Hugh Parkhurst, a Yes We Can! Long Island member, spent almost two months without a car earlier this summer, getting around by bike, Long Island Rail Road and rides from friends. During this time, Hugh put around 300 miles on an old Schwinn 3-speed bicycle, gathering local census information and doing grocery shopping and other activities. He shares some of his thoughts on this experience in this article.
By Hugh Parkhurst
I spent almost two months without a car earlier this summer, getting around by bike, the Long Island Rail Road and rides from friends. During this time, I put around 300 miles on an old Schwinn 3-speed bicycle, gathering local census information and doing grocery shopping and other activities. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on this experience.
300 Miles on a 3 Speed Schwinn
In early spring I began working for the Census Bureau as an enumerator, going door to door to obtain information necessary to complete a comprehensive picture of America’s population. A week into the fieldwork, my car began to operate erratically. Fortunately the census work was local. Out came my trusty old 3-speed Schwinn. I adapted quickly to going door to door with the bike and in many respects, the bike proved more convenient than the car. For example, the bike took me closer to mail boxes and I was able to go by more slowly, without holding up traffic, while I looked for addresses. In addition, I also was able to park quickly and exactly where I needed to be. The weather cooperated and I completed the remaining six weeks of census work on the bike.
Buying groceries was another important task. I had a set of panniers—bags, like saddlebags, which fit on either side of a carrier rack on the rear of the bike. Using them and a small knapsack, I was able to carry a week’s necessities from my favorite grocery store, a round trip of approximately 13 miles. I could have shopped closer, but I came to enjoy the trip. Frozen vegetables doubled as “ice” to help keep meat cool. Fruits and vegetables were strongly preferred over snack food. The snack foods contained empty calories and simply took up too much valuable space. During this period, I lost over 10 pounds, which I attribute to the increase in exercise and a healthier diet.
The bike was also used for 9 mile round trips to my allergist, running to pick up parts for the car and even a couple of scouting trips for a newer car, with most of the distance covered by the LIRR. I live in Greenlawn on the North Shore just east of Huntington and traveled as far southwest as Merrick (23 miles each way) and as far southeast as North Bellport (27 miles each way).
What happened to the car? Eventually it was fixed, without any apparent long-term damage to the engine, so the hunt for a newer car was called off.
During the time I was without the car. I saved 8 weeks worth of gas and avoided leaving a carbon footprint of over 200 pounds of CO2. It also felt good that I had reduced my petroleum consumption during the BP oil spill. I was also pleased and grateful that friends shared rides.
Riding a Bike
To me, the three most important rules for riding a bike are:
1. Know the roads on which you will be traveling and do not ride anywhere you don’t feel comfortable. For a beginner, start by considering where you can ride your bike as you walk or drive around the neighborhood.
2. Always wear a helmet.
3. Observe all motor vehicle laws, especially the requirement to drive WITH the traffic.
Lots of other good tips are available at http://www.bikeleague.org/resources/better/.
If you use the bike to run errands, so much the better. For a run to the local drugstore, supermarket or library, a simple knapsack can easily accommodate prescriptions, numerous books, a few odds and ends, several grocery items or even a half-gallon of milk or OJ.
For more experienced riders, a reasonable pace is 10 to 14 miles per hour, depending on the type of bike, trip distance and strength and endurance. 10 miles round trip is a reasonable distance and generally adds 10-30 minutes travel time. Scout the route first, looking for the side streets you can take and shoulders you can use on those main roads you can’t avoid. Google Maps provides a tool for planning bike routes. Another handy feature of Google Maps is that it gives both instructions and distance to the destination.