(Publisher’s Note: I’m excited to introduce our new Family Biking columnist Becky Jo. You can expect her posts every Tuesday. Enjoy! – Jonathan)
Hi, I’m new here.
Funny story, or at least I hope I’m able to laugh at it someday. My family has gone completely carfree. It seemed like a logical plan at the time. See, our family consists of two parental units, one kid down at PSU in the dorms, one kid in high school, one kid in middle school, and one kid in elementary. (Don’t worry, that factory is closed.)
We had one car for all of us, and if you didn’t have access to said one car, you either waited, took the bus, walked, or biked.
“This was my brilliant idea. Don’t impact the savings, I said. We can go carfree, I said. It will impart a great life lesson on the children, I said.”
It didn’t seem like we were using the car all that much anyway, when we had a sudden and very large financial blow. (This is the part I’m hoping to laugh at some day.) Let’s say it included a naïve child, TikTok, Studio Ghibli movies (that we already owned), Google docs, AT&T, and the FBI. There’s nothing that quite makes you change things in life like contact from the FBI. The fines levied are substantial. We had to decide how to absorb the cost. This was my brilliant idea. Don’t impact the savings, I said. We can go carfree, I said. It will impart a great life lesson on the children, I said.
Now, do you remember when I told you just two paragraphs ago, that if one of us didn’t have the car, we’d use other transportation? Yeah. The bike option was never really used. The bikes were for the occasional Sunday exploration. Very occasional. The youngest can’t even ride on her own yet. I was pulling her in a Burley trailer when the occasional bike excursions happened. We had the hard-bottom, double trailer (read: OMGSOHEAVY.) Other than that, I honestly have no idea what I’m doing.
That’s what I mean by I’m new here. I’m not new to Portland. I am third generation Oregonian, born up at OHSU. No, I’m not new to our city. I mean, I’m new here, in your arena. We sold the car three weeks ago. I started practicing commutes before we sold it and figured it would be easy peasy. Then, as I was standing at the CarMax in Hillsboro, having just sold my car, I realized I needed a ride home back to North Portland. As I’m standing there, downloading Lyft, then uploading my credit card info and scheduling a stranger to come get me, I realized there’s a lot more to this than I even know to ask.
This is where you come in. I’m the n00b. I bet there’s more of me, maybe afraid to admit they have no clue what they’re doing. Maybe that’s you. Or maybe you have been here awhile, and as my questions come up (and trust me, I already have a list) maybe you can help me and others out. Or maybe just come for the laughs. Because, FBI.
— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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Hi Becky Jo,
Welcome to the club!
Looking forward to hearing how it goes and seeing things with beginners eyes again.
Welcome Becky! All masters started as n00bs at one point. One thing I’m always curious about with families going car free is how it changes how you think about freedom to move around.
Having a great bike network is like a social safety net. If you have a financial hit you are still able to move around for the price of a $60 bike on craigslist. When I graduated college and entered the job market in 2009 it was impossible to find a job and I didn’t have any money. Being able to ride a bike was as valuable as my food stamps.
Looking forward to your thoughts on carfree life! If you are ever looking for story ideas feel free to reach out.
Route finding is very important, especially when riding with kids. The neighborhood greenways are typically your best bet, but even some of them can be uncomfortable. If you can, I recommend trying routes before you bring the kids along. There are many places in this city that I won’t ride with my kids.
Becky Jo, I urge you to hook up with a workmate or a good friend who is already experienced at bike commuting in Portland. Ask them to mentor you. Ask for their advice on basic bike maintenance, bike shop mechanics they trust, and the best way to lock your bike, even if you already know all this stuff. Keep in mind that as you upgrade your bikes, and you will, they become more attractive to thieves, and that theft can occur at work, while on errands, and even at your home or garage. Avoiding theft isn’t just about having good locks and removing valuable accessories, but securing your bike better than other people locking their bikes nearby.
Ahhh, the “don’t have to run faster than the bear, just run faster than the person next to you” theory applied for bike theft avoidance. I like it.
