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The End of Being Car-Free – THE LAST POST HERE

October 4th, 2010

This is the last post on this blog.

On 30 September 2010, I had the most relaxed motorcycle commute to work. The morning air was a crisp cool and the mostly southbound ride was accompanied by a gentle tailwind. The traffic was light and the engine felt nimble. Cruising at a steady speed under 50mph, the motorcycle disappeared in sensation. All that was left was the feeling of propelling through the morning mist…like flying.

The same tailwind had grown in might in the afternoon. Now, a heavy headwind, the commute back only affirmed my decision of giving up motorcycling. That Thursday was the last day I rode my motorcycle as a primary mode of transportation. Now with an expired tag, it sits in my front yard awaiting a novice motorcyclist to buy it.

I rode my xtraycle to work on Friday, thus closing the week and the two years of my car-free existance. Early morning Saturday, I juggled the local JTA bus transit and picked up my car from my friend. I had already purchased the car earlier that week and let my friend, the seller use it till Saturday before he bid adieu to USA and moved to Brasil with his family.

I started this blog when I went car-light and supplemented my commutes with my bicycle. I went car free on 17 October 2008 and it has been a heck of a ride since then. This blog has been instrumental in channeling my thoughts and ideas on transportation in general and bicycling in particular over the years. Now that I am back to depending on a car full time, it is only apt to shut down this blog.

I will continue to ride my bicycle to work a few times a week.

I will also continue blogging on Finding Mukherjee | Blog. You may subscribe to my universal feed here.

Welcome to the Real World

August 6th, 2010
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.

Motorcycle Ownership
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.
Drawbacks
This is a very light motorcycle and Jacksonville is fairly windy. At even a 10 mile per hour wind, the motorcycle gets moved 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. 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 my 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.

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.

Motorcycle Ownership

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.

Drawbacks

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

In The Land Of The Cars

June 20th, 2010

Riverside has spoilt me. With its pedestrian scale street layout and popular bicycling culture, it has kept me in a world of illusion. The bicycle is revered here and one on a bicycle feels like Guliver in Liliput. Bicycles have several adventages like easy front door parking, easy access to parks, less or negligible car expense etc. like Gilliver was a giant in Liliput and he had several advantages due to his size.

I rode down to Mandarin to meet some friends and ride bicycles. I started the ride with the evening’s storm chasing me. I pedaled furiously to stay out of the wrath of the showers and San Jose Blvd took me out of the path of the storm quickly. I didn’t realize that I was steadily riding into another planet. A parallel planet. The planet of ranch styled homes built for cars.

To the credit of the ‘planning’ department, the parking lane provided along Hendricks between San Marco and Baymeadows is quite nice. Other than the few times you have to move into 50 mph traffic to pass the cars parked on this lane, it pretty much keeps a cyclist out of traffic. Once you reach Baymeadows, it is a different story.

The parking lane becomes a car lane. It is less than 14 feet wide and infested with motorists who haven’t seen a bicycle there before. Everything built here is to the scale of cars. The six lanes of traffic, the numerous strip mall shopping centers with driveways jutting out into the main road, the people stranded on one side of the road looking for ways to cross etc. Even the traffic lights are made for the speed and acceleration of cars. The five of us on bicycles started to cross several traffic lights when they turned amber while we had just stepped into the intersection of a six lane road. Needless to say, the intersecting traffic got their green light while we were still in the intersection.

A bicyclist feels like Gulliver in Brobdingnag where he was the size of a thumb and at a serious disadvantage.

The real problem is in the planning done decades ago. There is no blaming anyone for it now. It has been done and over with. The question is what could be done today to ease transportation issues. When people have to make a choice between car related expenses and food for their kids, it is not a healthy society. This is not a developed society anyone wants to grow up in. This is not a society anyone wants to leave behind. A frequent and well networked bus service and street cars supplementing some form of rail infrastructure comes to mind. Rail not only makes it easier to travel the length and breadth of a large city, it also brings economic development.

Yehuda Moon has the right attitude for riding in this traffic. This comic strip and the company of my friends is what kept me sane during my trip.


Cargo Bike Picnic Ride Recap

May 27th, 2010
I organized a cargo bike picnic ride last sunday. I wanted to promote the utilitarian aspect of bicycles so people can supplement some of their car trips on a bicycle.

