The $100,000 Bicycle

One way to become wealthy is to make a lot of money and figure out how to keep most of it.  Just about everyone I’ve ever met understands the first part of that statement. Very few have figured out the second part and it doesn’t work unless you do both.  The good news is you don’t have to make a lot of money to become wealthy.  All you really have to do is learn how to keep most of whatever it is you do make.   That’s where your bicycle comes in.

I recently listened to a Ted talk by Anthony Desnick of NiceRideMN.  In it, Mr. Desnick talked about how a lot of people would like to move into town and walk instead of driving everywhere but didn’t feel they could do it because of the high cost of real estate in walkable and bicycle friendly communities.  Then he dropped his bombshell and stated that you know, you could afford $100,000 more mortgage if you ditched your car for a bicycle.

I already knew he was right, but I crunched the numbers anyway, just to be sure.  According to AAA, the annual cost of car ownership is somewhere around $9,000 per vehicle per year.   So what’s the annual cost of $100,000 of mortgage debt?   Quite a bit less than $9,000 as it turns out:

So you’re bike is worth $100K.  Who knew?   Maybe you can afford to live in that trendy bicycle friendly urban village after all.  It gets better.   Who says that housing in that new place needs to cost $100,000 more than it does in the old place?   What if it costs about the same…or less?  That’s what happened to us when we moved from the endless sprawl of suburban Indianapolis to Jefferson Iowa.  It may be conventional wisdom that bike friendly costs more, but it doesn’t have to.  We looked and kept looking until we found what we were after.

Back to the cost of cars.  Maybe $9,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money but when you consider that it’s per car per year for every year you own a car, it becomes significant in a hurry.  If you buy your first car when you’re 20 and finally give up the habit when you’re 80, that’s 60 years at $9.000 a year.  That’s $540,000 on cars.  If you had two cars for most of those years, you blew a million dollars.  You could have been wealthy.  Now you know.  It’s all about choices.

This is a big part of the reason I choose to ride a bicycle. The cost of owning automobiles is ugly.  It keeps people down.  It kept me down for a long time but not any more.   If you want to become wealthy, the easiest way is to stop spending money you don’t absolutely need to spend.  If you don’t want to become wealthy but just want to live better without worrying about money all the time, well, the only realistic way to do that is to eliminate the biggest expenses…like cars.  Yeah, it requires a bit of an adjustment but it’s easier than you’ve been led to believe.   I know.  My bike is money in the bank.

Why I’m Through With Clipless Pedals

I left home for my lunch hour ride earlier today with the idea that I’d pay some bills before getting in a quick 15 miles.   Usually, I take my  mountain bike when cycling around town, but today I was on my road bike since I was planning on getting in those extra miles.  Technically, it’s more of a cross bike than a true road bike but it has drop bars and I usually ride it on pavement so I call it a road bike.  Anyhow, I had just dropped off the last payment at city hall and hopped back onto the saddle when it happened.  I was a little wobbly and went to pull my foot off the pedal not realizing I had already clipped in. When I pulled up, the pain that shot through my right calf was excruciating.  I  almost went down.   Now I can barely walk.  It’s  just a nasty pull, but still…

The “go fast” bike, complete with clipless pedals.

This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to me.   It seems like whenever I hurt myself on the bike it’s because of those ridiculous pedals and the cleated shoes that go along with them.  When I got home, I went online and did a little research and it confirmed what I suspected.  There’s absolutely no reason for a guy like me to have clipless pedals and cleats.   I’m getting rid of them.  Here’s why.

They’re expensive.  Clipless pedals aren’t cheap.  I figure I have $200 into mine and they’re far from top of the line. I can buy a lot of other important stuff (like cowbells) with $200.

