Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wind Beneath My Wheels

Windy Brompton Blur
Cycling in New England, I've had my share of encounters with strong winds. Or at least, what I considered strong winds. Here in Northern Ireland they are on an entirely different scale. Part of it is the open landscape. Much of the time, you are cycling through glens (undulating grassy hills), without much in the way of trees for cover. Even the mountains tend to be all grass and rock, with only the occasional clump of forest. This quality of the landscape is part of what makes cycling here so special - the open, panoramic views are ever-present, encouraging on climbs and breath-taking on descents. But on windy days there is little in the way of shelter. Cycling in a group, the riders can shelter each other. Cycling alone, you are exposed to it all. 

And the windy days can be unpredictable. I have gone out on a calm morning, only to battle violent gusts mid-ride. I have cycled down a straight road in what alternated between headwinds and tailwinds - confused, erratic currents.

One day last week, a headwind grew so strong and steady that, as I rode down a long steep hill it insistently pushed me back up. I could not have imagined such a slow, strenuous descent: It was as if some invisible giant had casually put his hand up against my handlebars.

But most disconcerting of all are the cross winds. I've had the least experience with these so far, but here they are common. Winds blowing sideways and on the diagonal can be strong enough to push the bike around the road. When the wind is steady, I find ways to either lean or position myself against it to reduce the impact. But when it is gusty, a sudden push against the side of the bike, or worst of all, the handlebars, can rattle my nerves. Faced with this, I try to keep simultaneously loose and hyper-ready to react to the blows with quick tiny counter-movements. And if the gusts get really bad, I wait it out: The weather is changeable; the pattern will morph into something else before long.

But the wind is not all bad. One night, I was cycling home along a 10 mile flat stretch. A tailwind picked up - so strong and so close to the ground, it felt as if the current settled in between my tires and the road, transporting me all the way home on a magic carpet ride. 

25 comments:

  1. Side winds can be deadly, you soon learn to watch out for gaps in hedgerows where they often lurk, waiting to catch out the unwary rider.

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    1. That reminds me, changing my route to narrower roads with taller hedges has worked as a strategy.

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  2. I've encountered strong gusts of wind after storms in N. Florida but we have trees. Carbon fiber bikes seem the most vulnerable. One was seen blown over with a cyclist on it. I'm sure we have nowhere near the type of wind you are experiencing there, but I've had greater luck riding steel in such conditions. Wind seems to blow through the spokes and I experience less buffeting motion to the bike itself.

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  3. Winds are treacherous in the midwest specifically around the tri-state area (il, wi, in). Ridding alone can at times feel like 'The Race Of Truth'. I've often wondered why more pro peloton racers arent from this area ; )

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  4. It's amazing how wind can affect a ride. Give me a nice gentle breeze any day.

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  5. That must have been when you used your 50x11 - first time?

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    1. First time I used 50x11... club ride, some time early 2012, downhill incline. I was so excited to run out of gears "in the other direction," I remember it vividly.

      Wind or not, I use higher gears here than at home, unless up the mountain.

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    2. Howz the gear spacing working out?

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    3. Very nicely. It's tighter in the smaller cogs, then gets wider as the cogs get bigger. Big ring + smaller cogs on flats and rolling hills, so good. Mountain - drop to the small ring.

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    4. That's what people don't realize when they over think gearing. Factor in the bail out, the rest will work out - you have 20 speeds. My cargo bike runs 1x6 almost all the time.

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    5. Also running these higher gears now will pay dividends later.

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    6. Those winds render my carbon bike with Spinergy wheels unusable most of the year, and the steel Mercian with Mavic Open Pros is the default option. The gearing is 50-34 and 11-36: I run the big ring across the whole cassette and drop down to 34-36 on the bad hills. Need new chain every six months but worth it.....

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  6. I'm not familiar with a Brompton's wind handling, but as another Midwesterner fighting the wind, I've found that relaxing works the best when riding alone in crosswinds. I try to keep my upper body in the same place, but let the bike swerve out a few inches to keep a straight line. It helps me hold a steadier line and is less tiring than actively throwing my weight into the wind. This seems to work well when transitioning from protected to unprotected areas.

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    1. I notice the cross winds less on the Brompton than on my roadbike, but that might just be because I ride it less and not as far.

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  7. Oh man, wind! Yep! Being brought to a stand still while going downhill is at least humorous. When gusts hit from the side and either knock you down or into traffic it's scary. Those of use who tour have many stories but my favorite was shared by a friend who had battled all day somewhere in the south eastern part of the country and she had just cleared one of the passes and camped in a valley. Her direction was east but she found another option to head north if necessary the next day....She decided she'd just stick her finger in the air and head which ever way the wind was blowing and so it was north! While she was cruising along, fully loaded, enjoying the morning a motorcyclist (picture harley davidson, tattoos, chains) pulled up to her and shouted 'do you know how fast you're going?' He put up five fingers-twice! 55 mph and she couldn't even feel it! She finished her planed route by noon and really appreciated the afternoon of relaxation :)

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  8. ScottUK(Eirelover)July 2, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Those Bromies sure are handy yolks!

