Mr. Money Mustache piqued my interest in spending more time on a bicycle and less in a car. Meeting Physician on FIRE, who rides a bike to his hospital in Minnesota, exposed my flimsy excuses for driving my car in California. Collectively, they led me to pose myself a challenge: If I could routinely use my bicycle over the course of a year, I’d gift myself an upgrade.
I live in a cyclist’s paradise – coastal foothills slope gradually to the Pacific Ocean. Weather cooperates most of the year. An annual cycling event passes less than a mile from my home.
I also live in a suburban grocery oasis – I am a 25 minute drive from Costco and a can reach two Trader Joe’s within a ten minute drive. I decided last year that to reduce consumption, costs and carbon (the trifecta!) I’d drive to Costco every other week, resupplying at Trader Joe’s during the off weeks on my bike with a backpack.
My bike’s origin story stems from a thoughtless financial decision. I signed up for an American Express credit card my freshman year of college (probably for the free frisbee). Thankfully, I habitually paid the balance in full every month due to my frugal-son-of-immigrants DNA. Not until 14 years later did I notice I’d been accruing points on my statement.
When my then girlfriend (now wife) and I relocated to an apartment a few blocks from the beach, I traded those points for a mountain bike that was way nicer than the Sears special I’d ridden in college. Fifty bucks to have a bike shop assemble it and I was riding AmEx’s finest up and down the coast. In retrospect, I rode exclusively on concrete or asphalt and should have selected a road bike instead.
My mountain bike sucks, and it’s 90% my fault. The rusty chain makes obvious that I’ve never maintained it, and wouldn’t know where to start. Still, I rode it dutifully to and from Trader Joe’s for over a year.
Every physician finance blogger has a superpower. Mine is not caring how dorky I look. Hence, I created a DIY cycling outfit.
I bought last season’s good enough Bell helmet at the local Ross Dress for Less. It ran $20. My wife prevailed on me to avoid thrift store helmets after the Great Lice Outbreak of 2017. Happy wife, happy life.
A jacket I’d snagged for $30 a couple of years back at an REI used gear sale came in handy for cold weather cycling, as did a $5 pair of gloves bought at the same sale. Granted, California cold is a normal variant of east coast warm.
I learned basic lessons like the need to roll up and tuck in baggy pant legs. It’s not pretty, but then again, I’m a little new to clothes that reveal the cut and contour of my dartos fascia. I might eventually give in and purchase a pair of padded shorts if I find them used or on sale, but for now, baggy pants tucked into my socks let me feel like the (cre)master of my domain.
While I did not ride my bike every other week, I’d estimate I reduced Costco runs by at least a third, saving gas and substituting physical activity for sedentary time. There was also the thrill of being mistaken for an employee at Trader Joe’s.
My call to upgrade came in December when Dave from Accidental FIRE posted about having racked up more miles on his bike than his car in 2018. I'd met Dave at FinCon18, and reached out to him for advice on scoring a cheap and decent road bike. He was gracious and encouraging.
I also reached out to cyclist doctor friend at work for more input. He suggested I ask the seasoned cyclists in our physician group if they had a bike they wanted to unload, since their castoffs would likely be far nicer than my $250 budget would afford. I asked around, and hit the jackpot - one friend who'd recently upgraded had a well cared for road bike.
I stopped by his house at the appointed time to find a meticulously-preserved ten year old bike that weighed less than my first cell phone. He was wiping the frame with a damp rag before gifting it to me (it was cleaner than my children), and suggested I take it for a tune-up to a local bike shop. I was deeply touched.
I called around to compare tune-up prices, found a newish shop within a few miles, and stopped in after dropping the kids off at Sunday School. I was the first person in the shop that morning, and I immediately recognized the guy behind the counter as a kindred dirtbag. We connected as he looked over the bike and took out some tools, making adjustments here and there while telling me the bike did not need a complete tune up.
He was incredibly patient with my questions, made me feel at ease (it was my first time stepping foot in a bike shop since dropping off the AmEx bike for assembly a decade earlier), and all my newbie fears of unworthiness dissipated in minutes.
He spent 45 minutes with me, even watching me take a spin in the parking lot to ensure my legs formed the proper angles as I rode. For this VIP treatment he charged 2/5 the price I’d been quoted at another local shop.
I sheepishly asked if he’d let me shadow him in the shop to learn basic maintenance, and he agreed provided the shop wasn’t too busy.
It’s been almost a month since I scored the new bike. I’m taking short uphill rides 3-4 mornings a week when work and weather permit. My calves look chiseled, my saddle sore butt is slowly adjusting to the seat, and my days feel more energized.
The doldrums of seasonal affective disorder that normally make the cold months a challenge have been largely kept at bay. So far, life is better on 2 wheels. More to come…