Let’s all start biking everywhere

By | October 7, 2016

Here’s my best attempt to persuade you that biking is your purpose in life. Or at least the best way to get around a bunch of places.

Biking saves money! 

Biking is pretty much free after you fork over the initial outlay of money. My commute to work in Chicago using the L cost me $80/month for an unlimited pass. This expense was begging to be cut back, just pleading to be eliminated because Chicago, for the most part, is a beautifully flat city with bike lanes up the wazoo. At least, it had bike lanes from my apartment to my office building downtown, which is what matters.

Over the course of a few months, I claimed an old pink Huffy bike in my parent’s garage (free), found a mechanic who fixed it up (bartered with him, so $0), nabbed a couple of locks from my parent’s basement (free), and purchased a helmet ($20).

Amsterdam bike culture

Amsterdam bike culture

I’m not entirely convinced that you need a helmet, but I’m too much of a wimp to act as a first-mover in this problem. Shortly after my first successful commute to work, I canceled my monthly unlimited Chicago Transit Card pass and made back the money I spent in a week. There were a gazillion weeks after that where my commute cost me nothing. Nothing!

My commuting costs weren’t that much to begin with because I didn’t have a car. If you bike instead of using your car, the savings must be like huge. Cars are one giant money suck and every trip you take using your car costs you money.

Here is what I think you need to start biking.

Bike Accouterments

  1. Bike (duh)
  2. Helmet (maybe)
  3. Snake lock thingy (for the front tire)
  4. Heavy lock thingy (for the frame and back tire)
  5. Sunglasses
  6. Water bottle
  7. Tissues (I’m allergic to the world)
  8. Lights (if you’re biking at night)
    1. Front light
    2. Back light
  9. In the winter:
    1. earmuffs
    2. gloves (I used two pairs if it was cold)
    3. layers
  10. In the summer:
    1. a change of clothes
  11. Backpack (for the stuff)

It’s not that much prep and it gets easier the more you do it. Like everything in life.

A lot of cities have bike sharing programs, so maybe try that if you don’t want to spend money on an actual bike straight off. Many cities also offer free courses on bike maintenance, repair and routes. Seriously, look into it. We’re all here to help you. If you are relatively close to where you want to go, you can bike there at least some of the time, huh?

This is how to live.


Crosswalk bike guy resting in Vienna

Biking gives you control

My favorite mode of transportation is walking. I love walking more than I love anything and will gladly walk anywhere for as long as you want. Leisurely stroll to the library? Cool, which one? Date in Logan Square? Okay, I’ll take the train to you and you can walk me back home. Meeting with Leif in Bridgeport? Argh, I just missed my bus, so will be about 20 minutes late. Sorry.

Unfortunately, walking allows you only so big of a radius of wandering before you concede to time difficulties. After a couple of weeks of successful biking to work without dying, I realized that I could ride my bike all over the city.

Like everywhere. To do everything. My world opened up with my patented explosion noise. Biking easily triples the distance I can cover over walking. Quick trip to the library to drop off books? That is like a three-minute detour on my way home from work. Date in Logan Square? Yes, there’s a bike lane all the way there and all the way back! Meeting with Leif in Bridgeport? What better way to demonstrate the power of thrift than spending $0 to get there — and on time to boot!

I had a mode of transportation that I could control that was fast and convenient and so fast. And you know I’m a big fan of the illusion of control.

This is how to live.

Biking feels empowering

I don’t know why, but biking seems daunting. There are moving cars and people and I’m a wimp. Biking makes me feel like a badass. Still on the wimpy side of badassity, but badass nonetheless. It’s a super easy way to feel good about yourself.

If I can do it, you most certainly can do it.

Biking past the Berlin wall was one of the highlights of my life. In my lifetime, this place went from being called the death zone to now having ice cream trucks and children laughing. The world is getting better.

Biking past the Berlin Wall was one of the highlights of my life. This place went from being called the death zone to now having ice cream trucks and children laughing. The world is getting better. Not pictured: the Berlin Wall.

Biking is good for the environment

Better than cars anyway. You know all this.

And good for your body

You know this too.

Biking is fun

Remember as a kid when you went biking for fun? That’s because biking is fun! It’s so much more pleasant than taking the train or cursing in traffic. Riding my bike to and from work was the highlight of my day in Chicago. It can be the highlight of your day too!

