Living without a car

This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 125.

John’s unusual trailer passengers.
Image as described adjacent

Many people in Cambridge own and use both a car and a bicycle, considering them essential to living with reasonable ease and flexibility. I sold my car on eBay two years ago and have no qualms in recommending an (almost) car-free life.

Why wouldn’t you want a car?

When you look at the finances involved in driving you realise that it really adds up. Selling your car doesn’t just release its capital value and give you a refund on your insurance and road tax. You also save on servicing, petrol, parking and depreciation.

Other benefits? Well, as you will now be taking regular exercise you can cancel your gym membership; you may even lose weight. If you have children, they may be healthier and grow up not to require a parental taxi service.

Everyone wins, the streets will be quieter, cleaner and less congested. Local businesses should benefit because cyclists are more likely to shop in their area and you escape from the mentality of having to do a ‘big shop’ at a supermarket.

So what are the basic things to think about to help you make this transition? Here are my top tips.

Ease of use

To have as few repairs and unexpected problems as possible I installed puncture-resistant tyres, low-maintenance hub gears and a dynamo lighting system. To make parking quick and easy my bike has a bike stand.

I find that a fitted frame lock that sits over and around the rear wheel very convenient, though it needs to be combined with a chain to wrap around a post. This kind of lock is not common in the UK and it is made by AXA.

To keep warm and dry I find cycling capes useful as they pack up into a small volume, though they are deeply unfashionable. I also use skiing gloves and waterproof trousers with long zips for easy access. I make sure that I am protected by mud and chain guards.

Parking at home

Parking your bike at home can be a tricky problem and is something to think about when moving house. Some people instal a metal ring into the brickwork at the front of their property to provide something to secure their bike, otherwise it may mean taking your bike into or through your house to the garden.

If you are very short of space and wish to keep your bike inside then a fold-up bike like a Brompton is ideal. Some trailers have removable wheels allowing them to be stored in a compact fashion.

You can lobby the council to remove a car-parking space and site some bike racks instead. Two fine examples of on-street parking can be seen in Thoday Street, Romsey Town.

Carrying stuff

A permanent front basket is very useful for a bag or a lock.

If you need more space, for instance for your groceries, then paired rear and perhaps front panniers are best; the German brand Ortlieb sells very tough panniers that can be left open for maximum carrying volume. Of course all the supermarkets deliver to homes anyway.

Car and van hire

I regularly use a trailer to carry larger items (including my bee hives) but occasionally I need a car or a van. If you cannot borrow one then a Zip car or van can be hired at short notice for a minimum of an hour ( The booking is also easy to make and to cancel from a smart phone. An annual membership fee of £65 is required to use a Zip vehicle which can be found parked in car club spaces around the city.

Alternatively there is where people rent out their own cars to others.

Heavy goods

Solving what to do about most heavy or bulky goods is easy: have them delivered. Many small local businesses can bring stuff to your door, sometimes for no extra charge. There are obvious local and national chains that deliver groceries and goods but I prefer to use those that put money back into the local economy such as Mackay’s (hardware), Ridgeons (builders merchants), Scotsdales (garden centre) and Cutlacks (general store on Mill Road).

John Hall