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  9. Oh, here in Denver we can get really strong gusts that come off the mountains... especially when a storm is moving it. I have a really hard time riding when it's gusting - I've nearly been blown off the bike path numerous times.

    AND... back in March CatMan and I were riding on a really windy day. I was having real trouble keeping the bike on the path. He was ahead of me and turned slightly to give me a pointer on keeping the bike steady when a huge gust came up. It blew him off the trail - unfortunately there was a 4 inch drop at the edge of the concrete where his tire got stuck and down he went. He broke his pelvis!

    Perhaps tip number one should be: Don't turn to say something to your partner! Suffice it to say, riding in wind scares the bejeezus out of me!

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  10. Once rode 150km into a stiff headwind - steady 35km/h, gusting up to 50km/h - while touring in South Western Victoria (Australia) desperately trying to make a train connection. Took 13 hours. Missed the train by half an hour. Absolutely the worst day on a bike I've ever had, hell on two wheels in fact, relentless physical slog with no reward or respite like you get when climbing; continually being robbed of momentum and occasionally being almost blown to a standstill. Spent a lot of time swearing through gritted teeth, but to no avail. The following day was almost completely still, of course.

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  11. I believe Shakespeare had bicycling in mind when he wrote: "Ill blows the wind that profits nobody."

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  12. No matter where I ride, there is always a tailwind. Typically I'm heading in the wrong direction for it to be of any use...

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  13. Anywhere on the Irish coast is a place of great beauty but much of it is open, and exposed to the kind of powerful winds you describe. The winds tend to get stronger as you go west. So if Antrim is bad, try Donegal on a really windy day.

    I've cycled toured fully loaded all over the island of Ireland down the years, the best cycling country without any doubt is the Great Central Plain. It has lots of trees and cover to break the wind. The terrain while rarely pan flat, is mostly gently rolling. A lot of people cycle tour the Irish coast and while this is a very rewarding with endless epic views to lift the spirit, it is cycling against the grain of the county and often exposed to very high winds.

    On a final note, the best experience I ever had on a bike was nearly 30 years ago, when I was a very fit young man. I cycled fully loaded with camping gear, on a heavy steel 10 speed bike from Galway city to the Cavan border, exactly 100 miles on the Great Central Plain. There was a significant tail wind blowing, not that strong but coming from exactly the right direction. I used the momentum of a heavily loaded bike, the gently rolling nature of the countryside and the good tailwind, to average 20 mph. I left Galway at 11 am, made a one hour stop in the middle and was at my destination at 5 pm. The tail wind made all the difference.

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    1. I am actually in County Derry, right across the water from Donegal. It is windier here than Antrim was last year, though I was not sure that was due to location or chance variance. It's not windy all the time, just occasionally. But the gusts can be strong.

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  14. "It was as if some invisible giant had casually put his hand up against my handlebars."

    Great description - I'll think of this next time I'm riding in strong winds, which I try to avoid and intensely dislike...

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  15. In your post about the mountain, you mentioned Queen Anne's lace. I never knew what that was, I'd always assumed it was a type of material, but I should have known from the lines:

    "Purple clover, Queen Anne lace
    Crimson hair across your face"

    I expect you'll know where that's from, Velouria – quite appropriate to you, actually – but if you're cycling in a crosswind, tie your hair up or you'll crash! :)

    Seriously, the closest I've ever come to dying on a bicycle was because I couldn't see where I was going. I was barrelling flat out down a steep descent against a ferocious headwind in torrential rain wearing a woolly hat, similar to the kind you sometimes wear. I'd had that bunnet for years, I wore it outside, I wore it in the house, I even wore it to my bed, and I thought it looked cool, but the material had stretched to the point where, as I turned my head to see if there was a car behind me, the wind caught the sodden wet brim and flipped it down over my eyes! That's when I discovered that you rely on your vision for balance as well as for direction – try closing your eyes at speed for a few seconds (no, don't!). The bike got a big wobble on – self-inflicted shimmy, basically – so I couldn't even take a hand off the bars to pull the brim back up. I tilted my head all the way back, only to see the verge coming up... Steered away... Couldn't even brake, or it would have made matters worse... Eventually the road levelled out to the point where the shimmy stopped and I could reach up and pull the brim back. The bike stayed upright and on the tarmac – just – and I didn't get wiped out by a vehicle coming the other way, if only because there wasn't one, but the only thing that stopped me from giving up on it and breaking my neck was the thought that it would have been the silliest way ever to die! :)

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  16. I'm really enjoying reading your posts on riding in Ireland. I'm planning a bike tour to Antrim, Monaghan and Donegal for 2014.

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