Windy Day

Today was the warmest day of the year so far.  It was also one of the windiest days.  But when the temperatures soar into the mid-60s, it is improper to complain about the wind, whatever its speed.  So I won’t complain.  I’ll just simply note that I experienced the unique sensation of having my bike almost blown out from under me by a crosswind, and I’ll leave it at that.

The warm weather let me shed several layers of winter wear.  I wasn’t wearing a skull cap, plastic wrap on my feet, a second pair of socks, feet warmers, arctic gloves, or even a couple of fleece jackets.  However, what I did have on was my brand new cycling vest which arrived in today’s post from the good people at Nashbar.

The vest is optic yellow, which makes me look uncomfortably like a giant tennis ball as I pedal down the road.  Much of winter cycling apparel features bright colors like this on the premise that cyclists are hard to see in dismal weather.  I can’t argue with the theory and if you can’t see me in this outfit then you probably shouldn’t be driving a car.  You should be seeing an optomitrist for your debilitating blindness.  The color reminds me of the VS-17 panels we used to put on our Army vehicles to let friendly aircraft know that they shouldn’t be firing at us.  I suspect that I can be tracked from outer space while wearing this vest.

It’s bright, is what I’m trying to say.

The vest worked fine and I was able to log a quick 15 miles in some very tough winds.  It was nice to ride with a few less layers.  Someday, it will be hot and my thoughts will turn toward putting ice in my bottles and sun block on my arms and legs.  Until then, I’ll be happy with a sunny and windy Spring-like day.

A Cold And Windy Day

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  – Woody Allen

I hope the people in the Southern Hemisphere are enjoying the sun.  We’re still a few weeks from the solstice and I already miss it.  The cold days certainly make “showing up” more difficult!

With a strong possibility that I won’t be able to cycle tomorrow (Harry Potter is calling me), I resolved to keep my weekend cycling streak alive and set off into the teeth of a steady 20 mph wind.  The temperature was in the upper 40s and this was the coldest ride of the year for me.  The wind only made it more “exciting.” 

The best that can be said for today was I have now cycled 13 weekends in a row.  My only break since mid-April was August 28-29, due to one of my many mechanical issues with Old Ironsides.  I’m also within spitting distance of 2,000 miles for the year.  Barring a major calamity, that mark is well within my grasp.

I didn’t do anything exciting with my route.  I just traveled up my old friend, Rte 234.  The first 12.2 miles were into the wind and it took me 55 minutes to cover them.  It was a tough go.  As one might expect, turning around made all the difference.  The return trip took me only 38 minutes and my heart rate dropped from near max to Zone 3.

I think I’ve just about reached the max of my current cold weather kit.  My full-finger gloves are thin and meant for Fall weather, not the depths of Winter.  I used two pairs of socks and my thin shoe covers kept me warm, but I don’t think they can handle much more.  My skull cap worked just fine.  For my torso, I used a new fleece jacket with a jersey and long sleeve shirt.  That, too, was up to the task but I could feel the limits of the arrangement.  Without a significant overhaul, I believe 40 degrees is my limit.  That’s about 25 degrees colder than I would have ever imagined cycling in just nine months ago!

Fun With Numbers

I was hoping to write a happy post about the glorious turn of the seasons and the joy of pedaling through the changing colors of the leaves and cool, crisp Autumn air.    Instead, I think I will share my thoughts on the science of wind resistance.

FUN FACT:  On flat ground, 70-90% of a cyclist’s power is spent overcoming the effects of wind resistance.  Only climbing hills requires more energy.

So off I went this morning on a short 17-mile ride, the first nine miles of which were uphill and into a 25 mph wind.  In short order, I was subjected to the invariable truths of science.  These truths proceeded to kick my arse.

Wind resistance is a really, really big deal.  As a cyclist tries to go faster, he encounters more resistance – the square of the increase in velocity, to be precise.  This requires dramatically increased amounts of power.  I used this site to get a sense of how much power I was using.  To climb a relatively moderate hill of 3% grade at 15 mph, I use approximately 400 watts of power.  To climb this same hill in the face of a 25 mph head wind requires 800 watts – TWICE AS MUCH POWER.  Your mileage may vary.

Bicycle companies work hard to make bikes light, but on flat terrain the effect of wind resistance is far more significant than reductions in weight.  For example, adding a pound of weight to a bike has the same effect as placing a pencil-sized object somewhere on the bike.  Obviously, the lighter bike has a bigger advantage when you’re trying to lug it up a hill (and we’ve already mentioned that hill climbing is a bigger energy drain than wind resistance , so this is nothing to sneeze at) but it’s still interesting to see that the square of velocity has far more effect than changes in mass.

This is why I was in an ill humor after 45 minutes of plowing into this wind.  I had used up as much energy as I typically do in an hour and a half of riding.  I therefore was not terribly interested in appreciating the beautiful colors of the foliage or the crispness of the Fall air.  I just wanted to get home in decent enough shape to take my kid to his Saturday bowling league without looking like an invalid. 

Life became noticeably better for me after I turned away from this headwind.  While I struggled to maintain a 15 mph average into the wind, I instantly began pedaling at 20+ mph with it at my back.  And now I was going downhill to boot.  However, it is important to note that even when wind is blowing perpendicular to the cyclist, performance is degraded.  In fact, it is only when the wind is somewhere between “four o’clock” and “eight o’clock” that the rider is aided.  When traveling in a circle, the cyclist is impeded by wind 66% of the time.

Which is why I don’t like wind.  Not one little bit.