Most thieves are lazy creatures of opportunity – they steal anything they can easily remove, whether it has value or not; only a very few thieves take the time to target an item they know has salable value and bring the tools needed to remove them, or the bike, or the bike plus the thing its locked to.
I’ll second this advice, emphasizing the maintenance piece and expanding on it a bit.
Once dependent on a bike, you start to realize that keeping your bike in good shape is essential. You also realize that repair expenses can really hit your budget. Any work you can do for yourself will save you a technician’s hourly charges. Performing regular maintenance will keep your ongoing costs to a minimum. If you have friends or colleagues you trust with that sort of experience, I suggest seeking their advice.
Parts — and key accessories like lighting and clothing — are a different matter. Try to learn where getting the low-cost option makes sense (for me, it’s chains) and where spending more up-front will save you money and/or time down the road (for me, it’s tubes and tires).
Finally, if you’re going to count on having a bike available, I suggest thinking about getting a second bike. The finances may not work for you right now, but it’s so nice to be able to work on your main bike and still be able to get around in a pinch.
Welcome! Looking forward to reading about your journey 🙂
I wish you well on this journey of discovery! I had it easy the two times in my life when I went big time into car free living. First time in college when my car gave up the ghost and I did the bike thing for two years. (Including two Montana winters.) Later in 2009 during the… ugh big downturn. I wound up with no billable events for 9 months.
With a rent payment of $2200/mo, child support of $1000/mo and an income of about 28k that year. I survived by using my bike and tri-met exclusively while eating a *lot* of beans and rice! I parked my car and let the insurance lapse because I couldn’t afford it.
It helped that I had a *big* network of friends that helped me out. My boys and I were invited to Christmas dinner with friends a couple of years. During my 3 month “homeless” period I couch surfed with friends and then slept in the office. (In violation of our office lease…) Good thing I still had the sleeping bag.
Sorry to hear about your financial misfortune, but glad to see you and your family are well on your way to a better and healthier life. To paraphrase the great environmental writer Edward Abbey ( there is nothing like a run-in with the FBI to teach a person the basis of Industrial Civilization.)
What a great perspective to feature. It’s easy for people who have been riding in Portland for awhile to forget how much we’ve had to learn over the years (watch your pants cuff! use a U-lock! don’t bike over the Ross Island Bridge!).
For everyone who’s working on getting more people on bikes, this series should be a good reminder of the challenges that our neighbor noobs encounter as they get started.
Welcome, Becky Jo – happy riding and looking forward to your column.
Whoa what a story! I’m sorry for the reason for ditching the car, but I’m very excited for you and look forward to reading your columns!!
Oh what a lovely warm welcome! Thank you all so much. I vacillate between wondrous determination and absolute terror. I feel like I’m Forky in those Disney+ Pixar shorts. Should make for a wild ride. I’ll be counting on you.
Please tell me the FBI is involved due to an invent similar to the plot of the book Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
right? or like some bad Hackers or War Games story? “Do you want to play a game?” When it was happening, it was absolutely a surreal, nightmarish experience. The FBI is something one usually only hears about on Mission Impossible or 007 movies. Or is that the CIA? I really preferred being oblivious and only having experience through fiction. It is real.
Wait, yeah, I’m really curious about the event. It sounds like some kind of copyright infringement committed by a child. The FBI wastes time on that? And they levy life-changing fines for a first offense? Shouldn’t they maybe be keeping tabs on the traitor in chief, not elementary school students?
I think the FBI brought down the heavy hand because their masters at Disney (which distributes studio Ghibli in the US) told them too. As George Carlin said,” It’s a big club and you ain’t in it.”
Latent Capitalism at work.
