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      The 100-Meter Tailwind: One of the Many Weather Personalities of My Bike Commute

      Bike commuting has made me into a weather nerd.

      Sure, cycling in general can be augmented by an awareness of weather—but there’s something about bike commuting that kicked that awareness up a notch or two for me. Perhaps it’s the general need to fit a schedule (i.e. I can’t delay my arrival at work until early afternoon so that a bunch of rain can blow through). Or maybe I’ve always been a weather nerd at heart, never realizing it until I started bike commuting more… chicken or the egg?

      Either way, weather is now something I regularly think about. Ordinarily, I check 4 different resources throughout the day: the National Weather Service’s local forecast, the hourly breakdown, radar and then the totally awesome WunderMap, which displays the readings from personal weather stations in the area. Actually, it’s more like 5 resources if you count the Firefox add-on that I’ve configured for at-a-glance ease (it also has amusing forecast descriptions, including “Several hours of sun” and “Times of clouds and sun”—ah, life in the Pacific Northwest).

      Without a doubt, though, radar has been the biggest difference-maker, followed by the hourly breakdown. Game-changers, if you will. Between those two, I can get a pretty decent idea of what kind of weather I’ll encounter while riding. I’ll even delay riding by a few minutes so that I can tuck in behind waves of rain—wet roads, sure, but it beats getting dumped on. On the flip side, the resources are also great for finding opportunities to test rain gear. More than a few times, I’ve intentionally gone out when I’ve seen a particularly strong wave or system approaching. Without those resources, I’d have a much harder time pinpointing opportunities to ride or know what to expect while out there (and dress/plan accordingly).

      I also read Cliff Mass’ rad weather blog… so I guess that’s 6 resources if you’re still counting. His blog has been a great learning tool and has fueled my interest in local weather trends (I’m totally stoked that we’re getting coastal radar, by the way). It doesn’t hurt that he’s a fellow bike commuter and often relates weather info to riding, like a post near the start of bike-to-work month that highlighted the usefulness of weather radar when it comes to bike commuting.

      But it was a recent comment made by a riding buddy that highlighted another reality of riding: microclimates. With a commute that involves a couple of valleys, there can be a surprising amount of variation in the weather. My commute aside, the entire region has beautifully complicated topography and, subsequently, weather…hello convergence zone and rain shadow! Hyper-locally, though, the most apparent impact of microclimates comes by way of the wind. What may be a tailwind on paper (or screen) can be a mix of cross-/tail-/headwind on the actual ride, thanks to (I presume) the intricacies of valleys and buildings.

      My buddy’s comment made light of a long, straight stretch where it’s typical to have a cross-/headwind, but for a glorious 100 meters where the road takes an s-turn, we’re treated to a tailwind. The 100-Meter Tailwind is always welcome respite, always something to look forward to… unless of course its evil twin, the 100-Meter Headwind, is hanging out that day. But if that’s the case, then the chances are good there was a tailwind somewhere else along the ride. You find the little victories where you can.

      Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many of the weather personalities along my routes—where I can say “Hey there Mr. Likely Raining in This Valley, I’ll chat with you before moving on to Mr. Likely Not Raining Past The Ridge,” or “Headwind, I see you’re going to be in the area today, perhaps I’ll run into you in this neighborhood,” or, a personal favorite, “Sun! Let’s hang out a while today, yeah? Sweet!!” The 100-Meter Tailwind is one of many such personalities along the way. Sure, it’s back to a headwind once those 100 meters are up… but for some reason, that short little tailwind makes a difference. It helps add character to the ride and scratches a weather-loving itch of mine. To boot, these personalities constantly change, making it always interesting and worthwhile to bring along those shoe covers... just in case.

      Have you discovered any microclimates along your riding routes? Or do you have a favorite weather resource?

      Posted on at 1:28 PM

      Tagged: Cycling, bike commuting, rain, weather and wind

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      Hi Keith,

      Yes! Microclimates definitely make commutes...interesting. I commute on a bayou bike path or the streets running alongside it, and since they're lined with trees and/or houses, they channel wind along the path--and seemingly always in a headwind!

      The weather tool I make use of most is the Weather Channel app for iPhone, so I can get an hour-by-hour check on wind speed and direction, plus temperature and precipitation. My secondary weather tools are the Weather Underground and WeatherBug dashboard apps for Mac OS X, which give me real-time wind speed and direction, temps, precipitation, and weather cams.

      Thanks for the article!

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      Keith E. Staff Member

      Hey nhan26, indeed the channeling effect seems to trend toward headwinds! Sounds like you've got quite the suite of tools--I'll have to check out the dashboard apps. Thanks for the tip!


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