advice to a suburbanite trying to become car free?
I’m new to the forum and biking (in cities), but been in PGH most of my life. I’ve recently gotten it into my thick little skull that not only do I want to ditch my car in favor of a bike, but I truly believe that I can, despite living in suburbia (Penn Hills near Verona) and working in hell (Cranberry).
I tested the waters with a Free Ride bike that I tricked out with working shifters and fenders (fancy!). Cold rain has not deterred me from biking to my carpool meetup (2mi) and I managed to bike from my house to the bank in Monroeville, 8 miles (one way) of suburban hills during rush hour with school busses – actually a fun ride. I’ve been shocked at how nice drivers have been to me, perhaps because I look like I’m almost roadkill from exhaustion, but I’ll take it. I walk the really bad hills still, but I’m ok with that. Suburbanites pride themselves on their lack of sidewalks, so that’s not even an option.
I’m now at a cross-roads between fixing up this beater bike so that I can make my weekly trip to East End Food Coop for groceries (5 miles one way, lovely hills) on a bike, or do I go all out and get a bike “better suited” to my purposes (commuter, hauler)? I’m fairly handy, but recognize that the easier this is, the more likely I’ll just leave the car parked. Oh, and I’m super cheap and reluctant to purchase anything new (used is awesome).
Does anybody else know of any suburbanites who have moved to car-free (or down to a single car household with two commuters)? Most of my life is organized within a 10 mile radius, so I think I can do it – with appropriate planning and organization. Thoughts?
first of all, I have a TON of respect for suburbanite bike commuters. It really is a totally different animal.
That said, it sounds like you are a thrifty being, and I think you could be happy with your current bike with a few upgrades. It is quite possible that a new handlebar/stem setup, possibly a different saddle, a good rear rack + panniers, new brakes and decent tires will go a long way. If you are in need of new wheels or drivetrain, unless you have a gem of a frame, it is probably worth starting over somehow.
I grew up in that area and know it very well. I wouldn’t ever attempt commuting out there.
You didn’t happen to be on Old Frankstown last night?
One of the most important things for you is lights. People out there just aren’t used to see bikes. I’d ride with blinking lights all the time and a good headlight at night
First of all, you’re already kicking ass. Started with a Freeride bike, excellent. It sounds like your present bike that you ride to the car pool spends its day parked somewhere, a beater is perfect for that, you actually don’t want too nice a bike for that.
But it also sounds like you are ready for a solid reliable bike that you just looooove, so I say, start looking. You are ready for ready for a multi-bike lifestyle. Look at a Kona Ute or something like that for grocery day, if you can swing it, money-wise. They usually have those at Trek. You are definitely ready to can (or at least mothball) the car. And keep your beater in good repair for occasions when you need it.
Congratulations on riding, and on trying to go car free. I’m a suburban commuter (Mt Lebanon > North Oakland). As far as going car-free, I suppose that it mostly depends on what your everyday needs are (like if you have kids and you need to pick them up, if your wife/husband can pitch in, your work schedule and the like).
Another factor is what alternatives you may have. I ride year-round, but usually wont ride if the high temperature for that day is in the teens, or if there’s ice. I suppose everyone has their cut-off, and a point at which it stops being fun. If/when those things happen, you have to figure out what your alternatives are (public transit, car etc) in order to really determine if you can do it year round and under all conditions. It’s certainly possible, but dependent on your personal needs.
As far as a bike…if it works, its good. Have it checked out to make sure its safe and in good working order, and that’s about all. If you keep riding it, you will figure out exactly what else (if anything) you’d like in a bike. You may find that its perfectly suited for you, or that perhaps you may need some slightly different things. It’s hard to determine what your needs are until you ride around a bit more. until then, remember to pack some tools, extra tube…and practice changing a flat tire. do it at home, and make sure you can change it. if you haven’t had a flat yet, i assure you that you’ll get one on a cold rainy day. these things happen, and can be dealt with easily. enjoy riding!!!
yeah, the night-ride thing has me worried (in the winter, I work during the daily 3 hours of twilight this region manages). thankfully the days are in the “getting longer” part of the year now. I plan on outfitting my bike with a string of christmas lights (a la this kind of thing: http://www.instructables.com/id/The-Holiday-Bicycle-How-to-run-Christmas-Lights-o/ ) and flags as well as obnoxiously bright LED blinkers for when I have to move at night (winter). I’m ok with being That Crazy Person. I suppose I’ll need headlights as well, though, I keep forgetting about that (more focused on others seeing me, than on me seeing others).
