Thursday, April 23, 2009

What I really want to know is...

My car is on the fritz (i.e. not running) so I'm the newest member of the "people doing life car free" club. I'm not so extreme because I have a scooter, but since it runs at a max of 37 mph and has no storage, it's not much different from a bike and doesn't get me anywhere that I'd like to or need to go otherwise.

So what I really want to know is, how am I supposed to go get a needed toilet seat from a place that is very difficult to get to and how could I tote that awkward purchase back home with me? How do you buy enough groceries to last you more than one day? What do you do when you need new underwear? Do you just buy everything online?

I feel like some people look down on us because we have cars but, honestly, I don't know how to do life in this city without one. Truly, there are no shops that carry underwear anywhere close to where Elisa and I live.


  1. Choosing not to use a car can focus your mind on what you need, rather than what you would like. If I take my car to supermarket I spend the equivelent of $200, if I walk I spend $80,the groceries last the same amount of time but i waste very little.
    I only get what I need knowing i have to walk with it and can only carry so much.
    The same applies to bike/scooter you could get a buggy with money you save.
    Toilet seat is a bit of tricky one though, couldnt you use a different example?
    You could put it around your waist like a hulla hoop

  2. And some people will look down on you for not having a car.  Whadda ya gonna do?  First thing, be grateful for what you do have.  Things could be a lot worse than being carless.  If you're not planning/able to get your car fixed soon, you'd better adapt.  One thing you could do is increase the carrying capacity of your bike/scooter by putting a rack on.  That'll take care of the toilet seat, unless you just want to wear it around your neck. ;)  As for things that definately require a car.  Borrow somebody else's car.  Humility will help with that one.  I know for me, in the past, when I've had to do without something(Car, TV, computer) I ended up finding that it was a good thing because I learned I could get by just fine without it.  Your choice.  Opportunity to change, or pain in the ass.  Good luck.

  3. Not sure if you're actually asking for advise...

    I buy my underwear from Decent Exposures. They are custom made and I don't think I have to buy replacement for at least 5 years or more, so for me the cost was cheaper than buying the 4 for $20 undies at Victoria's Secret that rip within a year because the material is so terrible (cotton briefs). It's like going for alternative types of feminine products. A cloth sanitary pad/diva cup will cost more upfront, but besides the landfill cost, they break even in a year compared with the cost of tampons/sanitary napkins.

    Groceries? I buy staples in bulk (20-50 lbs) online mostly. The rest I buy weekly using panniers or shopping bag (I can walk to the stores/farmers' markets).

    Over the weekend I was complaining about how far this one asian market was, and a friend offered to drive me there when I needed to get there. I offered to bake cookies as a thank you.

    Do you have a car sharing service by you? I use zipcar on occasion although I use them less now.

  4. What you need is a rack, and some panniers. There are much more extreme approaches, but a rear rack and panniers are the gateway drug to the marvellous world of cargo biking. I have managed an automotive floor jack and major engine parts on an ordinary rear rack, not to mention passengers. A toilet seat - only scratching the surface of the things you can carry. It may be that your bike is not readily compatible with a rear rack, in which case a trailer might work, or this could be the inspiration to find a second bike that is less race oriented. For a mind boggling variety of approaches and inspiration, check here: Have fun! Val

  5. I went without a car in Boston for 3 years and loved it. I hate going to the grocery store so I would carpool with someone or take a zip car to stock up on groceries every couple of weeks. Then, I would make visits to corner grocery or farmer's market for fresh fruit, milk, etc. as needed. I saved so much money doing it that way. Of course it all depends on the layout of your neighborhood and your daily commute.

  6. I can fit about the same amount in a Burley Nomad trailer as I can in a shopping cart. Panniers are good for overflow.

  7. Check out Adam's Flickr set for what can be carried on a front rack:

  8. Others have mentioned rack/pannier and trailer solutions. Taking it further is how I grocery-shop for a family of four: The Xtracycle.

