All this cycling has prompted me to think more about how I travel around, which fits nicely with the Uber Frugal January theme of questioning all of your expenses.
Cycling: panniers are the key
Right now, cycling to work feels ridiculous - it's less than two miles away so it takes me ten minutes to get there, and longer to cycle home than to walk as it's so uphill. But I'm hoping I'll be fitter soon, and I'm planning to add more miles to the journey home once the evenings start getting lighter.
For me, panniers are the key to cycling. Without them, you have to use a rucksack, which makes for hot, sweaty cycling and squashed chocolate brownies (in my experience). With them, you can carry many things in comfort and safety. Mine are lovely, they're enormous, and waterproof, and easily to remove. They weren't cheap (about £50 I think) but so far they've lasted fifteen years and are still going strong.
I also have a 'proper' folding bike - a Brompton. This was expensive (about £600 I think, although now the cheapest seem to be £950) but again, it's lasted about seventeen years and I adore it. It folds up so small you can take it on the train without booking in advance, and you can even get it onto a bus. Perfect for my old bike-train-bike commute, and for slinging in the car to take on holidays (we have one each). Peter bought me a pannier to go on the front a couple of years ago and now it is the very pinnacle of bicycling perfection.
As for traffic, yes, it can be daunting. But the routes I drive are rarely the routes I cycle. I use cycle lanes where I can, quieter roads when I can't, make sure I'm lit up like a Christmas tree (no Stealth Cycling) and most importantly, I remain vigilant. I make eye contact with people turning out of side roads (to make sure they've noticed me) and I am always prepared to slow down if in a car is being unpredictable.
My bicycling enthusiasm has only recently been rekindled, in part because I've been conned into entering a 62 mile bike race in March. Before that, I walked (and drove, but we'll get to that in a minute). I love walking. I'll happily walk from one side of the city to another to meet a friend for a cup of tea (and often do).
I'll walk to work in whatever shoes I'm wearing, but for longer walks, comfy shoes are best. And for walking, a rucksack (although now I think about it, panniers around the waist might not be a bad idea). Preferably no carrier bags dangling from wrists, and if I'm going to be longer than an hour, I find it best to have a drink and snack as it's very easy to pop into a shop for a bar of chocolate when you're walking.
For both cycling and walking you need to plan ahead. Cycling needs a bike pump, spare tyre, a few tools (or someone at home with a car who can rescue you), panniers, lights, reflective jacket. Walking needs less preparation, but for both you need enough time. I've had to run before now, and with a rucksack and walking boots it's not pleasant. You don't want to be cycling in a rush either.
But I find that there is usually time if you pay attention, it's just a matter of getting into the right habits, and factoring in the benefits of fresh air, exercise and general wellbeing you get alongside.
I live in a large city, so there are plenty of buses. They're great for getting into town and back, but across town usually requires two, and at that point I often either walk or get in the car. Our local bus now charges £1.80 for a single journey to town (just over two miles) so I've usually walked in and got the bus home, although these days I'm cycling both ways which makes it free. We also have trams here, but sadly I rarely need to be anywhere along the route.
I love trains though, and managed a train commute for nearly six years without too much fussing.
They're not automatically the frugal option though, but it's always worth checking. It doesn't necessarily follow that because you have a car, it's never worth considering public transport. In my old job, I commuted to another city 60 miles away. Yes, I could have driven - but it was on small, windy roads so would have taken an hour and a half, I would have had to pay for parking, and it would have meant leaving Peter with no car, as we only have one. The train cost £20 a day (I travelled two days a week) but I could read (or sleep, it was quite early) on the train, and walking or cycling to or from the stations at each end (about 2 miles each way in each city) gave me plenty of fresh air and exercise.
For longer train journeys, I've always managed to get tickets cheaper than the 'standard' price by booking in advance, travelling at odd times, or committing to a specific train. I usually use the Red Spotted Hanky website and always check the fabulously-named Tickety Split site to see if it's worth buying separate tickets for different stages of the journey.
We have one car between the two of us. It's thirteen years old (although we've only had it for three years) and we found it through Gumtree. It does around 45 miles per gallon, and so far (touch wood) hasn't had anything go too wrong. We deliberately bought one that was (just about) big enough to sleep in the back of. It's a bit cramped with two of us, so I wouldn't want to stay in it for more than one night, but I've been away in it on my own for several days and it's been fine, and it's great for sleeping outside friend's houses after parties, or a cheap night away in another city.
But Uber Frugal January is making me question those justifications and see what I can do to get rid of them. Planning ahead always helps - if I know we're running low on milk, I can get some while I'm out anyway, instead of having to make an emergency dash when we run out. If I allow plenty of time to get ready, I can be on time, rather than having to take the car because I'm late. This is working so far this month, and I've barely got in the car except for longer journeys or to ferry large pieces of wood or furniture (I don't yet have a bike trailer...).
Still, we spend roughly £60 a month on diesel, and even though that includes days out and trips to see family, neither of us drive to work so this still seems quite high.
I like being able to get about under my own steam, and I prefer it when I create enough time and space to be able to cycle and walk to places. I've never been reliant on a car to get to work and I'd like to keep it that way if possible although there may be some compromise if we move somewhere rural. We'll see.
Up til now I've always made decisions about where to live and work as if I didn't have a car, so the addition of one is a bonus to be used for longer trips, rather than a necessity. I've still found it far too easy to hop in for short trips though and that's something I've started to change this month.
More bicycling, I say!