My present bike actually spends its day in the garage of a carpooler, though tomorrow it will be proudly and prominently parked outside my office building (last working day in Monroeville, so I will bike the whole way to work for the first, and last, time on Bike To Work Day, before we start in Cranberry on Monday ). I doubt that rain could hurt it much, but I hadn’t thought much about that. Details
I’m worried about walking in to a bike shop that will sell me a used bike and pestering them to death with questions – maybe I’ll swing by Thick Bikes and see what the story is there?
Definitely check out Thick. I don’t get down there much anymore, but the owner, Chris, always was very helpful.
I think coöp trips would definitely be helped by either a trailer or a cargo bike, and I’ve been poking at that problem myself recently. I’ve done my share of small grocery trips with just a backpack, but if you’re getting 3 glass jugs of milk, a 25 lb bag of flour, and a crapton of cheese, it gets a little onerous to fit and carry it all in a backpack, or even panniers.
So if you figure that one out, let me know.
Nick, you seem to be an industrious fellow. Ever thought about welding some old frames up into some kind of ute bike?
We could have some long conversations.
I’m mainly a transit user, McCandless to Moon every day, occasionally with a bike, and occasionally BY bike. At one time I owned four cars, but have been getting along fine with one for >15 years.
edmonds, I actually have a bunch of cargo bike ideas milling around my head. I want to make a modular bike with a cargo area in front of the rider, low to the ground…but that is another thread.
Ah – from the year I had neither bike nor car, I know that I can haul one week’s worth of groceries (for one person) in two grocery sacks (one for each hand). More than that and I’m overeating or shopping hungry. Now that we’re a household of two, I should be able to swing it in two trips a week at most (I think I could haul more on a bike than just my hands, though I’ll work up to it). A few weeks of that nonsense and I’ll have justified an Xtracycle hack of whatever I end up with (or other, non-name brand hack). And worst comes to worst, I can pass a giant eagle almost on my way home from carpooling – not my favorite but good for when the longer trip is too long and the alternative is tea for dinner.
I also plan on using the bike as motivation to NOT come home with a crap ton of cheese, as that would be a delicious but anti-social diet for me personally.
@stu – you are my hero. If I’m crazy (like most people tell me), at least I know I’m not alone
Hopefully in the coming years (maybe with some nudging by Bike Pgh) the Port Authority will have outfitted all their buses with bike racks so commuting from the suburbs (to the city at least) won’t be as daunting with a bike. I would say most people within Allegheny County, even in the fairly rural areas are within two or so miles of some form of transit, so being able to bike to a bus stop two miles away from one’s house sounds like a viable option rather than walking that whole distance. So then being able to take the bike with you rather than have it locked up in the middle of nowhere is an appealing concept.
Multi-modal transit like this could be key in suburban areas. However, it does little to address suburb-to-suburb commuting, or errands or whatnot. Going car-free in the suburbs is truly admirable, a Herculean effort indeed, but for most it won’t be viable. And I say for those that truly wish to be car-free to try to live in the city, or at least some of the older communities that have slightly more dense living as well as walkable business districts and other mixed-use areas.
I didn’t own a car until I turned 26 (I sold it at 28). I biked to the grocery store and hauled what I needed in panniers. I contemplated a bike trailer, but usually I was able to purchase heavy stuff closer to home, and ride all the way to a coop/farmers markets for the rest of my food.
Now I’ll usually swing by a grocery store on my bike home from work, and pick up whatever few things I need for dinner that night. These days we tend to make a costco run about once a month by car (we have one for the two of us). If costco wasn’t at the waterfront, I’d consider getting a trailer and doing that by bike as well.
I do what I can by bike, and use the car sparingly. I could get by without it, but I don’t know if the other member of my household would be too happy with that. Note: we live in the city, not in the burbs. I can’t imagine it would be much different if I did live in the burbs though. I’d probably just be more grumpy dealing with the soccer moms and ginormous SUVs that aren’t used to driving with cyclists.
ejwme, let me know if you need help with the hack.
I have a small workshop in my parents’ garage on the border of Plum/Monroeville/Penn Hills that I hack stuff out of. If you think it up, I can help you build it.
The FGG grocery getter competition had some good results for inspiration:
And of course my favorite:
Buuuuuutt I don’t want to steer the whole topic too far off course.
ejwme: I am a big fan of multiple bikes, if you have the room for it. Keeping the _____ bike ready for the _____ trip always makes it easier to get out the door with it. Having a hauler for groceries and something else a bit better with the long distances to get to work isn’t a terrible idea.
