Guest Post: A Car Free Life

I guess many people right now might be learning to deal with a life without work, socialising, and many other things we take for granted. For Alastair Brown and his family, living without a car has been something they’ve dealt with for well over 15 years, using bikes to provide the main substitution – here’s how:

Our family is, I think, relatively unusual in NZ for the simple reason that we choose not to own a car.  This has given us a couple of fleeting moments of fame at when we answered a call to contribute to a stuff blog in this article in 2010 and this follow-up article in 2015.

I don’t really want to repeat in detail the points made in those articles, but in summary

  1. Environment – the simple, personal, effective response to global warming.
  2. Financial – cars are expensive, bikes are cheap. We’ve found investing in appreciating assets (property, in our case) way better than depreciating liabilities (cars).
  3. Fitness – 30-100 km per week cycling gives us a good baseline fitness, which we can build on, if and when we want.

The public comments on those two articles were interesting (to me at least) and highlight many of the barriers that people perceive to exist when it comes to escaping the car and using smarter forms of transport.  All of which have been well covered here by

Something that might be of slightly more interest is my strange little of hobby of moving improbable objects by bicycle. Among other things, it helps demonstrate that one of the arguments for having a car – I absolutely need a car to shift my antique Credenza, or whatnot – is not always valid, certainly not when distances are only across city, and a flat one at that. And apparently I’m not alone; according to this article from The Guardian it seems almost mainstream, and of course our very own Steve Muir has excelled in enabling utility cycling in Christchurch.

So for your collective enjoyment, here’s quick pictorial exposé of my family’s utility cycling activities over the last 10 or so years, in no particular order:

Half of a 9 metre bench
Half of a 9-metre bench for the Spreydon school swimming pool
Cycle trailer at Arthurs Pass
Cycle touring with Steven Muir’s kayak trailer at Arthurs Pass
Moving with Apple tree
Moving to Hoon Hay with Apple tree (time required us to get a truck for the rest of our stuff)
Moving two beds
Moving two beds – they needed jacking a bit higher to avoid the wheels
Going on holiday
At Christchurch railway station – all we needed was a “not wanted on voyage” sticker
70 Bricks
70 bricks at 3.5kg each makes 245kg – arguably overloaded – but still a personal record!
Transporting a Washing Machine
The first appliance I can remember shifting, complete with partially hidden toddler.
Tricycle transport for transiting toddlers
The family portrait
Two kayaks on bike
Early days of kayak transport.
The old fridge on its way out
Out with the old
The new fridge on its way in
In with the new
Two bikes on trailer
I can’t remember exactly why, it was complicated
Trailer with green waste
We can now do half a cubic meter of green waste in one go!
Baby transport first edition
I have no idea about the legality of this, but bike helmets are only made so small
A trade-me sideboard purchase
Almost no other bidders, $1.50 bargain – getting all 100kg of it home, priceless.
Triple tandem plus two kayaks
A triple tandem plus two kayaks. Nine meters of cycling goodness.
Random load
We’ve forgotten what this was, probably Gib board

In summary, a few thoughts

  • It can be quite fun
  • I very much enjoy the challenge from “great! we’ve won it on TradeMe, now how on earth do we get it home?” to “yes! it’s finally home”
  • We don’t bid for big things on big hills.
  • Appropriate use of low-tech technology can work quite well.
  • Not tying things on properly can have varying consequences

Could you go car-free in your life?

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: A Car Free Life”

  1. Thank you for all the inspiration! Bicycles really can meet most all of one’s urban transport needs.

  2. Mad sod! Those bricks beat my 100 kilograms of UPSs by a handy margin.

    Would certainly have made for interesting braking, or even getting up over the rise of the average traffic light-intersection, let alone a railway crossing.

    1. Alastair Brown is demonstrating very resourceful and imaginative problem solving techniques we can all learn from. Of all the pics the only modification suggested would may be the forward carrying baby cradle move to between handle bars and seat in the event of accidental damage control. The safety of such device for transport ought not to dismissed as reckless if you consider the level of awareness and path choice of the peddler. How we ‘navigate’ in all respects as parents in providing a well balanced role model is what determines outcomes.

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