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In June 2010, my husband and I made a life changing decision for our family. With both of us working within 10 kms of our home and access to bike routes, we decided to sell our car and become a car-free family. At the time, it seemed like the hardest decision, and I had my doubts as to how well we would cope without a car of our own, but with the money we made on the sale of our car, we went out and purchased some bikes, a bike trailer for our 1 year old son, and a trail-a-bike for our oldest daughter who was just under four years old at the time.

We then set off on a journey of self-discovery, attempting to ride our bikes as much as possible to commute throughout the city. We learned a lot about pushing our limits, and how small a city becomes when you travel it on two wheels. The biggest thing we learned, though, which we try to share with everyone to encourage them to start riding…Riding a bike is easy!

If you haven’t ridden in sometime, the idea of making a bike your primary means of transportation can be quite daunting. But once you really look at everything you need to get started, it’s actually quite simple. All you need is a bike! If a bike is missing from the equation, there are lots of options to get started. Those with a smaller budget can look for sales, or check out the local used bike shops. Most respectable bike shops selling used bikes will have given them a complete tune up and repaired or replaced anything that wasn’t road ready. A used bike will usually run you anywhere from $50-250, depending on the style, size and age of the bike, but would be a great way to start riding a bike without breaking the bank.

If your budget allows, getting a shiny new bike is always nice, too. Of course, this also means you can spend the time to find a bike that’s right for you and your needs. Any bike shop I’ve been to allows potential buyers test out new bikes before buying them. Just like buying a car, you want to be sure that the bike rides well for you, and that you’re comfortable on it. If you have time, check out lots of shops and try out many different styles of bikes. You may have thought you were looking for a speedy road bike, only to find that you are happiest and most comfortable on a slower, Dutch style bike. While bicycles aren’t a huge expense compared to buying a car, it’s nice to know you won’t be changing your mind a few months down the road because you didn’t weight all the options.

Essential to any bike are the accessories. Many people think this means special clothing, footwear and gadgets, but there are accessories even more basic that the average cyclist should have if they are going to make riding a bike a main mode of transportation. Things like a helmet, bell, and front and rear lights are crucial, and required by law throughout most of North America. Another crucial accessory for anyone hoping to commute in all weather types, including rain and snow, are fenders. No one likes having water and dirt splash you in the face while you’re riding to work, and fenders are a low cost way to stay relatively dry on your daily commute. Lights, a bell and fenders are all low cost ways to make your commute as easy as possible. You may find that you want all the extra gear and gadgets, and only you can decide what makes you most comfortable when you ride. Personally, I ride my bike wearing whatever is in my closet. I have a rain coat and rain boots that I wear when it’s raining, a nice winter coat when there’s a chill in the air, and, believe it or not, I ride in a skirt and heels when I’m off for a night out with friends or a date night with my husband. I could spend a fortune on a special cycling raincoat, pants and shoe covers, but I wouldn’t be comfortable, and can use the money I save to enjoy doing things with my family.

…I ride in a skirt and heels when I’m off for a night out with friends or a date night with my husband…

Finally, getting around on two wheels. This can be the most daunting notion of all, especially if you’ve never ridden a bike on city streets before. The first thing you should get is a map of all your city’s bike paths, lanes and bikeways. Simply contact your city hall and they should be able to send you some in the mail, free of charge. Most maps also indicate the slope of a path, so you know if you’re going to encounter a big hill on your way, and can maybe find a way to avoid it if you like. Google Maps has a bicycle route planner that can also be really handy. Use these maps to plan out your route before hand. What I have found is that the first time I make a journey, I try to follow the most straightforward route, but over time, I will modify it as I learn the neighbourhoods and bikeways better, and, in many instances, the best way to avoid a steep slope uphill.

Living in a relatively bike-friendly city, I have found that places I once thought to be too far to travel by bike are actually much closer, and sometimes easier to get to by bike. A trip to the swimming pool for our kids’ lessons that would be 20 minutes by car is only an extra 10 minutes on our bikes, but we get to have a nice ride through our city as a family, and we never have to worry about missing a bus, getting caught in traffic or needing to find parking. Yes, a car would be quicker, but who could ever complain about spending quality time with your kids and being active at the same time. It’s a luxury we treasure, and we wouldn’t dream of changing it!

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