    It's not a cheap solution, but with the amount of use mine gets from hauling groceries and supplies and even kids, I believe I have recouped my up-front costs in gas alone. I sometimes use it for my business (mobile computer repair) as well, time permitting.

    You can check it out at or see my bike at

  9. Baskets, racks, milk crates attached to racks and trailers. I get a solid weeks worth of groceries on my bike in 3 baskets (about 3 large grocery bags worth). Large bulky items can be strapped on the rack with bungy cords or cargo straps. I have other bikes with varying load capacities. For really bulky stuff like 2x4's, toilets, washing machines, etc a Bikes At Work Trailer would be the way to go. Usually for things like appliances the best bet is have them delivered or rent a pickup for the day.


  10. I have a big backpack to carry things (I go shopping twice a week which is necessary anyway if I want them to be fresh), but also saddlebags and trailers can be a big help. I know people that moved houses only on bikes (folded the furniture and transported all on trailers). So no excuse to transport your groceries not by bike.
    For rare huge objects (like washing machine) delivery services are practical, for long distances public transport, trains and shared cars (e.g. car rental service or sharing a car among some friends). For me the existence of the latter is good, but in fact I never use cars and I must say that it is a relief.

  11. Most cyclists use racks/panniers. I like to keep attachments to my bike as minimal as possible (plus I vary between about 10 different bikes and don't wanna buy racks for all of them) so I bought the largest waterproof backpack Chrome makes and carry stuff on my back. I can fit just about anything I want to carry in it.

    Also, I'm not sure why you don't think a 37 mph scooter can't get you anywhere in town you need to go, WTF sort of city do you live in if 37 mph isn't fast enough?

    Worst case scenario is you go shopping for undies with a friend who has a car and buy them lunch to repay the favor.

  12. Don't forget: You *are* doing more than most people by using the bike as much as you do. Maybe you could take these tasks on little by little. A toilet seat is pretty light and with a little finagling will sit fine on a rear rack. You can try buying a few groceries as an experiment another day. And so on.

  13. I live in Portland where I see all these things mentioned above regularly, but I can get most shopping done with a rear rack, panniers and if I really have to carry more, I'll take my Ortlieb backpack which can carry quite a bit.

    As for getting there, we need more info about the route to give you advice, but making roads safe for cycling can be a long and difficult process. If there's a bike advocacy group in your city, they're probably already working on it, but you should check and see if anything's being done or not. I think asking for specific things in specific place might be quicker too like asking for bike lanes or signs on a particularly treacherous part of the route. You've already got this very popular blog, so just writing about things you think that could use improvement is a good idea too. Portland is a pretty bike friendly (though I think it's nowhere near Copenhagen) town, but that wasn't always the case and it took work by a lot of dedicated people for it to be this way. It's possible that you could be one of those people in your city to really make the change.

  14. i'll be glad to help you out with errands, etc. just get my contact info from elisa. my kids might talk your ears off if they are with me.

  15. On a serious note:
    Interesting post which makes one wonder why does the bike "culture" dictate an all or nothing attitude? Why is it that some people look down on other bicyclists for owning a car? Not every city is bike friendly and thus some cities are safer than other...
    Is it not enough that some people choose to do their part by biking as much as possible or as often as is comfortable for them? This is where I believe our friends at Cycle Chic have it right, it is about you and the ride and enjoying it. It is not about the bike "culture" that looks down on others for not riding everywhere under every situation and every weather condition, or wearing or not wearing a helmet, or choosing to wear bike "clothes" or your everyday clothes... Sorry I will stop my rant.

    All that being said, a rack and some panniers on a bike go along way although your bike might not be suited for that set up. Perhaps a secondary bike is an option?

    As far as your personal situation Anna; how rural is the area you live in? Is there not a local hardware store around? Where do you normally buy your panties? It sounds rural based on your description. You paint a pretty funny picture worthy of a photograph or an illustration at the least - riding your bike with a toilet seat in one hand while on a last minute search for much needed undies.

