2016 was the fourth year that I’d commuted to work by bike, but it was the first year that I actually aimed to do it full-time. I just about managed, but still occasionally used the car when working very late at night. Walking out of the office at 11:30pm on a November evening only to have to cycle nine miles in pure rural darkness before I could get into bed was sometimes more of a challenge than I could face and I opted for the warmth and speed of the car instead.
In early 2017 as I spent more time on the Reddit forums r/lowcar and r/bikecommuting I encountered lots of encouraging stories from other full-time bike commuters who had managed to limit or restrict their use of cars altogether. The idea intrigued me. I love cycling but work and family pressures mean I’m usually limited to my commutes to spend any time in the saddle. So was there any good reason why I couldn’t cycle commute all the time if it meant getting the miles in? A slight change in shift patterns meant no more late nights, so I no longer had that excuse, and real full-time bike commuting was finally possible.
But this is a dangerous line of reasoning. If I can ride my bike to work full-time, do I actually need two cars? We already know that car ownership is often financially wasteful and inefficient, and that people who cycle to work are far less likely to suffer from heart and other health problems whereas people who commute by car are more likely to be stressed, obese, and unhealthy. There’s also clear evidence that switching from cars to bikes as mode of commuting improves air quality as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We still have the family car that she uses to commute and ferry our children around, but for me at least the realistic prospect of full-time bike commuting meant it was harder to justify the financial and environmental cost of a second car so in February this year I started a year-long experiment of trying to commute car-free.
I wasn’t quite ready to dump the car altogether, but I did the next-best thing which was to declare it SORN and claim a refund on the tax and insurance. I parked the car on the driveway for the last time on January 31st this year. It hasn’t moved since.
I haven’t actually missed the car at all in the last 10 months. There have been a few mornings when I’d rather have driven than cycled but not many. The more I got used to a car not being an option, the less I even considered it. Cycling to work gives me around 70-80 minutes of cardio every day that is incorporated into my daily routine, so I don’t have to pay for a gym that I struggle to motivate myself to go to on an evening.
The financial savings are also significant. By not taxing or insuring the car I’m up about £400 on last year. My commuting mileage total for the year will be around 3,300, which means I’ll have saved about £530 in fuel too. This doesn’t include money saved from car maintenance and service costs, so I’m roughly £1000 better off overall. If you’re a Strava user, I highly recommend the Piggy Bike plugin for keeping track of your cycling-related fuel savings over the year.
Cycling isn’t free of course; there are cables, brakes, chains and tyres to be paid for, but even adding in the cost of a frame repair (oops), my bike running costs have been slightly less than the cost of two tanks of petrol. On the very few occasions when I’ve been too tired to cycle I’ve used the bus, but the cost is more than the car (£5.50 to get to work each day), and the sheer misery of standing and waiting for a bus to arrive is always enough to push me back onto the bike the next day.
So with 2018 approaching and my one-year car-free experiment I’ve managed to change my family from a two-car unit to a one-car unit with a cobweb-covered tonne of untaxed and uninsured metal and rubber on the driveway instead. Anyone want to buy it from me?