Weather

Seasonal Goals by Erin Wade

Last Wednesday took us over the calendrical hump into official Spring, and thus far the weather seems to be agreeing. Here in Northern Illinois we’ve seen temps in the 40’s and low 50’s over the past wee, with suggestions of numbers sneaking into the bottom end of the 60 degree range next week. Skies are also appropriately gray and threatening much of the time - depressing, but on track.

I am, of course, a year-round cyclist, so the riding never really stops. However, it would be fair to say that the variety of riding changes during the winter. When the snow falls and the air bites I tend to stay closer to home, and the routes available naturally become limited to what is cleared and open. Given this, the arrival of the fairer season gets me thinking about what type of riding I’d like to do in the warmer months. Given that, I thought I’d share some of the goals that are running through my head for the next couple of seasons.

More Trail Exploration

In my region we have two long-distance trail systems - the I&M Canal Trail and the Hennepin Canal Trail. I’ve ridden on each of them, but only one time each, and for shorter distances. I’d like to get back to each of them and spend more time and distance on both.

For the I&M Canal trail I’d at least like to extend out my rides to get from LaSalle all of the way into Ottawa and back, and I’d like to do that more than once, incorporating some sight-seeing into it. The trail passes through Utica on it’s way, which offers some interesting options, as well as Buffalo Rock State Park.

The Hennepin Canal trail is much longer than the section that I rode along last summer, and it is also listed as a primary component of the Rails-to-Trails cross country course. I’d love to go further along it as well. In addition, Hennepin has both the primary east-west course, as well as a feeder canal system that runs from Rock Falls southwards to the main canal. Lots of territory to explore and enjoy there.

There are other trail systems in the broad region that I’d like to get myself out to see, if at all possible. I’m primarily a road-rider, in part because getting out on trails requires car travel, which I often have plenty of during the work week. Still, the trails offer an opportunity for variety that I’m sometimes missing at home. Likely there will be reviews of these if and when they occur.

New Road Routes

A while back I put up a post about Ogle County’s cycling website. I think this is an excellent resource, and it’s a credit to the county that they provide it. Unfortunately, similar resources don’t exist closer to home. I’m hoping to establish some routes closer to home that provide a similar experience to what is detailed in their site. This will take some work, so it may not happen quickly (or I suppose, at all), but I’m hopeful.

Longer Rides

As is perhaps hinted at in the sections above, I’d like to see if I can’t incorporate longer rides into my routine. I had my highest mileage year on record last year, but my average ride was just under thirteen miles (12.94 for you sticklers out there). I am always impressed with the people who do century rides, and that’s something that I aspire to, but my available riding time makes something like that pretty challenging to fit in without significant planning.

Most of my regular rides are in the 8-14 mile range. I do have a couple of regular routes laid out at longer distance, but I think I’ll need some variety to make them more interesting to do with any sort of regularity.

Looking Forward

I’m sure there will be more to come as well, but this is where my head is at the moment. Spring brings hopes and possibilities!

A Final Gift for the Season by Erin Wade

I am not an early morning exerciser. Virtually every Sunday I try to get myself out for a ride, and this is so ingrained in my head at this point that I think of it by name - my Sunday ride. But it’s not an early morning activity, because I reserve Sunday morning for coffee, contemplation, and writing.

But this morning was different - I was out before virtually everything (well - except the coffee. Nothing happens until I’ve had at least one cup of coffee...)

This winter has been an odd one, even for the extremely variable Midwest. The first third or so of the season was unusually warm - perhaps to lull us into a false sense of security - and then became a powerhouse of snow and wind off and on for a couple of weeks. That polar vortex was followed by a shift into the wrong kind of winter, giving us an ugly patchwork of tired, retreating drifts and frozen mud.

But we’re now moving on to the end of the season, spring is right around the corner on the calendar, and most of the snow has melted away.

Well - I guess I should say had melted away.

When I got up this morning and looked out the window it became clear that the weather gods had offered up a winter cycling gift for the last part of the season. The ground was covered in a blanket of snow - and not just an odd, out of character late-season dusting. No - this was a solid inch to inch-and-a-half or so of actual powder.

Porch handrail

In short - real snow for real winter cycling.

But it’s mid-March. Snow at all this late in the season in northern Illinois is - or at least was (thanks, climate change) - virtually unheard of and, when it occurs, it’s flurries or at most just a light dusting. The abundance I was seeing out my window just doesn’t happen. And it certainly wasn’t going to last.

Warming up

I checked the handy-dandy weather app to find that it was 30°, working its way up to a high of 41°, and the above-freezing temps were set to start showing up in the very near future. This meant if I wanted to play in the snow it was going to need to be soon. So I took the drastic action of deciding to set aside my Sunday routine, completed only my most necessary of necessaries, and geared up to ride.

You would think that, by this point in the season, the novelty of a ride in the snow would have passed - that this is something that one would feel only as the calendar rolls us into those early days of winter. Some years that just might be true, but this really did feel like a gift, it’s ephemeral nature making it all the more precious.

Undoubtedly because of the warming trend for the day, the road was untouched by plows, offering only tire tracks from the occasional passing vehicle.

Road pic here

Because of the lateness of the season, this ride offered an auditory extravaganza that one does not typically experience when riding in the white stuff. Yes, you do have the crunch of the snow under the wheels (a thing I comment on often and always love), but today all of that was accompanied by the bird calls, most notably those of the returning Red Wing Blackbirds.

RWB

These well-dressed gentlemen of the prairie are the true harbingers of spring out here. You can have your silly robins with their garish outfits - they don’t hold a candle to the toughness and determination of the RWB. And besides, you can hear the blackbird’s trilling call for miles. You know they are here by sound long before you see them.

I took a little longer on the route for this ride than usual, taking some final pictures and so on. This was likely my last opportunity to lay my tracks in fresh powder for most of the remainder of the year. It seemed reasonable to savor it a bit.

Trike Tracks

Rare Opportunity by Erin Wade

This past Friday offered up a rare home office day, and an even rarer opportunity to ride my trike for actual transportation.

The overwhelming majority of my riding is recreational. Though I’m on country roads most of the time, it’s on loops designed to get me back around to my start, and to enjoy the trip along the way. This is a reality of my work situation - I travel a lot, and none of it is within a reasonable ride distance from home. When I’m not off-site I work out of a home office, which is wonderful, but my spouse objects when I bring the trike inside to ride the 10 feet from the bedroom to the office...

Friday presented with the perfect confluence of location and opportunity - working from home, and enough open time to ride, rather than drive, to the post office.

It’s an eight-mile ride one-way, almost entirely on rural backroads. It’s about a half-hour round trip by car, all things considered, and takes somewhere between an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and a half cycling (depending upon the day and depending upon me).

