can add kid seats to it to carry small passengers at the same time as groceries. We have friends who carry their children on front seats, back seats, cargo box bikes, and trail-a-bikes!

Christmas Tree Delivery

What happens when I just don’t want to bike?

Sometimes I’m sick, or tired, or it’s pouring rain. I know the local bus routes, and keep bus tickets in my wallet so I don’t have to have spare change. I can put my bike on the bus, and enjoy the time to catch up on my reading. Most cities have bike racks on the buses now. I also rent or borrow cars.

Most of all, if biking isn’t fun — you’re doing it wrong!

Comments on Make it easy to use bike-centered transportation

  1. Yes!

    My big advice to people thinking of going car light is, “Just do it!” It’s so much easier than you think. My bike is not fancy or expensive. I’m not sweaty and smelly at work. It doesn’t take much longer than going by car. People in cars are not (usually) mean to me. It’s easy! Do it! Do it!

    But, please, learn the rules of the road and follow them. When you don’t, you make riding harder for all of us.

  2. Woot, Xtracycles! I have one and LOVE it, even thought I’m a 23-y-o without kids. When I lived in Portland and commuted to school, I loved that I could always stop at the grocery store on the way home and I never had to worry I wouldn’t have enough space. I’ve also hauled bales of hay, tools, gallons and gallons of milk, my fiance, and a million other things.

  3. I definitely agree with all of the tips. I would add that a good kid seat is a must for parents. We have an Xtracycle on my husband’s bike and a retro kid’s seat on my bike. It’s actually easier to get the kid on and off the bike than it is to put her in the car seat and drive. Plus it’s more fun. She loves running errands when we take the bike because she gets to see all of the birds, bees, butterflies, and bunnies (sorry I couldn’t help myself). Biking is fun, and it turns everyday commutes into adventures.

  4. What do you do if you live somewhere like Houston? About 4 months out of the year, you start sweating as soon as you step out the door. You can barely walk for 6-7 minutes before you’re drenched. I really want to bike to school, but I don’t want to smell terrible…….any suggestions? And no, there are no showers at my school.

    • You don’t smell. Seriously. I bike to work in Florida. I wear breathable, light clothing that hides sweat (patterned skirts are great). I carry a towel and deodorant and an extra shirt if I’m really worried about it and just go. Drink lots of water! An insulated water bottle is your best friend for riding and for cooling down after a ride. A 30-minute bike ride will make you sweaty, but not stinky.

        • I totally had a conversation about this last night. I don’t use soap or deodorant. I rarely get BO-y — it happens, but not day-to-day. Even usually when I’ve broken a good sweat. Usually. 🙂

          Anyway, my dad is the same way. He hasn’t used the stuff in years, and he always smells pleasant. Some people just get boned on stinky genes.

          • Yea, if I forget to wear deodorant to work, by the end of the day, I can smell myself. It’s not that grody to me, but it’s not something I want my co-workers to smell. I also drive to work and sit in an air-conditioned office. It all depends on the person.

    • What I do on really hot days is carry baby wipes with me and even a stick of deodorant. Then I duck into the ladies room to freshen up. It’s nowhere near Texas heat, but here in Chicago, I have ridden to work on days as hot as 105 and high humidity. You could also carry a fresh outfit with you. I know it’s not nearly as convenient as just wearing street clothes a change of clothes fit in a pannier.

      Or you might want to cycle only at the cooler times of the year. People in Chicago often only cycle from march to October. You could cycle from October to March or whatever you feel comfortable with.

    • I had a 7-mile commute in Houston, and extra clothes were a MUST. We didn’t have showers, but we did have a private bathroom, and I would do a “sponge bath” with paper towels & re-apply deodorant. Also, above 90 degrees (with Houston humidity), I was simply unable to maintain a safe body temperature. Beware of your limitations and probably don’t bike at all in August. Safe lighting is especially important in Houston, where people may not be expecting bikes.

    • My husband has also used this stuff called “rocket shower.” It’s basically a spray that is supposed to cool you off, freshen you up and stop you from sweating (so you don’t change your shirt and then stay overheated and sweating at your desk for another 20 minutes). I’ve never used it, but he likes it, and it’s supposed to be pretty “green.”

    • Use baby wipes! I’m a sweat-er. I’m not drenched, but I can work up a good sweaty lather no problem when biking. I keep a box of baby wipes in my office to wipe down when I get to work. I only need to use one. I also keep a small bottle of face wash and a wash cloth at work as well. (This is personal preference. I highly despise an oily feeling face).