Believe me, if it didn’t happen to me, I’d be very skeptical of my story as well. I’m not skeptical of my new $1100/month fine pay schedule. It is very real. I was driving teen to a play she was working on at her high school when she tells me, “I saw on TicTok you can search for any movie and if you put ‘google docs’ after it, you can find any movie you want and watch it.” All schools now use google docs for school work, so of course this was logical to her. She’s 15 and naïve. I said, in a steadily escalating volume, that it was still pirating movies. She did it on her phone, and on the data plan. These were also movies we owned, so it was extra dumb. Before we even got home that night from said play, we had our first email from AT&T telling us they were cancelling our plan and referring us to the authorities. Within 2 days we had the FBI communication. The option was to face criminal charges or pay the fines. 3 movies. Streaming rights on Ghibli/Disney was owned by HBO at the time (it was right before Disney+ launched so I don’t know what current streaming rights are and now it’s a moot point.) $1100/m for 3 movies. She watched 2 and apparently as we were driving she had one downloading on her phone but she didn’t realize it was still going or something? At this point, it doesn’t matter. Took the fine/plea deal and negotiated keeping our AT&T account for various reasons. We do not have the resources to take HBO to criminal court. We are barely privileged enough we can weather these fines, albeit creatively. I write out the full story here in hopes it creates dialog in your families and saves others from such creative financial gymnastics.
“$1100/m for 3 movies”
For how many months? Yikes!
Well, I too am glad we got you/you gained us in the process, and look forward to your adventures.
yeah. that $1100 is over and above our phone bill for a year. good times. 😀 We were toying with getting rid of the car anyway before this happened… just light, casual conversation wondering if we could – you know, like how you talk about any sort of theoretical adventure. This coincidental event sealed our fate.
I’m still unclear how much this all cost. $1100/month for a year?
Great first piece! I’m sure your car-free life will be full of lots of fun and adventure.
I think the big issue for me to think about would be grocery/meal planning. Nothing sucks more than it being 5:30 hungry kids hungry self trying to figure out how to get to the store for dinner. If you don’t plan well eating out or getting food delivered is an easy way to spend lots of money when you don’t have a car out of convenience.
I have two rear panniers and a basket on top of the rear rack, and that gives me enough cargo capacity to carry tons of groceries home. If that were still not enough, I could also attach my two front panniers, but that of course requires that that bike have a front cargo rack as well.
OMG, you feel me. YES.
One thing to know is that now that you don’t have a car you have less insurance protection if you are for instance hit by an uninsured driver. There were some stories on bike portland a few years back about folks trying to figure out ways to cover themselves in case of such an event, perhaps an update on if it has gotten any easier would be a good story idea.
Funny thing: as I was canceling my car insurance, they did try to convince me to keep it, since I’m in the PNW obviously I’ll come crying back when it rains (agent was kind enough to tell me he was in Arizona), and also for only $60/month I (just me) could be covered for uninsured motorist. I declined at the time…but may need to rethink it and check around a bit more. Thanks for the idea… I wonder if there are variations on plans being it’s still not a mainstream practice to have, I can’t imagine they love to pay out on it, and being state-to-state laws are so different, are there even best practices in place? Ugh, insurance companies.
We also went car free about 1 year ago and considered keeping our insurance because we occasionally borrow friends’ cars or rent cars when we need a vehicle. We declined for 2 reasons: (1) it was going to cost close to what we were paying with a car (huh??) and (2) an agent at American Family pointed out that if you get in an accident, the other party will still go after the car owner’s insurance first. So, our friends take on that risk regardless of whether we have our own insurance. When we rent cars, we pay for the third-party liability insurance, which covers all of the bases (Visa doesn’t cover medical expenses in an accident).
Biking is our primary mode of transportation–we opt for that whenever possible. When we can’t bike, with ride-share costs, transit fares, and rental cars (even with extra insurance cost), we are still spending less than half of the cost to keep our car!
I got left-hooked on my bike several years back, and broke my leg. They put me back together at the hospital, but it was pretty expensive. After depleting my car insurance PIP, the car driver’s insurance kicked in, but she had fairly low coverage limits and it was quickly depleted. I was really happy I had underinsured-motorist coverage on my car insurance. It wasn’t easy, but my lawyer did extract a fair settlement from that coverage.
So anyway, my car insurance (especially the underinsured motorist coverage) took care of my bike crash injuries/damages, and I would have been much worse off without it.
