I Am a Bike Person Now

Early last spring, my friends told me to call my car insurance company and negotiate a discount when my rates shot up by 85 percent. I thought about calling some customer service department and asking for that, or worse: shopping around, getting multiple quotes, really optimizing my deal.

Instead, I sold my car.

It took over three weeks to finish the repairs it would need to pass inspection, which is a thing that’s required in Maryland. Here, you only ever have to get your car inspected for mechanical defects once, and after that, you’re free to drive whatever disintegrating pile of crap you choose until a cop pulls you over and cites you for something specific.

When you buy a car, though, a state-certified mechanic has to compare your new whip to an umpteen-point checklist, and legend has it that nobody passes on the first try. A lot of buyers won’t touch a used car unless it’s already been inspected and all flaws have been fixed. There wasn’t really much wrong with mine, but the mechanic renowned for his cheapness proved to have a super relaxed attitude about working on cars, getting them out of his garage, and getting payment.

It cost me about $300 total to get it fixed and cleaned up. My car was a 2002 Toyota Echo in what I decided was fair condition, and it’s KBB value for my area was a little under $2,000. I put it on Craigslist for $1,950, and put it on Facebook for $1,500, because I was concerned about getting Craigslist-killed.

The mother of a former roller derby associate bought it for the Facebook special price, and did not murder me, even though she did spend a couple of days after the sale texting me about the check-engine light that came on as I was driving it over to leave it with her. I refrained from texting back anything that started in “caveat ” and ended in “sucker, ” and eventually, she was satisfied.

In the meantime, I’d been riding my bike to work, and spending money on bike accessories like lights and a new lock, for a total of maybe $60 to $80. It might’ve been more, but the dudes at the bike store really had my financial best interests in mind. They ignored me whenever I went in, so I didn’t end up purchasing anything I didn’t strictly have to, which is why I still bike in an old skate helmet.

I spent another $80 paying off Larry, the taxi driver whose passenger side mirror I knocked off trying to be a cool bike person and ride between a line of stopped traffic and a line of parked cars. He originally guessed it was going to be $200, but I said I wouldn’t agree to that without a written mechanic’s estimate. He said, “It just so happens my son is a mechanic,” and immediately called him. I feared the worst, but the son said $60. I threw in the extra $20 in case it was more, because I definitely never intend to call Larry again, even though he invited me to dinner with his wife and kids.

I also tore up a pair of work shoes when I wore them while riding on a wet day, and took a sharp right at the bottom of a steep hill. It was an exciting lesson in physics. Luckily, I wore the shoes anyway up until last week when I caved in and bought a new pair, and I didn’t lose much skin on my foot at all.

At work, I had to start pretending that I had become an exercise nut, because it was too awkward to say that I couldn’t afford my car anymore.

“Cara,” they’d say, “Did you bike here today? In this rain? In this heat? What are you going to do in the winter? You’re crazy!”

I’d respond, “Yes! I am a beast!” or “Strong like bull!” and we’d all have a good laugh. Then I go and mop my face with a wet towel in the restroom.

I am getting stronger. My bitchin’ quads that quietly atrophied after I stopped skating are back. Hills that winded me completely in the early days of my bike commute now wind me only somewhat. Every now and then, I pass another bike commuter with a nicer bike than mine, and I feel like a big man, and gloat about it for the rest of the day.

Shopping for groceries is a pain in the ass now, because I am too lazy to make extra stops on my way home and lug things around in my bag. Now I usually wait until the weekend and go with my husband, who is perfect in every way, but a slow, deliberate, optimizing shopper. I sold my car to avoid making pricing comparisons, so you see how our styles are different here. Without his help and general good nature, I doubt I would’ve risked getting rid of a car that still ran, even if it did mean I would have to make tedious phone calls to be able to come close to affording it.