They’re superfluous.  Once upon a time I  bought into that whole “you get more power” from clipless pedals argument.  Turns out it’s urban legend.  Scientific studies have disproven it  completely and without a shadow of a doubt.    You don’t get power from pulling up on the pedal.  You get power on the downstroke.  Clipless pedals add nothing on the downstroke,

They make me look silly.  I’m going to ride 10,000 miles this year.  A lot of those miles are going to be at 20 mph or faster.  I’m fairly serious about cycling and I’m a fairly strong cyclist.  I’m also pretty comfortable with who I am.  I don’t need to dress up like a domestique on Team Astana  every time I head out. When I walk into the local hardware store, I don’t want to look like a visitor from another planet.   That’s what happens when I try walking in cleats.

They’re dangerous.  Clipless pedals have done me wrong.  They’ve hurt me.   Meanwhile, the BMX platform pedals on my Surly Instigator have been my best friends.   Matt at Skyline Cycle in Ogden recommended them and he did me right.  I miss Matt.  My foot never slips off of them, even when doing some gnarly riding in the mountains above Ogden or the B road gravel of rural Iowa.


My Odyssey twisted pedals are made of hard plastic and virtually indestructible.  They’re also incredibly comfortable, even in Keen sandals.




There’s actually one more reason to skip the clip.  Have you ever dropped a clipped in cyclist in full kit while riding a bike with platform pedals?  If you haven’t, I’m not going to wreck it for you.  All I’m going to say is that it is an experience everyone should have….and soon!

If you love your clipless pedals, keep on keeping on.   This post is not an attempt to dissuade you from clipping in.  If, on the other hand, you’re relatively new to cycling and think you need to spend money here, maybe you don’t.  You might be better served putting that  $200 into a better bike or a professional fitting or something that will bring you more enjoyment and a little less pain, all things being equal.  Like cowbells.

Kids Come First

The following infographic was posted this past weekend on Twitter  by Brent Todarian, an urban planner and supporter of active transportation based  in Vancouver BC.   It’s from a grass roots movement to promote cycling in Scotland, and it does a great job of reflecting the societal disconnect between what we say and what we really believe.



If you read what I write here with any regularity, you already know this.  The problem is that other people don’t know it and there are a lot more of them than there are of us.  What’s worse, most of them don’t view cycling and walking as transportation solutions at all.  This is because they’ve constructed their lives in a manner that favors the use of a car.  They could construct their lives differently, but they don’t see any need to do so.   Preaching to these folks about the benefits of cycling is pretty much a lost cause.

Yet that’s what most cycling advocates do.  It feels to me like more of a money grab than anything real.  Hire a consultant, draft a bicycle master plan, build 2 blocks of protected bike lanes, throw down some green paint and then promote your city or town as bicycle friendly in an effort to attract tech workers.   Maybe your mayor cycles to work once or twice a year, too.  It has become a cliche, and not surprisingly, it changes nothing.



SRTS doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to make it easier to get around on bike or foot.

So we need to rethink how we’re spending our human capital.  We need a new story to tell.   Mine starts with children.   Most parents want to talk about their children.  They love them and they want what’s best for them and there’s no doubt that bicycling is better than riding a bus or being dropped off at school in a car.   They intuitively understand this and like it.  Many of them may have ridden bicycles to school as children themselves.

So I have been thinking about this a lot.  Maybe Safe Routes to School is a way to leverage all that we know about cycling that is good.   I’ve known of SRTS for a long time but I didn’t know where it came from.  I assumed it was just some USDOT  government program.  I was wrong.  It turns out that the Safe Routes to School movement started in Denmark in the 1970s, about the same time Stop de Kindermoord was changing Dutch culture.  That’s interesting.  Two of the best cycling countries on the planet got there by focusing on the safety of children and later, after adults saw what could be done, they started cycling too.