A good bike is worth the expense, I think

I’m embarrassed to admit that my old pink Huffy bike was kind of crappy. I had no idea what to do with the gears and I can count the number of times I passed another cyclist on two hands. I’m used to being terrible at physical activities, so I never minded.



In Chicago anyway. I rode to work sporadically in Sydney, but ultimately abandoned that endeavor. Here’s the list of reasons I made to justify my bad decision.

Why I’m Going to Stop Biking To Work in Sydney

  1. Biking takes seven minutes. That’s not enough time to enjoy my time outside.
  2. That hill on Forbes Street is a major jerk. I’m putting it on my archenemy list.
  3. Hauling my bike up and down three flights of stairs daily is surprisingly stressful.
  4. It’s been a year and I still feel like the traffic is on the wrong side.
  5. I suck at life.

Here’s where I failed. My bikes were too cheap.

I know that’s not what you expected me to say. But I’m all about spending money on things that are important to you. I suspect the large quality of life improvement would have been worth the expense. If the bike were lighter, I wouldn’t struggle so much with the stairs. If the bike were electric, I may have been friends with that hill on Forbes Street. Although, I imagine I’d still encounter the initial problem of taking it up stairs.

I am glad I brought up electric bikes though. I recently hung out with Mr. Money Mustache (I don’t think that’s his real name) and he let me try his electric bike. This is how to live indeed. I find myself wanting to stay in one place so I can justify the purchase and spend my days zipping up steep hills and laughing maniacally.


Maniacal laughter ensues.

What an invention! The bike Mr. ‘Stache let me try was basically a minivan version so you could haul groceries or medium-sized children or children-sized adults on it quite easily. Now there’s nothing you can’t do on a bike.

My only pause is that they’re rather pricey. I’m not sure what the appropriate amount to spend on a bike is. I’d have to do the math, but I suspect it’s more than the $30 I spent in Sydney, but probably less than the fancy electric minivan one which can run into the thousands.

Anyway, I added “go on a long bike road trip” to my life bucket list. Suggestions on routes?

27 thoughts on “Let’s all start biking everywhere

  1. Jen

    I love reading your blog! You have a super nice way with words.
    Check out poppingthebubble.com for some cycling inspiration. It’s about the adventures of a husband and wife cycling from Morocco to Scotland with their 2 young boys. Not suggesting you try anything that physically taxing in real life though…unless you really want a challenge and are keen to invest in some heavily padded cycling shorts 🙂

  2. Brad Stubblefield

    I love this post! When I lived in Germany, they biked everywhere, in every weather condition! This is something I have tried, but haven’t been completely successful, to incorporate in my life then and now that I live back in the US. I also like using the bike share stations in cities to get around and view a new city. As for a route. I recently watched “Inspired to Ride” on Netflix about a Transamerica bike race. I hope to do this route, not the race, one day. This route may be a bit more than what you were looking for. On the link below on the right of webpage there are other routes in other parts of the country of varying distances.


    Thank you so much for your posts! They are so motivating and have got my ass in gear to really pursue and achieve early retirement. Cheers!

  3. ks

    Hmm, how often does ThriftyGal bike in Chicago’s (or any other place she visits) harsh weather or nighttime? My rule of thumb is if my destination is 3 and 10 miles one way, drive or combine walking, biking and bus or train. I can climb plenty of hills on a decent bike and no one’e ever described me as athletic – it’s all about the gears.

    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I didn’t bike if it was raining. But I also got bike lights and rode in the dark often. I should update the post and add the bike lights.

  4. Liz

    Yes! This was such a timely read for me. I just gave myself a challenge to not put gas in my car for the month of October, so I’m biking to work everyday, something I have done only sporadically in the past. A week in and my favorite part is how I feel like I’m sneaking extra fun into every single day of my life. We all totally need more fun! And I love the idea of adding a long distance bike trip to the Life Bucket List. My sis- and bro- in law did a bike tour of the Pacific coastline from Seattle to San Francisco, which I think is pretty well established with some designated camp grounds and other amenities specifically for bikers. They had a blast. I have also heard of a trail in Oregon that takes you through wine country. Thanks for the post, ThriftyGal, and I look forward to seeing your long distance bike adventure!

