Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The Bat & The Blazer
While I was out getting coffee today (thank God I have older kids that can watch the younger one for a bit while I sneak out!) I hadn't payed much attention to where I parked my bike. It is the same place I always park. The neighborhood my coffee shop is in is very quiet and all I need is my built on rear wheel lock to keep my bike safe. Several times a week you can see my bike parked there. Today it was parked next to a Chevy Blazer- a ubiquitous 'family' vehicle these days.
As I looked at my bike next to the Blazer, I could really see how much has changed since I started riding as my primary means of transportation. The way I look at cars, and moving from place to place and what I can do under my own power is much different than it was two years ago.
From a pure numbers perspective, there is no argument as to which makes more sense in this economy. Assuming the car is a 2005 model, the average cost, new, averaged about $20,000 once all the various 'options' were included (did you know, on pickup trucks tailgates and bumpers are optional?). While getting exact numbers for insurance on this vehicle are difficult, my family pays $2800 a year to comprehensively insure one car and minimally insure a second. The Blazer of 2005 averaged 15.5 miles per gallon (although I think that is highway MPG, not city). If it has a 20 gallon tank, that is $84 a tank to go 310 miles (back when gas was $4.20 a gallon a couple of months ago. It will be back there, soon). With actual MPG, that is probably more like 250 miles with traffic and load involved, less if the driving was stop start and mostly in the city. Maintenance costs should be applied here, as well. There are others who calculate these things. We can throw in the 3 or 4 parking tickets that this driver can expect to get this year, as well as the other parking fees that will crop up over time.
My Batavus was a pricey bike- $1700 MSRP, although, I only paid $1000 for it. My upgrades to it, to make it more usable (and more comfortable) have cost $385 and have included my panniers and child safety seat. I will never get parking tickets on it, and I keep it in my garage (unlike most cars, including my own). All of it's maintenance is done by either myself or my husband and thus only costs the price of parts. I have put about 1000 miles on it since the beginning of October 2009 (despite a hiatus from riding due to hand surgery), no gasoline. In that time I have lost 13 pounds, and thus, have to buy a new wardrobe (my largest expense since beginning my bicycle commuting odyssey). This weight loss will ultimately keep my health insurance costs down as it keeps my blood pressure and cholesterol down, not to mention keeps my mood up . I buy gasoline so infrequently that I forget when the last time was.
Both of these vehicles are used to transport children. My youngest son rides on a heavy duty seat on the back of my bike. When I am driving my car, I find it difficult to talk to my kids- there is competition from the radio and the road noise and the traffic.... When we are bicycling together, we all get to appreciate our surroundings and my little one chatters away to all of us about what he sees. We stop when we need to, to rest or see something that has caught our eye. Today, we stopped to take pictures of the rain clouds we have been hoping for in San Francisco. In looking for easier routes to our various destinations, we have seen all kinds of things we never do when driving. We have discovered many new adventures on two wheels. In the car, we drive. Period. As a bonus, all of the riding has taught the kids how much work it takes to do things right and the satisfaction that comes with it. There is also no car sickness on a bike.
Driving is usually the faster option, and in a time crunch, is the choice I will make. I have, however, come to love the slower pace of my bike and find I do not mind having to give myself more time to get places as the journey has become so much more pleasant. There is no doubt that I am a more pleasant person on my bike than in my car, as well as happier on arrival.
All of this extends to my family, as well. Transportation is no longer a factor of who will drive. Getting where we need to go is now a family endeavor where everyone takes part. Decisions about how to get where we are going are made as much by the kids as they are by the parents. The needs of the group must be considered. We have to make sure that each of us is able to tackle the path we have chosen and be flexible enough to change mid-path if needed.
From a purely practical perspective, choosing to ride my bike is an obvious one- less expensive, greater fitness, easier storage, less maintenance, lower environmental impact, no oil..... but the greatest benefits, to me, are of a more personal nature and have little to do with practicality. Riding a bike is social and completely experiential. Every time I ride, I am engaged completely with my surroundings and I experience everything (sights, smells, weather, sounds, even emotions) without the filter of a windshield and roll cage. Instead of plowing through the world without touching anything but leather interior, I am an active part of everything around me, and thus, I feel more alive and engaged in the world. Getting around has become a goal in and of its self.
Isn't that what life is supposed to be? A journey whose point is to simply be as it is. Maybe to enjoy the bumps and the wrong turns and the diverted paths.
So then the question becomes, does the owner of the Blazer spend time thinking about how to drive more? Does she write blogs about her car? Is she busy with a second job to make the payments?