I recently sat down with a couple of economic development people here in Iowa and Safe Routes to School came up.  I don’t think these folks really view bicycles as an economic driver, but they intuitively understand just how much sense it makes for children to cycle to school.    We talked about side paths and budgets, for sure, but we  also talked about ways we could make the streets safer for everyone and what benefits we’d gain as a community if we could.   We discussed the need for lower speed limits and a culture that supports multiple forms of transportation.  We discussed education and enforcement of existing laws, again, in the context of children.  These are things that cost pennies and return huge dividends.  They understood in a way I don’t think they would have if we were talking about  adults on bikes.

The ultimate goal of  cycling advocacy is to create cyclists.  We have to get better at it.  When we  swing the numbers our way it will be easy to flip the pyramid and get the money we need to build out infrastructure.   It’s going to take time.   Safe Routes to School is an established program that provides an opportunity to engage non-cyclists with a  compelling story and generate support.    It’s an opportunity to promote education and enforcement so that motorists don’t speed and get sloppy around crosswalks.  When this happens, everyone wins…even the motorists.

If you’re in one of the states on the map below and  interested in talking about this with an eye towards focusing local officials on bicycle friendliness, let me know.  We can start online, you can come to Iowa, or I can come to you.

Pedalfree’s service area.


The Future Belongs to Those Who Bike

“Bikes have a tremendous disruptive advantage over cars. Bikes will eat cars.” – Horace Dediu

There’s a lot going on in transportation and human mobility these days.  We’re  sitting at a strategic inflection point.  Think Internet, circa 2000.   Just like then, very few people understand how dramatic the changes that lie ahead will be.  Just like then, they will happen far more quickly than most of us can imagine.  The wheels have been set in motion.  There is no going back.

One of the unsung benefits of bicycling for transportation is reclaiming space lost to the automobile.

This is good for those of us who love bicycles.  I say this with absolute  confidence.  Moving around the country  has given me a certain perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have.  The world is getting more crowded.   It’s so obvious.  I saw it along Colorado’s Front Range in the 1980s and again in  the endless sprawl of Minnesota’s Twin Cities ten years later.  More recently, I lived it along the crowded IH35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio and again along Utah’s Wasatch Front as both of these metroplexes exploded with people.  In hindsight, our move to rural Iowa was as much about finding the last uncrowded place as it was anything else.

Open space is rapidly disappearing and as it does, more and more of us are beginning to question just how much of what’s left should be allocated to people as opposed to personal automobiles.    For the last 75 years or so, cars have ruled.  That’s starting to change.  We’re beginning to understand just how much we’ve had to give up to accommodate our cars.  The vitriol directed at things like self driving cars and bicycles suggests to me that many people understand that the ground is about to shift under their feet.  Change always freaks us out and this time is no different in that regard.  That said, change is inevitable.   Change is the only constant.

 Horace Dediu “gets” this.  He’s a technologist, so his realm is in leveraging tools to create solutions.  We ascribe a sort of magic to technology, but that’s misleading. Technology is  just about leveraging tools.  When it comes to moving humans with the smallest possible footprint and consumption of power, there is no tool quite like a bicycle.  Throw on a tiny electric motor and you eliminate virtually all of the objections to cycling as transportation.   You won’t labor.  You won’t sweat.   Going uphill is a breeze.  Yes, I know, sometimes it rains.   That’s what GoreTex is for.

And so I’m absolutely convinced that Horade Dediu is right.  He views bikes as similar to other transformational technologies, like Amazon, for example.  Amazon ate Borders for an appetizer.  Now it’s eating everything else in the retail space.

Bicycles are going to eat cars…not because I like bikes, but rather because bicycles are a sustainable solution in a world that is pushing up against unmovable limits. Cars aren’t sustainable…not even tiny electric ones.  Our world badly needs more sustainable solutions .   Bicycles solve the space problem.   They help mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce road building budgets.  Bicycles help us live closer and better.   They help make us healthier.   Folks can embrace the future or they can resist it, but either way that rumbling  sound you hear isn’t going away.  It’s the change  tsunami and it will engulf us whether we want it to or not.   I believe life is better on the front side of the wave.  I know for absolute certain that life is better on a bike.  That’s why I do this.  You, too, I hope.

