Wind Worse Than Hills Back to Bike Stories // Back to the Weeville Home Page
NOTE: I remember now that I was angry when I wrote this one. Somebody in a passing car had hit me in the back of the head with a cupful of ice while I was riding in Rock Hill. So I went on a rant. This one's not as much fun as the other stories.
The Herald December 23, 1988 9th
Wind Worse than hill
Most folks who haven't done much bicycling are surprised to find out that hills are not necessarily a rider's biggest natural enemy.
In fact, a long climbing grade will occasionally shield the rider from the number one natural bad guy-the wind. A stiff headwind will take the holiday out of a downhill run.
Fortunately, wind has a rather uneven temperament. Whether it will be friend or foe on any given day depends upon the wind's direction compared to yours. One day I was riding along in the Florida panhandle struggling against a relentless headwind that was blowing in off the Gulf. I noticed a bicyclist coming toward me at a high rate of speed. As he rapidly got closer, I saw that he wasn't pedaling. Not a lick. My murderous headwind was giving this guy a free ride east.
Even with the possibility of a tailwind, I'll take hills before wind anytime. It seems like I can ride in a huge circle (as I often do), and have the wind in my face all day. A weatherman would declare this phenomenon impossible, but it happens to me a lot.
On one of my 200-mile bike rides, I chose a there-and-back route, using the same roads both ways. I rode the first 105 miles into a howling headwind. When I stopped to eat in Due West, I noticed trash and leave blowing down the street toward Rock Hill. I knew then I would have an easy ride back home.
I finished eating and returned to my bike. I was astonished to see the same trash and leaves coming back into town, now going the other direction. A cold front had passed, and the wind turned 180 degrees while I ate lunch. That was a long day on a bicycle.
Cycling legend has it that riders in Chicago refer to a special wind speed device before going out. Somewhere downtown there is rumored to be a 6-foot length of longshoreman's chain nailed to a telephone pole. If the chain is stretched out parallel to the sidewalk, it's too windy to ride. I don't think I want to ride in Chicago.
Wind just one problem
While weather is a constant question mark, cycling is made even more variable by some not-so-natural problems that are deeply rooted in our country's heritage. According to the Reader's Digest Family Encyclopedia of American History, the "ordinaries," the bikes with the huge front wheel and tiny rear wheel, were imported from England in 1876. To quote the book, "As early as 1884, one was ridden by Thomas Stevens from Oakland, California, to Boston in 124 days. (Stevens was chased by coyotes and shot at by playful cowboys.)"
I was left wondering how Tom
determined that these guys shooting at him were only playing. Maybe they
laughed real loud every time a bullet ricocheted past Tom's rear wheel.
This was probably how interval training was invented, where a rider sprints for a while and then rests an equal period before sprinting again. In any case, it's likely that the cowboys and coyotes combined to take several days off Tom's transcontinental time.
A familiar experience
Chased by coyotes. The coyotes still exist, but these days they have pedigrees. I must have heard 200 different people shout, "He won't bite!" I have often wondered if the dog ever has a grasp on that concept.
Outdoorsman/humorist Patrick F.
McManus has written hilarious accounts of his childhood attempts to ride a
bicycle past his neighbor's house. The neighbor owned dogs with some sort of
"mumbling fancy name," but McManus described them only as "blood-thirsty timber
I'm familiar with that particular strain of animal. There's one in my own neighborhood that dresses up like an Irish setter, freely terrorizing anybody who comes by on foot or by bicycle. The beast's owners are never present.
Like the coyotes, the playful cowboys have lasted and evolved as well. Now they drive cars and pickup trucks, throwing things out the window at bicyclists, and hollering to drown out the band. This tiny fraction of the general population is all it takes to make any cyclist a hundred percent furious.
An out-of-window assault on a cyclist is an incredibly random crime. It's obviously an impulsive action, because the problem is virtually nonexistent during the winter when the passenger's window is rolled up.
In my talks with some of the members of the Rock Hill Bicycle Club, I found that quite a few people have flying objects stories. The scariest of these tales involve bottles that zing past the earlobe. One such bottle bashed on the pavement near a guy's front wheel, and he was angered that the glass could blow out his brand new tires. A moment's speculation reminded him that he was lucky to still have his brain packaged in its original container. Forget the tires.
It was a toss-up for the most disgusting assault I heard of locally. One guy was unwilling recipient of a cupful of tobacco juice, while another rider took a shot from behind, the victim of flying baby diaper.
Naivete has always been my strong suit, and I went for years with no understanding of the out-the-window stuff. How can people be so mean? Only recently, an old friend of mine set me straight. While we were riding our bikes, he told me of a conversation he had overheard and engaged in while disguised as a non-bicycling civilian.
All the evidence my friend has gathered on the subject suggests the existence of an unorganized faction of all-out bicycle haters. Their battle cry is "I hate those silly-looking (expletive deleted)! Bicycles belong on the sidewalk! I just wish I could run slam over every one of those (expletive deleted)!"
There is no longer any doubt in my mind that these folks are the ones who find it amusing to see how close they can come to brushing a cyclist on the highway, even when the other lane is clear. I cannot imagine living a life so devoid that I could callously risk another's life in such a useless manner. That same driver would never play chicken with a trailer truck, because the stakes are much too high. But, of course, it is certain that these characters already have a distorted view of what constitutes bravery.
I am thankful that the bad guys are cosmically, hopelessly outnumbered by the drivers who treat cyclists with some measure of respect. Respect, at least, for the fact that the trailer truck and the bicycle both transport one human being.
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