Bicycles needed for a car-free existence

This is not really a list of bicycles. It is a list of the roles that bicycles need to play. Each bicycle will provide many of the below functions.

For example, my fixed-gear bicycle provides me with roles 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, and of course 13. My Univega cargo bike plays roles 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

I started thinking about this back when we started searching for a proper touring bike for me. Something that will allow us to take vacations, using our own power; which is to say, 4, 5, and 12. And it made me think of what I want from that bike, and what roles bicycles need to play. More on the touring bike later, of course! For now here is a list of bicycle functions to ponder.

1. Bicycle to haul a heavy-duty trailer and heavy loads.

2. Bicycle to haul a light-duty trailer containing children and/or pets.

3. Bicycle to carry children and/or pets, safely, in the rain, to a close destination. Like the vet’s.

4. Bicycle to go on long-distance trips, either with a destination (“vacation”) or just to ride for a long time (“bike touring”).

5. Bicycle to go bike-camping with (short, two-to-three day jaunts)

6. Bicycle to go to the library.

7. Bicycle to ride in the rain.

8. Bicycle that I can ride in regular shoes, for going to work, meetings, hikes, etc.

9. Bicycle that can be locked up for a long time in a high-crime area without looking too expensive and without being so expensive that it would be a terrible tragedy if it were in fact stolen. (“Beloved” not being equivalent to expensive.)

10. Bicycle to go to the grocery store/run errands when a trailer is not necessary.

11. Bicycle to go on day rides (20-100(+?) mi) for recreation/exercise/light errands. Light and fast.

12. Bicycle which can withstand dirt-road riding on certain long-distance trips and bike camping.

13. Bicycle equipped with a fixed-gear drivetrain.

What can your bike do? Is there something you need from a bicycle that is not listed here?

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9 Responses to Bicycles needed for a car-free existence

  1. Jarrett says:

    I love how bikes seem to multiply with the requirement. I love that something so simple is complex enough to have so many specific uses. I bought the Peugoet because I needed a bike I could lock up places without fear someone would hork it – if they do, I’ll be able to handle it. But – deary lou! – what happens when the rains return (and I’d give anything if they would this weekend)? Obviously, another bike. Soon, I’ll be bookless and sleeping in the bathtub. But oh the rides I’ll have….


  2. Patrick says:

    Fenders! Peugeots love fenders. I mean, don’t let that stop you from finding another bike, or anything. 🙂 –patrick

  3. Gregorbug says:

    I ride my bike to my job at Starbucks every day!

  4. Tom Painter says:

    I ride my bike to Dell every day. It gets me in ahead of the traffic and allows me time relax at my desk and read the Dell
    blog and

  5. Wendy says:

    A bike I can ride in the snow?? Living in Maine, where things
    are SPREAD out (the grocery where we shop is 5 1/2 miles down a
    major highway) and weather is not optimum for bike riding for
    five months out of the year, it may be more difficult
    (not impossible, mind you) for us to consider a carfree
    existence – especially with three little ones, ages 9, 6 and 3.
    But what a great learning experience for our little
    homeschoolers, eh?

    Places we have to go and the approximate distance in one
    dance class (10 to 14 miles down windy, country roads)
    other classes (between 5 and 20 miles)
    work (20 miles on the turnpike – no bikes allowed 😉
    shopping (5 to 15 miles – depending on the store)
    library (3 miles)
    dentist (2 miles)
    vet (3 miles)
    client’s office (7 miles)
    doctor (10 miles)

    What I need is a tandem bike with a trailer for hauling
    kids and/or pets to keep them out of the weather.
    Has anyone seen such a thing?

  6. Patrick says:

    Hi Wendy,

    I grew up in Colorado but I didn’t go car free until living on the west coast, so all my knowledge about snowy winter cycling is second hand.

    To answer your question directly, there are plenty of mountain-bikey tandems out there, and all of them can pull a trailer, so the biggest issues for you would be traction for the bike, and insulation for the trailer. For traction, consider some studded snow tires . . . Peter White has an informative page about them. For insulation, well, just get out the wool blankets, or maybe a sleeping bag.

    I expect balance would also be an issue with the slippery packed snow. So maybe consider a three-wheeled vehicle such as a Christiania cargo trike (expensive, nearly impossible to get, but, handily, designed for carrying kids). Or, look at the “Atomic Zombie” web site to see some interesting home-built bikes, particularly Brad Graham’s SnowBus, which seems purpose-built for your application. If you’re handy with a welding torch, Brad has published a book with instructions on how to build this and other bikes.

    Other ideas that are worth exploring if you haven’t yet:
    The Xtracycle, an ingenious aftermarket bike-extension device that adds a lot of versatility to your cargo and kid-carrying capabilities.
    The Stokemonkey, an electric-assist device designed specifically for Xtracycles (full disclosure: Todd, the inventor, is a friend of ours, and a car-free parent). This would help out if carrying cargo over great distances is an issue.
    The Surly Pugsley, a heavy-duty any-terrain-at-all bicycle.

    These are all pretty expensive options, but i present them less as a buying guide and more as sources of inspiration and information. Checking them out will give you some ideas of the different ways people are addressing some of your challenges. One of the handiest things about our culture of overconsumption is that we’re swimming in cheap, lightly used mountain bikes. You could start with one of those, and see how you might be able to adapt it to your needs.

    Ultimately I have found that one of the most important factors in a car-free life is living in a densely populated area; if not a city, then a small town that still has a functioning town center. Not a short-term solution, but if being more bike-dependent becomes a priority for you, it’s something to consider for the long term.

    Thanks for your comment! Please let us know how it goes.

  7. Wendy says:

    Wow! I had no idea … I mean, I knew the kind of thing I needed probably existed, but I
    wasn’t even in the same … I don’t know … thought-world as these inventors! Amazing!
    Now, I have some better ideas, and hopefully, my husband won’t think I’m totally
    whacked for wanting to reduce the dependence on our cars and start pedaling everywhere
    we go ;). Thank you so much!

  8. Josh says:

    I love my Xtracycle bicycle, a company mentioned already, attached to an Electra Townie bicycle. I bought mine all from Xtracycle as a kit. The Townie bike is so nice for riding because you aren’t bent over and it has a nice large seat and the pedals are more forward. It also means its easier to put your foot on the ground without hopping off. I had a Trek hybrid bike, but I don’t have the back, neck and shoulder, or ass pains with the new Townie, although seat related pains were more on longer rides at this point. And the Xtracycle part is so nice for errand running and commuting. No more panniers or trailers, just throw anything you want in the built in bag/strap system so easily. It is longer, though, but not really a problem as far as I’m concerned. And it can hold a lot, and even other people, or power the bicycle blender.

    I would also like to get a folding bike from either Bike Friday or Dahon. Dahon makes better ones for town riding and folding and keeping clothes clean, but Bike Friday (a lot more expensive) makes incredible travel bikes for traveling by rail for example and bringing the touring bike with you.

  9. cecil says:

    I have my heart set on a Bakfiets –

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