Commuting in high winds

People who live in Wellington like to complain about the weather, but really, we’ve got it pretty good.  Well, relatively speaking, anyway.  Sure, we don’t really get more than about three weeks of weather that any reasonable person would call summery, but nor do we get six-foot snowdrifts or rain that decides to move in and make itself at home over the city for three straight months.  It almost never snows in Wellington city (once in about thirty years), and the rain that we do get tends to do its thing and move on pretty quickly.

What we do get is wind.  And in terms of moving bad weather along before it really gets a chance to unpack its bags and move along, that’s great.  In terms of cycling, not so much.

I actually moved from scooters to bikes because trying to operate a scooter in winds that were gusting up to 100 km/h was too terrifying.  Being blown into oncoming traffic by a surprise gust of wind isn’t something you forget in a hurry.   It’s actually slightly less terrifying riding a bike in strong winds, and you’ve got more options to avoid being blown away.  Here are some things I’ve found useful.

Pick a sheltered route

The most scary part of my commute is a stretch of about 400 metres that takes me past the end of the airport, around a corner, and then through a narrow cutting in the hillside.  It’s right on the waterfront, and in a strong northerly, it feels like half the ocean is thrown at you with every gust of wind.  That’s alarming enough, but the cutting is almost worse.  The winds swirl around fairly unpredictably, and a massive tailwind can suddenly turn into a crosswind that forces you out into traffic or tries to slam you into the kerb.

Scenic, until you’re riding through it in gale-force winds

On a scooter, this was pretty much the only way home.  On a bicycle, I have another option.  I can take the secret bike-and-pedestrian tunnel that goes underneath the runway, and then ride through a more sheltered part of town.

If you ride somewhere intensely windy, take a look at alternative route options that will keep you away from exposed places and wind tunnels.  You might end up taking a longer way home, but you’ll have a much nicer ride.  And don’t just look at roads, either.  There are a lot of shortcuts and alternatives that you can take on a bike that just aren’t an option in a car.  Some of them might prove to be faster as well as more sheltered.

Use bike paths and shared paths

If you can’t find a sheltered option for all or part of your commute, but you do have a choice between a route with a bike path or a shared path and one without, take the route with the path.  Especially if it’s a bike path that’s separated from traffic.  That way, even if you do get blown around a bit, you don’t have to worry about the car that’s creeping up behind you.

Leave extra space

There might be a part of your commute where a sheltered option or a separated path isn’t available.  You have to ride on the road with the traffic.  If you have to ride in traffic on a really windy day, try to give yourself some extra space.  Ride a little further out from the kerb (or the parked cars), and if you’re riding somewhere where it would be unsafe for cars to pass you, take the whole lane.  This can be a little scary the first couple of times you do it, but it’s much better than a white-knuckled ride in the gutter as cars go screaming past three inches from your handlebars.

Walk your bike

If you get to a section of your commute with really strong gusts or a really powerful headwind, you might feel safer getting off and walking your bike.

Take the bus

Or drive.  Or carpool.  If you don’t like the looks of the weather and you have another option, there’s nothing wrong with taking it.


Got any other tips for riding in strong winds?  Let us know in the comments.

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A new bike

If you want to get a new bike without spending too much money, try this:

  1. Find a friend who owns three or more bikes.
  2. Buy a piece of a bike.  The frame is probably a sensible choice, but really anything will do: fork, handlebars, left pedal, a single water bottle bolt – the choice is yours.
  3. Take your new bike part to your friend and ask them if they can help you build up a bike.
  4. Stand back out of the way for several hours, occasionally supplying coffee and snacks.


Barracuda A2E

It was an accident – I only bought the frame

This is my new bike.   I didn’t really intend to get another bike, but the frame came up on TradeMe, and it was only $30, so I bought it.  It’s a Barracuda A2E, and it’s probably from 1994.   From what I can tell, (and if you’re looking for information on Barracuda bikes, you’ll want to check out this site - they have a small but devoted fan base) it was quite a good bike at the time.  So it’s probably actually a minor sacrilege that I don’t really plan to use this as a mountain bike at all.

I’ve been looking for something that I can use as a sort of all-purpose bike for day trips and some low-key bike touring.  I’m hoping the Barracuda will fit the bill.  It’s been built up using the protocol above, though, so right now it’s sporting a glamourous array of whatever parts were in the spare parts bags.  Some of them will stay.  Some of them (I’m looking at you, ridiculously tiny tyres, and you too, stylish-but-monumentally-uncomfortable seat) will not.

I’m pretty excited to have a new bike project in the works, so you’ll probably see more pictures of the bike as things go.  If you’re a new cyclist who’s never put a bike together from scratch, yes – this is a sickness.  Bikes are a little like cats that way.  You can have one or two of them without too much danger, but if you stray into three, sooner or later you’ll find yourself trolling auction sites for interesting bits that are crying out to be bought, and putting together projects like this from the contents of your spare parts bags.  Or if you’re really sick, your spare parts rooms.

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