I always enjoy riding, but there’s something extra-special to me when I get the opportunity to ride to an actual destination. This might sound odd to the folks who commute via pedals on a regular basis, but it makes for an additional feeling of purpose to the ride that I really enjoy.

Now, to be clear, I’m not trying to claim any particular level of virtue here. While I try to do what I can for the environment - driving fuel efficient cars, using LED lighting, etc - I don’t for a moment delude myself into thinking that this very occasional 16-mile trip even rates as a drop in the bucket in comparison to my routine motor vehicle usage. This is, in fact, one of the things that people often don’t think about with respect to country living - a natural consequence to being away from everything is that you have long distances to get to everything. You spend a lot of time in the car.

But that sense of purpose is there, and I enjoy it.

And so I gear up for the ride and get the trike ready, checking the bags to make sure I have enough room in there for any mail that I might be bringing back. I also check and double-check to make sure I have the mailbox key (which I have forgotten at least once on on of these forays). Then I hit the road with my sense of purpose in hand (or maybe in the bag - my hands are occupied with steering after all - have to re-think that metaphor) and head out.

I ride the same route that I drive for the trip, but it’s all different at cycling speeds. You get a chance to see the things along the way and enjoy them at a more human level. This can be, of course, both for the better and the worse.

The better is this hill, which appears early in to the third mile of the ride.

Hill pic

It’s a relative high point that drops rapidly into the valley carved by Bureau Creek. It is, unsurprisingly, the source of my top-speed measure for this ride (coming in at 34.55 gravity-assisted mph). It’s warmer, at 39°, but still winter, and the snow still sits along the sides of the road and banks of the creek.

The bad is the dogs which chase the trike - virtually every single time on this route - a mile or so afterward. They chase the car as well, when I drive this way, though the feeling is very different, as any cyclist knows. I’ve been riding in the country a significant portion of my life, and I’ve been chased by dogs many a time; You learn to contend with it. But I always worry about the dogs where this is allowed to occur. Whether car or bike, when they are chasing they are in the middle of the road, and there is no variation of this scenario that is safe for the animal. Growing up out here I lost two dogs to the road, so perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this, but still...

A few miles later and I’m rolling up to the post office to check the mailbox. Lock the wheels on the trike, get the key from the bag (which I have ensured has room for any mail I might pick up), go inside and open the box to find... nothing.

This is not a terribly uncommon occurrence, opening the box and finding it empty. On most days, when I take some time out of the work schedule to drive to the mailbox I’m frustrated to find it bare, my efforts fruitless, my time wasted.

But this day is different. This day I got to ride, and ride with a sense of purpose. The fact that it is empty doesn’t take away from that. If anything, it means that at least I didn’t have to spend still more time sitting in my car just to find out there was nothing there.

This day I got to ride.

Tailwinds by Erin Wade

So. Last week I wondered how windy was too windy to ride.

Gee, I wonder which direction the wind is coming from...

In a lot of ways that post was part of my process of trying to decide whether to brave the elements, or whether I finally had found an excuse (besides lightening) for not going out on my Sunday ride.

The thing is, you can only read so much about a person riding across Antarctica in higher winds and lower temperatures for days before all the mental whingeing about whether or not to head out for an hour or so seems, well, a little pathetic.

So - you know - I rode.

I decided to head out on the route that I’ve now come to call Rocks 8. This is the gravel route I put together to take advantage of snow cover and freezing mitigating the unpleasant effects of the gravel. I reasoned that it was a relatively brief route and remained close to home, so if safety became an issue I would be an easy rescue. And besides, once the warmer weather comes I will likely avoid the gravel portions of this route, so I might as well enjoy them while I can.

It’s a route that runs in a square, and that square, given the Midwest road grid patterns, runs on the cardinal compass points. This means that the eight mile route is about two miles in each direction - two miles south, two miles east, two miles north, etc. Suffice it to say that my ride maps are often, well, pretty dull.

The wind last Sunday was coming directly out of the west. Westerly winds are the predominant pattern in this area, and this day was point on. The wind speed during the ride, according to Cyclemeter, was 38 mph:

38 mph winds

Cyclemeter offers up graphs of your ride speed across the miles of distance traveled, and then compares it to your "official" or reference ride (by default, it’s your first recorded ride on a given route). On the graph, the purplish dotted line is the reference ride, and the blue line is the current ride:

Graphical differences

Can you guess which part of the ride it was during which I had the west-to-east tailwind?

I did a more in-depth analysis of the effect of the wind on my rides a while back, but it still amazes me somewhat how much of a difference it can make. The elevated section on the graph runs between mile two and three, smack in the 20-30mph range. It’s notable too that this section is entirely across gravel and, while not involving immense climbs, isn’t entirely flat either (which accounts for some of the up and down in speed). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t push a bit during this section - how could one not? Fast is fun! But for reference, my average speed for the year prior was 11.86mph, and the overwhelming majority of that was set on my Catrike Pocket, which is what I was riding for this outing as well.

You can see the headwind section as well across miles six and seven. My average speed for mile seven was 5.38mph. That’s better than walking, but not a lot, and really gives some credence to why Maria Leijerstam chose a trike for her Antarctic ride - you’re starting to get down to speeds where it would be difficult to stay upright on two wheels. For fun, the headwind also makes it hard to catch your breath at times, and throws bits of debris into your face.

It also brings the overall averages down to earth. Despite that section running between 20-30 mph, and a top speed of 30.60mph on mile three, the average speed for the route was only 8.95mph. This is still better than two minutes over my median speed for this route, but it illustrates how much the headwind cuts into the time.

At the end, though, you definitely know you had a workout. Maddeningly, Cyclemeter does not appear to take the wind into account with respect to calorie burn. How exactly it counts calories does not appear to be explained on its otherwise very detailed help section, but you have to enter your weight for it to work, so it seems to be based upon that vs. your ride speed and distance. For this brief, slow ride, then, it credits me with using 399 calories. I suspect that, in reality, I burned that or better during the headwind section alone.

Overall, tho, west to east, I’m not even sure the trike needed me...

How Windy is Too Windy...? by Erin Wade

I begin my Sunday mornings in a similar fashion most weeks. I get up earlier than I intend (by force of habit), make some coffee and perform my ablutions, and think about where I will go for My Sunday Ride.

I try to get out to ride at least two days a week. I’d love to do more, and I do if the opportunity presents, but my goal for bare minimum is the two days. My Sunday Ride is an important component of that goal because Sundays are, all told, the day that I’m most free to get that ride in.

As I ponder a ride here this morning, however, that contemplation is accompanied by a soundtrack of howling and gusting wind. My iPhone’s weather app tells me that we are sitting at a wind speed of more than 30 miles an hour, and my ears are in general agreement with that assessment. All of which suggests the question: how windy is too windy to ride?

