Interested in riding your bike more often? Looking for a way to get motivated? Want to save money, have fun, look sexier, and actually enjoy your commute? Tired of all these rhetorical questions? Then look no further!
I help run a monthly commute challenge, and it didn’t occur to me until now that I could actually promote it here on the blog.
If you’re interested in joining, the link to track your miles is here:
Just follow the instructions at the top to add your name to the list. Let me know if you have any questions. Hope to see some new bike commuters starting up now that the weather is maybe not so crummy in the coming weeks? Fingers crossed!
Monday afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite bloggers, Mr Money Mustache. Along with blogger pal Erica from Northwest Edible Life, he hosted a little get-together here in Seattle for his readers. There was even an offer of free beer if you rode your bike, but unfortunately I couldn’t take advantage of it as I rode the scooter to get home in time to take the Foundry Boys to Cub Scouts.
It was really fun to see MMM and watch him dish out advice face-to-face. I didn’t hear it all but the most commonly repeated refrain of his was that everybody should be riding a bike. I wholeheartedly agree! As I told someone there Monday night, replacing most car commuting with bike rides is the 2nd biggest improvement to my quality of life (marrying Mrs Foundry is #1 of course).
I knew I was among my own kind when someone in a group asked how many people love making spreadsheets, and everyone proudly agreed “I do!”
I mentioned riding my bike to the library in a previous post, so let’s talk a bit more about how awesome cycling is.
Second to meeting my wife Venessa, choosing to commute by bike is the one factor that contributes most to my quality of life, on a physical, emotional, and financial level. My bike is my preferred mode of transportation, a source of recreation, and a cheaper, more enjoyable alternative to a gym membership. I preach the awesomeness of bike commuting to anyone who will listen, and have helped a few people get started. Here are the tips I gave them:
Step 1: Decide if bike commuting is for you
The rewards of bike commuting are plentiful:
I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been
I get to the office feeling invigorated, my brain is alert and ready to work
I get the feeling of accomplishment from conquering hills and routes that were previously too challenging
It’s good for the environment
Depending on your commute, it’s quicker (15 minutes on bike vs 40 minutes on bus, for me)
It’s arguably cheaper than a bus pass and definitely cheaper than a car ride
Chatting with other cyclists along the way
There are also some not-so-great things:
Riding in the rain 9 months out of the year
Worrying about your bike getting stolen, where to put it when you’re at work, what the policies in your office are
Getting to work sweaty. Does your office have a shower? If not, how will your coworkers feel about your odor?
Your pants won’t fit because your waistline will shrink and your leg muscles will grow
No time to read/listen to music (or whatever you enjoy doing on the bus)
Step 2: Pick a bike
Until you’ve been on a few different bikes, you won’t know what type of bike suits you best. If you have cyclist friends about your size, ask them if you can try out their bikes. Otherwise look at craigslist listings for bikes, and give some a spin. For a more humorous look at choosing a ride, see the “Equipment” section on this helpful Bike Snob NYC post
I was very happy with my touring-style bike as a commuting bike. It didn’t have as aggressive a position as a road bike, so it’ll never be the fastest. But it was designed to carry cargo, and it had small gears for getting up hills. I ended up swapping it for a cyclocross bike since it’s easier to commute on a ‘cross bike than it is to race ‘cross on a commuter bike.
My recommendation is to buy a bike with drop handlebars and STI shifters, that can one day accommodate fenders and/or a rack. Other than that, just get the nicest used bike in your price range.
A note on bike sizing: there’s no standard for bike size numbers. Each company measures a different part of the bike to determine the size. You can google for sizing guides with charts but there’s no substitute for getting on a bike and seeing how it fits your body.
Step 3: Bike gear
Some people go crazy with this stuff, but you don’t need that much. What you do need depends on what type of riding you do.
Here’s a list of the essentials, that can all be had for under $50 total:
Floor pump (the #1 way to reduce flats is checking tire pressure every few rides)
Little bag (e.g. that goes under the saddle, between two bars of the frame, or in your big bag)
Repair kit that fits in little bag: spare tube, patches, a small pump, 2 little tire levers, a small multi-tool
Yep, that’s it.¹
You should get a lock if your workplace doesn’t offer bike storage in the building. But before caving in and locking up outside, I’d put up a fight on this point. Mention how much more productive an employee you’ll be knowing that your bike is safe through the day. Some cities have a program, like Bikestation, where you can lock your bike indoors for a yearly fee. An oft-overlooked defense against having your bike stolen is to not have a valuable-looking bike!
