Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you dumped your car and biked to work? For the last seven months my family and I have been riding bicycles as our main form of transportation. While we are still dependent on public transportation for some trips and during bad weather, most all of our regular trips are done on bike.
If you are considering becoming a bicycle commuter there are some things you want to take into account to prepare yourself for the experience. You probably won't get rid of your car completely, but using your bike for short trips instead of the car can make a difference in your health and pocketbook. In our case we dumped a car payment, insurance and gas costs when we got rid of the car and moved to riding bikes.
You don't have to got out and spend $700 for a new bike. There is nothing wrong with a $700 bike, but it isn't necessary. If, like me, you needed to buy three bikes at one time, you are probably going to look for cheaper options.
Over the last 2 years I have bought 9 bikes and have spent less than $300 total. Some of the bikes have come from thrift stores and others from bike shops selling used equipment. One of the bikes was a $600 bike when it debuted 25 years ago but was picked up for $35 at a pawn shop. Another one hit the market at $400 in 1994 and I picked it up for $40.
The point is that there are good deals available for used bikes if you are willing to be patient and buy an older machine. It is a shame that many older bikes are in perfectly good condition but are not used because they don't look like the latest models. If you are looking for a machine that will carry you to work and the grocery store then you don't need one that will break the bank.
What you want to avoid are the $100 low end bikes that are found in most discount stores. You will get a much better machine if you look for a good used mid-range bike. Craigslist is a good place to look since you are able to look at the bike before purchasing. My $600 Bianchi road bike was not the top of the line in it's day, but it was, and is, much better than many new bikes that you can get from the big box stores.
For shopping trips you will need a basket, backpack or bike trailer to help you get your groceries home. My wife does all the family shopping on a bike. It means that she needs to go to the store more often, but it also means that she is making better shopping lists with only the necessities. This should be interpreted as: more basic ingredients that can be used in preparing a greater variety of food. This usually results in healthier choices. She has a regular sized basket on front and an apple crate strapped to the rear rack of the bike to help her get home with the goods. There are plenty of bags (called panniers) that you can buy to attach to racks on your bike to help you carry more. But an apple crate picked up on the side of the road was much cheaper than hundreds of dollars in fancy panniers.
Obviously there are some conditions that you don't want to have to ride your bike in. To a point, it is easier to bundle up and protect yourself from the cold than to ride in sweltering heat. The worst weather conditions would be rain or snow. Obviously you have to think of your own personal safety on the road, but the right gear can help you in your commute to the store or to work. You may invest in a rain coat and pants as well as a waterproof coat for the winter months.
It has become popular to strip a bike down to its basic elements because that is what the racers on the Tour de France do. They don't have fenders, lights or reflectors because they need their bike to be as light as possible. While you may think that shaving a few ounces off your ride will make a difference, you will really appreciate those bike fenders after the rain has stopped and you are riding through puddles.
Be aware that lights are required by law in many places when riding in the evening or early morning.
Wear a helmet. If you have not been convinced that putting $30 worth of insurance on your head is a good thing, then there is probably nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. Wear a helmet for the sake of your family.
While clown colored spandex is quite popular in the road racing scene, it really isn't necessary to get you from home to work. However, you want to wear lighter colors if you are commuting in the dark.
There can be tremendous health benefits to getting out of the car occasionally. Collectively our family has lost 60 lbs. in the 7 months since we ditched the car. While riding your bike to work once or twice a week may not have you shedding the pounds, you certainly will be healthier for it. If you get on that bike as often as you can for routine trips, you may be surprised as to how your weight will drop without much extra effort.
Riding your bike to work every day may not be possible in your situation, but the more you can do it the better it will be for the environment and your personal well being. There is even a national Ride to Work Day that you can participate in to encourage you to get on the bike (www.ridetowork.org).
Get out there and do something good for yourself and the environment. You don't need a lot of expensive equipment to get started. You might even pull out an old bike that has been collecting dust. Ride it until you are convinced you need a newer bike. At that point you can start looking into the new bike shops, or better yet, look at the possible treasures that can be had at a pawn shop. You will be surprised to find that there are many bikes that originally cost hundreds of dollars that are now available for less than $50.