Wind speed

Any cyclist knows that the wind can have a huge effect on the degree of forward progress one experiences when riding. (I spent a little time going over my personal numbers on the effect of the wind here a little while back). Still, I’m not riding for transportation, I’m riding for my physical and mental health and the general enjoyment of the activity. And as far as that physical health part goes, the resistance a strong headwind offers is really just a bit of frosting on the cycling cake.

...right?

Having my Catrike does make a difference in this calculation, at least a bit. The lower profile nature of the trike does absolutely make the wind less of an issue, of course. This is part of the reason that Maria Leijerstam chose one for her record setting ride to the South Pole.

Of course, spending a little time reading about Maria Leijerstam’s ride across Antarctica makes one feel rather wimpy about the question one is asking for this very post. She was contending with 50mph winds and temperatures so low that the sweat was freezing in her boots. So, you know, it offers a bit of perspective there...


I realize, as I look back over the past couple of weeks that I’ve spent a lot of cognitive effort and writing time on complaining about the weather. I’d like to say that this is not my fault, and rather to lay the blame at the feet of, well...

...of February. That is, assuming February has feet.

Looking back over the past few years in Cyclemeter, tho, it’s clear that February has issues. While my amount of riding varies across time, the second month of the calendar year is routinely one of the lowest both in terms of riding outings and distance traveled. It is the shortest month, of course, so that may be a variable as well, but I suspect that a calculation of average distance per day across the months would also put February routinely at or near the bottom.

If it would just be more cooperative we’d get along so much better, February and I. But to be clear, this is all February‘s fault.

Be Careful What You Wish For by Erin Wade

It’s clear that sometimes The Fates just like to give you a bite in the ass.

Of course, last week I wrote complaining that we were having the wrong kind of winter, just then in Northern Illinois. You can go back and look at that for details, but the gist is that everything was all:

... a patchwork of worn snow drifts, ice, and frozen mud underneath a steel-gray sky.

As I often do, a little while after writing and posting I geared up for my Sunday ride. I mean, I’m gonna complain about the weather, but that’s not going to keep me from getting out and riding. As my child has heard me opine on multiple occasions, if you wait for the perfect day, it will never get done.

By the time I had geared up, however, the snow gods had apparently read my post (I’m sure they have nothing better to do, right?) and decided to show me a thing or two. The snow had already begun to fall when I walked out to the garage to get my trike ready. Once I hit the road it was falling in earnest.

Ask and ye shall receive...?

It quickly became the sort of weather I don’t typically do a road ride in, primarily because of reduced visibility - not mine, but that of drivers. But at that point I was already committed, so I pressed on.

I’d made the choice to go with my glasses and not goggles, which had... interesting results. I spent a lot of time clearing gathered moisture off of the glasses, which would have been the case with the goggles as well. The goggles would have prevented the ice buildup on my eyebrows, however...

That problem aside, however, it was everything you hope for from a winter ride - the peace and solitude of the snowfall, the crunch under the wheels (you really can’t overemphasize the delight of that sound), and a visual display that absolutely fits the description of winter wonderland.

It’s still, clearly, not something that the general public is ready for. The demonstration of that on this trip was provided by the car pulling up with the young man who lives down the road from me, rolling down the window and checking on me to make sure I was okay. I was halfway through the ride - well away from both our houses - so it was a chance encounter; I was clearly a sight he was not expecting to see.

Ultimately it was just under 14 miles on a familiar route with Old Man Winter thoughtfully providing just what I’d asked for. All at once.

But hey - the ice has since melted out of my eyebrows.

The Right Kind of Winter by Erin Wade

I enjoy winter, as a general rule. I enjoy cycling in the cold, I like the crunch of snow under the wheels, seeing the flakes fall about me as I move down the road or trail. The changing of the landscape as the snow shifts and changes with the wind and temperature adds variety to what would otherwise seem monochromatic.

But it has to be the right kind of winter.

Over the past few days in Northern Illinois we’ve moved beyond the polar vortex, and had warming temperatures - so warm, in fact, that the abundance of snow that fell just before the severe cold has significantly receded - followed by a drop back below freezing. Now, what remains is a patchwork of worn snow drifts, ice, and frozen mud underneath a steel-gray sky. This is a part of winter that it’s harder to be enthusiastic about.

The road. Does it beckon?

The warming and freezing leaves your typical uncleared cycling trails covered in a layer of uneven ice that can potentially be traversed, but is so unpleasant to ride over it resembles a roadway of randomly scattered rub strips. There is probably someone out there that wants to tackle that as a technical challenge, but I am not that someone. And this leaves me out exploring, on one of my regular ride days, city streets that are fine, as far as it goes but offer only, shall we say, uninspiring views of houses and yards.

It’s the general mood for the week, and for this morning. And it is, frankly, something that absolutely falls in the category of first world problems. I will get out and ride today. I will do so through the countryside that I enjoy. I will do it in the winter weather, which I also enjoy.

But I’d prefer that it be in the right kind of winter.

I can’t be the only one, can I?

Gravel Subdued by Erin Wade

I don’t like gravel.

I live in a rural area - grew up here, in fact, though I moved away for quite a while and then returned. Gravel has always been a part of life out here. The road that live on now was gravel for most of my childhood, and parts of it still were up until a couple of years ago. Although it has since been paved, many of the secondary roads around us remain covered in loose rock.

I’m sure gravel has its benefits, but from a road user perspective it’s hard on things. It’s hard on your vehicle, chipping paint and throwing dust on things. And it’s particularly hard when cycling. On an upright, or diamond-frame (DF) bike riding a gravel road is a matter of carefully finding the narrow paths through the surface where the gravel has been worn away and hoping against hope that an errant rock doesn’t find your front wheel and take you down.

And wiping out in gravel? I suppose, technically, a gravel road is a softer surface to fall on than is asphalt. I mean, after all, the rocks are simply sitting on top of dirt, right? But this does not account for the hours (and sometimes days) of picking rock after rock out of your skin. Ugh.

When I got my Catrike Pocket one of the things I was looking forward to was being more comfortable on gravel. But while my recumbent trike is my preferred ride for virtually every option, it isn’t able to tame all of the issues gravel has to offer. That risk of falling is gone, of course, but the ride over rock is still very rough and uncomfortable, and the layout of the trike is such that soft material - for example, loose gravel on an uphill track - causes the rear (traction) wheel to loose hold, and you find yourself sitting and spinning with no forward motion.

And I’m aware that they make gravel bikes, and that fat tire and suspension bikes and trikes are a thing. But I’m the (apparently somewhat rare) cyclist who really doesn’t collect bikes and trikes. I like to have a well rounded machine that does most things well, and I find my Catrike fits that bill.

But it means that I map out my rides so that I can avoid riding on the rocks.

It occurred to me last weekend, however, that the snow-covered nature of our roads this season might offer up an opportunity.