Step 4: Route selection
This one’s more of an art than a science. Get a bike map for the area you live in, and plot a route. Remember that the shortest path isn’t always the easiest. It took me a while to stop thinking like a driver. Go around hills. Follow other cyclists to see what they’re doing (when they merge, roads they avoid, etc) or ask them when stopped at red lights. I’ve found that cyclists are very friendly to each other and love to help out. Sometimes a busy road with a bike lane is actually less safe than a side road without bike facilities.
Steps Five through infinity: Ride safe
This is the most difficult one to write about because it literally is a matter of life and death. The first few times I rode through downtown, I got that panic warning from deep in my reptile brain. Same thing I used to get as a child when we had to swim at summer camp (I had a terrible fear of water).
I’m going to keep this simple and only offer one tip because it’s the most important safety thing I’ve learned, but it’s somewhat counterintuitive to a beginning rider: be a predictable part of the flow of traffic
The tendency for a new rider is to timidly hug the right edge of the road, always yield to cars even if you have the right of way, or ride on the sidewalk. Counterintuitively, none of these practices make you or the people around you safer!
You have the same rights and responsibilities as a car so the more you ride like a car, the safer you’ll be. The only legal difference between you and a car is that a cyclist is obligated to ride “as far to the right as safe”. Other than that, you’re just a very slow and slender car.²
For example, when you’re riding on a street with parallel parking, “as far to the right as safe” means “far enough away from parked cars that when a car door opens, it won’t hit you,” even if that means riding in the middle of the lane. Cyclists call this “claiming the lane” and it’s the most counterintuitive of all the safety rules.
“Share the road” goes both ways. So when cars are around don’t be a jerk and run lights, ride excessively in the passing lane, etc.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I’d love to convert one of you into a bike commuter!
¹ You can add more gear later after you figure out what type of riding you do most. If you plan on riding…
in the dark, add: bright/reflective clothing, front and rear lights
in the rain, add: front and rear fenders, and optionally pack a poncho
longer distances, add: water bottle and water bottle cage, bike shorts or bike underwear (padded undies that turn any shorts into bike shorts)
while hauling lots of stuff, add: rear rack, paniers (bike bags)
[Sorry for the light posting recently. By the time you read this I’ll be in Israel for my sister’s wedding. Mazel Tov, Mindy! Oh and don’t think about robbing my house. We have a house-sitter and she’s a rugby player.]
August is over so let’s take a look at how I did on the Gallon Challenge. Here were the car trips I made in the month*
The bad news is that I used almost 2 gallons of gas, twice as much as I wanted to use.
The good news is that I only made 3 car trips for the entire month! Instead of driving, I did a lot of walking and biking (which is better than free, since it’s free + I got exercise). I also rediscovered the joy of reading a good book on the bus (which is free for me since my employer provides a bus pass), and prevented over 100 pounds of CO2 from polluting the atmosphere.
Instead of all that driving, I biked or walked about 100 miles. This included running errands, commuting, and exercise. By not needing to refuel the car, I spent a whopping $0.00 on gas this month, as opposed to an average fuel spend of $97 per month. If I got rid of the car and permanently invested that $97 every month, it would add up to over $17,000 in ten years (including compound interest). Imagine how much more that would be if I also didn’t need to buy auto insurance, oil changes, parking, etc.
As a side note, I also got my blog idol Mr Money Mustache to join in the challenge. He upped the ante by having his wife join in, and the two of them pledged to only use a gallon of gas combined!
All in all, I’d say the positive aspects of this month far outweigh the negative. Oh, and you should see what biking the boys to camp did to my leg muscles. I’m ripped!
* remember, family vacations are excluded. I also excluded times I kept Venessa company in the car while she was delivering food for her catering business.
My uncle gave our family free tickets to a concert last week. It was Pink Martini, one of my wife’s favorite bands, so we couldn’t pass it up. The concert was a blast (especially for the kids who got to dance around) and I don’t regret going, but the evening came with an important lesson about the hidden costs of “free” activities.
Transportation: it was too far for the little ones to bike, and the bus ride would have been inconvenient with our picnic supplies, so we took the car. This put me over my limit in the gallon challenge, so although it wasn’t a huge deal to drive for the rest of the family, it was a personal defeat for me.*
Food: we were in too big of a rush to prepare dinner, so we ordered a pizza to go (and they forgot to put tomato sauce on it, WTF!?)
Other temptations: the concert was in a park that had a carousel, so the children wanted to ride on that. Only a couple bucks, and well worth the price for the nostalgic fun. Grandma bought the children some treats too. That’s what grandmas are for, right?
The point here isn’t “don’t leave your house” or “never take anyone up on an offer” since that would make life boring. The point is that it’s rare when things are truly free, and it’s important to think ahead about the actual cost of your choices.
* For those keeping score at home, this trip brought me up to 1.85 gallons.
