Monday, December 16, 2013

Headwinds in Both Directions

I thought I had imagined it at first. Cycling along the Seacoast Road one day, I pedaled against a strong headwind. On the return trip along the same road not long after, I found myself struggling against a headwind again. How could this be? In this land, where sadistically steep hills, heavily textured road surfaces and other resistance-producing phenomena were so commonplace, was I not at least entitled to a return tailwind in accordance with the laws of physics?

Possibly I was mistaken in remembering there had been a headwind in the original direction. Yes, that must have been it, I decided. But several days later, the same thing happened again along this route - a route which, as "luck" would have it, had by now become a regular commute. I paid attention this time. Setting off late morning: headwind. Heading back early afternoon: headwind! Time after time, it was the same.

Just as I began to question my sanity, one day I heard some local pilots talking about a flight they were planning. And one of them mentioned off-handedly that the wind would be changing direction mid-day. My ears perked up. 

"Wait, wait a minute. What did you say?"

"Oh sure. We get a sea breeze by the Lough Foyle here. Changes direction around 2pm."

"Sea breeze," eh? Well there's a euphemism if I ever heard one, considering how strong this wind can get. How lucky for me to get the headwind end of it. But at least I know I was not imagining it. And, decades from now, I'll be able to say to a room full of bored youngsters: "Back in the day, I rode my bike with headwinds in both directions." 

40 comments:

  1. Happens all the time here in LA. SW wind in the late morning, NE wind in the late afternoon. Time it right, and....

    It's the result of the land warming and cooling quickly while the sea stays more or less the same temperature all day. Storms and Santa Ana winds (the latter always from the NE at 40 to 70mph!) upset the pattern, but most days it holds.

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  2. Bad enough having to stuggle with headwind on return journey after having easy outward journey, taking twice as long. But headwinds playing ticks by swithching. Mad weather there, with uphill waterfalls amd all.
    Remind me of video somebody posted over weekend about a headwind race in the Netherlands on some classic bikes -http://www.omroepzeeland.nl/nieuws/2013-12-15/589768/met-28-km-uur-trappen-over-kering&usg=ALkJrhiwOErbeYhT2jB5mm6M7K3e2eqljA#.Uq4UzGTuJcl

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  3. Or go the opposite direction and get a tailwind in both directions!

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  4. Ha!

    Similarly, my commute, for certain parts of the year, have me headed into the sun in the morning, then into the sun in the evening on the way home.

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  5. In Florida, because it is so flat, you are always riding with a head or cross wind of some sort. There have been many times I have experienced the "where is my tailwind" to help me home feeling. I like to call the winds "Florida mountains" because they give the rider pretty much the only resistance that feels like an elevation change.

    What I found helpful was taking a look at the trees and flags to see if I am dealing with a crosswind that will slow me down in both directions and plan my cadence accordingly.

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  6. You need a domestique that you can draft on or else hitch up that border collie! Jim Duncan

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  7. And don't forget "...uphill, through the snow..."

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  8. Uphill both ways. In two feet of snow. With no shoes. We were too poor for shoes. That's what I tell my kids here in sunny Southern California.

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    1. I tell my son "when I was your age I had to get up to change the channel" ;)

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  9. Or tailwinds blustering so strong that it takes mighty effort to stay upright. Welcome to the north coast, where cycling in the freezing rain is a joy in comparison.

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    1. Two days ago, I was actually moved sideways on my bike by the gusts of cross wind. I resisted it as long as I could, but eventually had to jump off and walk for a bit (which in itself was difficult!) before I ended up in the barbed wire fence on the side of the road.

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  10. "Breezes" can be quite strong. A "Fresh Breeze" is up to 24 miles/hr (39km/h)! Check out http://www.howtoons.com/?page_id=150 for a infographic.

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    1. Ha yes. I learned later that "sea breeze" is actually a technical term for a particular type of atmospheric conditions. But the phrase does make one picture sipping cocktails barefoot on a tropical beach, rather than bracing headwinds in Northern Ireland.

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  11. I live in a maritime climate and yes, have experienced this! Biking to work in the morning into a headwind, and later in the evening biking home into yet another wind.
    There are also thermal winds which run like clockwork.
    I live a ways up a mountain side against the ocean, and every day winds pick up at the same time. Sometimes the winds at sea level are totally different!

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  12. This is not at all unusual but it is frustrating :)

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  13. Now, now, you know there is no such thing as a tailwind. There are only headwinds, crosswinds, and ... "I'm having a good day"

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    1. I'll have to remember that one! :)

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  14. BTW, did you check in that bin for the pot of gold?