The one car crash I’ve been in, the person didn’t have insurance :/ and they were the ones at fault…
When I was car-free (2009-2013), I had non-owner’s auto liability insurance through State Farm. It may have been possible because they also insured my home. I recall it was more expensive than if I owned a car, which annoyed me. They said it was because not owning a car put me in a higher risk category. 🙁
I was at Allstate yesterday asking my agent about coverage and our motor vehicle policies don’t cover me at all while I’m biking. The home-owners insurance covers a little bit, mostly personal liability. He’s getting me a quote for specific bicycle insurance. Get that, it’s not usually expensive. And you’ll be covered if some kid on an electric scooter wipes you out.
I’m no attorney but you ought to check with one on this or read your policy yourself. I believe in Oregon you would be covered if the incident involved a vehicle injuring you or your property. Doesn’t cover if you or the car if hit a car with your bike but it covers you if you are hit. Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage is essential to any policy in Oregon.
Two words: Rain pants.
I have found out that not only do wet jeans suck, but wet skinny jeans while cycling really suck… and I may have popped a seam.
Now you know why in the Netherlands, which has a similar maritime climate to Portland, long biking tights are so popular with women. The Dutch are very pragmatic.
As someone who grew up without a car in an Eastern European city, and then lived without a car for several periods in Europe and the US, I can say it is definitely doable. Shopping carts, the kind that fold or basically a bag on wheels, help a lot but you will need to go grocery shopping more often (or get a trailer for your bike). You will be using the businesses nearby instead of going cross town for something, going to the local parks more often instead of driving out of the city, spend more time planning transportation, but ultimately I think it will be more of a shift in how you do things rather than a change in your quality of life. Especially now that car rentals and delivery services are so easy to access. Although I say that without knowing what’s it’s like to have four kids! Good luck to you and look forward to reading your column!
Thank you so very much! I’ve only been to western Europe in my 20s, but I admit was envious of all the outdoor market options even then. We live on the perimeter of a public park and that was one of the smarter decisions we’ve made in life. People always say to get a home with a view… nah. A home with a park is the way to go! Children, neh, teen appetites do change the quantity of food, but like the park, we are super close to a few grocery options. I am researching gear… my little canvas backpack doesn’t quite do it, and not picking out my own produce is annoying when using delivery. I’m sure I’ve got a lot of trial and error to go!
Hear, hear for choosing housing near green space. I lucked out and found a shack on the main bike path/linear park of my city. Six months of intensive library card use and labor and our shack became a home. For us, it’s been an excellent location.
We sometimes use a hand-truck with pneumatic tires and a couple water-tight lidded plastic containers to do large grocery runs to our local stores when we don’t feel like riding bikes. The load is narrow enough to work on a sidewalk but holds quite a lot. It’s much more comfortable than a back-pack. I think of it as practice for using a walker when I get older and more broken.
Some great deals right now on high quality carriers at https://www.jandd.com, since they happen to be moving. I’d also recommend looking at HexLok stuff to lower the risk of component theft; various shops around town carry them. And aside from this community, the Street Trust has some good resources. Welcome, and be sure to reach out as you need things. Lots of people here, me included, would be happy to help you plot routes or pre-ride them if you need it. Have fun!
We are car free in North Portland with 2 kids and 1 more on the way. I try to do a few different grocery runs every week instead of one big haul. For instance, we bike or take Max train from Kenton to our food co-op in Brooklyn on Tuesday or Wednesday for our milk, eggs and meat. We visit a farmers’ market once per week for veg and fruit (different markets since our local market isn’t open year round). And once per month we have a delivery to our home from Azure Standard for grains, beans, cheese, some toiletries etc.
My schedule is flexible so I make this work. It helps me to be more organized so I don’t run out of everything and get overwhelmed by a big grocery haul! Even with a box-bike which has more cargo space than a lot of bikes, there’s a limit to how many groceries I can fit along with 2 kids.
