Lots of people say bicycling beats high gas pricesby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
High gasoline prices have people turning to an old form of transportation: the bicycle. Bike shops in the Twin Cities say business is good. They're also noticing a growing number of people, who have never used bikes to commute, making the transition away from their cars.
St. Paul, Minn. — Every weekday at 6:45 a.m., a bus coming from Stillwater drops off Pedro Perez and his bike in Downtown St. Paul.
It takes Pedro about 10 minutes to bike from from the bus stop to his job at the Missisissppi Market co-op two miles away. Perez stopped driving to work almost a month ago.
"As soon as gas prices starting going up, I was like, you know what, let's start biking again. There's no sense," he says.
Perez had only biked for fun. It had never occurred to him to use his bike as an alternative means of transportation. But when he started doing the math on the cost of commuting to and from work, he decided it was time to fix-up his bike and leave his car behind.
"The commute to get to St. Paul from Stillwater and back, it would take $10 to $12 every time I came (to work) so that was a big force. The bus takes $2.75 to get here and then I ride my bike back so that's free."
Perez relies on the bus in the morning. In the afternoon, he bikes all the way home. It takes him on average about an hour and thirty minutes to ride from St. Paul to Stillwater. He says the long ride home is worth it, especially now that his insurance premium has gone down because he's driving less. Perez also doesn't have to worry about maintaining his car as much or even getting a gym membership to work out.
It's people like Perez who are visiting bike shops all across the Twin Cities. People are bringing in their old bikes for repairs and upgrades. Tracy Farr, store manager of the St Paul bike shop Now Bikes and Fitness, knew something was going on when gas prices started to go up.
"Even when it was in the middle of winter we had people who were making the commitment to go (on bikes to work). I think for a gas price, $3.50, that seemed to be where people cracked. That's where people seemed to think this doesn't make sense anymore."
His St. Paul store alone has about ninety bikes waiting to be fixed, Farr says. Across the river, at the bike shop, Re-Cycle in Minneapolis, bikes are becoming a hot item, in more ways than one, according to store manager Ryan Dean.
"A lot of people are coming in, mentioning that they had their bikes stolen," he says. "So there is a huge increase in the amount of bikes that are being stolen. And I imagine that because of the rising cost of gas prices, bikes are becoming a premium. They're increasing in value."
Some people are turning to their bikes and making big life changes in tandem. Ken Branch recently moved closer to Minneapolis from a suburb. The move allowed him to sell his truck over a month ago.
"It's gone (from) $50 a week versus what? Four dollars a day on the bus? That's a big difference. That's $20 a week versus $50. That's a big difference to me. Major difference. So I'm cool with that."
Branch recently went back to college so he's trying to cut expenses wherever he can. On a recent sunny day in Minneapolis, he was even looking for a better-paying job on his bike. He's planning to bike, and use the bus and train year round. He says it's the most practical way save money and improve his health. Although he admits, there's a downside.
"Well, out in the dating world it makes it a little bit difficult because you can't pick anybody up no more. But if someone's looking for me just because I have a car, skip them anyway."
Branch doesn't mind having to make that sacrifice if it means he's going to be financially stable.
And he's not alone.
Pedro Perez from Stillwater says he's also planning to sell his car when he's ready to move to St. Paul. He wants to live within a five mile radius of his job at the Mississippi Market so it will be easier to bike year round.
- All Things Considered, 05/23/2008, 4:19 p.m.