Meet a car-free millennial spouting 'glorious bike propaganda' on TikTok
- Jenna Phillips, 27, is sharing her "car-free" life with more than 16,000 TikTok followers.
- As vehicle expenses add up, living "car-lite" has a growing appeal for many
As millions of Americans have faced high car and gas prices over the past year, 27-year-old Jenna Phillips keeps smiling and pedaling for her 16,000 TikTok followers. She's among the many millennials embracing — or at least taking steps toward — a "car-free" lifestyle.
When Phillips moved to downtown Portland, Oregon, with her husband in 2017, she recalls paying almost $200 a month to park his car in the city — which was especially frustrating given they were hardly using it. During one road trip, the car broke down.
"We just had this silent moment of like, yeah, we're getting rid of this car," she says. They haven't owned a car since, and Phillips has moved to an e-bike for her day-to-day travel needs.
For Phillips and others, inflationary pressures have made cutting back on car usage all the more appealing. In June, the average monthly car payment reached a record-high $712, per a Cox Automotive/Moody's Analytics analysis, driven by rising car prices and interest rates on car loans.
In addition, a 2017 analysis by INRIX found that the average US driver spent over $10,000 on car-related expenses like gas, insurance, maintenance, parking, and speeding tickets.
Despite the costs, having a car remains important to millions of Americans — one analysis reported nearly 92% of US households had access to a car in 2020. Per a Statista survey, 76% of Americans commute to work via car, compared to 10% that opt for a bike.
Encouraging people who don't see themselves as "traditional" bikers to start pedaling
After ditching the car, Phillips began to rely almost exclusively on
While she debated buying a small electric vehicle, an e-bike, which ranges in cost from $1,500 to $4,000, just "made more sense".
"The cost is significantly lower than an electric vehicle, and the distance I was traveling wasn't so far that I couldn't bike it," she says, adding the motor helps her comfortably ride between 16-22 miles per hour without exerting herself too much.
Phillips' commute — which she does three days per week — takes about 45 minutes: roughly 25 minutes to bike six miles, followed by 20 minutes on the train. In addition to the $2.50 train ride, she says it costs only $25 per year to charge her bike, and $80 every few months for a new chain — which she needs given how often she rides. A fully charged battery — which lasts for roughly 40 miles — takes an hour to fully charge, and she says she's never needed to charge it more than once a day.
In August of 2021, Phillips began making what her TikTok profile @jennabikes describes as "glorious bike propaganda." She uses the platform to share her biking experiences and answer questions like, "How do you lock up your bike safely?" and "How do you deal with getting sweaty?" In just under a year, she's amassed over 16,000 followers.
One of Phillips' main goals is to convince people who don't view themselves as "traditional" cyclists to give it a chance. Her followers are 97% female, which she says is typically "not the biking community at all."
"I think it's a lot of people who are traditionally not in the bike riding community, who see me as a small, fat person, a woman doing this very independently, and really latched onto the idea that maybe they could do it too."
When some followers began asking to ride with her, Phillips organized a few "group rides" to help them get started, something she continues to do on roughly a monthly basis.
"The beautiful part of a car-free life is you're out of this box and you're in the community. Even on the bus or the train, I run into friends and coworkers almost every day, and it's just such a good sense of community that you just don't get in a car. I don't think car folks really understand it."
Phillips acknowledges that Portland is quite bike-friendly — it's 2nd in the US per one measure. That said, she has a few starter tips to assist any aspiring biker: start on a familiar route that isn't too busy; give yourself an incentive to make the trip (e.g., grabbing food); and it's okay to ride on the sidewalk, if it's permitted.
She also emphasized that there's no shame in being "car-lite" rather than making the full jump to a car-free life. Trying to cut some trips here-and-there is a good place to start, referencing Portland's goal of having 25% of all trips made by bike by 2030.
She admits, however, that her no-car life is not without its difficulties. Finding a home that was close to public
That said, any reservations are typically short-lived. Gas prices and traffic have been "huge points of conversation" among her co-workers, while she can rely on a consistent time and cost for her journey to the office. If she ever needs a reminder why she's chosen this lifestyle, riding by rush hour traffic tends to do the trick.
"It's so satisfying," she says. "If I ever need a reminder, I just head out to the freeway at 5:00 PM and just get a little taste of that."
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