Out here in rural Illinois the plows go to great effort to clear primary highways down to the asphalt. Liberal application of spark showering blades combined with road salt means that, for the most part, a heavily traveled roadway with a state or national numerical designation is going to be showing pavement. But on the secondary roads the plows content themselves with removing the drifts and ensuring the road is passable to traffic only. They remain coated in white.

This is pleasant to ride on - last week I mentioned the delightful sound of snow crunching under the wheels. But it occurred to me when I was trying to decide where to ride last week that it also had the potential to be an equalizer of sorts. That is, a snow-covered road is just a snow-covered road, regardless of what is under it.

That thought in mind, I decided to give it a go. I don’t have to ride far to get to gravel, and I ended up laying out an eight mile circle (well - it’s a square circle - we’re in farm-grid country, after all) that included four solid miles on the gravel.

So the first, simple part is that it worked. If you didn’t know these roads were gravel ahead of time there’d have been no way to tell simply by looking.

Intersection at Gravel and Asphalt

This is taken at a gravel and asphalt intersection. Which is which? I know, because I was there...

More importantly, there was no way to tell by riding on it either. Turning off of the asphalt and on to the gravel was an indistinguishable change as far as my backside was concerned.

What’s more, this opened up an opportunity to travel down roadways that, although nearby, I hadn’t seen in years. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the house down one of the roadways is, apparently unoccupied - no sign of activity, of attempt to clear the driveway or get a vehicle through. There was an old barn that I remember playing at as a kid that I see is now gone, and I passed at least one house that, if I’d ever seen it before I don’t remember doing so.

Hidden creek

big sky country?

These are small things, but they are part of the joy of cycling through the countryside, and offered some novelty, some fresheness from my typical routes. In fact, I took the route again yesterday, moving my usual Sunday ride up a day because a) it looked like the weather today was going to be inhospitable and would turn the roads to a slushy mess (and so far that is true); and 2) it was simply gorgeous yesterday - too gorgeous to pass on the opportunity.

It might seem surprising that this possibility hasn’t occurred to me in the past - I do a fair amount of winter cycling. Still, the reality is that most of our winters here really don’t offer extended periods of snow cover. It’s typically cold, but real snow on the ground and the roads for an extended period of time is a rarity. This may be the first season since I started winter cycling that the opportunity presented itself.

It’s an ephemeral opportunity at best. It was 40° here yesterday, and the snow cover on the asphalt was already transitioning away. There were even sections of the gravel starting to show thru.

Gravel showing thru snow

It’s already 40° again here this morning, and the surrounding world is blanketed in the thick fog that rises as the snow releases its hold on the earth. It’s 40°, on its way to 41°, with a low also well above freezing, and a projected high for tomorrow of nearly 50°. The snow - even with the prodigious volume we’d received - will be gone soon. There might be more - the forecast speculates some for next week, but we all know how reliable that is. Odds are that, even if it happens, it will be fleeting. That’s just the way it goes here.

But for a short period of time, a few days, and two rides, it opened up another part of my little world.

Trike in snow

Snow! by Erin Wade

While he held off for a while here in Northern Illinois, Old Man Winter now appears to be working to make up for lost time. We’ve had actual winter weather - not just snowfall, though there has been that, but freezing rain and real cold temperatures. My Sunday ride last week, taken at the height of the warmth of the day, saw temps right around 9°F.

Of course, the warmer weather is a bit of a treat when it happens in January, but this sort of thing is what winter cycling is all about. It feels like winter cycling when the road is coated in snow and you can hear it crunching under the wheels.

Winter Roads

For my other site I wrote a bit, last week, about how the ravages of climate change have made the sighting of snowmobiles somewhat of a rarity here in the Land of Lincoln. These were a commonality when I was a kid, but nowadays its somewhat unusual to see tracks, much less an actual machine, out and about. Of course, the fates having seen me write that in the morning made arrangements to have me come across not just tracks, but an enthusiastic snowmobilist (“snowmobiler”?), providing a friendly wave as he was coming the other way out on my Sunday ride - riding his sled along the same section of road upon which I was pedaling. Removes any doubt about the condition of the roadway...

But OMW also has a sense of humor, and it seems that he perhaps thought I was enjoying the snow a bit too much on its own, and chose to throw some freezing rain on to my ride on Tuesday. To be fair, it was more of a drizzle than an rain, per se, so it seemed like it shouldn't prevent a ride. And mostly what I learned is what I learn every time I decide to go ahead and ride in the rain: It would be good to have some rain gear.

It was a short ride, and the multiple layers of synthetics and wool were pretty good proof against the cold, if not the damp. Probably the most challenging part of the ride was keeping my goggles and glasses clear. The fuzzy part of my gloves works nicely for removal of moisture, but scraping frozen material off is a bit more challenging.

And - of course - I did have to hang pretty much everything up by the register to allow it to dry out immediately afterward.

Peradventure I had the opportunity a couple of days later to have a discussion with that very snowmothusiast that I passed on the road. I had made arrangements to purchase a farm bell, and the seller just happened to be that very same person - when he saw the trike in my car (which is where it usually is) he asked if it was me that he’d passed and waved to. As it does, this led to a bit of discussion about winter outdoor activity.

That conversation made me realize something, in retrospect. When someone learns that you are riding in the winter the most common response that you get is one of disbelief - I had a coworker recently describe me as “insane”, for example. Par for the course.

But you don’t get that sort of reaction from other people who enjoy outdoor winter activity, regardless of what it is. My snowmobiling bell man wasn’t riding a bike, but he was clearly delighting in the opportunity of the white stuff, and my description of riding in the winter was something he took in stride. This brings into clarity the realization that it’s not the activity itself that people think is insane - its the weather one is doing it in.

For myself, however, the coldest bike ride of the winter is still better than a day inside at the gym...

Riding Anticipation by Erin Wade

When you are a kid this time of year is one of anticipation of cookies and treats and presents under the tree. As an adult, I find myself mostly looking forward to having a few days off with family, and towards the riding opportunities the time off will also provide.

Ready and Waiting She’s ready and waiting...

As is true for many of us, I suspect, my riding frequency is limited not by desire, but by schedule. Work must be performed, I suppose, in order to afford luxuries like food and shelter, as well as necessities like as tires and inner tubes. But having a little time off opens the door for more wheel time than usual.

To that end, I’ve been going over the five day forecast for our region to get an idea of what the realistic opportunity is. Setting aside for the moment the utter ludicrousness of expecting an eight-day forecast to be accurate in the Midwest (home of the saying "Don’t like the weather? Wait a minute..."), things look promising:

Eight days of opportunity

Of course, it’s also a suitably cruel trick of midwestern weather that the day with the highest projected temperature - 52° in the last full week of December?!? - is also the day with a 90% chance of rain.

