As I've written about many times, cycling is a great way to get fit and be practical at the same time. The toughest part will be getting your human-powered Urban Assault Vehicle ready for action. But fear not! We aren't going into uncharted territory. In fact, I'm going to show you just how easy it can be to build the Ultimate Pavement Bomber, on a budget.
Start With A Bike
Do you already own a bike? Good. You're better off than most people. Chances are you've got one of these three types of bikes:
- Mountain Bike - fat/knobby tires, flat handlebar, possibly suspension fork and frame
- Hybrid - skinny tires, flat handlebar, usually a suspension fork
- Cruiser - fat tires, swept back bars, usually 1 speed (not always)
Any one of them can be pressed into service, with a few tweaks. If you already own a drop-bar road bike, then you're pretty much there. Hybrids are awesome for shorter trips (less than 20 miles) because the upright riding position is good for visibility in traffic, but longer rides can be hard when you've only got one position to put your hands in.
Let's assume the bike is in decent working shape: brakes and gears are adjusted and working, no loose hardware, and the bike is roughly the right size for you. If you have one of these rare unicorns, consider yourself blessed. If your bike needs work, then spend some time on Youtube learning how to adjust it, or bring it to a bike shop and have them do it for you (I recommend learning it yourself, for obvious reasons). Once your bike is in good working condition, it's time to make its conversion to the dark side complete!
(This article was originally written in July, on the 3 year mark from my accident.)
Today is the first time in a long, long time that I've been in any kind of pain. Normally, my surgical implants don't bother me much. Every now and then I might get a twinge, and the scars itch a lot. But I haven't had real pain from it in probably a year.
My work schedule is very sporadic. I spend most of the year doing documentation, gearing up for that short run where we go into production for a few months. We're in that production run now, and I'm spending 11 hours a day on my feet, running around helping people. I actually like my job, quite a bit, and I like to think I'm pretty good at it.
But regardless, I didn't wake up one morning and decide "Hey, I want to become a technical writer for a farm equipment factory." It's a job. I ended up here by the grace of God, and I'm thankful for what it provides me.
But in the end, it's just a job. It's not my life's calling, any further than I'm called to provide for my family.
I don't rant very often, and most people who know me would say I'm a very laid-back guy (some people say if I were any more laid back, I wouldn't have a pulse). But sometimes, my cynical side thinks bad things about expensive bikes, and snobbish cyclists... and I have to take a long, hard look at what I really enjoy about riding a bike.
I like real casual group rides, the kind where they might stop for donuts and coffee. I'm not interested in Snagging a Strava KOM. I like hanging with my buds, getting lost and finding new trails and roads. I'm the guy who shows up to group rides in baggy shorts and a 35 year old Raleigh, and proceeds to ride whenever, wherever. My jersey pockets aren't stuffed with Blok Shots, probably just bananas, PB&J and some trail mix in my panniers.
I'll admit it, I'm tempted to over-think cycling, and so are a lot of other people. But at the end of the day, I don't need a bunch of stuff to enjoy cycling. That's part of why I started riding to work. I didn't want to just ride as a hobby. I wanted it to be a normal part of my life, like breathing, or eating. I wanted to make a difference in the world, and a change in my life.
And I think, overall, I've accomplished that. I'll admit it, my bikes are heavy, mostly cheap, and cobbled together from spare parts. Even if I were concerned about weight, I couldn't spend serious coin on a bicycle. And I'm here to tell you you don't have to. I've been around long enough to know what you ride isn't as important as how much you ride. And even that pales in comparison to how much you love to ride. I will always have respect for someone who puts down big miles, especially if they do it on a cheap/heavy bike. Bonus points if you built the bike yourself. Don't think that you have to have to lay out a lot of money to have a decent commuter bike. Usually, you can use what you have already, and just add to it as you go.
This is how I got started, with a cheap bike.
Every now and then, stuff breaks. That's shocking, I know, right? But it does. It might be your clothes dryer, your car, your TV, or who knows what. Sometimes you can fix these things, and sometimes you can't. But if you can take the time to learn how to fix things, it's worth the time invested! let me explain.
If you have, let's say a car, that snapped a timing belt. Well, the first thing you do is make sure it's the timing belt. Do you know how to check the timing belt on your car? Do you even know what a timing belt is? Time to learn. Go go Google and find out.
Then, you need to know if a timing belt something you can replace on your own. Sometimes a snapped timing belt will destroy an engine... sometimes it won't. It depends on whether the engine is an interference design or not. If it's not, then chances are there's no serious damage. Do some research and find out!