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    1. not unless you count gold foil candy wrappers :(

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  15. When I was a kid, during the summer vacation between college terms) I used to cycle to work against the wind and cycle home against the wind...
    This was in Portsmouth (in the UK) and it was due to the changes in pressure caused by the land (especially Portsdown Hill) cooling overnight in comparison to the sea, yet warming up more quickly than the sea during the hot days, leading to the changes in wind direction...
    Annoying was one word from it, after a heavy day in a food distribution warehouse and a long trip home on a Hercules 3-speed!

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  16. Believable. In Toronto, commuting west to a suburban job, I'd usually have the wind behind me along the lake shore; coming home, the same. How sweet is that?!

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  17. A1A between Palm Beach and Stuart in the spring. Keep an eye on the weather and you can get a tail wind in both directions. Other stuff can unexpectedly happen. But that's life. Its why they invented echelons. Jupiter Island is a nice ride. Watch out for the Ferraris!

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  18. Murphy's Law of Bicycling....it's always uphill and against the wind.

    Regards,
    L. J. Biklangelo Jones

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  19. When I'm riding around in a circle around the park which is about four kilometres around with the land rising up like a crater for half of it, I sometimes think there's a bit of a 'plughole' effect where the wind is forced in a circular direction so it feels like it's always a headwind.

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  20. Oh come on. Of course you've experienced changing winds before.

    See winds change, hills don't. False flats, fatigue, food, light, mood.

    "When I was a kid" applies to scale; this kinda. Unless everything you see is a childlike experience.

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    1. The wind change must be more typical in some places than others, at least to this degree of dramatic direct reversedness - as if someone pulled a "reverse course" lever. Never experienced anything so noticeable back in the Boston area.

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  21. I've experienced that in at least two locations locally. I couldn't explain it, either, except that it just probably changed at a certain time of day. I wanted that return payoff, but alas. One area was not too far from the coast - maybe 15-20 miles inland. The other was nowhere near the coast.

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  22. Flying out of Bayport, Suffolk County, Long Island. Wind was out of the North in the morning, then turned south from the water after about 11am - 12noon til it diminished.
    Here in Brooklyn, wind is usually out of the north in the morning and out of the south in the afternoon. It is against my commute from Bay Ridge to Midtown, NYC.

    "Usual" wind is usually out of the West so it makes the above Northwest and Southwest.
    It's snowing now so the train cut through it with no effort!

    vsk

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  23. How can you afford to move abroad? Are there jobs in Ireland? I thought they suffered more of a recession than the USA.

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    1. I work freelance, so location does not really matter in that sense. And my last full time job was in the EU anyhow, not in the US.

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  24. Come to think of it I wonder if what keeps many off bikes for commuting -- more than anything -- is dealing with the wind. It's nasty stuff in some areas and no matter the direction one is heading, it's a constant, draining, battle. Perhaps it's the nature of your rides in the states more so than the fact that wind was always churning about.

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  25. Of all the cycling obstacles, wind is by far the most demoralizing.

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  26. The true enemy of the upright cyclist. There is a saying in New Orleans, or maybe I invented it, I am not sure. No matter which way the wind is blowing, its always in your face. A stiff breeze is very common November through March. Because the city is not laid out on a north-south axis the roads which seem relatively straight actually curve and twist and change directions in ways subtle enough not to notice at ground level. Further complicating factors are the lake and the river which create their own weather so that its quite possible to ride into what seem like 360 degree headwinds 24/7. It's hard to complain though when its 60 degrees (at the moment) out in December and you have to go hours in any direction to find anything resembling a hill.

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  27. 2 months ago I worked 26km west of home and would get a head wind home 98% of the time. I now work 32km east of home and every afternoon on my way home a headwind.
    Someone is playing with me.

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  28. Brompton bicycle could be a good choice in windy area because of small wheels but it lakes of race handle-bars which can alleviate painful upright position facing headwind.
    As I known there is another efficient bike more expensive (another posh bike?): Moulton Bike. (http://www.moultonbicycles.co.uk/)
    Other equipment may help: kind of narrow elastic clothes.
    L.

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  29. The winds are like that where I live too! But in a far more helpful way -- I have a friend who used to commute between Eugene and Corvallis (in Oregon) and he says he would catch a tailwind going both directions.

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  30. Living near the coast, and kayaking off the coast taught me about sea breezes. They are something you can plan on and they can be much stronger than a breeze, as you have noticed!

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  31. when i encounter headwinds i just turn my bike around. i'm not going anywhere anyway and sometimes i prefer being pushed :)

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