The One-Car Winter Challenge

Getting along with one car was easy for the first few months. The weather was lovely all fall; even into November, there were almost no days requiring more than a heavy sweater or light windbreaker. Saturday, for instance, I biked to the gym in shorts and a sweatshirt.

Then… winter came, and it came hard and fast. Can we still make it work with one car? Our financial position improved markedly when we sold our CRV, and I hate the idea of giving up our gains. We don’t have enough cash to buy something we would really want to drive, meaning we might have a car payment. Then there’s the insurance, the taxes, the gas (having a second car would make it too temping to drive in marginally bikeable weather), and the maintenance–according to Edmunds.com, for instance, a 2009 Honda Fit (the kind of thing we might buy) would cost us close to $30K over five years.* It would certainly delay our short-term goal of owning a home in a year or two.

The first big test came Tuesday, when it was fourteen degrees outside. Mr. FP had to work, I was home with the kids. There were basically three options:

  1. Badger Mr. FP into taking the bus to work so I could have the car.
  2. Stay at home all day with the kids.
  3. Bundle up, get on my damn bike, and take us all to the YMCA for pilates and a change of scenery.

Option #1 might not have been effective and would certainly have bred resentment. Option #2 might have resulted in damage to the furniture and/or my sanity. So I chose option #3.

You will probably not be surprised to hear that my bike was the only one on the rack at the Y! The ride was actually

Snow book and ski glove

These boots are great, but the gloves made it too hard to work the brake, so I am returning them to Costco.

not as bad as I expected, but I do want to get some better gear. Some parts of me were overheated, some were too cold, and my gloves were too stiff. The kids, fortunately, looked comfy as could be in the trailer, which has a windscreen, except that their puffy coats made it hard to fit them in.

Wednesday and Thursday, I needed the car because there was snow on the ground (Big Brother’s preschool was closed Tuesday, but he has to be dropped off normally, making staying home not an option). Cold is one thing; snow is quite another. I bundled the kids into the car and drove Mr. FP to work, once by design and once because he missed the bus. (He took the bus home.)

So far, so good. Now, let’s be honest: I am not our primary breadwinner, and I do not have full say whether or not we get another car. But I can control my own attitude and use it to further our goal of staying a one-car family. So here are my mini-goals:

  1. Do not ask for the car on any day when I could safely bike.
  2. Do not complain about winter biking.
  3. Do not complain about driving Mr. FP to work in a pinch, and don’t make him late getting the kids ready.

I’ve already invested a little money in good multi-purpose gear, most notably some really nice Merrell boots on which I dropped $90. But as Grandma FP remarked, I can buy a lot of boots for the price of a car payment.

Who else is biking this winter?

*Realistically, we would pay less than this, because we don’t drive as much as the average person, but the number is still instructive.

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

13 responses to “The One-Car Winter Challenge”

  1. Moonwaves says :

    Well done! I’m not sure I’d have left the house at that temperature at all. But we just don’t really get that cold here at all, I suppose it’s all down to what you’re used to. I started using the bike towards the end of the summer and told myself I’d use it till it started getting dark and rainy and then switch back to the tram. It was out of action for four weeks though, and I just got it back and it’s just so much more convenient that I’ve kept going. Will need to look at the gloves situation soon though – my hands were cold this evening. Also need to get a reflective vest but apparently it’s hard to get the bigger sizes so I think I’ll have to search the internet for one this weekend. I’d feel much safer with it although my route to and from work or to and from town is mostly on bike path that’s separate from the cars so it’s not too bad. I can see myself becoming one of those people who has a fold-up bike just so I’ll never have to be caught out without one. 🙂

    • frugalparagon says :

      Gloves are hard to get just right! I just got some faux quilted down gloves at Costco to try. Biking really is the most convenient way to go!

    • Matthew says :

      One vest option is to search Amazon for “Neiko safety vest.” This vest is inexpensive but effective. Although not designed for cycling, it has more body coverage than many jogging/cycling vests, making it harder for motorists to miss the big splash of high-visibility yellow. It also has multiple two inch wide reflective strips that work great in headlights. It’s cheaply made, but mine has held up well with careful use over the few months I’ve been using it, and I expect to get at least a couple years out of it. It also seems to run a bit small, but goes up to at least a size XXL.