If your engine isn't an interference engine, and you know it's the timing belt that went out, then you're in luck! You can probably fix it yourself, for less than $50. It will just take some research, and about 5 hours or so. Chances are your car would be in the shop more than 5 hours, so overall, this isn't bad.
Yes, the photo in this post is me changing a timing belt. I already had the tools, but tools can be borrowed (usually for free from an auto parts store) and information can be learned. It's not that bad.
The real thing I want people (that means you, reader!) to understand is that it's not as hard to fix things as you'd think. Some people say "I don't have the mechanical aptitude to fix anything!" but I don't believe that. There are tons of articles and videos on the internet that can walk you through it, step-by-step. You can save thousands of dollars this way! I'm not trying to stiff mechanics and repairmen, but let's be honest, their time isn't cheap. Most repairs aren't that hard.
Don't be afraid to do some research on your problem to figure it out for yourself. The added bonus is, once you've learned how to fix something, that's a permanent skill! If you keep adding to your list of skills, eventually you will be confident enough to tackle jobs you never thought you could.
This is how I got started in frugal mechanics... out of necessity. Now I do it because I can, and the long-term benefits are well worth it!
What are some things you've accomplished that you never thought you could tackle?
If you've never heard of it, there's this new thing in churches called Environmental Projection. There's a new company dedicated to expanding worship spaces using- you guessed it- projectors. This is just the latest in a long line of technology-driven "improvements" in worship services.
My initial reaction to this was disbelief, then understanding, then skepticism. I totally understand why it works, and I think it's extremely cool. But deep down, I'm very cautious of things that we add to the worship service just to make it "more appealing." Now, before you think I'm a fool, I don't mean we should try to make the service unappealing. We're not Franciscan monks. This does bring up a very valid point of discussion, however, and I'd like to indulge in it. There are generally two lines of thought on this. One, we should use whatever means possible to reach the lost and bring people closer to God. This is hard to argue, and with newer technology, it's getting more and more prevalent. There are even Seminary degrees for Church Media Arts.
The flip side to this is that it is very easy for things like beautiful sanctuaries, large orchestras, feel-good preaching, and so forth to take the focus away from God and His message. If you can only worship in a sanctuary with 360° projectors, a full orchestra, and nice padded seats, then are you worshipping God, or something else? Are we including new technology to reach the lost, or are we simply catering to a specific crowd? Honestly, I don't really think churches are using technology to "Reach people" as much as they are using it to satiate their existing membership (or woo other churches' members).
*Disclaimer* I am, as my website proclaims, a born-again techno-geek Renaissance Man. I love technology and the possibilities it brings. I'm also a Bible-believing man, who recognizes God, and more specifically, God personified in the form of Jesus Christ. I like technology, but I also understand that it is simply a tool, a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. I do not believe in technology for its own sake! Everything should have a purpose, and apart from that, it is by definition unnecessary.
So where do I stand on this? Where should the Church stand on this? Well, I wish it were simple, but there's a few things to consider.
What happens when you sell an internet startup for millions, and you're in your early 30's?
You get a small house and live comfortably.
Life is funny. Since Google shut down their RSS Reader feed, I discovered RSS is a pretty slick way to compile and review bunches of excellent blogs. I didn't even know what the fuss was about until I heard all these people complaining about how convenient it was, so naturally, my curiosity got the better of me.
I started following all kinds of blogs, from friends and people I respected. As I looked through my list last night, I discovered most of them have a common thread. This caught me off-guard at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew why. They almost all have something to do with non-traditional living.
So what does this have to do with me?
Well, I have a blog, too (shocking, I know). What good is it if I just post occasional rantings here? A few people like reading what I write, but it's not doing much other than that. What if I could combine all the things I have experience with in ways people could actually use, and then post them up here to help other people get to where I'm at?
Well, yeah, that's a no-brainer. I've already got a few articles on how to do things, but I haven't tied them in to anything specific. I've just been posting whatever comes off the top of my head, which sometimes is interesting, and sometimes isn't.
So starting today, I'm going to start tying all these things together with a common thread: living a non-traditional, debt-free Godly life, and using that freedom to turn around and bless other people, because that's what God wants His followers to do.
Let's face it. Who wouldn't want to donate thousands of dollars to charities? I mean good charities, not the ones that are business cover-ups. Who wouldn't feel great about being able to genuinely help people who need it? But most people don't, because they allowed themselves to get to a place where they spend everything they have, and nothing is left over.
