Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Drafty Morning

Today something amazing happened to me on the way into town. I was cycling though the countryside,  half way through my usual 7 mile commute, when behind me I heard the put-put-put of a tractor. I scooted over toward the hedges and slowed down, to make it easier for the cumbersome heap of metal to pass me. And it did, huffing and creaking as it maneuvered around me on the narrow winding road. It was one of those smallish things with a flat-bed at the rear, piled high with freshly cut grass. These types of machines are not meant for the road and they move slowly - faster than a typical bicyclist, but closer to bicycle speed than car speed. In the cabin, the driver gave me a friendly wave as he passed. He then made some other gesture I could not make out and slowed down. I did not understand what he wanted at first. Why did he pass me only to slow down to a speed slower than mine? Soon I was a foot behind him and applying brakes. Now what? If I pass him, we will only play leapfrog.

Confusing me further, at this point the driver turned around, made eye contact and gave me a thumbs up. Then he began to speed up again. I followed suit, and as I did, it finally hit me what was happening: He was offering me to draft him!

Quickly I scanned the back of the tractor.  A metal ledge and a pile of cut grass; no sharp edges to impale myself upon. This was crazy, but what the heck!

As he increased his speed, I followed suit and increased mine, so that the distance between us remained the same. I did not have my computer, but by feel alone I could tell I was traveling faster than I would on my own power. It was just like riding in a paceline, sort of.

Occasionally, the driver would turn around and give me a questioning nod, like "speed still okay?" And I would reply with a thumbs up.

Cruising along at what was probably 25mph on my folding bike, I spun madly in my high gear feeling little resistance. It was just like that scene in Breaking Away, sort of. I kept expecting him to stick his fingers out the window to challenge me to daredevil speeds - three fingers, four, five! Alas, the rickety farm vehicle was no more capable of such feats than I.

At the next roundabout, the tractor turned off and I rolled into town, beside myself with giddiness in the flickering sunshine. There are plenty of drafty mornings. But not quite like this one.

29 comments:

  1. Laughed aloud at this - Thanks!

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  2. My first impulse was to scold you, but on second thought you were probably playing it safe…safer than me and my buddies back in the day!

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  3. Done it a million times. Once in tandem with another random rider behind a backhoe spewing giant scads of mud. Behind a panel van through timed lights, etc.

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  4. I was thinking that drafting off of a tractor might be safer than a car because tractors usually have a throttle instead of a gas pedal--you wouldn't have to worry about the driver changing speeds on you

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  5. Such a classic scene from Breaking Away...Cool story!

    It's a common occurrence in Iowa farm country as well, in all sorts of variations. Farmers enjoy bits of fun during their workday as well :)

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    1. This was the 3rd reference to Breaking Away this week! The universe is telling me I must see that movie :)

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  6. Now that sounds fun.
    Your Brompton has a secret life as a draft horse!

    How does it handle at speeds like that? I've taken a Moulton on a ride that reached those speeds, but never a Brompton.

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    1. Well the Brompton's front end has a bit of a loose, disjointed feel to it unless you put a bunch of weight up front, and this is exaggerated at high speeds. When I was first test riding Bromptons I noticed it very prominently. However, within the first two weeks of ownership I got used to it and it just started to feel normal; in fact I love how the Brompton handles. I have done close to 30mph downhill on mine and can control it at that speed just fine. On flats my gearing is not high enough to do roadie speeds.

      How was the Moulton? I have only tried the hub geared models with flat bars.

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    2. I had a '73 Mk3 Moulton that spent a good bit of time at 25mph. I would say it was bouncy floaty tippy loosy goosy disjointed and generally kinda scary at that speed. Then whenever it seemed ready to fly out of control the tires would dig in and bite and the bike would resume what passed for normal. A couple times I had that bike well above 30mph on downhills and then decided not to use it on hilly routes. Modern Moultons are very capable. The ride is distinctive but they feel like real bikes.

      In my old age I would not ride the old Moulton that fast and probably wouldn't push a Brommie that hard either. You're young so enjoy. One common thread I've noticed with the small wheel bikes is they reward sitting still in the saddle. Alternate side pedal jabbing or pedalling with the shoulders won't work. Those who have bad form or sit high don't like the little ones and definitely won't go fast on them.

