The Carless Cyclist, Shannon Markley

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With her newly powdercoated Marinoni
With her newly powdercoated Marinoni

I ride my bike a lot, but I drive a car as well. So I have to marvel at people, several of whom I know, who do not own a car. In Shannon Markley’s case, that has been her situation since 1976.

Shannon’s biography could be called “Life on a Bike.” She began cycling at the age of 7 and can take you to the exact spot on Beacon Hill where she learned to ride. For many of us, the bike represents an implement of independence, a moment in our young lives when we became, literally, self-empowered. The impact of learning to ride was to prove for Shannon far greater than what for most people is the later equivalent, getting a driver’s license.

Life on a bike
Life on a bike

Shannon saw no need for a DL and waited till college to get her license. Her first car was the French-made Simca, a real “tin can,” she recalls, that would shimmy and rattle driving down I-5 to Highline Community College “so much I thought it was going to explode.” Later her well-intentioned father, who had insisted she learn to drive, gave her a convertible. She drove it for awhile, never saw the need, and wound up giving the car back.

Shannon today gets everywhere by bike, even preferring to ride at night because there’s less traffic. In December Seattle’s snowstorm gave her a chance to rehab her trusty Marinoni. She took it in to Recycled Cycles and recalls “them just shaking their head, wondering how the thing even pedaled.” She replaced the drive train, purchasing three new chains for rotating every month to even wear on her cogset and chainrings, spruced up the brakes and wheels. But she’s happiest with her new light green paint job, which is very close to the classic Bianchi “Celeste.” (You can compare her bike to my bike’s saddle nose in the photo’s background; the saddle is a Bianchi team issue.)

Shannon got the powder-coating done at Seattle Powder Coat. Powder-coating is a durable, more even, and “greener” process than painting, and Shannon’s bike looks brand new. She’s even emailing for instructions on how to obtain a new set of decals.

The whole upgrade cost less than $400 ($175 for power-coating alone), and Shannon feels she has a new bike for what would normally cost her minimum $1,500 to $2,000. Life is that way for her: Shannon knows how to slice costs to the bone. She once gave me a coupon for $10 worth of gas that she of course had no use for. When she gave it to me, $10 bought a quarter of a tank. By the time I used it, it just about filled the tank!

Shannon spent much of the past three years building a new off-the-grid, completely green and sustainable house in Bainbridge, which she rents out to help support her simplified lifestyle. She keeps her living costs down by house-sitting and using publicly available computers at places like libraries and the Phinney Neighborhood Association. We met through my wife Cecile‘s work on simplicity and the slow life.

I run into Shannon all over the city on my bike. She’s usually off to a community meeting or public hearing to testify on something progressive and good. She not only walks the talk, she rides it. The sticker on her rear fender says it all: “Give Cyclists [image of three feet] of Space.” The Bicycle Alliance is working on legislation in Olympia to do just that.

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