      I find that when I bike regularly, I drink tons of water. I try to drink 24 ounces in the morning, and then 24 ounces again at night. I also bought a water cup that includes a straw. (They’re the Copco brand). I find that drinking with a straw makes me drink more.

    • I haven’t had the (mis)fortune of living somewhere hot –Portland is cool/temperate and rainy!– but I do have b.o. that smells very….skunky. We do get a few hot days in the summer here up to the 100s. On those days my policy is 1. bike as slow as I need to, 2. wear shirts that aren’t tight on my underarms or back or crotch (the loose fitting cotton stuff is right!), and 3. if necessary, bring a change of clothes and do an armpit-bath in the destination at the bathroom. I also use my own homemade baking soda-coconut oil-tea tree oil deodorant that works very well.

      Juniper has it right- don’t bike when it’s so insanely hot you will hurt yourself. Listen to your body. I do the same thing in December, when it can be cold, icy, snowy/slushy, and the sun sets at 4:30, meaning it’s pitch dark and pouring rain for the bike ride home at night- I often jump on the light rail or bus.

  5. Also, taxis can be your friend. My way to work is fifteen minutes by bike, so that’s what I use 99% of the time, but when the weather is really bad, I take a taxi. It’s more expensive than the bus, but much faster. I have a several block walk to the nearest bus stop, then I have to transfer to another bus and then walk a few more blocks. Or I just spend the eight bucks on a cab.

    Another great thing that makes life without a car easier is a car sharing service like I-Go or Zipcar. It makes getting groceries in the winter so much easier, though we do grocery shop by bike most of the year.

  6. I loved every word of this article, and the pictures! I don’t have a car either, and I love my bike. For a while I had a trailer (the kind to put kids in, but I don’t have kids) that I used for groceries and everything else. It was fun and so easy to get on/off the bike. I had to return it to my neighbor when he got out of jail – long story. You are so right though, there are times when you just don’t want to bike. I’m on the bus at least once/day. Our buses in Duluth have bike racks, which is great.

  7. I miss this. and I feel you on the Houston thing- I’m in SC. When I was a student I was only 3 miles away from campus and I used to bike to class and work- but even just three miles in that weather, I got there drenched in sweat, hair and clothes plastered to my body and looking absolutely disgusting. Doesn’t matter if you actually smell or not, trust me- people don’t want anything to do with you! I reccomend bringing extra clothes for other southerners, you’ll feel a lot better with just a quick towel off and a clean shirt- yall just don’t understand how freaking hot it gets here!

    I have to take two interstates and drive 30 minutes to get to work now- at an office that requires heels and pantyhose- so its really not an option for me anymore. I’m moving closer downtown in several months though, and looking forward to biking again for errands and trips to meet friends. For work I might still need the car though- at least its a prius!

  8. Yes! Love, love, love this article. I will also add that zip-ties work wonders for keeping a basket or crate on a rack. A crate can be a good way to keep you from getting too sweaty. I am a sweat monster, especially when I have a pack on my back. I have partially solved this by putting all of my extra clothes in a crate so that nothing is touching me while I am biking.

    I love urban biking, it is quite a rush. I am by no means a fast biker, but I can get to work faster by bike than by car in morning rush hour. I will also echo other posters that it is essential to know and follow bike rules. Be aggressive with cars but follow the rules too so that everyone is safe and bikers do not get a bad name. Jerk bikers that dart out in front of cars create safety hazards and give the whole bike community a bad name.

  9. It should be noted that a lot of (most? All?) bus systems have capacity for transporting bikes, which is great for covering large distances in cities that aren’t totally bike/bus friendly. I live in Grand Rapids, MI, a city designed around cars. They’re starting to get into the public transportation feel, but it can be difficult to get anywhere not high-traffic (like downtown or a grocery store) via bus, never mind by bike. Totally not the best layout for car light folks. :/

  10. After reading this my fiance’ and I decided to go car-less. We figured we’d save a little over $1000 a year by biking. Even here in Colorado where it gets cold and blustery during winter, and we might have to use a taxi to get certain errands done,

    • Wow, that’s fab. Good luck! I’m in Iowa, and we’re not carless, but we’re car-lite. The transition to one car — and using it as little as possible — was surprisingly easy.

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