47 comments


  • Meghan

    Thanks so much for the post!! I am a new bike commuter in Eugene (moved here from Ohio) and am looking forward to transitioning to a car-free lifestyle! I can definitely identify with a lot of the things you went through, and the rain that is setting in certainly isn’t making biking easy! So thanks for the encouraging words!!!

    November 06, 2011
  • Good job, Russ. Very nicely written: especially emphasizing the Leap of Imagination that I think is necessary for anyone to start editing the automobile out of their life.

    But my Leap was at the other end of the continuum: the 5 minutes it took for my internist to tell me that I had acquired late onset diabetes, and – without some physical activity every day – I would die sooner, rather than later.

    Nothing like the prospect of an early departure to focus the mind….

    - Nate (Salt Lake City)

    November 06, 2011
  • George

    That is the best bicycle post I’ve read in a long time. It fills in many details that I’ve wondered about your life with bicycles. It is the kind of thing that will motivate and encourage the rest of us, whether we are beginning with bikes or seasoned commuting veterans.
    Thanks especially for the comments about the snobbishness about some bikes and those of us who ride them. It has always seemed to me that the worse bike is better than no bike.

    November 06, 2011
  • Great story, beautifully told! Congrats on your new, liberating life! Here’s to years of more bike adventures–

    November 06, 2011
  • Ryan Surface

    Russ you gotta post a picture of that Yellow Schwinn! I laugh when I see those old Schwinn catalogs that have the unmitigated gall to list a Varsity as a “Lightweight” bike. Those old tanks got the job done for lots of kids in the 70′s including my older Brother.

    November 06, 2011
  • [...] post: How Losing My Car Saved My Life admin posted at 2011-11-6 Category: [...]

    November 06, 2011
  • What an excellent post! This is definitely something that every driver needs to be reading. I’ve gone through almost all of the things that you did, except for some small differences:

    -I never smoked. I always hated the idea, and the SMELL. BUT, I was slightly overweight, and the bike helped me lose some of that weight, which I am very grateful for.

    -I never owned a car, which is something I am proud of. However, I used to piggyback on my parents’ cars a lot to get to school. The commute is about 23 miles, and it always sucked. I always felt mad or depressed on my way to school and back. One day I just stopped driving. I used a combination of my bike and the bus, and it’s been working beautifully so far.

    Your story is a great one, and I think it does a great job of representing pretty much anyone that has gone through this experience. Thanks for sharing.

    November 06, 2011
  • JD in NoHo

    Nice job. One of the more compelling posts here. Clearly you’re an Angeleno when you refer to “surface streets”.

    November 06, 2011
  • Joe Piseski

    Russ, most inspirational! When are you and Laura coming through Minneapolis to visit our very cycling friendly city? And you’ll be able to visit my favorite bike shop, Calhoun Cycle ( http://www.calhouncycle.com/ ). Love your blogging and photos —- keep up the great work!

    November 06, 2011
  • john friedrichs

    A well told story of a cross road in your life.One can never really say what a “bad thing hapening” is in life at the time of the occurence[?]….Brooks saddles wouldnt have happened when they did if Mr.Brooks’ horse hadnt died,and well….the rest is history…I for one am really glad it died and we all have such wonderful leather seats to cross the country on in comfort….{ it was probably the horses time to go anyway] ……….Best to you both……….John

    November 06, 2011
  • Stephen Lambert

    What a great story, loved the way you “evolved” until you found the bike, the right bike at the right time.
    I too am going through a bit of an
    evolution, and have become very “car light”, usually using it only once per week to run an outlying errand, or to see my son play hockey out of state. With winter coming on, I want to explore the bike/bus option mentioned above. My favorite part of my commute is riding past my parked car, and thinking…..not today!!!
    Be well,
    Stephen

    November 06, 2011
  • Toby

    It’s a great story and I feel fortunate to have followed its evolution since the Bike Commuters, Epicurean Cyclist and Eco-Friendly Cycling Photog days. Thanks for the inspiration.

    November 06, 2011
  • john

    Thanks for putting this up! As others have said, it does help fill in some blanks with some great content! How cool for you (both of you!)

