Life with a Bike: My Life WITHOUT a Car Over the Past 8 Months

Since June 6, 2021, I have lived my life without a car. Why? One of the biggest reasons was to cut expenses – it’s way cheaper to not own a car – but also as a challenge to see if I could, in fact, get by without one.

I left my family and my car behind in Sydney, NSW, to move up the coast to Queensland where I was to study Marine Conservation and Restoration up on the Gold Coast. Since then I haven’t owned a car.

Before going car-free, I would still take the bus, ride my bike and walk, but I would jump in the car simply because it was there and so much more convenient.

17% of Australia’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions come from transport. According to Climate Council:

Transport is Australia’s third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (96MtCO2e per year, 17% of total emissions). Transport emissions have grown more than any other sector, increasing nearly 60% since 1990.

There are over 20 million vehicles on the road and Australia has one of the highest people per car ratios in the world (unfortunately I could not find the exact number, but it’s around 1 car per person). According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics:

There were 20.1 million registered motor vehicles as at 31 January 2021. The national fleet increased by 1.7% from 2020 to 2021. Toyota topped the list of passenger vehicles for the 16th consecutive year with 3.0 million registrations. Diesel vehicles increased to 26.4% of the national fleet, up from 20.9% in 2016.

Having biked and bused as much as possible over the past few years, I still predominantly travelled by car. It really wasn’t until I moved that I decided to actually commit to the challenge of going car-free. Here I am, 8 months on, still committed to this car-free lifestyle.

The purpose of this blog post is not by any means to make you feel bad about owning a car – I owned a car for many years and it’s likely I’ll own another car one day. This blog post is just to share my experience and hopefully encourage you to think about how you use your car, maybe to learn about alternative ways of transporting yourself to your destinations, and hopefully reduce your car trips.

I’ve been very privileged that this car-free lifestyle has been accessible for me. For one, I live within a 5-10km radius of all the places I mostly visit. If I’m going on longer road trips that aren’t accessible by public transport, I’ll usually carpool. Car-free living is definitely a lot easier if you live in a city.

  • I live right near bus and train stations, making public transport very accessible and reliable.
  • There aren’t too many hills around my area, so biking isn’t super tiresome. However, in the summer it gets up to 40°C, which makes biking out of the question, so I’ll often have to bus everywhere (which can take twice as long as the bus route is often the long way round).
  • I don’t have any kids, which means I don’t need to transport anyone else but me.
  • I’m quite healthy so can bike, walk, run to my destinations.
  • I can call up friends to carpool places together if need be.
  • I can use the Car Next Door app on my phone to hire a car for a day or two to travel to destinations that aren’t accessible by, or too far to take, public transport – I have done this once so far.

As you can see there are a few things that make living without a car feasible for me. However, it does still pose a challenge sometimes, and can be frustrating. I’m someone who loves hiking, but there aren’t any means of transport to the hinterlands unless you own a car. So, the only way to get to these hiking trails is to carpool with others, which means I can only go sporadically, not whenever I like. This happens quite often, and I’ll have to prepare a few weeks in advance to go anywhere to make sure I have a means of transport, or look up the public transport route a day or two before to plan my route and make sure I get there on time (one of my longest trips took 3 hours by bus and train, while driving would have only taken me 1.5 hours). So, biking can have its disadvantages.

But, even with all these challenges and hindrances along the way, 8 months on I still have never regretted my decision.

Riding along the beach is one of my favourite things about having a bike.

It was hard at first. I’ve stayed home more often that I would like – less hikes, less catch ups with friends, less road trips, more time spent waiting for buses. It hasn’t been ideal. But, like all habits you work at continually, it’s now something that comes second nature to me.

To share my experience of living without a car, I’ll walk you through the last 8 months…

June: Until June, I owned a car and drove it constantly to work, gym, cafes, the Blue Mountains… pretty much everywhere.

In June, I packed up all my things and moved up the coast to where the sun, surf and sand is. I thought ‘this’ll be a great opportunity to ditch the car and try riding everywhere.’ I always liked the idea of owning a bike with a little basket on the front and riding along the coast. That dream became reality when I bought my secondhand bike from Facebook Marketplace, and found a beautiful place to rent a few kilometres away from the beach.