This type of outlook also illustrates why I transitioned from cross country skiing to winter cycling several years ago. We still have snow in the ditches and shady spots from a late autumn snowfall, but the odds that we will have anything worth sliding on are on the low side, to be certain.

Looking back in my Cyclemeter records, last year I managed four rides over the same time period - though two of them were somewhat aborted attempts that I ended up using as a comparison between my upright and my trike in the snow. In 2016 I had only one ride, both during that week and for the entire month of December, and I had similar numbers for 2015.

It’s possible that my intentions and my actions don’t always entirely line up together.

Some people, like Bob Sharpe over at PedalFree (and now at Old Man Gravel ), manage to ride every day, regardless of the conditions. I both respect and envy that grit and determination. I know, realistically, that I won’t even manage every day during my time off over the next few. But hopefully I can do better than the past few years - gotta compare yourself to yourself, after all.

Early Winter Along Bureau Creek by Erin Wade

We haven’t technically reached winter yet, according to the calendar. That date is still a couple of weeks off. Still, we’ve had snow on the ground here in Northern Illinois since before Thanksgiving.

This means that the winter cycling starts earlier this year, I suppose.

This past week’s Sunday ride was a 13-ish mile ride across familiar territory here in Northern Illinois. According to Cyclemeter’s weather feature the temperature was sitting at 29°, with a gentle wind at about 6 mph. And of course, even though it’s not technically winter, our early season snowfall has the benefit of offering a change in scenery just as the bright colors of autumn start to degrade into a uniform tan...

the road ahead

Bureau Creek (say "crick") Westbound

Bureau Creek (say "crick") Eastbound

This is one of my favorite spots to stop along the way of this route. Bureau Creek (say "crick") is smaller here, but it eventually winds its way all the way under the Hennepin Canal down to the Illinois river near Bureau Junction. And while it’s wintry enough, with snow on the ground, it isn’t yet cold enough to freeze the moving water:

I don’t think I noticed the little guy coming forward at the center to the left of the rapids while I was taking the video. A little proof that life continues out here even when the white stuff covers the ground. 

November Cycling in Northern Illinois by Erin Wade

It’s a curious title, the one heading this post. Curious because, as of this particular post, there’s been precious little.

While I can usually find something to enjoy about all of the seasons, Autumn is often my favorite time of the year. The colors change, the temperatures cool down, and the air takes on a delightful, crisp flavor that is very pleasant. It’s a delight to walk outside and see the carpet of leaves across the lawn.

But to be fair, that’s true for the first, say, third or so of Autumn. Then November comes rolling in. And it’s not the temperatures that are a problem. No - we have been running with high temps in the 40’s and lower 50’s, and we’ll be there or a little lower for the next few weeks at least.

The problem is the rain.

I’ll ride in just about any conditions - beastly hot, bitingly cold, and just about anywhere in-between. I’ll ride in a spring or summer rain as long as visibility isn’t too compromised. But the cold November rain? That’s something else.

Fortunately, this past Tuesday finally offered a reprieve, and like that cool glass of water sitting, tantalizingly just out of reach at the end of a long desert trek, it was all the sweeter for it.

While the roadways are clear, the trails are covered in leafy patches in varying shades of amber and brown.

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And while the rain is an impediment when it’s falling from the sky, asphalt dampened by the prior days rain combined with a leafy slickness is the perfect recipe for opposite-lock sideways adventures at speed...

You might simply say that it felt good to get back out on the trike.

Now, possibly if I invested in some good, solid, water tight riding clothing I’d feel differently about the November rain, but riding without such gear in pervasive wet conditions in 40° weather is something different entirely. And, if things go awry with your wet weather gear under these conditions, it gets unpleasant in a hurry. And it would take some pretty amazing wet weather gear to prevent all intrusion under those circumstances. But my strike out back on the trail makes me want to explore the possibilities.

Because then I wouldn’t have spent quite so much of November thus far looking out the window, looking at the radar, and swearing at the weather gods. So a searching I will go, for it seems unwise to be swearing at weather gods...

Comparisons... by Erin Wade

A couple of weeks ago I was pulling my Catrike Pocket out of the back of my car, and noticed something on one of the front tires - a bit of greenish coloring. I rolled it into the garage to get a closer look. At first I thought it was something that had gotten on to the tire from the road. As I looked closer, however, it became clear that it was the layer under the black rubber peeking through. A spin of the wheel found that it was showing in spots all the way around.

I got my Pocket in June of 2017 - about 19 months ago. It’s a 2012 model that I found on eBay. Technically it’s used, of course, but the person I’d bought it from had been given it by someone else who hadn’t ridden it, and he got it for his wife who also decided she didn’t want to ride it. The tires on the trike still had the little nubs around the outside. My little Pocket had seen very little action.

Since then, according to Cyclemeter, I’ve ridden 1861.02 miles on the Pocket. This may seem like a lot, or not that much, depending upon the circles you travel in - to avid, regular cyclists this type of distance in 19 months is no big deal. But it’s important to compare yourself to yourself, and for me last year was my biggest mileage year ever up to that point; and this year I’ve already ridden further. This owes in no small amount to my trike - I love riding this thing.

So: it makes some sense that it would be time for new tires. I took the trike in to the always helpful folks at Meads Bike Shop in Sterling to perform the feat (a bike mechanic I am not). Because the tires needed to be ordered it was going to take a couple of days. (I did actually take a couple of rides on the worn tire, but I figured I was really increasing my odds of having to call for a pickup each successive time).

This meant, when it came time for last week’s Sunday ride, I had no trike. I do, however, have my road bike - it’s a 1987 Cannondale SR400 that I’ve had for years, and was my primary ride until I got the trike. Here she is:

Cannondale SR400

I looked back in Cyclemeter later and realized that it had been over a year since I’d ridden the Cannondale. This week’s Sunday ride was on October 14th, and my prior ride on this bike was October 10th, 2017. The ride prior to that had been on June 27th and, in both cases it was, then as now, because I’d had the trike in the shop.

Now, to be clear, I didn’t get the Catrike because I was unhappy with my Cannondale. Quite the contrary, I’ve always been very fond of it. It’s lightweight, it has an elegant simplicity, and even with only the 12 gears it’s age allows it, it is a fast, capable machine. And I love the clean, simple lines of its design. Heaven help me, I even kind of like the 1980’s pink neon lettering.

I didn’t get the Catrike because I was unhappy with my bike. I got it because I think recumbent trikes are cool. I mean really cool. As I’ve said here before, I’ve wanted one pretty much since the day I realized they existed.

That said, I figured it would be good to get the old girl out and take her for a spin. Of course, there’s been nothing to stop me from doing that over the past year - she’s always waiting, patiently, there in the garage. But still...

