too many bikes for one tiny house

I love bikes. For twenty years of my life the bicycle has been one of my primary forms of transportation: in the Marshall Islands where there were no personal vehicles, in Seattle through many rainy commutes, in Minnesota winters while a car-less college student, in Bogota, Colombia with its ciclovia, and in DC with an ever-growing creative bike community.

But I also love the idea of living in a tiny house with minimal belongings, and I can really only allocate space for one bike in my tiny house.  As any cyclist knows, how can you get by with just one bike?  Each of my bikes serves a very different purpose and I usually have between 3 and 5 in my possession at one time.  For instance,

  • An Xtracycle for camping, grocery trips and giving friends rides home from a bar.
  • A road bike for recreational weekend road rides with friends and training rides.
  • A stylish urban commuter bike on which I bomb around the city’s potholed streets.
  • An old one-speed cruiser that I use when I don’t want to worry about one of my nicer bikes getting stolen, when I’m wearing a skirt or when I just want that more upright, leisurely riding style that helps me slow down and appreciate my surroundings.

Road bike in Virginia

Xtracycle with groceries and Christmas tree

Custom painted urban commuter

Cruiser bike

There is hardly room for one bike in my tiny house let alone the four I currently have.  So, how to choose from my current bikes?  Easy: don’t decide…buy a new one!

And, of course, get rid of all the others.  I looked for a  bike that could meet the majority of my requirements and, after many months of research, I came across a bicycle company in my home state of Minnesota called Handsome Cycles.  Enter into the equation the Handsome Devil: a beautiful, clean steel frame that is very versatile and  good-looking.  Not only was it everything I was looking for, it came in my favorite color – green!  I was sold.  So, I now have five bikes that are about to be transformed into one.

Storage of bikes in the tiny house community

Part of the beauty of living in DC is the ability to live car-free, and we definitely want to provide some bike storage on the alley lot.  While we are considering storing some bikes in a shipping container (Brian too has 3 bikes and no plans to downsize his fleet), we’ve also been exploring ways to store bikes attractively in or just outside the tiny house.  I would like some setup that allows my bike to be secure and free from the elements but not have it in the middle of my tiny living room.

Here are some interesting ideas I’ve come across (click on images to link to original images and websites).

Bike Shelf from Mission Bicycle Co.

The Bike Shelf (by Mission Bicycles) – Beautiful, elegant, but requires more wall space than I might have.  Also, I don’t think I want to spend the same amount of money on the shelf that I hang my bike on ($299!) that my bike itself cost (well, the frame and fork cost just over $300).  For those with the extra money, though, I think it’s the most aesthetically-pleasing option I have found.

Image from Apartment Therapy

Hooks – use a $3 utility hook from the hardware store   – I think this would work best out on a tiny house design with the covered porch (which I will not have).  But, I might experiment with hanging the bike from the ceiling using hooks like the example at left.

Pulley system – an option to elevate your bicycle in the tiny house, but I really don’t like the way it looks with all the hardware.

The Seattle Times

Another option for ceiling storage:  I like the design at left in a small studio apartment in Seattle.

Outside option – we are investigating how to hang the bike on the outside of the house incorporating a way to fold up a locking door or hatch to enclose it.

What other ideas do you have for storing bikes that might work well in a tiny house?

typology of tiny house enthusiasts

In her article titled “I Can’t Stop Looking at Photos of Absurdly Tiny Homes” on the Atlantic Cities blog yesterday, Emily Badger questions why we tiny house enthusiasts are so obsessed.

“There is something oddly alluring about smartly designed but freakishly small spaces. I know this because enough other people must be into these things to warrant the steady stream of them flowing from my Twitter feed. I also know this because I have never met a link promising a teeny tiny home that I was not compelled to click on.”

She interviews Mimi Zieger about the obsession around tiny houses and ends up constructing a typology of tiny house enthusiasts with her.  I’m not sure if they hit on all the categories, but they certainly covered the majority.  Below is a summary:

Walden types – those who are driven by reducing their environmental footprint and simple living.

Do-It-Yourselfers (DIYers) – those who are driven by the challenge of building something themselves.

Design types – those who are motivated by the cuteness of the tiny house.  Emily, the author, doesn’t feel like the cuteness category fully encompasses her obsession, so she asks Mimi “what about those people who like puzzles?”  Those inspired by the design challenge of building a small space?