July: The first month was the hardest to adjust to. I was super unfit to start out with so biking took way longer than Google Maps said, and I felt tired all the time due to my lack of fitness. I was frustrated with biking. Everything took SO much longer. Shopping on a bike became unmanageable because I had too many grocery bags and they all wouldn’t fit in my tiny little basket (go figure), so I had to carry them on both arms and in a backpack, so my already unfit body was straining under the extra weight. Whenever I wanted to get somewhere I had to plan my trip a week prior, searching bus and train routes, mapping out any changes, or considering if the trip was really worth it.

Because of the extra time and energy it took to get places, I started not going out as much. I became a bit of a hermit; I saw friends less, said no to more, and spent most of my time at home. Not fun. This wasn’t good for my mental state, as I’m quite an extrovert, and gain a lot of energy from experiences and interactions with others.

I started thinking that the a car-free life just wasn’t going to work for me long-term.

August: By month two my fitness level had somewhat increased and biking became (a little) less tiresome. I stopped shopping on my bike and instead used the bus. This was a GAME CHANGER. The world started to look a little bit brighter, there was a little light at the end of the tunnel after all.

Riding alongside the main highway was still a huge fear of mine, and every time a car whooshed by me I’d have a mini heart attack.

September: They say habits take anywhere from 21 to 90 days to form. By September, it had been 90 days and I was starting to gain some confidence on the roads alongside my fellow man and his car. More importantly, Google Maps’ ‘estimated time to my arrival’ slowly got closer and closer to my actual arrival time. It was becoming slightly easier to get places, so I was more motivated to get out and about.

October: I’d made it 4 months! I treated my well-worn bike to a much needed service at 99 Bikes, using the money I’d saved from not owning a car. As my bike was secondhand when I got her (yes, it’s a “she”), she was already a little worn, so by the time 4 months came around, the chain needed tightening and oiling, the basket needed re-fitting, the tires needed pumping, and the bike needed a serious clean.

November: Night rides had become a regular thing. This meant I needed to fit my bike with some lights so that I would be seen by cars on the highway. I love watching sunsets, and started making it a regular part of my week to go and watch at least one sunset. I also started visiting the Miami Night Markets (Miami Marketta), a laneway full of food vendors selling cuisines of all nationalities, clothing stalls selling secondhand clothes (as well as new), live music, and a few bars selling cocktails and beer.

I was starting to venture out and explore my surroundings a little more.

December – February: 8 months on and I rarely miss having a car. I am so much fitter, more tanned (it’s summer and I have the biggest tan lines from my shirt), and have figured out a routine that works for me. My bus card is looking very worn, I know some bus routes off by heart now, and have gotten my time down to pretty much the exact arrival time on Google Maps! (Huge win). Once I get a surfboard I plan on buying one of those racks that hang off the side of the bike to take with me in the morning to the beach! I still miss the freedom of being able to hike and explore the mountains as freely as I did when I owned a car, but I’m learning to embrace the carpooling life, and treasure those moments in the mountains even more.

Here are a few pros and cons I’ve found with riding:

Good things:

  • I’ve been biking more and it’s been really lovely
  • It’s extra exercise in my day
  • No regos, servicing etc.
  • Cheaper
  • Makes me travel only when I need to (more time for other things & just chilling out!)

Hard things:

  • I’m almost always sweaty by the time I get to my destination
  • The bus is bumpy and stuffy (I miss my comfy car with its air conditioning)
  • It’s quite inconvenient when it comes to long distance trips (I have to pre-plan my route the night before to see how to get there + how long it’ll take)

Overall, I enjoy biking. It allows me to see things I wouldn’t usually see. Taking public transport means I can work or read while commuting. Riding everywhere improves my fitness and health. I love how pretty my bike is (priorities). Carpooling allows more quality time with friends. Biking is totally free to run – my legs don’t need petrol to work.

This bike was secondhand off Facebook Marketplace. I love it so much, and is exactly the bike I imagined owning by the coast (one with a basket).

Whatever your situation, even cutting out one trip a week by car and instead biking it can make a huge difference. For any trip under a 2km radius, maybe think about switching out the car for a walk or bike ride. Your body will love you for it, and so will the planet.

My experience of living without a bike

As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.  

Tell me your transport solutions… Do you think you can reduce your car trips? Share in the comments below.

Lots of love,

🖤 Vanessa