I pumped up the tires (it had been a year, after all), put some oil on the chain, and rolled her out down the driveway. The Cannondale rode perfectly, as if no time had passed. But for me, there were several things I noticed on this ride that I likely wouldn't have a year and a half ago:

  • Wind noise. It was immediately clear to me that this was going to be a louder ride than usual due to the wind in my ears. We live in out on the Illinois prairie, in a wind farm, so this is always a factor, but it was so much more noticeable here.
  • Speed - I was still as fast, or perhaps a bit faster, as on the trike. This isn’t necessarily surprising - the Cannondale is lighter and has larger wheels than the Pocket, and my speeds on it are historically higher (though I’ve been getting closer).
  • Comfort - My tuchus was sore well before I reached the end of my 12-ish mile ride (perhaps a loss of callous over time?). And I do not miss the riding position - cranked over and tilting your neck up to see the road ahead is not a bonus.

I had noticed the wind issue from a different perspective last winter when I took my wife’s mountain bike out for a comparative ride. In that case, being up in the wind was noticeable because of how much colder it was. Out here on the prairie, lower is definitely better when it comes to dealing with that wind.

Speed, as I noted, was not an unexpected difference. Here, I suppose, what’s nice to see is that a year away on a different type of machine hasn’t really affected my ability to ride the Cannondale - I suppose it’s true that you never forget how. But I’ve gotten faster on the Pocket since I got it, and it makes me wonder how much closer I’d be with a more comparable machine. Would an Expedition or a 700, with their larger rear wheels, be more comparable machines? (This also leads me to wonder what the valid comparisons are between different bikes and trikes - a question we certainly won’t answer here today...).

The comfort issue is also unsurprising, I suppose. One is actively choosing to make a trade-off when one chooses to ride a road bike. And there will undoubtedly be people out there who suggest that I’d be more comfortable on my Cannondale if I got a fitting for it. For them, let me say here: this is possibly true. Did I mention that I love my Catrike, and that it wasn’t for reasons of comfort that I bought it? A fitting on my road bike isn’t going to get it back off the hooks any more frequently.

The Pocket is back now, fully shod with new shoes on all three wheels. The Cannondale is back in the garage. It is a fine machine, and it did a wonderful job of standing in when needed. But I’m afraid it’s going to remain on the backup bench.

Spring Surprises by Erin Wade

Into the Mist

One of the downsides - if there truly is a downside - of having a regular Sunday ride is that Sunday is sometimes recalcitrant. Spring is doing her thing with the rain, and we’ve had enough over the past few days that the vernal ponds have emerged along with opportunistic streams. Still, the weather report for today claimed that the middle of the day would be dry, and the radar seemed to agree.

Opportunistic stream

Trusting in these sources, I geared up, pumped up the tires, and rolled out on my trike. The persistent cloud cover at least meant that the risk of sunburn was low (though I still sprayed on my exposed areas with SPF-as-close-as-I-can-get-to-1000 - have to maintain my alabaster complexion...). The cloud cover also allowed for temperatures in the 60’s, which is quite a gift for any point after Labor Day in Northern Illinois.

Strictly speaking, I did not encounter rain. No droplets fell from the sky in any noticeable form. It was clear, though, that I’d not considered the ability of midwestern air to hold water vapor in solution. As the ride went on everything just became progressively more... moist.

It’s rare that I wish for a set of glasses with built in wipers, but here I was, trying to decide between wearing them and not.

Wet Goggles

I ultimately went with the strategy of removing and violently shaking them off periodically as I went. By the time I arrived back home I was soaked through. Still, none of this is to say that it was a bad ride - any day with the opportunity to get out on the trike is better than a day without. My child is, no doubt, tired of hearing me say that if you wait for a perfect day to do something it will never happen.

And, true to form, it did offer a thing or two to see. As noted above, this time of year often results in opportunistic waterways emerging, the vernal ponds. And it offered up this as one of my final sights along the roadway:

what is that?

For those struggling to sort out what that might be, a closer look might help:

yes - that’s horseshit

Reminds you that you really are out in the country...

What to Wear? by Erin Wade

This past Wednesday saw temperatures here in Northern Illinois virtually double from the day before, hitting a high in the mid-60’s - a thing virtually unseen thus far this spring. Obviously it was necessary to take advantage of the weather with a ride. But I ran into a brief snag.

I’ve been riding all winter. As I’ve mentioned before, cycling in the winter isn’t really a cold activity. Once you get working you warm up nicely, all assuming that you’ve dressed properly in the first place. Dressing properly is the trick, and the trial and error part of learning that is sometimes a little uncomfortable, to be sure, but once you sort it out the riding is a lot of fun.

The thing is, the day was so much warmer I suddenly realized: I was not sure what to wear.

I’ve been dressing in two or three layers for so long that I was having trouble remembering what I usually would wear on a ~65-ish degree day. Wear too much, and the ride would quickly become unpleasantly hot. Still, under that circumstance one can still take off a layer or two and continue. But wear too little, and one gets irretrievably uncomfortable.

I ended up going with my noisy pants - Columbia heavy-duty nylon pants that are wind-resistant, and that usually serve as my outer layer thru the colder months - and a Nike high-visibility (read: yellow) long-sleeved top with a zipper turtleneck and thumb holes on the sleeves. I wasn’t confident, getting on to the trike, that I wouldn't be too warm, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't be too cold.

Also - this was the first outing for my Keen sandals (yay), but I brought along a pair of wool socks in the saddlebags just in case.

The verdict - it was maybe a mile before I had my sleeves rolled up all the way, the v-neck on the shirt completely unzipped, and began to wonder if it would be too uncomfortable to pull the bottoms of the pants up over my knees.

It’s odd how this happens - a season is just a few months, and yet we get so adapted to one that dealing with the next can be a challenge at first. It’s clear to me that I would have been fine in a t-shirt and shorts for the ride, but it was a struggle to even picture that, particularly given that there had been snow on the ground just a few days before.

And of course, as I write this from my comfy chair this weekend, we just came off of a windswept Saturday, which leads into a high today of 35° with very gray skies and possible snow in the offing. But I’m sure that, at some point in the near future, this season will right itself and sail smoothly forward.

Right?

Winding Down by Erin Wade

Cycling in Snow

The winter cycling season is winding down, but March has still had a few seasonal surprises left. The picture above offers up just such an example.

It’s a special day when the season offers up the type of snowfall that is heavy enough that you can really enjoy the visual effect, while not being so thick that it impedes vision. As a bonus, the temperature was just exactly right for downhill curves to offer up single-handbrake drifting, but not so slippery as to make uphill sections a slog.

It’s likely this was the last such day the season will offer. That’s a little sad.

...At least until one remembers that it heralds the beginning of the spring cycling season...