    Funny I should read this today. Today was the first day I have drove since July when I began bike commuting. How strange it was to arrive at work driving! And how much did I miss my bike on the ride in! I can’t wait for my work needs to change back in a few months and I can begin to bike again.

    November 07, 2011
  • John Whitman

    Russ:

    I’ve been following your adventures since early last summer, when I found a link on the Brompton website. That was about a month before I got my Brompton, and I was eager to read your blogs, partly to get a sense of the limitations/strengths of the Brompton. Since then my car has spent a lot more time in the drive, and the folks at the grocery store have gotten used to me trundling up to the register with my bike stowed in the lower rack of the cart.

    The reason I’ve continued reading your and Laura’s postings has less to do with your bikes, your gear, or your t-shirts (although I read about all of those with interest) but more to do with your attitude. Don’t think of this as trivializing or compartmentalizing, but if I had to characterize your attitude as expressed in your postings, I’d call it tentative. Not in a way that shows lack of confidence, but more to do with a gentle reaching out; an openness that is not aggressive. Maybe it’s nothing more than just plain friendly; at any rate it’s a quiet pleasure to follow your ramblings, and I just wanted to thank you for your efforts.

    I’ve done a few fifty mile rides (and one unintentional 90 mile run – I missed my turn) and am looking forward to a three day run this month which will include a Greyhound ride. If I can get in shape I hope to ride the Underground Railroad Trail starting this April. All on my Brommie, and all with inspiration from the path less pedaled. Thanks!

    By the way: you will love New Zealand. Go. They’ve got the best tasting mocha javas in the world (it’s the milk) and the people are the sweetest.

    Best Regards, John PS… You can pitch your tent in my backyard any time you’re in Houston

    November 07, 2011
  • I really enjoyed reading the trials and tribulations of this story….going car-free to definitely an evolution that sometimes isn’t so smooth. I went car-free two years ago and loved every windy, snowy minute of bike, bus, and train commuting. Then I moved to San Diego and bought a car again, trying to convince myself that I NEEDED it for the commute. I didn’t. Now, I’m back to car-light going on to car-free again! I haven’t been more happy since :)

    November 07, 2011
  • Hendrik

    Nice read. But somehow from the sound of it — “In the following years …”, “I came to it late in life” etc. — you must be well into your fifties. Well, you don’t look it. Another side benefit of all that biking I guess ;-)

    November 07, 2011
  • Ha. No, not in my fifties :) But compared to many people we know who identify as life long cyclists, I started relatively late in my mid-late twenties.

    Best,
    R

    November 07, 2011
  • Fantastic story Russ!

    November 07, 2011
  • Very cool Russ, thanks for sharing. As someone who also got into cycling for transportation in my late twenties your story rings true. My first commuting bike was a Schwinn WorldSport; I have to laugh (or cringe) when I think back at my initial foray into bike commuting. While I just finally ditched the car a bit over a year ago (and I haven’t yet discovered a hobby I can make into a marketable career) it’s still cool to see I’m not the only one out there biking to get around because I want to, not because I have to.

    November 07, 2011
  • Thank you for the story, Russ.

    John Whitman, I’m in Houston, too.

    November 07, 2011
  • Evan

    Awesome post! Because you wrote a personal story instead of a sermon on the evils of cars or a sermon on the beauty of biking, I’m all the more inclined to listen to you–and to ask myself if I really need my car after all.

    November 07, 2011
  • Alberto

    Russ, thanks for sharing this!
    I thought you came from a family of hardcore cyclists.
    It’s funny that you called your transition an “experiment”. For us, it was exactly the same. Not because our car broke, but because “our” car was a company car. When I changed to a job without the “benefit” of a company car, we decided to “experiment” living without a car.
    After 10 months getting around on public transport and bike, it’s not an experiment anymore. We love the freedom of NOT having a car. If I was given a company car for personal use today as I had before (including fuel and insurance), I would just park it at work and keep using my bike most of the time.

    November 08, 2011
  • Pete Brown

    Great story, Russ. It parallels my own story of a dead car that forced me into a situation that multiplied the positives in life. Some of my best memories from my early post-car, 20-something years are bike memories. What the caterpillar sees as death, the butterfly sees as life.