I have already avoided spending a lot of money that I otherwise would have if I’d kept the car, but I can’t say I’ve saved anything extra as a result. The last of the cash I got for the car is gone as of last weeks’ grocery run. My bank account is lower than ever—even without the insurance payments, gas, and occasional maintenance.

It’s hard for me to say whether I let the thought of all the “extra” money tempt me into spending some of those extra dollars two or three times over, or if working fewer hours finally caught up to me. I think it’s a little of both, but I know I would’ve definitely been deeper in the hole if I hadn’t cut expenses somehow. I’ve been enjoying biking around, but my winter plan is that winter is going to suck. It’s a little bit less than satisfying to feel like I haven’t gained anything from all of this new found sort of virtue. My quads do bulge like king snakes now, though, and really, smugness is its own reward.

 

Cara Dudzic is an apprentice hairdresser in Baltimore, Md.

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20 Comments / Post A Comment

thenotestaken (#542)

Good for you! I’m in Montreal, and my roommate bikes through the winter–I tried but caved into a bus pass for Jan/Feb. Winter biking tip: don’t dress as warm as you think you’ll need to because you get even sweatier biking in winter for some reason, but get an AMAZING pair of gloves! The extra smugness helps keep you warm, though.

Fig. 1 (#632)

@thenotestaken Yes, layers are your friend. And studded tires. It’s fantastic to hit your brakes on ice and actually stop!

hollysh (#2,108)

@thenotestaken You can buy BATTERY POWERED HEATED GLOVES. Totally worth it. Also, you should get paniers or a front/back basket for your back! It’s so much easier on your back and you can carry more groceries than you would think in them.

oh! valencia (#1,409)

@hollysh I know a guy who always says “there are no bad riding days, only poor clothing choices.”

Fig. 1 (#632)

Speaking as someone who’s commuted by bike for 5 years, yeah you save money by biking…but not as much as you’d think. Unless you are an absolute miser and do the bare minimum of repairs and shun all new gear, it’s difficult to avoid upgrade-itis. God forbid you become enthusiasts like our household, where we are currently on track this year to spend $700 in car repairs and $2000 on bike paraphernalia (Bromptons are expensive, yo.) But yeah, the quads are totally worth it.

Also if you want to look professional, avoid the Cat 6 aka commuter racing mindset. You don’t know how long or how fast other people have been going. Trust me, you don’t want to be like that guy on a poorly-maintained electric assist bike who tried to mash past us last week but instead just succeeded in blowing his chain entirely off his crankset and cassette. (I’m not sure how he managed to do this, it was impressive.)

Beck (#2,269)

@Fig. 1 yeah, but I think if you consider all the other car-related expenses (gas, insurance, oil, price of a new/used car, etc) you save more than you think. Plus (for me) I go out less (so I spend less) because it means I have to bike there. I live at the top of a very big hill and am generally a lazy person. I love this article BTW!

MuffyStJohn (#280)

I tried to become a bike person. Really, really tried. But I could never get over my fear about it. I learned to ride very late in life (at 27) and don’t believe I will ever feel quite comfortable riding in an urban setting. The bike doesn’t become some natural extension of who I am. I am always awkward, hesitant, slow to start, and basically feeling out of place. These are dangerous things to be when you’re trying to share the roads with cars and navigate your way through town.

That said, I put a LOT of money into trying to become a bike person – buying a bicycle that was the right fit for me that suited my type of riding, a proper helmet, adequate locks (so, so many locks), lights, and on and on. But spending money didn’t make it fit, and now I have over $1k down the drain on a hobby/mode of transit that I know damn well I will never get any real use out of. Yet I’m hesitant to sell my bike.

My goal is to become a walking person. If I ever find a place to live that is walkable to where I work that I can afford, that is. After 3 months of aimless hunting I’m beginning to think this is a pipe dream.

breakfast (#633)

Winter will suck, but not thaaaat bad. I say this as a Maryland biker who bought a car last year and doesn’t have to bike in the winter unless I want to, so maybe this is a case of rose-colored glasses. Good gloves and tights under your pants will get you far.