  16. Thanks everyone for your ideas.

    Man-you hit the nail on the head in my opinion. Unfortunately, we cannot ride a cargo bike in our area...we get enough shit just from riding road bikes and taking up the road. YES, we could do it anyway, but we don't want to listen to all the honking and feel more alienated. Plus, our geography has a mountain in it...a mountain! our area is actually not very rural...just very sprawled. The downtown area (where we live) unfortunately has very few businesses to buy normal, everyday things (such as panties!). The Suburbs have taken over and everything followed. we have chosen to live in the city and are dealing with what that means. We also believe strongly in shopping locally, meaning we really don't want to internet shop. There is also not a car share program here, although I email them regularly to try and get one. I am afraid that only a small percentage of the folks, besides us, would use it.
    Anna and I understand that this is what we have chosen...but sometimes we just need to complain a bit! We are working hard to change it and maybe one day will look back on this and laugh. I hope so...
    Thanks for the guys rock.

  17. I'm building one of these, and it's great, and it's made completely from scrap.
    But you can carry suprising things with a bike.
    I live on a boat, currently half a mile from any road access. The path down to it is so rough I can't use a pannier, because in the winter it'd ground as I ride through the ruts.
    The other day I needed some wood, so:

  18. You're in Birmingham, AL, right? I'm guessing that a lot of malls, Walmart's, Super Target's are off of interstates. There's usually at least one or two older shopping centers that are established in semi-residential areas. At least that's been my observation from growing up in a sitting-on-fence-between-urban-and-suburban area like Hampton Roads, VA. Can't you find a backroad-only sort of route to one of those shopping centers to buy your undies? I'm sure 37 mph on your scooter would be appropriate to such a route. Also, don't they make panniers of some kind for scooters? You could stow your undies in it.

    As I recall, you've experienced some back pain from carrying items on your back so I would eschew putting grocery items, toilet seats, or anything else on your back. I suppose the fastest, cheapest option would be to fit a rear rack to your bike. I think a really good solution might be to get an additional bike that promotes a more upright posture. A vintage bike may even come with a rack and would be easy to fit with a front basket. You could use this bike for your shopping expeditions and it should hold a lot of stuff. I take tons of stuff to my local recycling center and I just have a basket.

  19. Well, I'll add on a vote for rack and panniers or baskets on the bike. I have also been thinking about making a trailer, though not sure how well that would work.
    I'd suggest buying stuff online for a few reasons though. First off, most of the products you'd get at local stores will still not be locally made, and they'll likely have been delivered by UPS anyways. So you don't really add anything to the carbon footprint of the products, and you actually may reduce it because there's less electricity used for lighting pretty displays to make you buy things.
    I'm in an area with similar sprawl, and find that it keeps me from wanting to spend money as much, but I can still go and get the things I need for half a week or a week easily enough.
    I've also been thinking of adding something like this under a trailer:
    I figure it would make hills, longer distances, and starts when you're carrying a lot of stuff much easier.

  20. +1 for cargo rack and panniers. I can carry 50 pounds of groceries in two panniers, and could add a backpack if I wanted. A case of Fat Tire goes on the top of the rack, and a bottle of wine in the water bottle cage. :)

    It affects the handling a little, but a good bike rolls so smoothly that you don't really notice the extra weight.

  21. I use two panniers attached to the rear rack. My husband has two as well. We frequently stopped at the grocery after work and pick up extras for the week, which I actually like better because we end up buying only what we are going to use. I also have a large basket on my front handlebars, a large saddlebag, also for the rear rack, and my husband is looking at a cargo trailer, which I see a lot of people using around our town. We still have an Element. We aren't totally car free but our goal is more about adding enjoyment to our day, as well as saving on gas. Bike commuting for some sort of purist reason can sustain one for only so long. I do this because I enjoy it.


something on your mind?