My best advice is to have fun and remember you’re “stacking your life”. Yes, it might be taking longer than a car trip, but you’re getting exercise at the same time, spending time with kiddo at same time, seeing the neighborhood/ supporting local business at the same time, or whatever your thing is!
Are you trying to entice your youngest to learn to ride or just taking it slow and putting her in the trailer? I have been thinking about organizing a winter Kidical Mass North Portland ride in the next 2 months before I give birth… maybe I can plan a route near you!
Thanks for sharing your story.
This story hits home for me. I’m not entirely sure why.
Nonetheless, if you and yours ever find that you can stand to watch Studio Ghibli films in the future, they’re now (almost) all available digitally: https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/17/21026683/studio-ghibli-movies-digital-purchase-streaming-hbo-max-grave-of-fireflies
Timing is everything.
Be safe out there.
How are those cats working out with the bikejoring? 🙂
our simple, sweet cats are yard-leash trained only. they have one of those small dog yard pegs to hang out in the yard during the summer. I can’t trust them too close to a tree let alone to a bike, but they do like to give a stern look to the squirrels.
Lucky kitties! When it’s time for their vet visits, check the discussion under this article: https://bikeportland.org/2014/04/30/oregon-humane-society-worries-about-safety-of-biking-adopted-pets-home-105311 . I’ve taken my cats in by bike several times now, and they do fine. I use hard-side carriers bungied securely to front and rear racks, or put the carriers in a trailer. It’s a short ride – 10 minutes – but they don’t seem at all freaked out by it, certainly no more than in a car.
BTW, an inexpensive rear rack (garage sale?) can often be used in as a front rack, and also used for panniers as BikeRound suggested.
Oh, thank you! The cats are indoor only except in summer when they go on the leash, but they do like to try to escape. They’re sweet but not the brightest bulbs. We’ve taken to making the joke “don’t want to bike a cat to the clinic” but it does warrant serious questions. What happens when the silly fluffballs do get ill or need a check up? Thank you for the link!
Wait, what factory closed? And were there any layoffs?
financial benefits are *still* pending 😉
When I went car-free, I remember calculating about $2.5k to get set up with bike, trailer, all the gear including nice winter/rain gear, etc. But then the savings were immense (and I’m still using the same bicycle and a lot of the gear 11+ years later).
Good for you for holding onto and using that gear all these years. My experience—-as a cheapskate—-is that you can get a bike and trailer and gear for a fraction of that cost. Bike $50, trailer $50, lock, lights another $50 or a bit more. Used on Craigslist is the way to go if you are on a budget or don’t care to send money to China or Amazon,
Thank you!! Between you and me, that was sort of my thought too… If we can make it through winter, the rest will be so much easier. Of course, I’ve had my theories proven wrong before…(the teen will be FINE with her own phone…) 😀 I’m really into my balaclava…. I think I might start wearing it all the time.
I love my balaclavas! I have 4 thinner ones, and one thick one. Typically only use the thick one when it’s below freezing and I’m only biking to the bus stop, I sweat too much to be able to use it for more than a couple miles of riding. The thinner ones are great; they don’t keep the heat in as much as they keep the worst of the chill out. They’ve definitely helped me be able to commute through the winter months more often.
Something I just picked up this year that I had underestimated the importance of: a cycling cap! Makes it so you don’t have to squint through the drops while riding in the rain 🙂
tell me more about this cycling cap, please. I have a bern helmet and literally took my seam ripper and took off the attached bill one day after I realized the added pressure was giving me a headache. I hate it. It was just poorly engineered on there (I’m sorta picky about how clothing fits me as that is my thing.) Today, after being pelted by a LOT of rain in the face and I think even a small branch, I may reconsider if I can find an option that doesn’t create weird pressure points.