  5. Hernan

    I started biking about 1 month ago. It changed my life. I feel more energetic. I ride every day. I sometimes even ride to work. I don’t know why more Americans don’t bike. It’s probably because we are so obsessed with the car. We should learn from Europe in regards to the bike.

  6. tt

    Great rides:

    rt 100 in Vermont or the Kancamagus in New Hampshire (112)

    or ride the GGRA in San Francisco… the Presidio to the Zoo!

  7. Sendug

    The Berlin Wall ride sounds awesome! Reminds me of the bike tour we took in Soweto in Jo’burg, South Africa. Highly recommended if you ever go down there.

    I also got turned onto biking from MMM and have loved it. We don’t own a car, and I now essentially use the bike to get anywhere when I’m traveling alone. The furthest I’ve gone is about 90 minutes away to the in-laws. (They thought I was nuts, but it takes maybe 70 minutes even by car due to all the lights.)

    For great rides, the most epic ones I ever heard of are cross-continental, but that takes months. In the US, I’d also imagine that the PCH would be great. A quick search turned up this–anyone ever check any of these out? Being from the DC suburbs, the GAP/C&O trail sounds excellent.

  8. symara ann kaslov

    your enthusiasm for life and living thriftily is so inspiring to me. Thank you for Sharing! I currently live in Houston. Despite one of Houston’s logos having a bike on it, I don’t consider Houston to be a very bike friendly city. I do my very best to give biker plenty of space and to send the good energy when I am driving past them on the street.

  9. Christiane

    In Europe I can recommend the Danube between Passau and Vienna (1 week) or even Budapest (2 weeks). Very good bike paths, lots of sightseeing along the way and cheap bnbs used to accomodate bikers.

  10. Jean

    You have a great way with words.
    I may never jump on a bike again (to keep the rest of the world safe!) but I loved reading your blog today.

    Keep those pedals moving.

  11. Andrew

    I somehow got away from biking in my 30`s. I guess it was the hectic job and raising two kids. Last summer I started doing some recreational biking. Nothing too major. This spring I discovered the MMM cult and he had me super motivated.

    I started biking to the grocery store with a backpack. It turns out it is fun. Then I got my twins on their bikes. My daughter was reluctant and said she would rather walk everywhere…god bless her. I was persistent. The next thing I know we are discovering all these little green spaces between streets that I never knew existed. We probably biked to the grocery store 8 times and they loved it. My son is forever doing little skids and stirring up dusts…just like I remember doing.

    I got more bad ass and borrowed a friends bike stroller. I bought $125 in groceries and everything fit. Then at the end of summer I took my kids and we went by bike onto a couple of ferries and camped for an entire weekend. Simply awesome!

    The bike is for real! Next up I want to tackle my 65 km (40 + mile car commute by bike).

  12. Wendy

    Just had dinner with friends who biked through Vietnam and Cambodia. It sounds amazing, and apparently relatively flat. Something to add to your list! 🙂

  13. Peter

    I live in Portland and recently took on the challenge of bike riding to work. Actually, I only bike part of the way. I keep my bike locked up overnight in a secure Bikelink locker at the train stop, from there, it is a 2 mile ride along a straight bike path to work. One great appeal of bike riding to work is that I see the world through a different lens. When I rode my bike to work along a quiet neighborhood bike path I noticed interesting things like beautiful cape cod and ranch style homes that I never would have noticed because I always drove to work along 33rd Ave, a busy stressful congested stop and go intersection. There is also a wonderful neighborhood park along the way to work where I can pause for a few minutes, enjoy a soda, watch kids play, and smell the roses. I also enjoy the benefit of incorporating some physical exercise into my day by walking to train/bike riding to work. Great bike riding post, I really enjoyed reading it.

  14. Eliza Woolcock

    JAPAN! By far the best place to start for beginner bike touring. It’s beautiful, safe, has great quality roads, super bicycle friendly culture and safe drivers who give you a wide berth, convenient stores at least every hour of biking, lovely people, great food, incredibly scenery, and the best bit: onsens waiting for you around every corner! Nothing better than a long soak in natural hot springs in the middle of a cold misty mountain, after a long day on the saddle! I highly recommend going in Spring during the cherry blossom bloom (Hanami) which starts in the south and slowly migrates north. Everyone is out basking in the beautiful spring weather and enjoying the flowers. If you want more details I’d be happy to share. I did a 9 week tour with my beau on the back of a tandem bicycle (quite a challenge) from Fukuoka to Tokyo. We even rode the bike right into Narita Airport – pretty incredible! He has also done the US east coast to west coast ( 3 months) and from Cairo to Tel Aviv (a bit more daring). Our next one in December will be short – 2 weeks in Taiwan! Happy touring!

