How We Became a One-car Household: Slowly, Then Suddenly

When Laura and I bought electric pedal-assist bikes in March 2022, our goal was to ditch one of our cars at some vague future date, but we didn’t really know how it would happen.

I mean, cars are just so convenient, and when you have them it’s easy to just keep them, right?

We spent the year replacing car miles with bike miles (and, during shitty weather, bus miles).

Like most folks, the majority of our trips are just a few miles. Laura found her commute into downtown Iowa City was faster by bike than car because she cut out the five-minute walk from parking to the office. My 12-mile commute didn’t have the same time savings, but it really only added 15 minutes or so.

Groceries were manageable with panniers and the extra weight didn’t matter because of the peddle assistance. Costco trips were still by car, but Laura hauled fence posts for her garden on her bike, and we just don’t haul much.

Most of the time, at least one of our cars sat unused for weeks at a time, though it was easy to get lazy and make an excuse to use a car.

I started marking bike days on my calendar and lumping as best I could days I would need to travel from my office (or urging phone and video calls when it made sense). I did rely on coworkers for tides when we were going to an offsite meeting together, but that just means carpooling which we should be doing anyway.

Then, in just before last Christmas, a driver failed to yield and smashed into our sedan, totaling it. (Everyone was fine, albeit a little shaken). So here we were, in the middle of an Iowa winter, with one car. And it was fine.

(We went back to two cars for a short time when we got a Prius to replace the relatively inefficient Subaru Outback.)

It helps that our high schooler (1) doesn’t drive a lot, (2) doesn’t travel for extra curricular activities since they’re boarding at school, (3) our jobs are flexible enough that we can work from home during bad weather, (4) we can afford costly cab/rideshare fares and (5) have coworkers willing to drive. But we’re going to save thousands of dollars each year on car insurance, gasoline, oil changes and other maintenance. You might also save of parking costs we don’t have.

Electric pedal-assist bikes are transformative. A good one isn’t cheap (we spent $4,000 each for our class 3 Specialized Turbo Vado 4.0 bikes plus more on gear), but it’s cheaper that a car and gets the job done. I’ve found it’s easier if I just plan to ride every day, alleviating decision-making second guessing.