Mountain View family trades cars for bikes, enjoys life more
- Published Friday, October 27, 2006, by the Mountain View Voice
Carless -- and doing fine
Mountain View family says life is cheaper, less hectic on a bike
By Daniel DeBolt
A ping-pong table blocks the driveway in front of Sam and Kelly
Rohlfs' Mountain View home. That might be an inconvenience for other
families -- after all, the car has to go somewhere.
But the Rohlfses aren't like other families: They don't have a car.
The Rohlfses decided last fall to get rid of their last vehicle
after feeling for years like it dominated their lives. When
depreciation, maintenance and car payments were factored in,
their 1999 BMW cost them $1,400 a month, Kelly Rohlfs said.
"I think we're just totally normal people without a car," she said.
For Sam Rohlfs, a last straw was when the sunroof stopped working
and the repair bill was going to be astronomical. The couple was
commuting through traffic on El Camino Real to Stanford every day,
arriving at work frustrated and tense, they said. They found it was
quicker to take their bikes on the train than sit in traffic. Or,
if they chose, they could take a bus the whole way.
Kelly said she and Sam asked themselves, "How many options have
to exist before we get rid of our car?" Apparently seeing enough
options, they took the plunge.
And if it didn't work out, Sam figured, "You can always go back
and buy a car."
The Rohlfses say they've gotten used to the barrage of questions
from people after hearing they don't have a car -- questions such
as "How do you get groceries?" or "What if it rains?" or "What if
there is an emergency?"
"We call 911 like everyone else," Kelly said.
As for groceries, the couple has bicycle trailers. According to a
Web site they pointed to, <http://www.bikesatwork.com>, a person
riding an average multi-speed bike can tow up to 300 pounds with
the right gear ratio.
Nor is wet weather a deterrent. Sam said if they were ever going to
quit the bike routine, it would have been during the rainy season
last year. But the couple invested in rain gear and say they love
riding in the rain. "It's beautiful," Kelly said.
If they need a car for whatever reason, the Rohlfses just rent one
to suit their needs at the rental place two blocks away. And if
there's a problem with the car?
"You just drive it back and come home and play ping-pong," Kelly
said. "It's not my worry."
Sam claims he's lost 40 pounds since his bike became his sole
transportation. The garbage can is also a little lighter, the couple
claims, because they think twice before buying anything they have to
drag home on their bike trailers.
Now, instead of a car, the garage is filled with bikes and trailers.
"Twenty percent of my land is dedicated to my car," Kelly said,
referring to the long driveway to the back of her house.
"It's hard to find anything attractive or useful to do with my
driveway," Sam said, referring to the centrally located ping-pong
The couple has at least four bikes to choose from. Sam said he
wanted to make sure they spent money for some decent bikes and
equipment. He thought the "car envy" he had would be gone with his
car -- but now he said he finds himself with "bike envy" whenever
he sees a nice bike.
Kelly has a cup holder on her handlebars. "Even I go to Starbucks on
the way to work," she said.
Their son, 14-year-old Max, still wants a car when he turns 16. He
said his peers are "astonished" that his parents don't have a car.
But he's on the progressive side too: His automobile of choice when
he turns 16 is a "Smart Car," a tiny gas powered machine from Europe
that gets over 60 miles per gallon.
He and his parents obviously had a disagreement on their hands as
they went back and forth.
"Bikes are dangerous," Max said.
"People are much more likely to die in a car," his mom responded.
When the Rohlfses drive a car now, they say, they aren't used to
"The biggest surprise for me was how easy it was," Sam said about
giving up his car for bikes and public transit. "I thought we were
going to have to ramp it up, take it up a notch." But now it doesn't
feel like a chore to run errands, he says. "It's more like a day
When people have to sit in traffic, they honk, they yell, "they are
doing something they don't like to do," Sam said about the average
"We'd like all the cars to go away," he joked.
"In our ideal world," Kelly added.
"I just want to encourage people to give it a try," Sam said.
"Things just don't get hectic on the bike."
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddbolt@...