Monthly Archives: August 2014

Making the best of Melbourne’s windy days

Riding into the wind

The Lead Out

If you are like me, you dread riding into a howling headwind.  Whilst the tougher and dare I say fitter members of the Melbourne cycling fraternity might say ‘Harden up’, the reality is learning to cycle intelligently in the wind is a better option.  This post briefly describes how someone new to cycling can adjust to cycling in windy conditions, either alone or o as part of a group.

The Breakaway

Bottom line: Plan your route and check out, to see the most recent wind forecast.

The Peloton

There are three basic conditions that the cyclist must deal with:

Headwind  Headwind Where the wind is predominately in your face. Using the ‘clock analogy’, the wind is somewhere between 11.00 am and 1.00 pm.
Crosswind Crosswind Where the wind is coming from either your left or right and catching your side profile. Using the Clock analogy, the wind  is either blowing from 9.00 to 11.00 am or 1.00 to 3.00 pm
Tailwind  Tailwind Where the wind is directly assisting you from behind.  The wind is behind you somewhere between 3.00 pm and 9.00 am.

Riding into a headwind

Rise to the challenge use headwinds as a means to build conditioning.  However if that’s not your thing, here’s a few tips for working into the wind.

Cycling by yourself  Your best tactic is tuck down into an aero position where you are seeking to minimize the vertical area presented to the wind, thus reducing drag.  Think racing car profile versus that of a bus.  Tuck your elbows in and place your hands on the drop part of the handle bars.  Try to align your head and torso with top bar of the frame.  If you are like me and have a bad back and tight hamstrings, try to duck down as best you can.  Word of warning, don’t fall in the trap of road watching, or you’ll run up the back of someone or collect an obstacle eg street furniture, pedestrian or as in my case a parked car….ouch.
Cycling with group  Your best tactic is to draft  the rider in front of you and let them create a pocket of broken air that you can slipstream into.  Its worth watching tour coverage of time trials or track cycling events to see how the pros do this.  Most columns I’ve read about this seem to suggest being no further than a bike length back to achieve the most benefit.  Word of warning, don’t overlap wheels with rider in front, lest risking a very angry conversation post-crash

Riding in crosswinds

I’ve always found these the toughest to ride in, particularly where the wind is blowing from 10 o’clock to 11 o’clock and pushing your line out into either the rest of cycling group or oncoming traffic.

Cycling by yourself Again, there’s not much you can do other tuck down into an aero position or plan a route that has some cover to break up the wind up.  On really windy days I’ve done laps of Albert Park Lake to break up the ride.
Cycling in Group Pelotons tend to arrange themselves into an angled formation called an echelon.  The leader bears the brunt of the wind and the rest of the group try to draft in the wind shadow created by the bike/body profile.  The formation resembles a diagonal line pointing away from the dominant direction of the wind. Last year, I saw the peloton bunch up so closely into the crosswind, that the formation looked like a gigantic elongated teardrop.  This made me wonder if this isn’t the preferred pattern for very large groups of competing teams.

Riding with a tailwind

Everyone’s favourite wind and makes you the rider feel like a tour champion, for as long as it lasts.

Cycling by yourself  Plan your route so that you return home with a tailwind.  There is nothing worse than a long slog home.  Keep an eye on the weather forecast to determine whether a change will come through and whether the direction may change.  I look at the BOM wind forecast (see above) to check strength and direction.
Cycling in a group  If you are racing, using a tailwind is a perfect time to launch an attack. Up the cadence, Tora! Tora! Tora!.  But like all good things, favourable winds will end.  Make sure you have left something in the ‘tank’, lest be left  behind.  Also don’t take unnecessary risks with newly found speed, going faster means landing harder in a crash.

How to avoid the cycling equivalent of buying the farm

More advice on dealing with traffic hazards

The Lead Out

Following on from my last post about riding in the rain and not becoming traffic accident statistic, I thought I would cast the net wider and consider what other scenarios, you as a cyclist and a road user should be aware of.

The Breakaway

As a cyclist, the math of car/truck/bus tram vs you should be bleeding obvious to you.  Thus the burden of keeping you alive to cycle another day is on…you.  Be alert to traffic hazards and road-smart when riding.

The Peloton

Here’s the reduced ‘Letterman’ list of cycling situations that can be hazardous to your health.  You should hum the Bee Gee’s 1977 classic “Staying Alive” while reading this.

Beware the Setting Sun Scenario: Most crashes involving cyclists occur on weekdays, in the 2 hours before sunset.  At this time of day, your average motorist’s vision can be impaired by setting sun, heavy traffic flow and fatigue.

Strategy: Wear high visibility clothing and switch on your front and rear lights. Furthermore, keep a buffer zone between you and the traffic.  Pay attention what is happening around you and attempt to predict the actions of motorists.

Argy-Bargy at intersections Scenario: Drivers often claim not to have seen bicycle riders coming through intersections as an explanation for a crash.

Strategy: Try to make eye contact with drivers at intersections to ensure that you are noticed.  Scan the approach to intersections and assess what’s happening in the traffic flow at the intersection.

Dismounting from the footpath  Scenario:  You are moving from the foot/bike path to join the traffic.

Strategy: Two words -> STOP, LOOK.  Stop at a point where can see a few hundred metres of traffic movement.  Importantly don’t leave the path between parked vehicles.  Drivers will not be able to see you.