Something like this:
There’s a lot of variations on this theme (some balaclava/cap combo’s even). They typically have elastic and don’t squeeze the head much, and are made with breathable material. I like the regular caps (not combined with a balaclava, etc…) because they’re usually thin enough that I can layer up beneath them to stay warm and still fit them comfortably under a helmet (depending on how much room you already have in your helmet). BUT, I mainly like the regular ones because I find it easier to adjust exactly where I want the bill to be. It’s a shorter bill, to keep the rain from pelting your eyes but still allow you to see ahead. Too low and it’s harder to see further ahead, too high and more drops get to your eyes, though the optimum position can change depending on your style of riding, such as leaning forward on a road bike or sitting more upright on a hybrid. And the bill flips up easily if you don’t need it. Finally tried one earlier this year, and that first ride in the rain I kicked myself for not getting one earlier!
oh thank you so much! this is great to know. Next time I hit the bike shop (which is starting to be a very regular thing), I’ll check them out!!
Soft hoodies+thin scarf/baclava rule the choices for me. Hoodies are attached, so they can’t be lost. They can double as glove compartment in a pitch. Thin baclavas are enough to cut the chill and breath through. Double fold them for extra cold. Roll them down when hot, don’t even have to take off the helmet.
Woolen gloves are nice even in light rain, since they keep warm when wet and they let air through to vent. When very cold and wet, you want some water proof. Capped mits better.
Pants: prana has this quick dry stretchy material that ever since, I don’t even bother with rain pants. They just dry off after 15min, so for usual Portland rain works enough. I’ve gotten seriously drenched a few times though 🙂
Good timea, welcome to the rides!
you mention living in North Portland. Not sure where specifically you live, but North really does well for having the stuff of daily living close at hand and accessible by bike, walking and transit. Density, baby!
and one more thought.. check the PBOT website for maps and info,and connect with them as they have local events. Its a good place to network and find resources
Thank you so much! I appreciate the advice. I see that I am already using a greenway for one of my commutes, but it is unmarked… Not entirely sure what that means, but I’m drinking from the firehose!
We had a low-car family when I started taking the bus on my commute and biking to more errands. Like you, the bike option wasn’t used a lot. I still bus a lot of places. But now I don’t even like riding in cars.
I didn’t realize that I would learn so much about driving laws by not driving. Nothing makes you question what people are doing in traffic more than being vulnerable and coming close to being hit with very large machines. At first I didn’t realize it was the drivers that were at fault when I would have bad interactions while walking and biking. A lot of looking up laws and reading this site was key to flipping me from dangerous lazy driver to safe active transporter.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you need to take the right of way when it’s yours, because drivers will fail to yield to you unless they have to. And then you’re sitting there in the same place as the world moves around you.
oh, thank you so much for your input! while I have no problem admitting I don’t know something (like much of anything in the biking world), I’m not shy or passive, so taking the lane it is! lol. And I’m learning (slowly) you’re spot on. I had someone pass me on the left after I signaled left (to go a whole half block and park.) I looked up a few things then…and while I’m a bit confused by some of them, I’m taking notes so I can ask you (the collective) for more advice and clarification. I’m gonna need it!
When I was car free, I had to plan everything. There wasn’t really any spontaneous activities, especially in the winter raining months, which I called the hard months. I imagine with kids this will be even more so.
Yes, winter, I’m learning, is hard. I put on 20 extra miles today in the wind and rain. I both loved it and hated it. 😀
Never assume others know basic Oregon right of way, cyclist or motorist. NEVER practice sliding by on the right for that RH turn. ALWAYS assert yourself boldly around intersections.
Use bread bags over your shoes in pouring rain and embrace wool. Use the most annoying multiple blinkys you can hang from that “SUV”. Get a good U lock and deal with the weight.
Thank your karma you’re in Oregon, dspite complaints here its still better than elsewhere.
I just got this ad email today; while they’re a saddle manufacturer, the blog post has a lot of good tips: https://selleanatomica.com/blogs/homepage-blog/essential-gear-for-cold-weather-cycling-1.
The more I think of your travails with the FBI, the more pissed off I get. Morally, your teenager didn’t steal the movie, the person who uploaded it did. And more to the point, it would be trivial for Google to have a list of movies against which they perform the same search she did, so they could take them down in minutes if they wanted to. I know that doesn’t help you, but…