I'm here to tell you that there's no reason you can't retire early with what you're making now, and spend the rest of your life doing whatever the heck you want to. All it takes is lowering your cost of living to the point where you can put a decent amount into a retirement fund, and then work a little while and let it build up.
Spend less, save more. Sounds easy, right?
It works exactly like losing weight (which I've also done). Your calorie intake has to be less than your output, or you will never- I repeat, never- lose weight.
"But that's uncomfortable!" you say. "Why can't I eat and spend what I want?" Well, you can. But you won't lose weight, and you won't become free from debt. You choose.
Still with me? Okay, this is where it gets interesting. I'm here to help you find ways to do more with less, using stuff I have experience with. We're going to lay out a few things you'll need on your journey to "Less Is More." Almost everything I'm going to recommend is either free, or ridiculously cheap.
Resources You Should Be Reading
You can't change your life without at least a little direction. If you're serious about wanting to change your life for the better, you should start by reading Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover. (Here's a hint: borrow it for free from the library!) Dave breaks it down into seven "Baby Steps" but you shouldn't be discouraged. This is how I got started!
The basics, for Those Who Can't Wait:
- Save $1000 for emergencies. Do what it takes to get there*, and don't touch it!!
- Snowball your debt, i.e. pay off the smallest debt you have**, then move on to the next biggest one until they are all gone.
- Once your debt is gone, use the money you saved from credit payments to save 6 month's of income in the bank.
- One that's done, invest at least 15% into your 401K and/or a Roth IRA***
- College Funds for Children. This is optional.
- Pay off your mortgage. Without dropping your retirement investments****
- Build wealth and give. This isn't really a step, per se, it is the goal!
*If you can't save $1000, then lower your cost of living until you can.
**If you can't pay off the smallest debt, lower your cost of living until you can.
***If you can't invest 15% into retirement, lower your cost of living until you can.
****If you can't put money down on the principal of your mortgage, well... you know.
Seriously, it's a very simple equation. Money in > money out. If you can't increase your money income, then lower your money output. It's just that simple.
"Ah!" you say with a frown. "I can't lower my standard of living!"
Well, yes you can, unless you're already homeless. You just don't want to. But you do want to be debt-free, right? Wouldn't it be nice to not have to work until you're 75, and then pass on debt to your kids?
"Sure, doesn't everybody?" you say.
Right. But what are you willing to give up now in order to be able to do that later? Cable TV? Hobbies? Eating out? Designer clothes? New cars? Chances are you have at least one of those things. If you do, and you're still in debt, you should stop right now and think. There are tons of websites and blogs to give you ideas as to how to save money.
I can see you're upset, so I'm going to just leave you with these words...
Less is More.
Recently, I was reading a Charlotte Mason book on homeschooling, and came across this quote:
Children should be taught to distinguish between "I want" and "I will".
And it got me thinking. This is primarily directed towards teaching and training children, but it struck me how applicable this is to everybody, especially in today's ridiculously backwards society.
How many times have we said to ourselves, "I just want...." or even "I'd really like it if..." when we really are saying "I wish things were different." The truth is, we can't change anything except ourselves, which includes our attitudes.
What if instead of saying "I want to know more about God" we say something like "I will spend twenty minutes a day reading my Bible." Did you know you can read through the entire Bible in about 90 days if you read 20 minutes a day?
Instead of saying "I want to write a book" we say "I will spend an hour today writing." Did you know if you can write 1500 words a day, you can write a novel in about a month?
Instead of saying "I want to save for retirement" we instead say "I will stop eating out and wasting money, and put that into my 401K." Did you know you can retire early (and even be debt-free!) if you do simple things like this? It's not as difficult as it sounds.
What if instead of "I want to lose weight and get in shape" we say "I will eat smaller meals, and get a little more exercise?" Did you know, just controlling your meal portions and getting a few hours of exercise a week is all it takes? Like 40 pounds in 3 months.
What it boils down to, then, is that we always want things to happen, but we're not willing to take the first step. And truthfully, most things we want to accomplish are easily doable if we just take it one step at a time.
How do I know this? Because I've done all four of these things. I'm not a superhero, either. And they weren't that hard if you break them down into manageable chunks. It's not magic! It just takes the willingness to take the first step.
So... don't just say "I want." Nothing will change.
Get up and take the first step.