Singletrack Magazine Issue 125 | The Last Word

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Swapping cars for handlebars

By Mark Alker

Mark swaps heated car seats and sunroof for a bike saddle and the open air in a move to become a daily bike commuter.

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In April I handed back the keys to my car to the guy from the finance company. It was the best car I’ve ever owned.

Actually, I didn’t own it. It was a lease and it had come to the end of the agreement. Rather than go down the common path and trade it in for a new model, I decided to hand it back and start a new chapter of actually riding to work.

It was a big step. I’d been thinking about it for over a year before deciding to do it. I’d fought off the best of the sales guys at the local dealership as well as the follow-up calls from the finance company who sounded incredulous at my suggestion I was going to start riding a bicycle to work rather than sign up to a shiny new tin box. In the end, I suspect they thought I was just making it up to cover the fact I was signing up for a car from some other brand.

I’m not totally sans car. Like many households we had two; now we have one. My wife, Vic, actually does need a car for work – it’s part of her job. I, on the other hand, work at this small independent publishing company specialising in bicycles – you may have heard of it. I live 11 miles from the office and there are off-road options between there and home. The more I thought about it (and I did for almost two years) the more ridiculous my excuses sounded in my own head as to why we ‘needed’ to run two cars.

I don’t want to get to work sweaty – There’s a shower.

It’s very hilly – You ride up and down hills for fun at weekends.

It’ll take an hour to get to work – Go to bed, and get up, earlier.

Sometimes I don’t feel like riding hard first thing – use an e-bike! What if I need to go out and Vic has the car? – Plan your life better. Ride your f…king bike.

And yet, despite the fact I had answers to these questions all along, it still took two years to finally do it. Why? Because I liked my comfortable life. I liked my electric car. It had heated seats and warmed itself up on a timer before I got into it each morning. I could listen to Radio 4 all the way to work. Breaking that routine just seemed like such a huge step. 

After almost two years of excuses, the letter with my options finally came from the finance company. It took one tick of a box on the form and the wheels of vehicle return administration began to turn. I actually lay awake at night wondering if I was making the right choice. Like it was somehow a crazy idea to have one car between two people.

I replayed the words in my head a short time later and felt such a knob

The day came and my mobile rang to announce the arrival of the guy who was going to inspect my car before driving it away. It felt like an exam. I felt the need to explain why I was giving it back in case he thought I was having financial problems. I actually felt embarrassed.

I’m choosing to give it back. I’m going to have a break from a car and ride a bike to work – oh, but we still have another car!” I replayed the words in my head a short time later and felt such a knob. The guy looking for dents and counting scratches didn’t care, but I felt the need to explain.

I’ve been riding an eMTB to work now for a month. Not every day, but most days. I can get the occasional lift and I’ve even caught the bus a couple of times. I have an off-road route that’s actually great fun – at least in the dry, but I’ve got good wardrobe options for the sloppy days.

The e-bike means that headwinds are not to be feared and I can stick the motor in Boost mode and get to work and back on a single charge with minimum effort. I’ve even found two new trails on my commute, despite riding here for over 25 years. Yes, the route has still got a couple of unavoidable miles of riding on the road, mixed up with half asleep drivers, which is not fun, but the overall result is I’m getting to ride and exercise daily (yes, you still get to do that on an e-bike). I’m sleeping better and I ‘think’ I might be losing a bit of weight, although I’m still too scared to check that one out just yet.

But how about that lifestyle change to a single car house? The one that took two years of timid contemplation to action.

I’m ashamed at how long it took to decide. Looking back it reminds me of trips to the dentist where I’d put it off for as long as I could before finally giving in and making the appointment. Then I’d have weeks of worry and stress about how painful it would be. Then I’d go and it’s over quickly, with minimum discomfort and I’d spend the rest of the day wondering why I put myself through all that stress. And my teeth would feel great.

Not driving to work feels like such a huge, painful step when you have that key in your hand. But now I’ve done it I feel a bit of a plum for not doing it sooner.

Changing your lifestyle is really hard – right up until you do it. Then it’s easy.

I do really miss the heated seats though.


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