Speaking of multi-modal, has anyone had any luck getting a loaded bike onto a bus rack? I have never attempted it, but it seems like loaded basket or panniers may hinder that process a bit…
Regarding commuting in the ‘burbs–I live in the city, but have had several jobs that me commuting out of the city most days (first to Allison Park, then to Sewickley). Yes, lights are important. It’s also important to figure out a good route, stick with it, and learn the ebb and flow and traffic. Even commuting within the city, I know, based on the time, how busy a particular stretch of my commute will be. Additionally, the regular drivers along your route may actually get used to you being on the road. By the time my commute to Allison Park ended, there were probably a dozen or so drivers I saw every day who waved at me.
You’d be surprised how much crap you can carry on a cargo bike. When I had Eric’s Xtracycle for a few days, I managed to handle a pickup from the farmer who supplies us with meats, cheeses, and milk. I had several large chickens, a bunch of beef, several dozen eggs, a couple gallons of meat, and cheese in that beast, plus my usual work crap.
Bikes on a rack get quite a shaking. Port Authority says to remove “loose items like water bottles, pumps, etc.” A basket full of stuff is likely to wind up on the street unless it’s strapped down tight.
You mind sharing your route through Penn Hills into Monroeville?
@wojty I put my bike on the rack every morning with one loaded pannier. It is one of the nashbar compact panniers, but its packed pretty full. Other than being physically capable of lifting it, the only issue that I think you may run into is if someone loads a bike after you, it is a bit tricky to remove a bike when there is another on the rack (If yours was the first on).
I have put my bike on the rack for a 10 mile trip on the bus for the last 2 years and have never had my water bottle, tool filled spare water bottle or anything else fall off.
One time , in my earlier days of usinfg the bus, I got to my stop and noticed that the bar holding my front wheel had slipped off (I must not of lifted it up far enough) but the bike stayed in the rack!
Wow, so many words of wisdom, I’m very glad to have landed in the right place
My route starts basically at the top of Rosedale hill (at Saltzburg rd near Verona), I follow Saltzburg past Frankstown, past the HS, past Alcoma, turn right on Hershey, Left on Universal, then straight up Lott (I walk the hairpin w/o a shoulder, people are usually going slow and being careful anyway). Once I get a shoulder back I continue up and down Lott, right on Logan Ferry, straight across and through to Haymaker, then brave the traffic under/after 376, then turn left on Northern Pike (I use crosswalks and walk my bike, there’s a crappy sensor that leaves half the traffic waiting and will back it up to the turnpike, I won’t be That Idiot, car or bike), then a right at Westinghouse drive, slog up the hill, and run a few victory laps around the huge, full parking lot laughing at all the grumpy drivers who look jealously at my rosy cheeked cycling grin.
I can’t believe I ever bought a car. This is such an awesome way to start the day. I should have done this years ago.
I came into this thread to talk about submarines.
Sadly, there are no submarines in this thread, only suburbanites.
ejwme, we really should talk. I used to work at the Energy Center, 1982-1994. This was when I had four cars.
I lived in New Stanton, I worked there, and my wife was going to school in Kennedy Twp, so we had a second house in Robinson. We had one car in N.S., one in Robinson, one in Mrv, and one in motion. 60-70,000 miles a year on the fleet. You know you’re into it deep when your car repair shop has 12 employees and you know every one of them by the way they say “hello” when you call the place.
I started commuting by bus from the Robinson house, leaving one of the cars in a Mrv park & ride overnight, busing to it in the morning and driving the last couple miles to work. Did that 1990-94. I was probably one of about 5 people in a building of 2,200 who used transit.
Once the fleet started dying, I chose not to replace them, and each time I did I found I had an extra $100/month spending money. Going from 2 to 1, though, was the big leap of faith.
I had a feeling you worked at the Energy Center. My dad worked there for years back in the days were everyone in Monroville worked for Westinghouse.
You ride right past my parents’ house. The intersection of Logans Ferry/Haymaker and Center is scary even in a car. I can’t tell you how many bad accidents I’ve seen there.
That is quite a hilly commute too.
ej, you really must come in from the subs for a Flock of Cycles ride. Love to meet you. I think it will completely reinforce your goal.
Hey, glad to see your commuting is working out. I recently started going to CCAC Boyce from Morningside. As far as being thifty is concerned, if you can get a solid rack on your bike, you can probably keep it and not have to worry about buying another one if you don’t want to spend the money. I have a hybrid with flat bars decent panniers
and it works fine. Lott is a fun road going up…
In the town where I was born lived a man who sailed the seas… (I used to work on submarines, does that count?)