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    3. You've got the 6spd Brommie. With the 12% down lowgear option you should have a top gear of 88" or 7 metres. That;s identical to the 46x14 that is standard for track racing. Good for 45mph. Roadie speeds should not be a problem.

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  7. So, you stop and take a photo when? Is this before or after?

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    1. Neither. It's a photo I took last summer that seemed a suitable illustration for this post.

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    2. Ah, okay. This image did not look like a cumbersome heap of metal, huffing and creaking on a narrow winding road. Most farmers around here have incredible pride in their machines and they are quite sophisticated, which looks more like this photo.

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    3. I live surrounded by maybe a dozen farms. The state of equipment varies, and when there's a particularly large job to be done (harvest, silage), the older machines come out. Photos are not meant to be taken quite so literally.

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  8. Probably just as well the tractor wasn't towing a muck spreader...

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    1. Thankfully those are easily identified by one's sense of smell!

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  9. Spontaneous fun - that's what cycling gives us - well done Velouria for taking that opportunity.

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  10. This is adorable.

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  11. Drafting is great fun, if you are careful or else very young; preferably the latter. I look back with fondness on my youthful drafting of the buses that trolled the arteries (but very narrow, 2-laned, shoulderless, and very hilly and winding arteries) on the outskirts of Nairobi back in the very early '70s. These buses were the larger equivalents of the famous matatus and raced each other (side by side, around blind corners, no shoulders or runoffs) to beat each other to the next stop. They'd slow to under 20 mph on the hills, belching black smoke, and I'd catch them on the climb and ride with them over the crest and then spin out my swaged, cottered 48X14 to keep up with them on the downhills and up the next incline; well, what is 180 rpm in a 93" gear? I know that I'd see them hit 50 on the downhills as my father followed them in his big Australian Falcon. Drafting was dangerous because, at 5' behind the big flat rear of the bus, I couldn't see anything except the patch of road just in front of my wheel, and these were tightly winding roads where, as the bus jinked around a corner, I'd find myself aiming straight at an unfenced dropoff. But "there is a special Providence that watches over fools and Americans." My sprints nowadays are considerably more sedate.

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  12. Small tractors are fine, but be careful of the large lorries these can suck you in if you get too close.

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    1. Yes. I know of at least 2 cyclists here who have died that way. There is a local road that I avoid altogether because these lorries travel up and down it constantly and pass too closely. Thankfully the backroads are free of such vehicles.

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    2. Several years ago I had the experience of being 'drawn in' by a truck while riding on a main road, I had to veer off the bitumen into loose gravel to escape the pull. Rather frightening and until then I had no idea this could happen - I now avoid such roads.

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  13. First fast draft ever was on my new Raleigh Comp. G. S. in 1979 behind a haywagon. It was a hundred and something degrees and I was cooked, far-ish from home down to a sip of water. The rancher I sometimes helped make hay passed me on his Oliver and flipped me off (if I hadn't been out farting around on a bah-sickle I would have been helping him bale), having just seen "Breaking Away" myself around then, I did what Dave Stohler would've done. The last 3 miles were a new experience, even hotter and covered with hay dust and having to absolutely kill it to hang on (those old Olivers had 6 cylinder gas engines and could flat fly on the road, handy when your fields are miles away from the barn) but genuinely hauling ass in a way completely new to me. I only thought I knew about drafting before that.

    Spindizzy

    Drafting is the worm at the bottom of the bottle, the jalapeno in your burrito, it's what you suck from the head of the crawdad.

    It's not why we do it but dang, sometimes it's the best part.

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  14. I learned a new word! Drafting. Born in a small village in the Netherlands and cycling to school 30 km a day, this reminds me of a lucky day again. It´s always windy up here, but nowadays the tractors are too fast. Another rural tradition gone, but fortunately survives in other parts of the world.

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  15. Makes me smile. Thanks for the story.

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  16. Now to follow a load of Guinness kegs

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  17. i think this qualifies as cat-6 cycling in rural northern ireland.

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  18. We have plenty of tractors in Suffolk. I might give this a try!

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