      • Moonwaves says :

        Thanks for that. I’ve just ordered a TAQ-33 safety vest (picture here, it I did the tags correctly http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/416Sm00p9aL._SY300_.jpg – it’s an XL/XXL but even if it’s not quite big enough I reckon adding more elastic should be a bit easier than adjusting the other type. Glad you posted a reply though because it spurred me on to just getting my act together for the all of five minutes it has taken me to search and order. Also pleased that instead of just ordering from amazon, I took the time to google once I’d found the one I wanted. Exact same guy selling the exact same thing on ebay for nearly three euro less than it cost on amazon.

  2. Matthew says :

    Mrs. FP, way to go on braving the 15 degree weather! It’s surprising how warm you can stay in freezing weather as you’re biking. The main challenge in my experience is keeping the extremities warm. How did Big and Little Brother handle the cold by the end of the ride since they didn’t have the benefit of the exercise?

  3. David says :

    I could talk your ear off about winter gear choices, but there’s pretty good convo going on here: http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/throw-down-the-gauntlet/november-cycling-challenge-2014/ There’s plenty of threads from last winter if you search around too.

    Learning what layers work at what temp ranges takes some practice, because it (duh) depends on what you’re working with. Avoid cotton at all costs if you’re going to sweat. Because I have loads of space in my panniers (typically) I’ll pack an extra layer just in case.

    If you have questions, feel free to email or PM me though 🙂

    • frugalparagon says :

      Thanks–that thread is really helpful! I’ve already ordered a merino wool base layer since Mr. FP loves his so much, but I haven’t decided what to do about pants yet. Cotton leggings under cotton sweatpants are definitely a short-term solution! I might even get winter cycling tights so I can wear them under jeans (can’t bike in jeans without padding!) and look reasonably normal at my destination.

      • David says :

        Synthetic base layers for legs can be had for $10. The minute you add “cycling” to an item, it costs $30+.

        I’d never bike in jeans because I’ve never gotten around to getting leg bands to keep them from getting shredded by the front chainring, so I go “hobo chic” with my ratty, years-old cotton sweats 😛 If I’m going to be somewhere a while and need/want to be presentable, I just change when I arrive.

      • frugalparagon says :

        Mr. FP has leg bands that I sometimes borrow, but in a pinch, I’ve found that a medium-sized binder clip is just dandy.

        On the other hand, jeans = seams = ouch, which is why I only wear them biking with a padded layer underneath!

  4. bribikes says :

    You are a super awesome mama! I really should buy a trailer for my dogs so I can take them places with me. Personally, that is the biggest con of car free living, having to leave them home alone.

    I am gonna try to live car free through the winter, I have my studded tires, warm clothing and bike lights so I should be good to go!

    • frugalparagon says :

      I love the idea of a trailer for dogs! Don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

      Dunno how big your dogs are, but they might be tricky to pull in the winter. My kids weigh about 70 pounds combined and I wouldn’t try it–the trailer is hard enough to stop on dry ground! (If we’re at the bottom of a hill, it is hard to keep from rolling into traffic.) But I haven’t tried studded tires–maybe they would make more difference than I realize!

      • David says :

        Studded tires only give grip on ice, not pavement.

        If you’re having trouble stopping, a couple tips without knowing the type of brakes you have:

        1. Brake with the front wheel primarily (typically the left-hand brake). Just like with cars, braking the front wheel gives at least 75% of your stopping power compared to the rear. I only brake with my rear if I’m going down hills in bad conditions, where I’m worried about having the back end swing out because of no traction.

        2. Get better pads. I really like Kool Stop, either black or salmon, but the salmon-colored ones add really good wet braking capability for a little bit shorter life. I don’t pull all 3 kids anymore, but I had no problem stopping ~200 pounds with just my front brake alone.

      • frugalparagon says :

        The problem is not with braking per se–it’s actually more with HOLDING the bike. There is one awkward crossing where I have to stop at the bottom of a small hill and wait to cross the street. Gravity pulls the trailer downward and I have trouble holding it in place.

        If I do get studded tires, it will be for solo biking. (If you had told me two years ago that I would be even casually considering buying special tires so I could bike in the snow, I would have laughed at you!)

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