What is it like living without a car?

It’s been two weeks now since we sold our old car and we are still waiting for the new one.

CarlessFB

That little exchange on Facebook made me smile. I have been trying to write something about the complications of living without a car but the words just wouldn’t come. I had almost given up on the subject until I read those comments above and I finally understood what is at the core of car ownership for me.

So here is the answer to the question:  What is it like living without a car?

Well it’s not such a big deal as it turns out. This probably explains why I have been struggling to write about it. I imagined that we would have all sorts of tales to tell about missed buses, taxis that arrived late or not at all or the terrible toll the experience has had on our shoes. In practice however, we have gone about our business without drama, and the only difference is that we are probably marginally fitter than we might have been had we had a car.

Friends and family have been very kind with offers of help and we have taken advantage on a number of occasions so I suppose in that sense it hasn’t been a genuine test of living without a car. If we did actually choose to abandon ownership for good I suspect the novelty would soon wear off and we would be on our own. That isn’t a dig at friends and family I should point out, it’s just inevitable that once people got used to the idea the offers of help would largely dry up except maybe in exceptional circumstances.

We have been really lucky with weather even though it has been pretty cold*. We have had hardly any rain and the winds have been mostly light. These things make a massive difference to getting about on a bike or by public transport which brings me to what we have learned and particularly that last comment about appreciating the car when we get it.

I must say that I’m not a big fan of cars in general and I struggle with the cost of them, the pollution they cause and the terrible toll in terms of death and injury that they are responsible for. The vast majority of journeys seem to take place with only the driver in the car which is a shockingly inefficient way of travelling and they isolate people from each other, stifling social interaction and turning normally level headed individuals into demonic monsters at the slightest transgression by another driver. But the one thing that I have really missed during the last two weeks has been the undeniable convenience of the ubiquitous four wheeled metal box.

As well as the convenience of the car I have also learned that a lot of us cyclists have been duped into turning the relatively simple act of cycling to the shops into some kind of cross between a sports event and a major expedition. Just look at the difference between taking the car or the bicycle to the supermarket to do a bit of shopping:

Car

  1. Put on a coat and perhaps a hat and gloves if it’s really cold
  2. Drive the three point five miles to the supermarket in about seven minutes
  3. Do the shopping
  4. Load the shopping into the boot
  5. Drive home and unpack the shopping

Bicycle

  1. Remove all clothing
  2. Realise you haven’t got your cycling kit to hand so put clothing back on
  3. Assemble special cycling clothing and repeat step one
  4. Put on; padded shorts, two pairs of track pants, thick socks, merino wool long sleeved vest, cycling shirt, fleece jacket, special cycling shoes with clips to attach to pedals, overshoes to keep out nasty north east wind, waterproof jacket (just in case), buff to keep neck warm, woolly hat, helmet and winter gloves.
  5. Leave house feeling like spaceman on a moon walk and retrieve bikes from shed
  6. Attach panniers and front bag to bike
  7. Assemble locks, lights, spare inner tube, pump and tools and add to bag
  8. Cycle three point five miles to supermarket in about twenty minutes (two minutes less than it took to get ready)
  9. Lock up bikes
  10. Do the shopping whilst looking faintly ridiculous in Tour de France special winter edition outfit
  11. Reluctantly forgo best value toilet rolls which are in sixteen packs the size of a small family car
  12. Load shopping into panniers
  13. Unlock bikes, ride home against cruel headwind that has mysteriously been against you in both directions
  14. Unload shopping
  15. Put bikes away
  16. Reverse entire costume pantomime
  17. Feel smug and enjoy best cup of tea ever
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Just popping to the shops

We haven’t actually got the new car yet and the forecast for the next few days is horrendous with heavy rain and strong winds so there may well be another chapter to this post in which I will declare the car to be my all-time favourite invention and offer a used Dave Yates touring bicycle for sale at a bargain price.

*Got soaked today riding to the benefit office and back!

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2 thoughts on “What is it like living without a car?

  1. Nice post 🙂

    But do you need cycling clothes just to go to the shop?
    I find I don’t. Although, I agree that going shopping with a bike it more hassle than with a car. My main grudge against it is that supermarkets tend to hide the cycle parking away from everything which makes the bike much easier to steal (living in London this is always a concern even with good locks).

    I also chose to look at the limitations of what can be carried on a bike as a bonus 🙂 It stops me buying what I don’t need. But I readily admit that I have rarely taken advantage of the best value toilet roll as I always forget my bungee cords when going to the shop.

    And point 17 makes it all worth it 🙂
    I’ve also noticed that giving up on public transport and motorised vehicles as much as possible, I have become more attuned to the turning of the seasons and life around me. So even if it can get really miserable to go shopping under pouring rain with a bike, I find it worth it.

    But then, I don’t have a driver’s licence so don’t own a car. So who am I to defend the bike if I’m not familiar with the alternative? 😛

    • No I don’t think you do need cycling clothes to go to the shops to be honest, that is what I mean by being duped. I rode a bike for many, many years before I owned any cycling specific clothes but I have fallen foul of the hype and marketing. Thanks for the feedback as always, much appreciated.

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