The Bike as Your Second Car

Will one car families soon be the norm?

Today fifty-seven percent of American families own two or more vehicles. A recent projection suggests that that figure will fall dramatically over the next two decades to 43% .

Reasons cited include increased popularity of ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft and car sharing services like Zipcar, the delay in purchasing a first car and increased migration to urban areas where driving is hard and getting around by other means is easier.

Cars are expensive. The average new car costs $31,000 and depreciates by 11% the moment you drive it off the lot and average annual costs to own and maintain a car are about $8,200. So combine those costs with the increasing student debt burden and less robust job prospects for new college graduates and you can see the attractiveness of going without at least one car.

Then there’s demographics. With 77 million Baby Boomers nearing retirement they will want or need to drive less. At the other end of the spectrum younger Americans don’t seem to regard driving as the same rite of passage that my generation did. When I was 19 only 8% of my fellow teenagers didn’t have their drivers license. Today that figure is three times as high.

The bike is likely to be part of the answer for a lot of families. One study suggests that it costs about $300 a year to own a bike. That might be about right or maybe even a little high. This year I figure I spent about $500 on my fleet of five bikes and that includes a new pair of tires for one bike, new break shoes, a new pair of biking shoes and shorts, a reflective windbreaker and a Saris rack. (Of course, this doesn’t count the new single speed I just had to have last spring, but that’s not maintenance or a bike need; it was an insane moment of bike lust.)

With so many economic pressures on young families it seems like the bike will be a smart answer. All the more reason for local and state governments to keep investing in safe cycling infrastructure.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

6 thoughts on “The Bike as Your Second Car

  1. When I retire in a few years, the very first thing I will do is sell one of our two cars. I will also be buying a trailer for my bike so I can do all of my shopping by bike. Weather permitting of course!

  2. I have always been a racer of bikes, but three years ago I decided that, with a job change, I no longer enjoyed driving to work especially with all of the road construction in Milwaukee, and instead started riding my bike to work. I made this decision at the beginning of November, which was the right way for me to approach this endeavor. I now enjoy my daily adventure even though some days are much harder than other. When it snows heavily, I really enjoy leaving the parking lot of my office building while everyone struggles just to get out of the parking lot, in some instances I am home before they even get to the streets. The first year I just stored our second car and this year I canceled the insurance, I think this summer it will be time to sell it and maybe buy another bike. The cycling infrastructure in Milwaukee is fantastic and getting better and I encounter several regular, year-round commuters. I prepare for all weather but it would certainly be wonderful if we could get the Hank Aaron plowed during the winter months, that would be a dream come true.

  3. I’m on the verge of 67 yrs old. I’ve been a road biker since my teens with lots of long rides here, in Europe and elswhere. In ’04 we moved our winery to within reasonable commuting range and I started riding to work – RT 20 mi a day with an 1100 ft vertical. Midway on each leg there’s a 20 min ferry ride between Vashon Is. and West Seattle for a nice rest with dynamic mountain-marine scenery. By ’07-’08 I was riding 5,000 mi/yr and driving 3000 mi/yr. I’ve kept it up ever since. Yesterday I put on light tights under winter tights with 5 thin layers above and Endura neoprene booties and road 10 miles instead of driving. It was sunny and -2 C w/ 15 mph winds. It was fantastic.
    Cars are a huge part of climate change (50%?), Feeding them involves incredible amounts of pollution and destruction of nature (go to N. Dakota, the Gulf Coast, Alaska, Alberta). And then you get stuck in traffic. If we drove less, then maintenance and replacement would cost less.
    So with all that and a lot more truly terrible side affects with cars why aren’t more people embracing bicycles as the brilliant alternative? Its all about PR ,and the bike industry doesn’t seem to get behind the car-free movement, or the Park Your Car and Ride movement, or the Replace Car Miles with Bike Miles movement.
    How’s about a youtube video called: “If you don’t know how to do it, I’ll show you how to bike to work”

  4. Since the video didn’t load, I was left to reading the nbcnews article. One keyword I noticed was “FORECAST”
    With the word forecast ( pretty much it means guessing, estimating, which pretty much means what they say could be wrong ) in mind, the bike fed and it’s followers are in a fantasy world, dreaming of a vehicle free world.
    Getting back to the nbc news article, the only places mentioned are new york and chicago.. Using a couple places as an indicator for people dumping their cars, just doesn’t hold water as a trend.
    As for buying a brand new car, I don’t know anyone that does that, they buy used, so that excuse for not buying/owning a car falls apart. As for the costs of owning a car, and needing to fix it, there are places online that can help a person figure out what to do, and fix the problem yourself, if you’re handy with tools.

    • I doubt the forecast will be accurate down to the percentage. What makes the story worthwhile is that it is consistent with other trends. Vehicle miles travelled have been flat since the start of the recession and have not rebounded with the recovery. Three times more 19 year olds don’t have their drivers license than was the case forty years ago. Aging Baby Boomers are choosing to move back to cities and to drive less. The Bike Fed does not see a car free future. We see a future in which there is more freedom of transportation choice and a better mix of modes.

    • Brian, you’re missing the point. Driving has long since ceased to be fun. It’s stressful and frustrating.
      Bicycling is freedom. It’s FUN. At least on a 17 lb carbon fiber road bike. I have fun on every ride, which for me is every day.
      You’re right that we’ll all be below sea level before most people break the habit. But that doesn’t mean you have to forego the joy of going fast on your own power, passing cars one after the other as I did numerous times today in Seattle. No parking to pay for, no tank to fill for 50 bucks. Tired? Jump on a bus with a bike rack. (In Seattle-King County that’s 75 cents for seniors like me.) Come on dude give it a shot!

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