Seven people showed up, including me. The excellent company made up for the lack of participation by far.
The ride was promoted paper free. No posters and leaflets. In the age of blogs, RSS feeds and feed readers, it is pointless to print posters. Ride information was shared on Urban Core and Bikejax, both imensely popular websites. I also created a facebook event where 30 or more people agreed to attend inspite of the Tour de Cure going on. Lakshore Shwinn, a local bike shop that carries xtracycles also sent messages on twitter and facebook.
Many people who missed the bicycle ride are probably at work watch oil spewing out of the extraction site on bp’s live feed. They shake their heads in dissapoitment to bp’s lack of proper oil spill containment and to the damage done to sea life and beaches. They may even shed a tear at the sight of oil drenched birds. They prepare to end their work day and make their way home in the comfort of their gasoline powered cars. Over the weekend, they will probably make their way to the grocery store or a restaurant in their cars, run into friends and talk about boycotting bp, then drive their cars back home.
I like to hope that people would do somethign to lessen their usage of gasoline. It causes pollution, spills and war. It also supports the car tax. I hope they replace some of their trips with a bicycle. Even a short trip.
I am supplementing my motorcycle commute with a bicycle. I have been riding two days to work and am upping it to three. Moreso, I am supplementing my bicycle commute to work with my motorcycle. 14 miles is quite long.
I am also drooling on the pictures from the Cargo Bike Race in Copenhagen.
I organized a cargo bike picnic ride last Sunday. I wanted to promote the utilitarian aspect of bicycles so people can supplement some of their car trips on a bicycle.

Seven people showed up, including me. The excellent company made up for the lack of participation by far.

The ride was promoted paper free. No posters and leaflets. In the age of blogs, RSS feeds and feed readers, it is pointless to print posters. Ride information was shared on Urban Core and Bikejax, both very  popular websites. I also created a facebook event where 30 or more people agreed to attend in spite of the Tour de Cure going on. Lakshore Shwinn, a local bike shop that carries xtracycles also sent messages on twitter and facebook.

Many people who missed the bicycle ride are probably at work watch oil spewing out of the extraction site on bp’s live feed. They shake their heads in disappointment to bp’s lack of proper oil spill containment and to the damage done to sea life and beaches. They may even shed a tear at the sight of oil drenched birds. They prepare to end their work day and make their way home in the comfort of their gasoline powered cars. Over the weekend, they will probably make their way to the grocery store or a restaurant in their cars, run into friends and talk about boycotting bp, then drive their cars back home.

I like to hope that people would do something to lessen their usage of gasoline. It causes pollution, spills and war. It also supports the car tax. I hope they replace some of their trips with a bicycle. Even a short trip.

I have been riding two days to work and am upping it to three. I am supplementing my bicycle commute to work with my motorcycle. 14 miles is quite long.

I am also drooling on the pictures from the Cargo Bike Race in Copenhagen.

Riding My Bike To Work and 75 Miles per Gallon

May 21st, 2010

I had quoted that living in Riverside put me out of bicycling range. Riding a bike to work would make my commute time almost 3 hours. That coupled with a 9 hour day (sometimes more) will keep me out of my apartment for upwards of 12 hours, thereby putting my dog in an uncomfortable situation. Hence, the motorcycle.

A friend recently moved next door and her work is literally a stone throw away from her apartment. She get a lunch break which she uses to get out of the office and walk her dog. She willingly agreed to walk Laya for me if I chose to ride my bicycle to work. Since I am not in the best of shape, I am only riding to work twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday. I want to get to 3 days and eventually all 5 days.

My work is a 28 mile round trip and it involves climbing the Acosta bridge. The morning rides are very refreshing. The afternoon rides are a little tiring. Between the sun and 5 PM rush hour traffic, I am fighting several battles on my bicycle.

I am riding my xtracycle to work. It is the only long distance bicycle with multiple gears and a rock solid construction. Moreover, the heavy bike gives me a good workout. This is my second week and I can already feel the difference. Moreover, this is an appropriate activity for Bike Month rather than group ride with police escorts like this one: link

Riding a bicycle does not save me a whole lot of money since I am only offsetting minor wear and tear on the motorcycle and negligible fuel usage. Yup, I have been getting over 75 miles per gallon on the little Kawasaki. All I did was reduce my speed on Phillips Highway from 50 to 45. Enjoy the graphs and charts. Happy motoring!


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