Vehicles turning in front of you Scenario: Be alert to vehicles that cross in front of you. This could be a vehicle turning left or right into a street or driveway.

Strategy: Pay particular attention to vehicles when you are travelling on the left hand side of a queue.  Frequently, impatient drivers will turn across your path if there is a gap in the queue.

Being Doored Scenario: Avoid crashes caused by opening doors.

Strategy:   My pet hate…. always look through car rear windows to determine whether or not someone is about to leave the car. Parked cars may pull out from the kerb.  Look for clues such as a flash of the brake or reversing lights, right hand indicator or a sign that the car is about to move such as front wheels moving.

Reversing vehicles Scenario: Even in this day of rear vision cameras in vehicle, cyclists can be crunched when a car unexpectedly reverses out of a driveway or parking bay.

Strategy: Kids are very vulnerable to this kind of incident.  As a rule, if you can see the driver, seek to establish eye contact before riding behind the parked vehicle.  Also be on the lookout for reversing lights or alarms.

Riding… not Singing or Crashing… in the Rain

Advice for Chris Froome 🙂 and Team Sky

I wrote this a few weeks before the Tour de France but its seems appropriate.

The Lead Out

Here’s a few pointers for riding around in the rain in Melbourne.  Clearly the smartest thing you can do as a cyclist in Melbourne is plan your route.  Pick the a route that provides the safest road conditions. Maximise your use of off-road and on road bicycle lanes, and roads that have low traffic volumes and speeds.  Melbourne City council has a pretty good map that you can download from here:

The Breakaway

I’ll say it again, look at, before planning your ride.  Its free and may save your life.  If you find yourself riding in poor conditions, play it safe, try to stay off the road and make yourself as visible as possible.

The Peloton

  • Clip on and switch on some decent front and rear lights.  Anything above 200 lumens that has a ‘strobe’ mode is ideal for the front.  Similarly 90-120 lumens, with strobe is ideal for the your rear
  • Stay on commuter paths.  Typically be less congested and greatly reduce the risk of you becoming a hood ornament eg Chris Froome 😉
  • Try to stay upright and steer with your arms rather than leaning into corners with your hips.
  • Take corners slower – wet riding surfaces reduce traction between the tyres and the surface.
  • Avoid hazards such as potholes and storm water grates.  Watch out for doors on parked cars.  The chances are the driver has been thinking more about the rain, than a cyclist approaching from behind.
  • Wear bright waterproof clothing – I have bright yellow gortex jacket with reflective patches that is highly visible and breathable.  Something like this is ideal for daily commuting if you have a few spare dollars.
  • Carry a spare tube, instead of a patching kit.  I’ve found trying to patch a wet inner tube almost impossible on rainy days.
  • If you are on your road bike, decrease the pressure in your tires, say 5 to 10 psi lower than your usual setting, to improve traction.
  • Try to avoid slick spots – pay attention  to painted street surfaces, metal drain covers,
  • Try to cross tram and rail lines at 90 degrees or close to, to minimise contact.  This is a particularly nasty hazard on wet Melbourne days.
  • Double the amount of time you use to brake to stop.  Locking up will lead to you either spinning out or going over the handle bars.  Do a few test ‘brakes’ at the start of your ride to feel out what your new threshold should be.

Joy of Hand Signals

Cycling hand signals – a few basics

The Lead Out

Using hand signal isn’t just good manners its also the law.  As a cyclist , it’s a necessary survival skill on Melbourne’s busy roads.  Giving a hand signal does not guarantee a cyclist’s safety. Its critical that you assess the actions of the other cyclists and road users around you to make sure it is safe, particularly  before turning or changing lanes.

The Breakaway

Using hand signal isn’t just good manners, it’s a necessary survival skill on Melbourne’s busy roads.  Once you start riding in groups they become essential.

The Peloton

Hand signals help to tell other cyclists and road users where you intend to go and what you intend to do.  Cyclists are required by law to give a hand signal when turning right or merging to the right lane.  Typically a cyclist should Indicate about 30 metres before turning or changing lane position.

The obvious ones are left, right and brake needed for navigating roads and traffic.  These are good for English speaking countries but be warned there are some interesting variations in other places.

Left Extend your left arm out parallel to the road with your palm sideways to the ground.  If you are by yourself exaggerate the gesture so nearby or following cars can see it.  If you are in a peloton, a smaller but still noticeable gesture is still good manners.
Right As above but with your right.  Ditto on the advice for traffic and pelotons.
Brake Having seen my wife get run up the back by an extremely inobservant and grumpy MAMIL near St.Kilda Sea Baths, I can vouch for the necessity of signalling that you are breaking.There are two variations; the arm is placed in a 90 degree angle to the shoulder with palm either extended skywards or towards the road.

There are a few others that conscientious road cyclist should know.

Move out To alert riders behind that there’s an obstruction ahead such as a parked car, pedestrian or skip/pot hole, indicate the way they should move by pointing in that direction with your hand behind your back.
Hazard here Point down at any hazard on the road, such as a pothole or road kill to warn riders behind.
Surface beware keep your palm down to indicate that there is a surface hazard to be avoided on that side such as broken glass, loose gravel , mud or water.
Your turn If the rider in front whose wheel you’ve been riding for a while, lifts their right elbow out to the side, they are asking you to come through and do a turn on the front.  Time to go to work  !!