Sunday, September 6, 2009

Flying Through the Wind

Wind ... it's cyclist's silent partner, or worst enemy. We don't talk about it much; maybe because it's much easier to think about that mountain looming in the distance you dream of tackling someday. The wind is just there, invisible and unpredictable.

I tried to capture the way a windy day feels here on the New England coast by painting this watercolor -- complete with rough seas, rocky islands, and a lighthouse...

The wind can play some pretty interesting tricks on your sense of balance. For instance, this morning I was riding on a coastal road with a massive crosswind hitting my right side. I battled it for while, trying to stay upright ... but then I simply let myself lean into the wind just a bit, alternating between riding very slightly into the wind and then away ... and voila! ... the ride became easier. This has happened to me before and it's always a strange sensation. I felt like the wind was propping me up, making this windy ride more like a lopsided dance than a battle.

It reminded me of watching an airplane land. When an airplane flies into a strong crosswind, it does a bit of odd aerodynamic maneuvering too ... but instead of leaning, it points its nose slightly into the wind, causing the plane's axis to be aligned off the centerline of the runway. With those engines now throwing thousands of pounds of thrust into the crosswind, the effects of that wind are counterbalanced, the plane keeps its nice even approach, and it glides in for a safe landing. You can even sense this phenomenon as a passenger. When the plane's wheels touch down you'll feel a slight jerk to the right or left as the pilot repositions the aircraft.

Doing my own bit of wind-counterbalancing on my bike this morning, I felt as if the wind and I were one; respectful of each other, but flying along our own courses. The howling of the wind even reminded me of the roar of aircraft engines, obscuring any sounds coming from my bicycle.

It all made for some for some pretty exhilarating cycling.

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