Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Windy cycling–no problem when you don’t have to get anywhere fast

Sunday, 22nd January 2012: Wind is a funny thing – and just to be clear I am talking about the weather here.  A lot of the time we tend not to think about it. We (well I) associate it with early Spring and Autumn.  I also think of the Flatlands of east Anglia as a windy place but it turns out we live in one of the more sheltered parts of the UK and we do get our stronger winds around the winter months (Check out the wind section near the bottom). Surprisingly the average wind speed doesn’t vary that much – from 8 Knots to just under 12 Knots, whilst the Gust speed varies from 40 Knots up to 80 Knots.

Interestingly we also still measure wind speed in Knots – which is a unit of speed equating to one nautical mile per hour (or 1.852 Km per hour or 1.151 mph). So a wind speed of 80 Knots is a wind speed of 148Km/ hour or 92 mph. Perhaps we use Knots to make it seem less threatening.

We also have the Beaufort Wind Force Scale which quantises or lumps the wind speeds into buckets of increasing intensity.  So a Beaufort number of 0 is calm and is used for wind speeds of 0 – 1 mph. Whereas further up the scale a Beaufort number of 5 is a fresh breeze and indicates a wind speed of between 18 and 24 mph. It was originally a qualitative scale relating to the effects on the sails of a man-of-war.

When riding a bicycle the wind always seems to be against you, although it isn’t really. Depending upon the strength of the wind I find that cross-winds can be far more unsettling that a wind blowing directly from the front, especially when passing gaps in the hedgerow.

The other factor that I dislike about wind is something I first noticed when riding a motorbike. When there is a moderate cross-wind everything is fine but whenever a large lorry passes in the other direction you get a significant buffeting as the lorry cuts across the wind and creates its own turbulence.

I have been riding a bicycle for quite a few decades and yet it is only recently that the effect of  wind and large lorries/buses has really impinged upon my cycling.  The buffeting effect is highly dependent upon how close you are to the lorry and whether you are travelling in the same direction or not as the lorry.

With the increase in shared-use paths – pavements you can cycle along – cyclists can find themselves quite close to oncoming lorries – which when windy can give you quite a buffeting.  I have never seen much written about this though. It is particularly noticeable on roads where there is no speed limit restriction and a shared-use path. Like this stretch of road between Lode and Swaffham Bulbeck. At the  Swaffham Bulbeck end there is less gap between the road and the path.

Swaffham Bulbeck – Lode Shared-use path

Of course the solution is to avoid that stretch of path – which I do most of the time – whether it is windy or not it is always very noisy. As I hadn’t been out to Wicken Fen for a while I cycled along High Ditch Road and around Low Fen Drove Way, then up to Horningsea and over to Lode. The round to Upware, and back through Wicken along Lodes Way. It was windy though with gusts up to 40 knots.

View Larger Map

Although it wasn’t that late when I set out the sun was still fairly low in the sky, being winter.  So I didn’t hang around too much taking pictures as I wanted to be coming back along Lodes Way and able to take advantage of the sunset.

As you might expect there were walkers and dog walkers out and about. Not far passed Allicky Farm I tinged my bell to let a couple with a yellow Labrador know I was passing. Just past them I had the slightly panicked shouts that tend to cause my heart to leap into my mouth. Their dog was chasing me. Generally Labradors are more playful than aggressive. This one was playful and ran around me and in front of me – requiring an emergency stop – I was glad when I cleared the dog though.

Although Labradors are generally playful my younger brother was attacked by one when he was around 14 and had to go to A&E to get the wound sorted. It was as we were walking along a pavement and an old chap had the dog on a metal chain – it looked like a choker chain – he lost control and the dog went for the nearest limb to bite. Fortunately for me it was my brother’s arm.  He has been wary of dogs ever since.

People often moan about digital photography and the ability to manipulate the pictures and how it is not real photography. The reality is that cameras don’t record what the human sees and lots of manipulation was possible in the film days of photography. The issue is that perhaps some don’t like that fact that manipulation has become easier.

My first SLR camera was a Canon AT-1, you had to focus and set the aperture and speed  before taking a picture. You also had to load 35mm film into it. More than once I failed to load the film in properly and found that the pictures I thought I’d taken, hadn’t. My son used it a few years ago with black and white film to experiment with.

So this isn’t quite what it looked like when I was out – but taking a picture into the sun causes everything else to look darker and quite dramatic.  My Panasonic camera is not technically an SLR camera – when you look through the viewfinder you are actually looking at a small LCD screen at what is coming through the lens. Whereas with an SLR camera, normally when you look through a viewfinder you actually see the picture through a mirror and prism system. This makes my camera a little safer when taking such pictures. Normally you would never look at the sun through a camera as it can be dangerous.

This was taken along Fen Road just out of Lode.

As you can see in this picture taken with my back to the sun along Great Drove towards Upware it wasn’t really that dark. It did look bleak though.

Once again shooting into the sun at the Washes near Upware – as you can see they tend to flood during the winter months. I didn’t see many birds – probably because of the blustery wind.

Wicken Fen wasn’t as busy as I feared – probably because by now it was getting darker. So I didn’t have to contend with path-blockers on the cycle route through.  The sun was getting quite low in the sky by now.

After hauling my bike over the footbridge  over  Burwell lode and passing a few bird watchers I met MikeC on shanks’ pony – he’d decided against cycling in the face of 40 knot gusts. As we walked (well I cycled) along Lodes Way through Adventurers Fen we met and chatted with another cyclist coming the other way. (Mike seems to know many of the cyclists on Lodes Way).

He had visited Pout Hall Corner to see how the water abstraction to fill Burwell Fen was going.

After saying goodbye at Hightown Drove I put my lights on and carried along Lodes Way.  I passed what looked like old computer monitor casings and then these bags. I have often wondered what really happens when you donate old clothes to charity by filling the bags that appear at you door from time to time. Well sometimes they seem to end up by the side of the road – and I have seen this more than once.

As usual the Council had been here first and checked and then labelled the bags in the hope of catching whoever dumped them here. They are probably one of the unsung parts of the council – but keep up the good work.

At the crossroads with Great Drove I stopped to take my last picture. As the sun sets it is less bright and so the picture ends up with less contrast. So although it is darker overall it looks lighter than the pictures taken earlier in the afternoon.

Despite the wind it was a very pleasant cycle ride. Partly because I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry and partly because the route twists and turns, sometimes between hedgerows the wind was rarely against me for too long. Mind you if it had been raining as well then it would have been a different story.

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