It always warms my heart when I hear a story regarding how a bike has improved one's life in some way. Reader Jay, from D.C., sent along the following story and pictures. I think Jay should work for the Federal government. If he did I am sure he would help find a way to cut into our enormous Federal debt. Enjoy!
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I have been reading your site for some time now and I thought that it was time I submitted my hack. I am a student who lives at home with my parents and commutes 15 miles to school each day. Using public transportation was costing about $5 a day and I thought that there must be a way to save money. With only 4 months left in the semester, I found that if I rode a bicycle to school each day (even if only the nice days), I could easily pay for the bicycle with the money saved from not using public transportation. And as an added bonus, I discovered that my commute on a bicycle is one the average shorter than my commute via public transportation.
I found that I could 'earn' $300 in savings if I rode the bicycle to school everyday until the end of the semester, so my logic was that if I only rode the bike half the time, because of weather or other inconveniences, my budget would be just $150 to break even. I gave myself a budget of $100 to build a bicycle that would become my commuter, keeping the $50 as an insurance fund to fix flats or other broken parts of the bicycle.
I bought a early year 1982 Schwinn Voyageur 11.8 in immaculate condition for $25! It needed a saddle, chain, brake pads, tubes, and handlebar tape (totaling another $60) but the frame and wheels were straight and true. I then wanted to mount a rack to the back of the bike so that I could carry my textbooks on the bike and not on my back (30 lbs of books on your back gets very old after a 15 miles commute).
I went to the LBS to buy a rack, and all of the options were $40+, way out of my $15 budget. I thought about it and after a short trip to the LHS (local hardware store), I was home with a $2 length of 1/2" steel wiring conduit tubing and a few dollars of conduit clamps. After some time with a hammer and a few folds, I mounted a the pair of triangles and a scrap board to my bike and I have a massive rear rack to hold all of my books and my backpack. It is incredibly strong (I have given my gf a ride to the mall on it), and it only cost me a grand total of $5.
My bike has now paid for itself in commuting costs, so every day I ride it is a free days worth commuting. One day I hope to 'earn' enough money with the bike to pay for a legitimate rack and panniers, but for now my hack it working just fine.
The big project I am working on is a trailer that is capable of hauling an long block engine weighing 350 + lbs. Once I sort out how to do that on a budget and keep the loads from being transferred to the bike, I'll be sure to clue you in.