A year of living carlessly in Minneapolis

dan_bikeHe and his wife having paid off student loans in the last year, Daniel Sarles wasn’t looking forward to the idea of going right back into debt. But the 20-year old Camry with more than 200,000 miles wasn’t getting any younger. The Minneapolis man, 28, a financial analyst for UCare, has been driving it since he was in high school.

That’s when Tour de Fat hit town, the New Belgium Beer promotion that trades a new bike for an old car.

Sarles took a shot at winning, submitting a video that explained why.

He won, and this week he’s started his year of living carlessly.

“Why would I sit in traffic for 30 minutes, then come home and exercise for another 30 minutes when I can ride a bike for 40 minutes? ” he theorized. “Tour de Fat is helping me become a more efficient person!”

He doesn’t consider himself a “biking guy,” at least by Minneapolis standards in which bicycling is a religion. “I liked biking, but that wasn’t my main mode of transportation before. It’s an upgrade and a commitment to living with a bike.”

His wife still has her car, and, no, he’s not banned from getting the occasional lift. But he’s documenting his year on a Tumblr, and he realizes people aren’t going to want to read much about a guy in Minneapolis who got a ride to work from his wife, or took public transportation around the city.

“The spirit of this… I do want to be going to the grocery store and using my bike to run errands,” he says. “I want to do as much as living without a car. I want to see how possible it is.”

We know for certain it’s possible, at least in August, and, perhaps, in September. After that, things get pretty dicey for someone who, up to this week, only had a Schwinn worth about $100.

“I thought those people were crazy,” he says of the bicyclists who ride to work all winter in whatever weather. “But when you talk to them, they don’t think it’s so crazy. And I’m pretty ambitious.”

His wife is mostly concerned about his safety, he reports. So he’ll try not to ride along Lyndale Ave., which is to bicyclists what hell is to mere mortals.

He has an 8.4-mile commute to work, which he figures he can do in 40 minutes each way. The toughest lifestyle commitment is waking up earlier to get to work, and maybe losing out on the occasional lunch or dinner with his friends, most of whom live in the suburbs, which can be to bikers what Lyndale Avenue is to the city.

Whether giving up a car makes sense financially remains to be seen, he says. “If I’m putting this many miles on a bike consistently, a lot of stuff is going to break. I want to see what’sthe financial side of this.”

  • ““If I’m putting this many miles on a bike consistently, a lot of stuff is going to break. I want to see what’s the financial side of this.”

    It shouldn’t be that bad if he can do the repairs himself.

    Also – Lyndale Avenue isn’t a terrible street for biking, especially between 54th Ave S and Lake Street

  • Kassie

    It is really easy to live in a city without a car. I know lots of people who do it, and some don’t bike either. In fact, I bet there are thousands of people in Minneapolis who don’t have a car, and not even by choice. They are just poor or unable to drive due to disability.

    • Dave

      I guess it depends what you mean by “really easy.” I would argue it’s not really easy if you have any children.

      • johnepeacock

        I have a friend who has 4 children under 10 and doesn’t drive a car. He lives in South Mpls, bikes daily to the office and zips his kids around the city all the time in trailers, bike seats or whatnot. He’s a year round biker, through and through. And once you start living that lifestyle, you end up finding that a bunch of people do the same thing.

        • Dave

          I admire people who do this, though I’m not seeing anything in your message about “really easy.”

          One of the choices for preschool for my daughter was easily within biking distance of our home. I could have just dropped her there on my bike route to work. But we chose a different preschool because it was better than the close school, knowing we would need to drive. You have to make more compromises without a car.

          • Thomas Mercier

            The fact that you only have one preschool option within a reasonable biking distance means you made compromises suited towards other desires when you selected your housing. Life is about choices and you’ve chosen to live with a car. I’m choosing to push my limits and live with less use of my car but I doubt our household will drop down a car anytime soon.

          • Dave

            Actually, there are three within biking distance, but we ruled out two of them. One within biking distance remained.

          • johnepeacock

            My apologies. He has mentioned many times that once he made the decision, it’s just a part of your life. I would say with almost certainty that it’s very easy for him as well. You have more route options and he can usually get places by bike faster than in a car. You get to know the routes and know what’s safe, not congested and your timing gets pretty accurate once you do it a few times. In a car, your travel timing is rarely weighted towards you, the driver.

      • Kassie

        Kids can take buses as easily as adults can. And are free if under 4!

        And these people in the story don’t have kids. We just forget that there are many people living in the city without cars, without problems. It is a story when a white middle-class guy gives up his car. (How’s he going to get to Happy Hour?) It is just daily life when it is a black, poor woman who doesn’t have one. She gets around. She lives her life. She doesn’t blog about it.

        • Addy

          Oh, looks like Kassie responded. One doesn’t have to wonder what her response would look like. =)

        • AD

          If this woman that you speak of entered the contest and won, then she would be required to document her journey of biking. It’s part of the gig.

      • Addy

        Knowing Kassie, I doubt she’d argue against the idea that having children might make the biking lifestyle more difficult. Still, she’s right. It’s really easy in general. Sure, you can poke holes in it all you like, but it’s still a sound description since so very many people find it to be very easy.

      • cedar

        I don’t know if it’s “really easy,” but it’s not hard. It’s even easier if you have an HOURCAR subscription for those times when a car really does come in handy — like those birthday party invitations for destinations out in the ‘burbs. Other than that, though, I don’t know that it makes such a huge difference whether or not you have a kid, other than strollers being such a hassle on the bus and in Minnesota winters.

  • alex

    I find it very easy to live without a car, and I don’t even own a bike. Cars are expensive, and they’re not worth the trouble.

  • Addy

    He’s going to love his new mode of transportation. It’s fabulous.

    You know what’s neat? No drivers have complained on this thread yet about scofflaw bikers. Kinda weird. Do you think they’re all at a convention of angry entitled drivers in some far-flung suburb? 😉

    • Nick

      Since you decided to bring it up, what’s wrong with expecting someone that uses the road to follow the rules of the road? I live by a busy park in Minneapolis and bicyclists run the stop signs in front all the time. Frequently they come close to hitting kids as they cross the street to the park area. If you use the road, you need to follow all the laws. Plain and simple.

      • Kassie

        I suppose you always come to a complete stop at every intersection, always turn into the closest lane, stop EVERY TIME you see a pedestrian at a corner waiting to cross to give them right of way and never, ever go even one mph over the speed limit when driving? Right?

        Yep, some people on bikes break the rules, but every single car driver I know does, not just some.