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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Downhill in a Hurricane? Not Exactly....

A week ago, on March 26th, I had a heck of a bike ride, but it wasn't intended to be that way. :( I'd planned for it to just be a long test ride of the bike with no real time constraints, with nowhere I absolutely *had* to be in case something went wrong, and to pick up some Freecycled items at the far end of the ride before heading back.

Since I knew I'd be out after dark for quite a while, and I was pretty sure the scooter's incandescent-based lights would last only an hour or so at most with the high-current taillight draw, on the small 12V 7Ah battery, I decided to move the lighting over from the upright Columbia bike, as I know that will last at least several hours before even beginning to run down.

Since I now had the LED taillight and rear markers, I disconnected the incandescent taillight wires, but left the turn signals and CCFL headlight in place.

For extra safety, I put both batteries on there, so that I could have two independent lighting systems in case of failure. At some point, I will find time to finish converting the incandescents to LED, and I can then remove the Columbia's lighting system to put it back on that bike.

When I left the house it had been windy for a while, and was just then right about sunset. Usually if it's windy, especially really windy and gusty like it had been the latter half of the day, it dies right down after sunset.

Not this time.

It actually got several times worse. It went from gusts only bad enough to pick up the plastic chairs in the yard and try to send them to Oz, before I left, to gusts hard enough to actually push me on my low-to-the-ground *and* heavy homebuilt semi-recumbent over, crashing me several times. Thankfully almost all of my ride was along the canal path running from Metrocenter up to Arrowhead, so there was no risk of collision/etc. I wouldn't have even started the trip if I weren't riding on that path, off of vehicle roads, for most of the way, just because of that wind. The canal part of the trip is (I think) about 8.5-9 miles, plus another mile or so at each end on vehicle roads.

At one point, when I stopped because I could no longer pedal hard enough, even in my lowest gear, to move forward, and was actually being pushed BACKWARD by the wind, I just got off the bike, set it on it's super-kickstand, and kinda hunkered down in the lee of the seat. Then a gust of wind PICKED UP THE BIKE and pushed it down on top of me. :( It didn't lift it totally off the ground, just the front end, then it swung it on the pivot of the rear tire and kickstand, and I was so surprised I just sat there while it was dumped on me. I had to stop like that several times, but only once did the wind do that.

During the trip, I saw all sorts of objects flying overhead, or already floating in the canal or plastered against the windward sides of buildings and fences. Big signs, including one that looked like it used to be a gas station sign from the top of a pole, but it was very bent up and the plastic was all smashed, so I couldn't read it in the dark. Hundreds (at least) of those little coroplast signs you may see staked into the ground to advertise (usually illegally) various businesses and sales. I picked up a few bigger ones that didnt' have stakes on them or holes where they were ripped off the stakes--they'll eventually become parts of bike cowling or fairing, most likely. I'd've picked up more, but I already felt like I was riding a sail-bike, and adding all that surface area to the bike would likely have made it unrideable in this wind!

I also found what's left of a pretty new style Blackberry, though it doesn't seem to have anything useful left except components. The camera might be usable in some project, and the white LED it uses for a flash will probably go in a headlight or something. Once i get it apart I will see if there's anything else useful.

Once when I was on vehicle road at the destination end of the trip, I saw a small car hood flying down the road, bouncing and splintering. I assume it was made of fiberglass or composite, and that it probably was ripped off a car that stopped on teh side of the road to check under the hood for something, and made the mistake of opening it facing the wind. Later on I saw a car in a parking lot with a smashed windshield and it's hood folded back onto the top of the car. Probably the same cause--it's owner (or someone) was standing there stamping feet to the ground and yelling into a celphone. The wind was so loud I couldn't hear any of it, though.

I have only been in wind like this a couple of times before, in Phoenix, none recently. I'm just glad it wasn't raining, too. Sky was clear all day, though shortly after sunset I could see massive lightning off to the west, beyond the horizon--just the skyglow from it, not the clouds or the lightning. Far enough away I could hold out my hand at arm's length and cover the whole area of sky affected by it.

The nice thing was that the wind was mostly blowing from the north/northwest, so on the trip back I didn't have to pedal nearly as much as I normally would, mostly just letting it blow me home. :) A bad part of that is that right when I was done at the destination, the wind died way down, and stayed pretty minimal, with gusts, all the way home. Now that I've been home about two and half hours (it's almost 2am), it's getting almost as bad as it was during my trip out--every so often I can hear stuff bouncing off the roof and walls outside, and it's still clear sky, so it must be debris. Gonna be a mess out there tomorrow.

The bike made it thru everything fine with no problems at all, other than the pedal chain coming off when the bike crashed due to the wind. Can't really call that a failure of the bike, though, since that could happen to nearly any bike that falls over and bounces that hard. It definitely rode WAY better in all that wind than my upright bike would have. The upright I probably couldn't even have ridden against that wind AT ALL most of the time, even in it's lowest gear, and hunkered down against the handlebars (which is not a useful riding position on that bike, and intolerable after more than a minute or two). Being seated leaning back and being lower to the ground really helped with the wind a lot.

I have no real idea how fast that wind was, but I'd guess 40+MPH gusts, maybe even stronger (definitely stronger for the ones that crashed me and picked up the bike), and at least 10-20MPH steady between the very frequent (every few seconds) gusts. The PDA spedometer/computer says that I made a round trip of about 24 miles (giving the bike a total of about 50 miles on it so far), at an average of 8.3MPH. My max speed going there was 6MPH, and that was downhill inside the tunnels that go under the major street intersections where they cross the canal's path! Max speed coming home was 17.8MPH, probably also in the same places, but with the wind at my back instead of against me. :) I do know that going there my average speed by my reckoning based on my glances thru the sand and dust at the PDA was about 4.5 MPH or so, maybe even less. Coming back I was anywhere from 11MPH to 15MPH, most of the time when I looked at it, and that with almost no energy input from me other than steering it (which was difficult due to side-gusts). Actual riding time was around 3 hours, though frequent stops turned it into a 5+ hour trip total, as I left around 6pm-ish, and got back sometime after 11pm (well after, I think, but I forgot to look when I got home as the dogs were really happy to see me since they hadn't had dinner yet ;) ).

FWIW, that same ride *should* take me about 30 minutes to complete, based on many previous rides using my upright bike, when I was working at CompUSA at Arrowhead, before they went out of business a couple of years ago.

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