That’s a wrap, folks! Last night I drove the babysitter home and used the final few drops of gas in the gallon I gave myself for the month. Now I have 3 full weeks to not drive, otherwise I’ve failed the challenge!
Here are the final results:
Drive babysitter home
I’ve picked up some car-free tips in the past 10 days. For the days I don’t ride my bike to work, I can take a city bus (though it takes almost twice as long). Also, Venessa and I went on a bike date last night (hence the babysitter). The weather was perfect, and riding to and from our destination made the date seem longer.
It’s strange to visualize a gallon milk jug filled with gasoline, and know that I used it up in just 10 days of trying not to drive. Multiply that times everyone in the world and you can see why we’re headed towards a fossil-fuel driven catastrophe! I’m still optimistic about infrastructure and technology improvements saving us before it’s too late. Let’s all do what we can!
(I also took a family camping trip this weekend, which was very fun, but doesn’t count for the challenge.)
So with just one trip, I used almost all of my 20 miles. This is going to make the rest of the month even more challenging! It was worth it though, to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday with the rest of the family. Had I been better prepared, I could have taken the bus to the restaurant and then caught a ride home with the rest of my family, saving half the mileage. Or I could have suggested a restaurant closer to my house, but I thought that would have been selfish. My dad only turns 60 once!
On a brighter note, I’ve managed to do the camp drop-off by bike every day, with only a few minor setbacks. At least I wasn’t ever late. Venessa and I also rode our bikes to a BBQ/pool party Sunday evening. I pulled Lillia (and all our gear) in the trailer*. It felt pretty awesome to get there all warmed up and then jump right into the pool. (Seattle had unusually hot weather this past weekend).
How’s your August challenge going?
* Another great craiglist find. We split the cost of the trailer with a neighbor family that has a son Lillia’s age
It’s August, and that means it’s time for another monthly challenge. This one is really going to stir the pot: the Gallon Challenge. I’m not talking about the fraternity hazing ritual, where you have to drink a gallon of milk in an hour (don’t ask). This challenge is about limiting yourself to a gallon of gas for the month!
You’ll quickly realize that this challenge seriously penalizes those with less fuel-efficient cars. Good! It’s time to feel the pain for making an inefficient car choice. Don’t feel too bad, I’m in this group (our car only gets 20 MPG), so I’m making some pretty major lifestyle changes to make sure I only drive 20 miles this month.
The biggest change is getting the boys to summer camp. The round trip is 7 miles, and there’s 10 days of camp. That obviously won’t work. My first thought was to take the bus, but that would take 40 minutes, with a transfer. So I decided to take matters into my own hands, or shall I say “feet.” I contacted Bike Works, a local non-profit dedicated to getting more people biking. They have a loaner program where they’ll loan out all sorts of bikes. For a small donation, I got this Sun Atlas cargo bike for the two weeks that the boys are in camp.
Riding it is a blast, for me and for the boys. I find that our commute is much more social, not to mention the amazing workout that I’m getting! Isaac looked pretty proud rolling into camp the first day on the back of a cargo bike.
So that’s the challenge. Who’s up for it?
Fine print: Use your car’s average MPG to figure out how many miles you’re allowed to drive (e.g. 20 MPG = 20 miles). Family vacations don’t count (you can consider that fuel consumption to be in the “vacation” category). Decide for yourself if you count being a passenger towards your miles. Maybe you can count that for half miles? Let me know what you decide.
Welcome MMM readers! This is a blog about urban frugalism and my family’s Mustachian journey, here in Seattle, USA. Take a look around, I think fellow Mustachians will find a lot to love.
One of my favorite Personal Finance bloggers, Mr. Money Mustache, is gone for the summer and taking a break from blogging. As some sort of taunt or joke, he left a list of all the blog posts he’s been meaning to write but hasn’t got around to it. I thought it would be fun to steal, I mean write a few of them for him, in a slapdash manner…
An Amazing New Prescription Medication It’s called “exercise,” and you can self-prescribe based on the dosage you need. Taken daily, it boosts your immune system, and increases your longevity. Side-effects include happiness, weight-loss, and socializing with others. Best of all, it’s practically free.
Fancy New Appliances, for Less than Zero Dollars? If your old appliances are wasting gas or electricity, and you find almost-new ones on craigslist for a deep discount, the amount you’ll save in energy costs over the lifespan of the new appliance will outweigh the initial cost. Therefore, you’ll be making money by buying new appliances. Do the math.
Are You Using Work as an Excuse to Accomplish Nothing? When you work a 9-5 for someone else it’s easy to occupy yourself with non-productive busywork that pleases your manager but doesn’t really accomplish anything great. Furthermore, the busywork helps mask the fact that you’re not happy with your job. They seem to go together.
