Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Carfree: Paul, “You Poor Thing”

This interesting and insightful piece written by Paul appeared on the giveupyourcar.com forum. I’ve taken the liberty of re-posting it here.

“I gave up the car at the end of July 2011 when the lease agreement with my employer expired. I'd always cycled anyway most of the time and I knew the car was expensive, and after spending most of it's time on the drive, actually quite pointless and ridiculous I therefore made a conscious decision to be car free. I own a number of bikes but giving up the car is a great excuse to get another two wheeled machine, and this is what I did. I live 5.5 miles away from work, so the ride is not that onerous and there are a number of permutations which I can use to go to work, so I would not get bored with the same old commuting route. I have commuted by bike to work now for sixteen months and can truly say I have no regrets giving up the car. There is only one major route out of this particular town and I use it to go to work, but it is constantly clogged up and I know that I do the 11 miles round trip to work and back faster on average than most car drivers leaving at the same time. So, fine, I am fine and comfortable with my lifestyle choice - being car ownership free (I still hire a vehicle to go away occasionally) and being free of all the shackles that car ownership brings - and so is my wife who also cycles and does not drive.

However, those who are not happy with my decision are both my colleagues and friends who appear to think that not having a car is both a sign of poverty and foolhardiness. Their first reaction and to be honest, their continuing feeling is that I cannot afford a vehicle. I simply tell them that the environment cannot afford me having a vehicle, and yes, I save at least £300 per month not owning a car, but that is not the reason I dont have a vehicle. They simply don’t get the fact that I have a made an informed choice to drop out of the car owning community, and in doing so am liberated and no longer a slave to the internal combustion engine. This does not satisfy thjose around me. They then question my commitment to my wife by asking how we do the weekly shopping without a car. I tell them about my single speed Kona and the trailer I hitch to it to go to the local Morrisons. On hearing this they are aghast.

However I am also the recipient of much sympathy when the weather is inclement. I walk into the office after cycling through rain/cold/ice/wind and snow and the general feeling is that I am having a dreadful experience by being on two wheels. 'Oh, you poor thing......' Their sympathy then turns to incredulity when I tell them - yet again for the umpteenth time - that I am exercising free will, that I enjoy the TOTAL cycling experience and that no body, but nobody,  compels me to commute on a bike. I also tell them with a hint of smugness, that I could easily buy myself a very comfortable gas guzzler if I was so inclined.

The thing is that the British view the world in a peculiar fashion. Anything mildly against the norm is seen as eccentric and a bit daft. I am the only true cyclist commuter in an office complex which employs about two hundred people. This means at least a hundred cars every day on site in a packed car park with everyone jockeying for a place each morning for their inappropriate SUVs, and in doing so, becoming increasingly angry about this game they are compelled to play out each day. This sort of behaviour is of course not viewed as eccentric, but when I breeze unimpeded into the office car park and lock my bike within the secure cycle parking facility, I am viewed as the outsider, the person who dares to be different, the financially bereft 'pushbike' user whose green views are cranky and something which has to be patronisingly condoned.

When I mention the fact that in other countries - the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark - cycling is seen as an integral part of day-to-day living, which encourages good health and wellbeing and is in sympathy with the world around us, I catch the eyes of my colleagues  misting over and they are quite possibly thinking less about the fact that our world is on an environmental crash course with armageddon, and more about who the next winner of the latest reality TV show is likely to be.....sad but true. Anyway, I carry on regardless, and in that I am happy.”


  1. I'm a walker and rail user rather than a cyclist, but I recognise a lot of this - the utter disbelief that it could actually be a positive choice to not own a car!

    The argument I really don't get is the question "how do you do your weekly shopping" - have these people never heard on online shopping? Whether you own a car or not, it baffles me why would anyone would choose to go to an ugly big strip-lit shed on the outskirts of town to do their shopping when they can click a few buttons in the comfort of their own home and have it delivered for free to their doorstep! I guess they must go to the supermarket for the pleasant ambience....


  2. I'm with you on this, Jonny. We need to normalise the choice of not owning a car and demonstrate that it's a rational decision, not a form of eccentricity. When the decision to be car free is no longer seen as remarkable, our job will be done. So keep up the good work....