Tuesday, June 18, 2013

3rd Year of the Great SHARING-ONE-CAR Experiment! (...and many bikes)

As Sarah's wife, I am excited to describe my experience of car-sharing with Sarah over the past 2-plus years. As we roll into our 3rd year of sharing, this seems a good time to reflect on the joys and challenges of not having a car at my instant beck-and-call and how this has changed me.

I'm Sherry, and I'm part of the family who lives at the Gnomestead, sharing the joys and tribulations of being guided by these great earth energies at work during this sacred time and place on our beautiful planet.
 "Gnome here.  Interupting to add background to this dedicated biker, that this here Sherry is.  We watch her daily start the morning on the KITCHEN bike.  She pedal blends her smoothies to a delicious creamy texture which we help provide from the garden as much of the year as we are able...we are tickled by her enthusiasm...and enjoy the comparative quiet.  
    Now, back to Sherry..." 

Yes, I have to admit that when Sarah first proposed selling her car in 2011, I thought she was being a bit unrealistic and a trifle impulsive. Wouldn't she feel trapped while I was away at work 2 days a week? I asked her. What would we do on weekends if we both needed to help or visit our elderly mothers? Sarah had ideas for everything, urging me to think of the environment and how we might slow down, schedule around each other, and make it work.

Even if it might possibly work, I argued, wouldn't it be a good idea for us to park one car at her mom's house for a month or two, just to be sure we really want to function with one car? No, said Sarah firmly, that would feel like we might give up before having to think really hard and find some solution to make it work. We won't really make the sacrifice until we actually do it, she said, because then there's no option to drop me at Mom's for the other car in the back of our minds. 

Her insistence and determination finally persuaded me, and we made the leap in March of 2011, selling her used 2005 Subaru Outback wagon and keeping our older, smaller 2002 Prius sedan.

So how has our experiment worked over the past 2 years? 

The first year went very smoothly for me, as I got inspired to ride our electric bike in all seasons (except during snowstorms, thunderstorms, and weather under 35 degrees) for most distances under 3 or 4 miles: we are lucky that in our little walkable town, this includes our bank, post office, drugstore, hardware store, supermarket and even the commuter rail stop to Boston.

I knew I had the car reserved on Mondays and Wednesdays, when I went to an office 24 miles away, and negotiated with Sarah if something came up on other days for which I wanted the car.

I believe part of the reason I had it so easy the first year is that Sarah gave up a lot more car time than I did, pushing our mini-Schnauzers in a carriage to her art studio across town and mostly using the car to visit her mother.

Packing up for a week away without the wagon, it was amazing how much we could fit into the roomy trunk of the Prius (2 coolers, tons of food, as we like to cook a lot when away and eat out rarely), with our dogs, cat in carrier, backpacks and sundry bags in the back seat and at the passenger's feet! With the electric bike on the roof rack and the conventional bike on my 35 year old rack hooked to the back, we were off for a week of fun. 

I've carried amazing loads on that Tulle roof rack, including 5 wooden pallets or 6 bales of salt march hay for our garden...

The second year was a bit more challenging for me, because we seemed to run into more conflicts where we both wanted or needed the car at the same time. I believe Sarah got busier with commitments outside of our home. It was also a colder, snowier winter and harder to bike during January and February.  With some advance planning, we were able to use some of the following options:

1. dropping Sarah at her mother's on the way for me to visit mine, only adding 15 minutes each way to my trip (and again honoring Sarah's time flexibility to help live our values and be willing to wait for me to pick her up)

2. making more of an effort to find friends to carpool to events, which we want to be doing anyway

3. rescheduling something when we could, so we needed the car at different times

4. using the commuter rail more for trips to the Boston metro area, which sometimes entailed my taking the train, 2 or 3 buses or subway stops and walking a bit to get to a conference -- but I realized that the rush hour traffic is so ferocious that I would have had to leave at 6:45 am by car to be sure to get to a conference in town by 9 am anyway, so what's so hard about taking a 6:15 am train with some good reading material? Again, our values and commitment to this fun experiment in downsizing and simplicity carried the day.

Other benefits for me of this one car lifestyle are that I now think of the bike as my go-to vehicle unless there's a good reason why not, such as illness or exhaustion, bad weather or long distance. This has helped me stay fit at almost 58 years old, lose weight and want to eat healthier to keep up my energy.

And of course, it's very nice for our budget to only pay for one car, one gas fill-up (which happens rarely in a Prius!), one insurance policy, one registration, inspection and other sundry fees incurred by our autos. Our total annual mileage on our car is less than our previous mileage combined when we had 2 cars. 

If you are interested in the nitty-gritty details about what we did to improve our bike mode of transport with more than half of the money from the sale of our 2nd car, you can read on.  

We did the following:

1. We bought a Trek electric pedal-assist bicycle to share. (Luckily, we are close to the same height.) The plug-in-to-charge battery can go quite a number of miles (25 or more) if one pedals most of the time, with the bike set to zero or 1 on the power level, and only use 2 through 4 for uphills. If a more relaxed ride is desired, the 3 or 4 setting causes the pedaling to be very easy for most of a 12 or 14 mile ride, and the battery can be charged in place outdoors or brought into the house. It's also a hybrid, as using the brakes charges the battery just as it does on the Prius.

2. We added a sturdy Tulle roof rack with a bike rack to our roof. (We found our Prius doesn't have the capacity for a hitch to be added, which the rear Tulle double bike rack would have required.)  

3. We bought fun, durable stuff we might have not sprung for, such as a heavy-duty bike pump and spare inner tubes; dual-choice pedals with clip-in bike shoes for me and toe clips for Sarah; shoe coverings for warm feet during winter cycling; an assortment of steady/strobe lights for our handlebars, back of the seat, side of the wheel, and helmet; and glowing vests and jackets to be seen well in any season.

I did try biking to Westborough once during the first summer, and enjoyed the ride, but over 2 hours each way, arriving sweaty and needing time to cool down, sponge bathe, and dress for work meant the whole endeavor took 5 hours of my day...and I did call Sarah to pick me up for the last 5 miles  home, since I was in wicked rush hour traffic and didn't want to negotiate a windy road without reliable shoulders.

Since the electric bike weighs 10 lbs. more than my regular on/off-road hybrid bike, plus a 10 lb. battery, I usually grab my regular bike unless I'll encounter a lot of hills. But I have found that the battery option has helped me jump on the bike when I'm reluctant, such as colder or wetter weather or not much energy -- without it in the past, I might likely have used the car instead for that particular trip.
Trek has done research that indicates up to 75% of auto mileage is accrued for trips less than 2 miles from home! This simple, stark fact really motivates me to use my car as little as possible and know that each time I hop on that bike, I help the Earth. 

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