    November 08, 2011
  • Great blog which I check on every couple of days! I think more and more people are getting ‘saved’.
    Please take a look at my bike blog, all about gentle riding atround the town of Alsager in England. Thank you

    November 08, 2011
  • The Trickster

    Awesome story – I admit I haven’t done much reading of your blog previously. I admit I’m heading slightly in the other direction at the moment as I’m thinking about getting say a 1000cc bomb of a car that will mostly sit in my driveway so I can get to races easier, but apart from that I haven’t really driven in about 10 years.

    Anyway, Ted over at Biking in LA may have forwarded my name to you as I’ve heard your heading for New Zealand in the near future. If you’re wanting advice and/or a friendly face when you get off the plane, let me know. I’m more of a roadie myself but I still know a fair bit of the countryside so can probably be of assistance.

    November 08, 2011
  • Great! We’ll keep in touch. We’re making some progress in getting to NZ. Aiming for end of November.

    Russ

    November 08, 2011
  • Jay

    Great story but I especially want to commend you for not lighting up in that high stress time. I know that was tough.

    November 10, 2011
  • Wonderful to read how you became car-free! Most people would have just gotten another car and continued on. But you had a change of mind and direction and haven’t look back! :) That’s great! I went car-free on my own free will 4 years ago, as sort of a “let’s see what happens if….” and if it didn’t work, I figured I’d just get another car. But, it’s worked pretty well over the years and I’ve managed to figure out how to get around using Zipcar, buses, subway, etc. One thing I definitely don’t miss is sitting in traffic!! That is SO aggravating! Also, the unexpected and costly car repairs. Bike repairs are so inexpensive in comparison! Keep up the good work and keep pedaling!! Charmaine

    November 16, 2011
  • I love this story! Thank you for writing it. Most of all, I liked what you said about how much you loved your yellow Varsity, and how important small slights can be. EVERYONE’S bike is WONDERFUL – at least to them! We should never stomp on that love, even if it’s misplaced. And – that Varsity – is indestructable, if heavy, and will last forever. It’s the perfect bike for some – especially if you don’t have much money or a very long commute – or the weather is horrendous – and you don’t have a very long commute. That said, I wonder how many Varsitys made the transcontinental trip back in ’76.

    November 16, 2011
  • Jeff B

    Many people who have cars don’t realize they don’t have to use them for every little trip and errand. Six years ago I needed a car and bought an inexpensive Scion xB. It’s very economical, and I can load it it up. I am also a cyclist who uses my bike for errands and short trips. With panniers I can bring a lot home from the grocery. In the six years that I’ve had my car it has a little over 18,000 miles on it. My bicycle has about double that. It is amazing how the miles can add up, just like wasting money a dollar at a time. Pretty soon both are significant.

    November 17, 2011
  • Marty Oldford

    Good story Russ. Having lived in LA area near Culver City for some time I could relate. I started biking again at 40 and am still going strong at 69 but in Florida. You will love the friendly folks in NZ but prepare for the many mountains and narrow roads. I recommend the south island especially at Milford Sound. Keep on cycling.

    November 17, 2011
  • Peter

    I’ve never met you and probably never will. But I can honestly say I’m proud of you!

    November 17, 2011
  • Lan

    This was by far the best post I’ve read here. There were so many nuggets of wisdom that I will have to go back and reread them again and again to process it all. Thank you for sharing the story of how it all began.You are a fantastic writer!

    November 18, 2011
  • Pete Jack

    The way you got started reminded me of when I was a rock climber. If we were going to do some desperate hard climb we’d say we were ‘going to have a look at it’. I haven’t smoked in 40 years I can still remember what it’s like to want a ciggie. Well done.

