Thursday, March 29

Beyond Fair Weather Cycling

I'm not entirely sure why, but over the last year, a resolve has taken hold to "expand the envelope" and ride safely and more or less comfortably in all weather. In other words, to move well beyond fair weather cycling and to be confident and safe in all conditions. In my v3 commute, I have even been able to develop workable and safe routes that work when it gets very foggy.

One condition has never been comfortable, that being thunderstorms; and lightning in particular. That would not be a problem if I were home in Western Washington. Lightning is rare there. It would not be a problem if I were mainly riding recreationally as I could always wait for the storm to blow over. But commuting is unique in that most people are expected to be at work by a specified time. Me included.

I realize that a cyclist is not usually the most convenient current path compared to nearby trees, houses, phone poles and such, but "usually" is kind of like "usually, you won't get bit by a rattlesnake" or "usually that gun is unloaded."

Perhaps, however, prompted by a tip, I may have "gotten an app for that." It is called "Boltmeter." As you can see in the photo, there is no lightning within 30 miles of me here in Quebec (I'm on a visit).

I'm hoping that, combined with good weather apps such as "Weatherbug," tha added information will make the morning trip to work less hit or miss (both literally and figuratively). Afternoon lightning is less chancy. My dear wife is very understanding if I call to let her know I'm going to wait things out. She probably will offer to give me a ride, but to accept would not be consistent with moving beyond fair weather cycling. It never really occurred to me before, but I find the notion of a cell phone as a useful cycling safety aid to be both tantalizing and somewhat ironic.


Pondero said...

Interesting. I'd like to see that thing in there is some action going on.

Khal said...

One of the more scary things I ever did was ride my motorcycle home from Buffalo to Rochester in an intense thunderstorm.

Afternoon lightning is a normal part of existence in Los Alamos, at least during the Monsoon season. One can generally, but not always predict the hours when storms build and try to avoid them. In our case, the storms generally hit hard and dissipate in the late afternoon, which means riding home is touch and go.

Fortunately, we have a bus system with bike racks on all buses. As you say, the cell phone is a good addition. riding into the mountains or doing long sport rides that time of year does require planning and observation.

I once called home from the mountains to inform my wife I was taking cover under a rock ledge from intense lightning and inch diameter hail. I had ridden West about 40 miles and got caught by a fast building storm that blew up before I could get back across the Jemez. After an hour of enduring this (what really worried me was that temperatures had dropped 30 degrees, she drove up to rescue me.

Interestingly, as we passed by the outbuildings in a national park about a mile from my rock ledge, they were surrounded by bicycles. I guess the smell was preferrable to the hail,but thankfully, none of those outhouses was hit by lightning.

Will K said...

I used to work 2 jobs, and I'd ride from one to the other between 2-3pm, right as the afternoon thunderstorms were rolling through.
After getting thoroughly soaked a few times, I started riding a folding bike so that if I saw the storm coming, I could get to a covered bus stop. Then I could just take my bike on the bus and get to work that way.

Janice in GA said...

I'll confess to being afraid of lightning. It's pretty common here in GA in the summer too.

The one time I bailed and called for pickup was after I'd had not one but TWO lightning strikes near enough to me that I heard the zzzzzzip as the bolt came down (or up, whatever.) That was enough. I wasn't waiting for the third time to be the charm.

I've also seen lightning strike right down the street from me while I was on the bike.

I ain't riding in that. Fortunately, most of my commute rides are relatively flexible as far as time goes. I can usually hide out at a c-store till the worst of the storm passes over.

Tracy W said...

It's OK to move beyond fair weather cycling as long as you don't move beyond common sense!

The times I will usually bail on a commute involve either lightning or laziness! My general rule is that if I feel I can get to work safely, I'll ride, but toad-strangling rain is sometimes a factor that will make me accept a ride to work as well. I don't feel like drivers have enough visibility in those situations, and it's a real pain to get everything dried out again!

Khal said...

Good point by Tracy. I was riding home in a snowstorm on my cyclecross bike, which was equipped with 'cross tires. My traction was pretty good and I was in the right half of the right lane of a four lane arterial. A motorist in a little front wheel drive car tried to pass me and went into a full 180, ending up in the center of the road. The take home lesson was that I had to worry about more than just the bicycle's traction and suitability.

Steve A said...

I will provide reports on Boltmeter when we experience conditions appropriate to when it may be useful. In many ways, it is like a smoke detector - you'd rather not hear it go off.

cafiend said...

Very good points here, including Khal's observation about winter cycling. Slithering autos can't really be held responsible for a winter cyclist's safety when conditions are challenging for all. It's an aspect of winter transportation cycling that needs to be discussed a lot.

Lightning isn't something you can dress for. It's all or nothing. It misses most of the time...but if it doesn't --

RANTWICK said...

If your boltmeter says there IS lightining afoot, would you go anyway, or would it depend on how much there was? I usually try for "low ground" routes when lightning is cracking, but to be honest I find it thrilling and probably wouldn't shelter from anything less than pure insanity action. Of course, I don't live in the mountains where it would likely be too thrilling even for me.

Still, what a way to go! I just hope it kills me and doesn't simply fry off my hair and make my eyes pop out.

Opus the Poet said...

You would have had ample opportunity to test your new gadget in today's weather. How well did you weather the storms?

Steve A said...

Opus, I got to experience the storms at DFW Airport. Boltmeter really LIT up! Most flights were cancelled (including mine), due to the necessity of inspecting all the aircraft for hail damage.

Rantwick, it would depend on how far away the lightning was and which direction the storm was tracking. I have little hair left TO fry off.

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