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How a Car-Free Lifestyle Led to a More Experience-Based Life

Michale Sevy, photo by Brian Martucci

Michale Sevy in the warmer months, photo by Eric Eul

Michale ("Mick-ail") Sevy isn’t a fitness devotee or a glutton for punishment. He’s not particularly issue-driven. He’s a low-key guy from Minneapolis who’s downsized his life and gets around without ever getting behind the wheel of a car. And though he doesn’t brag about belonging to that cohort of year-round car-free cyclists, he’s quick to encourage others to join the car-free club.
“I’ve been living without a car in Minneapolis for several years now and it works perfectly for me,” he says. “If I can do it, a lot of other people can too,” even if they rely more on transit and carsharing than year-round biking. “You just have to take the plunge,” he adds. Here’s how Sevy became car-free.
Becoming an active participant in the urban fabric
Sevy, a digital producer at Carmichael Lynch, has lived without a car since late 2008, when he sold his newish sedan and moved to Denmark for a job. Despite the Scandinavian nation’s reputation for bike-friendliness, Sevy actually didn’t own a bicycle while he was there. He didn’t need to. His temporary hometown, Kolding, was walkable. His workplace was a short commuter bus ride away, in a transit-friendly city.
When Sevy returned to Minneapolis, he settled in the Seward Neighborhood. During his first summer back in the Cities, he biked as often as he could, loading his pedal-powered ride onto the bus or light rail for bad weather and longer trips.
From the saddle of his bike, Sevy found his perspective on the urban environment changing. “I felt the city and its topography so much more,” he says. He describes the moment he realized that East Lake Street is actually one long, nearly imperceptible upslope from the Mississippi River to the Blue Line. He came to feel like an active participant in the urban fabric, something he hadn’t even experienced in dense, transit-crazy Denmark.
“I learned how the city breathes—the weather, the environment, the people coming and going,” he says.
He also racked up small but encouraging transit victories. Early on, he discovered a free, virtually unused bike rack at the airport, where he worked briefly. Many times, he biked to the Franklin Avenue Station, rode the Blue Line to the airport terminal, locked up his bike and flew out of town on trips, sometimes for up to two weeks. When he came back, his bike was always right where he’d left it, untouched.
More recently, Sevy signed on to a photo shoot at a quarry in Apple Valley, a 30-minute car ride from his house. (Sevy also freelances as a model, actor, photographer and filmmaker. He’s a man of many talents.) He biked to the Franklin Avenue station, hopped the Blue Line to the Mall of America, boarded a Red Line BRT vehicle to the Apple Valley Transit Station and biked the remaining two miles to the quarry.
The trip took about 70 minutes, he says, which is longer than a point-to-point car ride, but pretty impressive for a three-mode, four-leg excursion to a third-ring suburb.
Busy, frugal and buoyed by his car-free wins, Sevy put off buying another vehicle for as long as he could. He’d have to bite the bullet eventually, he reckoned. Winter was coming. Who rides their bike in winter, he thought?
But Sevy didn’t buy a car. His “eventually” has turned into “never.”
Polar vortex = bike-bus route and layers
Sevy didn’t have a car-free epiphany. Nor did he experience a fully conscious decision to forgo car ownership. He just kept riding his bike through the fall, past fallen leaves and lakes with a thin early-morning crust of ice. One day in late fall, he bought a pair of 35 mm studded tires and dug his deep-cold layers out of the closet. Shortly thereafter, Sevy discarded any remaining loyalties to the concept of gas-powered personal transportation.
“I just did it,” he says. He was car free.
The first winter was rough. “Lots of snow, lots of ice, some frigid periods,” Sevy recalls. With studded tires, ice and snow were non-issues. But he did load his bike onto the bus—a five-minute walk from his house—on the coldest days. (He perfected the bike-bus route last winter, when several historic polar vortices forced even hardy riders to change their routines.)
Even on relatively nice days, biking to work was a challenge. “The wind quite literally changes direction in the winter,” he says, with harsh northwesterly blasts replacing summer’s southerly breezes. To get from Seward to downtown Minneapolis, Sevy had to steer directly into the winter wind.
But he knew how to handle the chill. Seeking to keep out the cold above all else, he explains, most winter biking novices overdress for their first couple excursions. That usually backfires. Sevy’s snowboarding experience (and stint as a Burton Snowboard employee in Vermont) taught him the value of layering for sustained winter activity, as opposed to bundling up for the dash from the parking garage to the heated office.
The key is a sturdy, sweat-wicking first layer, he says. The other layers aren’t nearly as important, as long as they keep out the wind. “If you get cold, you’re probably not pedaling fast enough,” he jokes.
To this day, Sevy mainly uses his bike for commuting. “I honestly don’t think I’ve sat on a bike for more than 10 miles at a time,” he says. The farthest he’s gone in a continuous trip is to St. Louis Park. His weekday commute, from Seward to the North Loop and back, is about six miles round trip. That’s far enough for a nice workout, without a burdensome time or energy commitment.
Sevy does wish some things about his commute were different. He admits to “spending as little time as possible at intersections,” out of fear for his personal safety. Drivers don’t always look out for cyclists, he says, especially at dusk and at night. And a few drivers still actively antagonize cyclists sharing the road.
But there’s a major upshot to Sevy’s car-free lifestyle: He doesn’t have to worry about a car payment or maintenance, meaning he has more money for experiences. So as another long winter sets in, look for Sevy pedaling to and from work, always willing to trade the conveniences of car ownership for a more “experience-based lifestyle.”
Brian Martucci is The Line’s Innovation and Jobs News Editor.
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