The real world is a combination of what we are supposed to do and where we do it. It generally involves buying a car and a single family home with fake grass and a barbecue grill in the back yard. I put that concept of the real world to a test. In May 2008, I started riding a bicycle to work and grew independent from the car. In October 2008, I sold my car and went car free. In September 2009, I gave up dealing with insolent motorists in suburban Jacksonville and decided to move to Riverside, a part of town built on a human scale.
I had decided to not own a car for as long as I could manage it. A voluntary car-free state is a protest against the city of Jacksonville’s mandate to buy a car. Being car free allows me to be more environmentally responsible. To be able to commute from Riverside to work, a distance of 12 miles, I decided to buy a motorcycle. Not wanting to pay too much of the car tax, I bought the cheapest motorcycle in the market. To keep my mode of transportation reliable, I bought a brand new motorcycle. In December 2009, I moved to Riverside. I have been commuting on a motorcycle and sometimes on a bicycle from Riverside to work every day since the beginning of 2010.
Benefits of the Motorcycle
I get around 80 miles per gallon. My carbon footprint is very small and I fulfilled my life long dream of owning a motorcycle.
This is a very light motorcycle and Jacksonville is fairly windy. At even a 10 mile per hour wind, the motorcycle gets pushed around on the road. This is similar to the feeling if you were to ride a bicycle and someone pushed your shoulder to the side. It gets difficult to keep my position on the lane. I generally drop speed to gain front tire traction to be able to steer myself back to where I was. This gets worse when it is windy and rainy. Most of my commute is on Phillips Highway. It is an old road and the center of each lane is very uneven. When I get pushed from my left half position into the center of the lane, the motorcycle gets even more unstable. This results from the weak forks and fork mounts.
At short stretches of highway, the grooves cut on the surface tracks the front tire giving the motorcycle a mind of its own. This gets worse crossing the tall Acosta Bridge which has rain grooves and higher wind speeds.
Maintenance cost of motorcycles is very high unless you can do it yourself.
Seven months of Riding
By the first three months till March 2010, I was considering moving to Belize. It was the coldest winter in Jacksonville in decades. It was extra cold for me on a motorcycle. Some mornings, the wind chill would be around 15 degrees. My fingers have been so cold that I was unable to remove my gloves and unstrap my helmet.
When it started warming up, the weather was perfect for motorcycle riding. This lasted probably 3 weeks till the pressure system in the Gulf started working and the winds picked up. I remember my first time in a 14 mile per hour cross wind taken by surprise not knowing what to do. I remember struggling to keep my lane position and doing everything in my power to not end up in the ditch where the wind was taking me. Between April and July, there have been only a handful of days where motorcycle commute was fun. Mornings are usually uneventful but it is the afternoon commutes that create stress. Continued added stress leads to fatigue.
Solving the wind problem
Between the motorcycle’s weight of 300 lbs and mine of 220 lbs, the center of mass of the two of us sits fairly high up. This makes it easy for the wind to create an impact on the direction of the motorcycle. Scouring numerous forums and blogs about people facing similar problems with the wind, I discovered that no one faces this at under 20 mph winds. They all ride heavy motorcycles.
Therefore, buying a heavier motorcycle with thicker forks, sturdier fork mounts and thicker tires will greatly solve my woes. Alas, even a used heavier motorcycle (650 cc to 800 cc) costs between $3,000 and $4,000. Incidentally, a coworker is moving to Brazil and is selling an old Toyota in great shape for under $4,000. I am jumping on this opportunity.
The Real World
This marks my re-entry into the so called real world. It starts by buying a car. The feelings associated with buying a car now are so different than the feelings I had when I bought my first car in 2006. Now, I view a car as a bloated and inefficient tool that is unofficially mandated by the city. Back in 2006, my car was a toy, an extension of my limbs and a mode of transportation to the nearest money-draining chain restaurant.
I re-enter the real world with desperation and need of a car, not a want. I re-enter the real world with open eyes, not eyes masked by social norms designed to impress faceless members of society. I will always regret that I wont be car free anymore.
Update: For more on the philosophy behind this post, read this http://www.mnmlstlife.com/archives/83