Cross Country Skiing or Winter Cycling? by Erin Wade

Back when I started out with winter cycling it was primarily as an alternative to cross country skiing. I started cross country skiing in my mid- to late-20’s, and really enjoyed it. However, the winter snowfall and retention in my area is too unpredictable to allow for any sort of reliable XC skiing season. Some seasons drop a sizeable amount of the white stuff, while others leave a paltry dusting. And even when there is a sufficient amount to support the skis, it’s typically short lived - if you get an abundant snowfall on Monday, but can’t get out on the skis till Wednesday, you might lose your chance entirely.

So: winter cycling.

This has worked well overall. Looking back into Cyclemeter (which, despite the name, also tracks skiing, hiking, etc) the last year that offered an XC skiing opportunity that I could take advantage of was 2015, and that was one event in early February - three years ago. So it’s good to have winter cycling as an alternative.

And that’s how I’ve always thought about it - as an alternative. My winter cycling has evolved over the years, as I’ve learned more about how to keep warm and comfortable while riding. This year, of course, I’ve incorporated my Catrike Pocket into the mix, and winter activity was part of my reason for wanting a trike - less (or no) falling over. These factors make it even better as an alternative for XC skiing.

It had been three years without skiing until last week. The weather gods had dropped a good three inches on the ground, which is enough - though barely - to support the skis. I brought both my skis and my trike along just in case the snowfall at home wasn’t representative of what I’d find at my destination. Still, it seemed to be, so when I went out I opted for the skis. I managed about three miles on a lovely trail through prairie and woods. It wasn’t groomed, but it wasn’t so deep as to make forging difficult. I was alone in the woods, I saw a hawk, and lots of animal tracks. The workout was good. It’s everything I remember enjoying about XC skiing.

And here’s the thing: I’d rather have been on my trike.

I can’t explain this, exactly; a lot of it was more visceral than anything else. The snow was not deep, so the skis occasionally caught on the surface beneath. The trails are primarily gravel under the snow, which isn’t an ideal medium into which to drive ski poles, so these factors may have played a role. But winter cycling isn’t all wine and roses either. Even with the trike, there are areas you cannot get through without walking the machine (sitting and spinning while the trike itself remains motionless on a hill is, shall we say, an interesting experience). And no outdoor exercise ever involves a perfect environment - that’s part of the fun. If I was interested in controlled conditions I’d be in a gym.

I’m seriously rethinking my perspective here - I’m no longer looking at winter cycling as an alternative to XC skiing. I’m really just thinking about it as the thing that I do in the winter.

Winter Cycling - Northern Illinois by Erin Wade

Ask people of a certain age what winter is like in Illinois, and you will undoubtedly hear tales of the winter of 1979. If those tales were summed up in a picture, it would look like this:

IMG_1339.JPG

This is an effect of human memory, which likes to latch on to significant events preferentially. The reality, however, is different. We rarely get large snowfalls, and temperatures across the course of the winter vary considerably, from negative double-digits (particularly with windchill) up into the 40’s and 50’s. These variations come in batches of a week or two at a time, and the snowfalls we do get typically do not remain for any extended period of time. This means that, when it comes to winter cycling, what I want to picture is this:

C66D9B46-8150-4846-98C9-8F4EBE9F6612.JPG

But what I get is something more like this:

C002A6E1-C709-4DC8-B26A-8CD6EDE2B94A.JPG

Or, even more typically, like this:

C9F9F532-BA2C-40F2-8C77-988D2B0ED746.JPG

During most of this it is still cold, of course - we can periodically have temperatures in the 20’s or even the single digits during periods of time that the bottom picture above represents. But there aren’t the vistas of snow across the plain to enjoy as a part of the ride.

What I have realized, as a result of this, is that all of my mental back and forth on the type of winter tires I might need to put on to my trike is largely academic: for the overwhelming majority of the winter here all I’m contending with is either partially, or entirely, cleared asphalt. Even with patches of snow on the road, as above, it’s easy enough to ride between them when needed - e.g. on the hills - and they otherwise aren’t an issue (at least, not on the trike. Upright on the other hand...).

I’ve managed three outings thus far in January - fewer than I’d like, but the limitation has primarily been due to my schedule rather than due to weather conditions. Still, I’ve already matched January of last year, and my nine rides in December of 2017 are far ahead of the two I had in December the year prior. I had hoped the trike would facilitate my winter riding, and so far it really has done so. For anyone who likes to play outside in the winter, but lacks for sufficient snowfall to facilitate winter-specific sports, I can’t recommend it enough!

Riding in Snow - Upright vs Trike by Erin Wade

Winter Wonderland

This was the view as I set up my trike to go out for a ride early yesterday afternoon. I’ve been doing winter biking for the past several years. When I got my Catrike Pocket, one of the things I was looking forward to was this part of my riding experience - Winter riding is great, but there are disadvantages to having a two-wheeled conveyance underneath you in the ice and snow...

Today wasn’t my first cold weather ride on the trike, or even my first one encountering snow, but it was my first out here on the prairie, on a day like this - actively snowing, with the roads as yet uncleared.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on the actual road under these conditions - I ride my bike and trike out here on the road all the time, and I find people to be quite respectful, but the earliest snows often find drivers have forgotten everything they previously learned about driving in the white stuff. And, as the picture accurately displays, visibility was not ideal (yup - that’s the sun overhead). So I decided to ride down the wind turbine service roads instead. This involved only a short distance on the road itself. The service roads aren’t long, but it would still get me out and about for a little bit.


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Cutting thru the snow is more work than one might realize - the gears you use are lower, and there’s a lot of spinning going on. The section of the road going towards the service road is downhill to get there, and I was a little surprised how much the rear wheel moved around. I was never sideways, but there was a lot of wiggling from side to side (I still have my road tires on the trike).

Once I hit the service road this was the view:

Hoth?

The service roads are gravel, and simply there for trucks to get back to the turbines, so the surface is a bit rougher than being out on the open road. It was passable, however, while I was heading east/west. When the road turned to the north the volume of snow - probably just due to wind direction - was too much to make it passable.

So I turned around and headed back. This was mostly uneventful, except that the downhill section on the way there was now an uphill section. In the snow on the pavement I did finally hit one section where all I could do is spin the back wheel with no forward progress. I tried for what felt like ten minutes (but was probably 30 seconds) to get it to move forward without dismounting, rocking back and forth a bit (it works in the car, so why not here?) but finally gave up, got up, and rolled it forward a few feet. That seemed to do the trick.

I was a little disappointed both in the distance and duration of the ride, so I decided to take out MLW’s upright for comparison. Her bike is a Walmart-special steel Schwinn mountain bike, and I’ve used it before for winter rides. I thought it might be interesting to compare both the experience, and the numbers for the two.