“There’s just something elegant about squeezing so much utility out of something so small. Every component must be thoughtful and integrated. And a puzzler can appreciate the clever solution of turning a bookshelf into a dining table, even if you don’t want to eat on one in yourself.”

I think she’s on to something here.  A lot of my interest in the tiny house movement comes from the innovation and creativity I see in every project: simple designs I find for storing kitchenware, a cool fold-down deck, or a drawer bed that slides out from under the floor.  Like the author and unlike a Walden type, I am not as much motivated in ridding myself of belongings (in fact I fully expect to have a small storage unit for my outdoor gear and off-season clothes) as I am in finding a way to reduce to the essentials and challenge myself to find innovative ways to live within those boundaries of a small space with limited items.

Tiny Homeless Shelters (

However, I think one huge category that was not highlighted in this article are those who are motivated by the economics of tiny house living.  There is a reason the tiny house movement has taken off in the last few years.  With the uncertainty in the job market and foreclosures across the nation, people, both young and old, are looking for creative ways to live that don’t require a 30-year mortgage eating up half or more of their annual salary.  Young women are building these (according to Jay Schafer of Tumbleweed Tiny Homes young women may currently be the largest growing demographic of tiny home builders, see this example), adults taking care of elderly parents are building them (Son Builds Tiny House for his Mother), and students are building them as a way to save money while creating a separate space from their parents (see this 16-year-old’s tiny house).

In an October 2011 interview on Crosscurrents from KALW with several tiny house builders Stephen Marshall, owner of the company Little House on a Trailer, mentions what he sees in his tiny house business: those who are motivated by environmental concerns may stop and look at his houses, but it is those motivated by economic concerns who actually buy them (listen to or read the whole news story).  And this is the difference between those who are simply obsessed with looking at tiny houses online versus those who are actually building tiny houses.  When you read the blogs of tiny house builders you will almost always find them explaining their economic incentives for building tiny in addition to the fun and creative challenges of reducing their belongings and becoming more environmentally-conscious.

lee’s tiny house design

I recently bought the framing plans for the Tumbleweed Fencl after attending Tumbleweed’s tiny house workshop here in DC this past summer.  I plan on doing my interior differently than the Fencl and am still in the design phase of the interior.

While I don’t plan to actively travel with my tiny house, I do expect I’ll move it a few times.  Therefore, I want to follow the advice given by Tumbleweed Tiny Homes to keep it within the width and height allowances that make it easy to drive on most major roads in the country without a special permit.  Most Tumbleweed models are 8 feet wide by 16 or 18 feet long and include a loft for sleeping and a front porch.  I am going to build mine out to 20 feet long and not build the porch that is standard on most Tumbleweed models.  Since I don’t plan to move it that often, I will build up my own little deck or patio that is removable so I can use that extra few feet of the trailer as interior space.

Here are some of the interior designs of other tiny houses that I really like:

Protohaus – they have done a great job with the design of the interior and should their plans be available in time for my build I will buy them.  Click for more pictures.

Chris and Melissa’s Tiny Tack House in Washington State.  They have beautiful photos of the interior on their blog.

about lee

At last count I had lived in 26 houses and/or apartments in my 34 years of life in six countries and many more cities.  Since age 13 I hadn’t spent more than 3 years in any one location until recently – I’ve now passed the three-year mark here in Washington DC.   With all this moving I’ve become very adept at adapting to any type of situation I find myself in, but I haven’t been as good at actively defining what it is I want to create in my life and building the structures and support to achieve those goals.

I’ve often craved my own place, yet with all this moving it’s been hard to consider buying a house because I’ve never felt that I’ll be someplace long enough to put down roots.  While DC is not one of my favorite places I’ve called home, it has grown on me considerably in the last year.  And though I still continue to dream of eventually splitting my time between the Pacific Northwest and Latin America (both places I’ve lived for considerable periods of my life), for now I’m excited to invest my energy here in DC and in the Boneyard Studios project.

I will be blogging on this site about my tiny house build (including important questions like how to downsize from my current five bicycles to only one!), other tiny-house related issues (like space-saving furniture), and interesting things we discover in DC throughout this process (like Crispus Attucks park tucked away in an alley).  I’m also looking forward to exploring and writing about the more personal side of this endeavor – how simplifying my life and becoming more intentional with how I’m living affect my relationships with people and places.


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