Quality over Quantity In almost every situation, quality wins out. I’d rather have a small steak from the grass-fed beef we bought directly from a local farmer, than any number of fast-food hamburgers. Same goes for most other purchases, and also intangibles such as spending time with friends and family. Quantity is what marketers want you to buy so it’s what’s shoved down your throat on a daily basis. You have to step back and consciously choose quality, but you’ll be glad you did.
Mr. Money Mustache vs. Peak Oil Folks like MMM who bike everywhere don’t care about peak oil or the price of gas. In fact, we’d love to see the price of gas go to $10+ per gallon. Then more people would ride bikes and the roads would be safer for all of us. Plus there’d be less pollution, more healthy people putting less of a strain on our healthcare system, etc. I could go on for hours on this one but you get the point.
My 401k is Too Small to Retire, Waah, Waah! You have a few choices: 1. invent a time machine and go back to when you were 21 to punch yourself in the face. 2. cut living expenses to the point where you can live off your current 401k balance. 3. do #2 but also work your ass off for a few more years to drastically increase the balance.
Fasting: a Fast Way to Greater Badassity I fast once a year at the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. It also includes no water. I consider that pretty badass. It feels amazing and when you break the fast, no matter what you’re eating it tastes like the best food ever. I recommend trying it once in a while. Fasting also makes you very thankful for what you have.
Wealth is something that is created, not just divided Making and saving money isn’t a zero-sum game, so no need to get competitive about it. You can make a bunch of money and the next guy/gal can too. In fact, it’s best for all of us if we work together and share tips. That’s one reason I started this blog.
Life Cycle Funds: Become a Dynamic Fancypants Investor with No Effort I just happened to write about Vanguard’s LifeStrategy funds in a previous post, so go check it out. Vanguard also has a set of “Target Retirement” funds, which grow more conservative as they approach the target date. For instance, if you plan to retire in 2040, the fund for that year is mostly stocks with just a few bonds right now, but over the next couple decades, it will slowly sell stocks and buy bonds so you’ll have a low-risk/low-volatility fund by the time you retire. All without the need to rebalance or figure out your optimal blend of investments for your age.
Hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I enjoyed writing them. Next post will be on a topic of my own choosing, or maybe yours…? Let me know if there’s something you’d like me to write about!
update: I sent this post to MMM and he tweeted about it, calling the post “not bad”. I’ll take that as a compliment 🙂
Trent at The Simple Dollar has a great post about how charitable donations affect your income tax return, but he only covers cash donations.
The gist of his post is: you reduce your tax bill roughly a quarter for every dollar you donate (Adjust this up or down depending on your tax bracket).
One thing we do often in my house is donate goods to Goodwill (which are considered “in-kind donations”). We started the habit when our family of 5 lived lived in a 900 square foot cottage and we had to mercilessly cut down on our physical possessions. Most non-consumable things that came into our lives were either donated, or offset by donating something else.
Now we have more room to spare but old habits die hard (and this is a habit we let live anyway). At one point, we tried a garage sale, but it was very hard work and when I thought about it, the numbers don’t even add up, when you take into account the value of your time.
If I can get 25 cents on the dollar just for giving things away, why should I bust my chops to sell it at maybe 75 cents on the dollar, if I’m lucky?
Take for example this awesome baby food mill we recently donated. It was probably worth $60. I would have put it on craigslist for $45. Oh, gotta get out the camera and take some pictures of it. Then use craigslist, my favorite 1998-looking website. Then field emails from mostly spammers, a few well-intentioned but flaky people. Oops, my ad expired, time to repost it. Now I have a buyer, but they want to meet me halfway, which means a car-ride to the QFC parking lot, or whatever.
You get the idea. I eventually make $40 (the buyer knows how to bargain) minus the cost of driving, but I probably spent 4 hours of my time to make the sale. That’s under $10 an hour. No thanks.
On the other hand, I put it in the Goodwill bag, and bam there’s $15 off my taxes and the good feeling that someone else is going to be able to refurbish it and put food on their table (because refurbishing it is their job, not because it’s a baby food mill). Some charities even pick up your donations, but we go to Goodwill frequently enough that it’s not worth the trouble of scheduling a pick-up from another charity.
We even donated our old car, when we decided to become a 1-car family. Big or little, it doesn’t matter. Now it’s gotten to the point where when we get something new, Venessa and I usually just look at each other and say “Goodwill box.” Of course this doesn’t apply to hand-made gifts, stuff that’s given from the heart, or items intrinsically valuable to us.
Donating so much of our stuff helps us live simply, it feels good, and it frees up more time to do the things we love. Then when tax time rolls around each year, we get a little boost in our pocketbooks. Imagine how awesome thrift shopping would be if everyone did this?