Ti:Sapph (#2,050)

I was similarly a bike person in Baltimore, no less, before moving. Baltimore is becoming more and more a bike person city with new infrastructure and a few advocates who are actually good at what they do.

If you’re mechanically-inclined you can actually make a bit of money doing the buy/fix/resell cycle on Craigslist with used bicycles. It takes a little while to know what to look for in a good used candidate, how to fix and price them, and to get the tools together. Still, it’s a good feeling to have people practically throwing several hundred dollars in cash at you for something you know you only spent $100 on.

I don’t know, I biked everywhere for 6 years, and despite the fact that 2 bikes of mine were stolen by fuckers in New Haven, I spent nowhere close to even a tenth of what I spend on gas this year.
Best part about biking? not having to worry about parking when going out at night. also, riding after the bar is wonderfully sobering.

DON (#706)

@oatmealshrapnel Oh yeah, riding after the bar is wonderful. Unless you topple over into the parked cars next to you, decide to lock er up and take a cab instead, only to wake up in the morning with absolutely no idea where you locked er up. It’s ok though because 3 months later you will find er locked up right where your drunken ass apparently left er. Upside down, but intact.

@DON well, it’s not all ponies and ice cream, but I’m glad no one stole your bike. Maybe using the word wonderful was overkill on my part

awk (#840)

I bike all winter in Baltimore. For the first five minutes, it’s miserable, but then you warm up and forget about it. Just wear some long johns under your pants and a decent pair of gloves that will cut the wind. The biggest enemy is not the cold, but the darkness. You need a few really good blinky lights (as annoying as possible to drivers), maybe a brightly colored jacket, and a little bit of nerve.

Also, get yourself a bike rack and a milk crate to lash to the bike rack. I recently added one of these and it has made lugging beer and groceries home very easy.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

Yes! I bike in Philadelphia and it’s great.I save at least $80 a month on not having to buy a transpass and I don’t even know how much gas costs right now because I don’t care. And I agree that a rack is a great way to get groceries home. But if your husband still has a car, just make him take you.
And if it’s not snowing, ride your bike anyway! Just put on a few layers and you’ll be fine. And people will think you are so tough.

cherrispryte (#19)

I am waffling between becoming a Bike Person or not, but this is some pretty good encouragement! Also, the weather is currently perfect for biking. I just need to start waking up 15 minutes earlier, and also figure out how to attach the lights to my bike.

Brunhilde (#78)

I want to become a bike person, but I think the hills in Seattle would kill me dead. I have a cruiser with a basket that I kick around the neighborhood for a few groceries or whatevers, but other than that, I am a bus person.

burdock (#771)

I’m a bike person in Boston and my plan is always “winter is going to suck”. But the once in awhile it doesn’t. Like last year. I also ride a $60 bike which I “keep tuned” by myself. So that helps with the costs.

allaswan (#578)

Biking in the winter is like a secret life hack because no one realizes how easy it is except people who do it. Way better than the oppressive heat of summer! It’s so much more peaceful, and cars are more careful. You just have to wear the right clothes–and the problem is usually wearing too many layers, not the other way around. I always end up toasty no matter what, and have to wait awhile before going inside of wherever I’m going. The funniest is that everyone is really amazed at how bad-ass you seem. I’m amazed that anyone would stand shivering at a freezing bus stop when they could jump on a bike and be sweating in minutes.

arthure (#6,309)

My uncle also sold his old car because he had to invest too much money in it, plus the mileage was incredibly high. He went to work with his bike for two months but did not get used with this and decided to buy a new car, so he found a great offer on a second-hand car and decided to install decals from http://parkplaceprinting.net/DEALER_DECALS.html on it. He uses his bike to get to work only on sunny days and when it is raining he takes his hybrid car.

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