      1. Eliza

        Give it a try! You can carry a small tent and sleeping bag and camp along the way, or find quaint little hotels. Completely changed my world view – transporting yourself across a whole country makes the world seem very small. You feel like you can achieve anything when you conquer a mountain (hint:you can!). You feel very free, and connected to the environment you’re in and see much more than you would by faster modes of transport. I’d love to hear about it, if you go on a biking adventure!

        1. Thriftygal Post author

          Yes! Anyone have a packing list for this type of adventure? The more I think about it, the better it sounds.

  15. Laszlo

    While in college one summer I rode my bike up from Toronto all the way up to Timmins, northern Ontario, which is about 800km. I purchased pannier bag for the bike and I carried a light (2 pound) dome tent and a foam roll and a light sleeping bag with mylar to keep warm. Other essential items: backpack with frame, rain gear, sunscreen, flashlight, plus a radio for entertainment. The sleep quality on a longer trip like this is crucial for staying in shape. In rural Canada, there are a lot of so-called crown lands that entitle citizens to camp and to reasonably use the land for free so it worked out great, and nobody bothered me apart from a few casual curious black bears and wolves, but this approach would not work at all in US states such as Texas where 98% of the fields are under lock and key, though the sun and rain still come through.

  16. Dinard Jesse B. Gonzales

    Whew! 100% around the idea of biking as a main mode of transport. Cycling coupled with a robust public transportation system is amazing. America’s got a couple main train routes that allow you to travel across the country, but it’s nowhere as near comprehensive and easy to use as the transportation systems in parts of Europe and Asia. Even when the occasional transit workers strike pops up and stops you from visiting one the earliest and most strategist established roads in Rome (X_X), they’re still amazing.

    I use to bike to work and the gym five days a week. Anywhere between 120-150 miles a week depending on what roads I had to take (I worked in a gated community, so certain gates were open/closed at certain times). I’d still be doing it now, but it took a hefty chunk of time out of my day to do so. It took about 50-70 minutes (mostly downhill, thank God) to get to work, but a grueling 70-90 minutes to get back to my house (uphill for the most part). I’m hoping to alleviate this, however by taking a page from MMM.

    I’m picking up a heavy duty motor for my Trek Transport utility bicycle from EBikeKits (not a plug, honest). I’m hoping that it’ll even out those hills when I need to take extra equipment to/from my job. The trips the grocery store will be easier as well. 😉

    When I’m not hauling stuff around town I’ll be using my Diamondback Insight coupled with my GeoOrbital wheel (again, not really a plug since I’m going off of Nashbar suggestions from MMM), which I hope to be receiving sometime in the first couple months of the new year. The GeoOrbital Wheel is a self contained motorized wheel. This’ll kind of me a test run for me since it’s a bit of a departure from a typical electric bicycle. I’ll include a link if you want to read more about it.

    I know all of these purchases seem very anti-thrifty and you would be correct in that assumption. However I feel that these purchases are needed if I’m going to make the switch from car transportation to (mostly) leg powered transportation.

  17. Richard P. Beem (@BeemPatentLaw)

    My favorite place to bike is the paved back roads of Green County WI where I grew up. Very beautiful. Hills are killers though, so it takes some serious conditioning. I use a road (racing) bike and leave my younger brother behind on his mountain bike, but I wish I had a lower gear to crawl up the steepest grades. Old railroad paths avoid the hills but for me they’re not as scenic or free wheeling. I love the small towns too. In my hometown Monroe WI visit the square and have a cheese sandwich at Baumgartner’s. I bike not enough in Chicago, have to ramp it up.

  18. Amanda S

    I “cackled” for about 3 straight minutes at the “child-sized adults” verbiage. It might be more amusing to me than it is to other because I happen to be a woman that is taller than the average U.S. male. Oh the irony. Just started reading your blog (found you from Mr. Stache) thanks for the comedic relief in my seemingly too serious life. Maybe one day our paths will cross.



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