    November 18, 2011
  • Ultraguy

    Hi Russ: I just rode home on my bike from work. I have been, year round since 1987. Oh by the way I live in CANADA. today it snowed and was -17 below Celsius.( thats COLDDDD)but as usual I loved it! Check out Canadian adventurer Colin Angus He rode round the world on his bike and (row boat) with some days on the ice highway in Russia -100 below zero!! As you know biking all over is very doable. And I feel sorry for the poor slobs in their cars. Great Blog Thanks, Marc

    November 18, 2011
  • Good story, Russ. My family of four has 1 car, mostly used by my wife. I’ve been wishing for a catastrophic breakdown so that we can try being car-free for a while (I’m not brave enough to sell it yet.) The car is only 17 years old, so I might be waiting a while, but in the meantime we pratice by biking as much as possible.

    November 19, 2011
  • To Meghan from Eugene (and anyone else reading):

    I lived in Eugene from 1995 to 2001. I worked for Lane Transit. I had been doing bicycle tours and extended day rides for decades. But, Eugene was friendly to bicycle commuting and I got into the “carless ethic” by working in transit. I bought lights and weather gear and started commuting year round. Since then I worked for the City of Portland and for Intercity Transit in Olympia, Washington and always commuted to work by bicycle/transit. I am now retired and miss many things from my career days, most of all the bicycle commutes. But then, I now have more time for extended bicycle tours!

    November 20, 2011
  • Russ, u are an inspiration to all. I love the way u write and the photos u take. may the bike take u to more an more places and know more and more friends.
    Taiwoon from Singapore

    November 22, 2011
  • In June of 2010 I did my last bike commute to work on my retirement day. I still ride every day to get around town. Pretty much anything less than 10 miles is done by bike. I still have a car, but as the article says, It’s just an appliance.
    Enjoy your years of commuting.

    November 24, 2011
  • Alan

    What a great story, well written too. You’re an inspiration!

    December 08, 2011
  • [...] How Losing My Car Saved My Life [...]

    December 15, 2011
  • [...] Russ Rocca talks about hotdogs, cigarettes and how losing his truck in Los Angeles saved his life. (The Path Less Pedaled) [...]

    August 13, 2012
  • david p.

    great write up russ. honest/heartfelt.

    August 19, 2013
  • Julia

    At 27, I was a two pack a day smoker, frustrated by MUNI in San Francisco. I was always vaguely embarrassed to be a smoker, so I quit. As my reward, and for something to do with my newfound energy, I bought a Hardrock at Valencia Cyclery. I cruised mainly around 26th avenue and Ocean Beach. Two weeks into it, again irritated by the bus, I left the bus stop, walked 2 blocks home, got on my bike and rode to work on 2nd and Minna. Had I known about the hills going up Haight, things may’ve been different. But from that one morning, rain or shine (or fog :)) I never looked back. I did absolutely everything by bike for the next 6 years.
    Now I’m on the Peninsula and I mountain bike & road ride, but travel up & down the Peninsula for clients all day. I miss the freedom of commuting by bike.
    Thank you SO MUCH for your story. It’s funny what we can do when we don’t know any better.

    August 19, 2013
  • Jay

    Awesome! I run an LA-area small publisher and haul all the books etc. around in my trailer. Great to see other business-people in the area doing this. Maybe I’ve seen you on the River Trail?

    August 19, 2013
  • Frank

    Excellent post. Very similar to I got into bike commuting. I had a very big repair that I couldn’t afford to fix on my truck so I took the bus and walked to work for a year. One day as I was walking the two miles to my bus A guy zoomed past me on his bike. That’s when I thought, man it would be a lot faster to get to the bus with a bike. The bus has bike racks! The rest is history. I agree that snobbishness has to go. I took my Schwinn Sidewinder in to a local shop to get a flat fixed one day and the guy called my bike a cheap piece of crap. What the hell! It felt like he insulted my child. I didn’t have a bunch of money when I Bought it plus I needed it bad. Got my truck running again but I still commute with the bike. It’s just more fun!

    August 19, 2013
  • Leila

    I loved this piece. I’m slowly but most definitely working towards using my car less and less. More time on the bike means less gas I spend and less time spent doing boring gym workouts. Looking back I shake my head at all of the miles I spent driving to the gym in my car to use the treadmill or a stationary bike. I now commute to work 4 out of 5 days/week to work. Soon that will be 5/5 and this winter will be attempted despite the face that I’m in New England.
    Thanks for sharing!

    August 22, 2013

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