Find your bike.  Saddle up.  Ride.

37,000 People Per Day

This is a short video of the busiest cycle path in the Netherlands.  The street is named Vredenburg.  There’s a marketplace nearby.   It’s in Utrecht, a mid-sized city of 330,000 that dates back to the 8th century.  Vrendenburg averages about 37,000 cyclists per day.  Try to look at the first 35 seconds of the video if not the whole thing.  It shows what the street used to look like before bicycles became the preferred method of moving around Dutch cities.

I often hear from people that this sort of thing would never work here in the United States.

“Of course it would.” I challenge them.

“No, Europe’s different.”  they claim.  “Their cities are older and more compact”

“Hmmm.  Older, yes.  More compact?  Not necessarily.”

The Chicago Loop is as compact as any European city.
Land is scarce in Utah, so cities here tend to be compact as well. But even in mostly compact Ogden, the waste is obvious. It’s almost always driven by a need to accommodate automobiles.
Salt Lake City. I’m on a train on the TRAX Green Line.Parking and gas pumps are not the “highest and best use.”
Downtown Indianapolis. This isn’t inevitable. This is a choice…a bad choice.
Vredenburg, Utrecht.  This is also a choice.  It didn’t just happen.

Some American cities are quite compact.  Others aren’t.  It’s mostly about available space.  That’s why Detroit sprawls while Pittsburgh mostly doesn’t.  Most of Europe doesn’t have the luxury of carving up virgin cornfields, so they look at land use a little differently than we do.   When land is scarce,  allocating it to automobiles make no sense.

That’s the crux of the matter right there.  The reason most of our cities are not as compact as European cities is because we’ve chosen to build them around automobiles and they’ve chosen differently.  The results of this choice are stark.   Their cities are mostly thriving.  Ours are mostly dying.  We could fix this.  Maybe we should.   You already know this.  You wouldn’t have made it this deep into the post if you didn’t mostly agree.  The people we need to reach are not here.   They’re our friends and neighbors who think that biking is a peculiar hobby and nothing more when in fact it is the answer to what ails us.  Please share this with them.  Help them understand that they hold the power to make their very own cities and towns more livable.  We can’t do it alone.  We need their help.  There is no other way.

Thank you.

Oregon’s Proposed Bike Surtax Will Cost Taxpayers More Than it Raises

The Oregon state legislature is currently debating whether to tack on an additional tax on bicycles, ostensibly to fund bicycle infrastructure like off street bike lanes.  This is a really bad idea hatched by lawmakers who are probably convinced that we cyclists are getting a free ride at the expense of the motoring public.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but that’s beside the point.   This law, if it passes, will do little other than harm Oregon’s bicycle dealers, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in today’s  contracting retail world.

There’s a simple, real world reason that bicycles aren’t licensed and taxed.   Due to their relatively low economic value, the costs of administering such programs would typically far exceed the revenue brought in.  Besides, bicycles offer all sorts of economic benefits.  They are lightweight and don’t damage roads the way cars do.   They also don’t have tailpipes, so there are no expensive emissions to mitigate.

Laws  that raise the cost of cycling serve as a barrier to entry for people who can least afford it.  Lawmakers in this case acknowledge as much.  That’s why bicycles that cost less than $500 are exempt.  I wonder how many bicycles are sold in Oregon each year that cost more than $500.  The state’s population is just over four million people, which means that roughly 400,000 Oregonians bicycle regularly.  If 10% of those people buy a $1,000 bicycle next year, that would be 40,000 bicycles subject to the tax.  That seems high, but we’ll run with it.  Given a surtax of 5%, that means the tax will raise a measly two million dollars and I think I’m being way generous here.  It’s simply not worth it.  This law has nothing to do with raising money.  There’s no money here to raise.   It’s about something else.