What I found was:

  • The wiggly downhill section on the trike was wiggly on the upright as well, but with both front and rear wheels moving unpredictability.
  • I made it slightly farther on the northerly section of the service road, but it was still pretty much impassable.
  • I didn’t get stuck on the uphill return, but again had both wheels periodically breaking free (I didn’t drop the bike or wipe out - but I certainly have done so in the past on winter rides).
  • The 3-4’ higher you sit on the bike makes a real difference with respect to wind exposure. I think I knew this from a logical perspective, but there was definitely more of a sensation of the wind cutting across me as I was sitting up on the Schwinn.

And the numbers? Pretty similar overall:

Pocket in the Snow

Schwinn in the Snow

On the Catrike the ride took me a little over 10 and a half minutes. My average speed was a little slower, but my top speed was a little higher (not that top speed is a target for winter riding). Being a little slower on average probably had to do with the fact that I tried a little longer to get forward progress on the northward section of the service road while I was on the trike, since I wasn’t originally planning on this to be a comparative test; and it would reflect the time spent spinning on the hill before I got up and moved the trike. In both cases, these events (and picture taking) would also account for the longer stopped time on the trike as well.

So - ultimately the trike appears to have done about as well as the mountain bike from a numerical standpoint. And from a never-threatening-to-disappear-out-from-under-you standpoint, it far exceeded the upright. I think now I just need to consider whether, and what type of tire change to make for the rear wheel to improve traction. I won’t typically ride on unplowed roads, but it would be good to not have to get up and push on a slippery uphill section.

Against the Wind by Erin Wade

Life on the open prairie is often a windy affair. This is a year-round phenomenon, to some degree, which is why, when I look out any window of my house I see giant white turbines. But there is some considerable variation across the seasons out here. Mid-summer and, to a lesser degree, mid-winter can have extended periods of relative calm, while spring and autumn kick things into high gear, perhaps feeling the need to make up for the laziness of their seasonal predecessors.

Any cyclist who has ridden for any length of time knows the wind can be a formidable foe, and it can absolutely be a factor in deciding whether one wants to ride at all. This is what I was contemplating this past Black Friday - I wanted to get out there and work off some of the turkey and gravy, but the 20+ mph winds were weighing in against that notion. Still, if one waits for the perfect conditions to do a thing, one will never get to do that thing, so I geared up myself and got out my Catrike Pocket. It also occurred to me that this might be a good opportunity to see what the actual effects of the wind are on riding.

To do this, I stopped and took screenshots of my Cyclemeter readings at three key points in the ride - at the end of the first section, riding into the wind, and the end of the second section, mostly with the wind, and again at the very end of the ride.

I selected my route so that I would be riding into (or against) the wind for the first five-ish miles of the ride. I try to do this in general so that the hardest part of the trip presents early on, when my energy level is at its highest. In this case I would be riding directly against the wind - straight south against southerly winds. Cyclemeter indicates the wind speed for the ride was 26mph.

The Numbers

This is how that came out:

Riding against the wind

The average and top speeds are really the primary areas where the impact can be seen. I’ve ridden this particular route four times prior on the Pocket, and my speed across those rides on the route averages out to 12.22 mph. Here, for the first five miles I’m down to 11.36. Cyclemeter also lets you break down your rides into mile splits, so I can compare the first five miles on this against previous rides, and looking back it’s clear that I’m at least a little bit slower, and in some cases dramatically slower, than on previous rides over this section:

breakdown by mile

Both my average speeds and my top speeds are down from the prior rides. In some cases I have weather data for the other rides to compare against for wind speed and direction:

  • On the 11/19/17 ride Cyclemeter indicates the wind was out of the West by Northwest (WNW) at 14mph, so I would have had a partial tailwind for that section.
  • On 11/11/17 it was South by Southeast (SSE) at 8mph, meaning I was riding partially against the wind, although a much slower wind.
  • On 10/20/17 the wind was out of the south at 8mph - a direct headwind.

The 19th - with the partial tailwind at 14mph - is definitely my fastest ride over this section, suggesting some benefit from having the wind behind you (unsurprisingly). These numbers also suggest a bit of a threshold effect - the 8mph winds (which feel like a relatively still day out here) don’t seem to have much of an impact.

And what about getting the wind behind you?

I took the next measurement 6.48 miles later (these were each taken at convenient stopping points). This segment consisted of approximately two miles heading east, and and four going straight north (the rural roads here are mostly laid out in a grid pattern - makes for ride maps that look like Tetris blocks), putting the wind to my right for 1/3 of the segment, and directly behind me for 2/3. That 26mph tailwind does make a bit of a difference:

With the wind at my back

As you can see, the average speed is up by a couple of mph, and the top speed is way up. In the interest of full disclosure I’ll note that this is (of course) a downhill speed (yes, we do have hills in Illinois). This is actually not far off of my highest speed on the Pocket, which was 31.72mph, and that on a much bigger hill during the 2017 Farmondo put on by the Tempo Velo Cycling Club in Sterling IL.

The wind at your back - at least when it’s a big wind - would appear to make a considerable difference.

The remaining couple of miles of the ride were mostly westward, with the very last half-mile going north (with the wind). My average dropped a scosche, but otherwise the numbers look similar to the prior measurement:

the final results

The Takeaway

It’s not terribly surprising to find that the wind against you will slow you down, and that the wind with you will speed you up. With respect to that we pretty much have confirmation of what would be the expected hypothesis. But looking at this over time does show a few other things that I found interesting:

  • While the headwind slowed me down, it didn’t slow me down as much as I expected. An average of ~11 mph on the Pocket is not awful - scanning back over the year my speeds on similar roads range between ~11.5 and ~14.5 mph. I’m at the slower end here, but not so much so as to make it unreasonable to consider riding.
  • There seems to be a threshold effect - an 8mph wind doesn’t seem to have much of an impact, but higher winds look like they do.
  • A good tailwind clearly does have an impact. This always felt like it was the case, but I am a little surprised about the degree of impact.

An additional observation here for me is the subjective difference offered by the recumbent trike. I’ve loved riding for a long time, but riding on windy days, against the wind, on my road bike, has always felt like a slog. The Catrike was different. Yes, it was more work, and I was riding in lower gears, spinning much more than usual, but it didn’t feel like work the way that it does on my Cannondale. Some of this may be due to the aerodynamic advantage of the recumbent - you are simply not up in the wind in the way that you are on an upright bike. Some of it may also be due to not having to maintain balance in addition to pedaling for forward motion. It’s also possible that there is a difference due to gearing. My Cannondale is old - it’s an ‘87 - and only a 12-speed. The Catrike has 27 gears to choose from, and many of them much lower than those on the Cannondale. It might not be as different if I could grind less and spin more on the upright. Regardless, while I still love my Cannondale, I really love my Catrike.

Ultimately, for me this shows that it’s really worth it to get out even when the wind seems to be working furiously against you. And, since most of it is for exercise, I suppose one could say that the wind is ultimately working with you...