Sadly, Friday was my first and last day doing a full bike commute to the EC. I’m sitting in Cranberry now (biked to Verona to carpooler’s house) and until I seek employment elsewhere. BUT they’ve got a shuttle set up for us from EC to Cranberry, so I can still do the ride when I feel like a 2hr commute. And given how it went, I’m thinking I’ll feel like it at least once a week. Next year on National Bike To Work Day I will be biking all the way to Cranberry, just to prove it can be done.
Friday morning I was all about doing Flock of Cycles that evening, was even planning on biking to it from Monroeville (did I mention how awesome that commute felt?). Then the high subsided and reality set in. My legs are still informing me that I chose delay wisely. I’ll be there in June, though, it’ll be fun to meet everyone
I went to Thick Bikes on Saturday and talked to a really nice guy there… and I’m probably (gotta confirm size) going to just fix up what I have (derailleurs, slicks, seat with correct size post, comfy handlebars), stick some racks on it, and keep going. Turns out what I want (both a fast commuter and a sturdy hauler) doesn’t actually exist. So if I’d have to purchase a compromise, I might as well fix up the compromise I’ve got. For now.
ejwme, let me know if you plan on coming to FOC next week. Maybe I’ll ride down from Monroeville with you.
ejwme, gimme a holler when you want to do the full Cranberry commute…I used to do it from town a few times per week. Heck, I may even take a Bike Instead Of Work Day and ride with you for old times’ sake.
Well, there’s another possibility, involving bike racks on PAT buses. If the 78A isn’t on a 1900-series bus, there’s a fair chance it would have a bike rack. Mount bike on bus; go Downtown, and see if you can get an outbound 13A. I’d say get a 13K, but chances of that being on a rack-less 1900 are about 100% in the morning. The 13A gets you to the Showcase Cinema Park & Ride in McCandless, about 10 miles short of Westinghouse’s new campus, but only 10 miles, about 1/4 of which is in North Park.
Briefly, you would bus to Showcase, bike to Ingomar Rd (same direction the bus was going), L on Ingomar, L at the next light and bear right onto the bike trail through the park, and L onto Pearce Mill Rd, which you will follow for several miles, until you go under the Turnpike.
Then, a choice: L onto Graham to R onto (really busy) Perry Hwy to R onto (really really busy) 228 to Westinghouse. Or stay on Pearce Mill to the end, L then R to past Treesdale to L onto 228 to L into Westinghouse. Or invent your own way to come up Franklin Road somehow. Translation: Nice ride until you get to hell (Cranberry).
There aren’t that many outbound 13A trips, but if you can make the connections, it might not be an impossible trip.
Addendum to Stu’s excellent advice: the best way I know of to avoid craptastic traffic for that route from North Park is to take Pearce Mill to L on 910, 1st R on Lindhurst, 1st bear L on Emmet, L on English, R on Wallace, straight on the Red Belt, L on Dean Rd, bear L on Mt Pleasant and up to Franklin. You can also make the L off Wallace onto the Red Belt instead of straight, then make the 2nd right on Mt Pleasant to avoid evil traffic on Franklin. Mt Pleasant has a shooting range, a cemetery, and almost no traffic, so is far more enjoyable than jousting with the SUVs of doom barreling along Franklin.
@ndromb – I’m all over next FOC, I’ll send you a message closer to the date
@reddan – I’m hoping to be up to it by the end of the summer, I’d love the company, and keep you posted
@reddan & Stu – thank you for the rout advice, I figured I’d take 910 to my grandma’s (just shy of rt and then… it gets fuzzy (I’ll need to study the map a spell, I don’t know that area as well as in the city). For buses, I was considering hopping on the Warrendale Flyer and getting off at the last park n ride, it’s only 2 miles from my fabric box. BUT no racks, so I figured by then I’d have gotten a foldie with a case I could hide it in before the drivers saw it. That’s assuming i can’t/don’t want to bike the whole way, the office shuttle doesn’t exist anymore (or costs too much), and my carpool option has disappeared.
All in all, I’ve got so many options I’m feeling absolutely ridiculously lucky. A veritable plethora of ways to avoid driving
Foldies are definitely OK on buses. I haven’t tried one on a 13K Warrendale Flyer, but the one outbound morning trip is almost guaranteed to be (a) empty or nearly so, and (b) a huge, rack-less, coach-style 1900-series Greyound-like bus.
I once brought a unicycle on a 1900. It’s the one time I’ve had physical trouble with the unk on a bus; it got stuck under the seat. So far, I have heard neither good nor bad reviews with bringing a foldie on a 1900.
Another possibility is to leave a beater tied up at the Warrendale park & ride, use the 78A & 13K to get there, and bike the last 3-ish miles. That’s pretty much what I did getting from Robinson or McCandless to the Energy Center 1990-1994, only it was a beater car.
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