Living Without a Car

My husband Max and I live without a car. To be fair, our lives are not "car-free." "Car-reduced" might be accurate. We call a cab, rent a car, or borrow a truck for occasional trips out of town or hauling. But those occasions are rare. Cycling is our default; public transit is our primary backup.

First of all, why? Max and I each made this lifestyle choice before we met. For me, it was environmental---I didn't care to participate in the pollution and greenhouse gas produced by automobiles. For Max, it began as an athletic challenge and evolved into a pro-environment philosophy: "Question combustion." Both of us strongly believe that life is better without a car. If the rest of humanity came to the same conclusion, what a wonderful world this would be.

Financially, the advantage of bikes is clear. Our budget is never cluttered by car insurance, repairs, gas, and parking. We each spend about $200/year on bike maintenance. And you can buy the bicycle equivalent of a Mercedes for maybe $3,000. (My bike costs significantly less.)

We are also healthier than we would be if we sat behind the wheel. Max's co-workers have teased him that his lunch is a bit high in carbohydrates---"Haven't you heard of Atkins?" Max cycles over 5,000 miles per year, so, needless to say, Max eats what he wants. My annual mileage is less impressive. But, even so, my commute to work last year gave me 40 minutes of exercise (20 minutes each way) rain or shine...or sleet or snow. I have no doubt that my back was happier for the ride. It isn't always easy to cycle through winter, but I warm up a lot faster cycling than belted into a freezing pleather seat.

The decision to use a bike as one's main transportation also precipitates other lifestyle decisions. For example, we deliberately choose to live near work, groceries, and entertainment. Car-reduced living encourages high-density residential zones, which is good for the environment, local business, and the character of our communities.

I have lived sans car in small towns and major cities, East Coast and West Coast. In my student days, on my old clunkers I had a radius of about 15 miles from my home. Because I chose my residence carefully, I could do everything I needed to do within that area.

Meeting Max introduced me to a different dimension of living by bike. Unlike me, Max invests in high-quality parts and maintains them carefully so that our bikes are pleasant to ride and trustworthy on long trips. Under this new strategy, my adventure radius has doubled. Apple picking 30 miles from home? No problem. For our honeymoon last summer, we took a bike adventure and logged over 800 miles in three weeks. Of course, Max is on a whole different scale. He has biked from northern Norway to southern Italy, and commonly pops out for a 140-mile ride on Sundays.

Many kind souls have offered me their car to go grocery shopping. "Otherwise, how will she eat?!". But a bike basket and bungee (or panniers) are plenty spacious for my grocery purchases. And you can put ridiculous loads on our recently acquired 8-foot Bikes-at-Work trailer. We use it for groceries; Max hauls his company's recycling with it; we have even moved house, including all furniture, using only the trailer. We do get some quizzical looks from pedestrians, but also many smiling thumbs up.

Is traffic a problem? We recommend "Bicycling Street Smarts," by John Allen (also available in on-line form at for traffic safety tips. Riding in city traffic takes practice, just like driving a car in traffic. As a mild-mannered California native, I refuse to drive a car in Boston's nutty traffic. But after a year here, I find cycling fine.

All in all, it works. We don't think about our car-reduced life very much, except when we contemplate moving cities. And sometimes when we buy new toys---like our recumbent tandem bicycle---that those poor driving folks might never get to try.