Oregon claims to be bicycle friendly, but this law is about as far from bicycle friendly as you could possibly get.   Taxes like this are not only spiteful, they’re also short-sighted and self defeating. If Oregon is serious about funding transportation, the solution is to encourage rather than discourage people from getting on a bicycle.

Rightsizing Transportation

If you want to change things in your life, your neighborhood, and your world, you have to learn to ask questions.  Answers always appear on the far side of questions.  The trick is to ask the right questions.  I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you that with me the right questions are never the first questions, so I’ve learned to ask early and often.

Heading into Adel on the bike. Most streets are mostly empty most of the time.

It’s not enough to just ask, though.  You have to learn to answer your own questions.  This is something that doesn’t come natural to me.  I had to teach myself to do it.  I prefer to ask and answer out loud, even though it sometimes makes people think I’m crazy.

But I digress.   What I’m trying to say is that I became a vehicular cyclist  only after learning how to answer my own questions.   Maybe you’re already familiar with that term, vehicular cyclist, but if you aren’t it means someone who chooses a bicycle as his or her primary means of transportation.  That’s me.  That’s who I am…now, anyway.

I wasn’t always.  Like a lot of people, I once was all car all the time.  I lived in the far suburbs and went everywhere by car.  Even now I still own a car because sometimes (not often) it’s more practical than a bike.  Besides, it blows the whole argument that some anti-bike people like to make about me being a freeloader and not paying my fair share of taxes.  As a matter of fact, I do own the road.  I just don’t pay as much for it as they do.  That’s my choice…theirs, too.

Back in the 1980s, Mrs. Sharpe and I lived in the Mission Viejo neighborhood in Aurora Colorado.  We were about thirteen miles from my office in downtown Denver.  The two things I remember about Mission Viejo are the street lights (they looked like bells) and the connectivity.  There  was this awesome bike path behind our home that connected to the one along Cherry Creek that ran to within a half mile of my office so when I worked on weekends I started cycling into Denver.  I could also cycle around the neighborhood and go to grocery stores and the library but  I never really thought of my bicycle as a vehicle back then.  It was just fun.  I wasn’t asking the right questions.

That all started to change in 1990.  I can tie it back to a single event.  I had taken a job in the Twin Cities and one cold, snowy December morning  as I parked and headed into the office, I happened to catch the sight of a guy riding a bicycle down University Avenue.   It was still dark and dangerously slick but he was moving at about the same pace as the cars around him.  That raised a few questions, let me tell you…

  • What the heck was he thinking?  
  • Why wasn’t he in a car?
  • Couldn’t he afford one?
  • Was he cold?
  • How deep was the snow on the road?
  • How did he keep from falling over?
  • Isn’t that dangerous?
  • How is it even possible?

Looking back, that was the catalyst that caused me to think differently.  Up until then I thought of cycling as strictly a summer pursuit.   If you could do it year around, well, why wouldn’t you?  That was the biggest question of all.  The answer was obvious.  You could.   He was doing it.

By asking a lot of questions, I’ve come to the realization that there’s a right vehicle for every trip we take.  Sometimes the right vehicle is a jet airliner.  Other times it’s a bus or a train. Often it is a car.  But it can also be a bike or our own two feet.  If we ask enough questions we will reach the completely logical conclusion that a bike is often absolutely, positively the best vehicle choice for the trip we’re about to take.   When it is, we should choose it.  I call this process “Rightsizing Transportation .”

The challenge is that most of us have been so conditioned to choose cars that we don’t really think about it at all.   We don’t ask the right questions.   That’s what we need to change if we’re going to move forward.   When we rightsize transportation, we recognize benefits for ourselves, our community our world.  There aren’t many things we can do that have this level of impact.

So let’s do it.  Together.  Please share this with your friends who don’t yet ride a bike.   They’re the ones we need to reach.   Let’s get them asking questions.  Let’s get them answering them.   If we do, they’ll end up out there with us, all saddled up.  More soon…