Monday, February 23, 2009

Advice column: Wind

Look for the conclusion of the new kind of rider discussion in the next day or two. It looks like I've raised some hackles. I appreciate the way some of you have defended and agreed with me. I also appreciate that some of you felt comfortable disagreeing and signing your identities to the comments. There's always two sides in communication. Somebody offers a statement based on what is on their mind at the time. Another party receives the message. How it's received depends so much more on where that second party is at the time than what the first person said. How we react to another person often depends on what they make us see in ourselves. Such has been the hazard in human communication that we've faced for ages.

Maybe part of it is my fault. I warned everyone that I would wander as I laid the background that leads up to the point. Perhaps the wandering went far enough people got tired of following and started drawing their own conclusions instead of waiting for mine. For example, I cite the account of the woman I talked to. My purpose wasn't to vent about how she reacted to me. I only use her to illustrate a position that's becoming more common all the time. Some of you took it another way. That, too, illustrates my statement in the first paragraph. Anyway, I"ll wrap it up soon and then you can make your judgements either way.

In the meantime, I promised someone I'd take a break to answer a riding question. So here it is.

Dear Maniac,

I have a motorcycle skills question for you. How should one deal with crosswinds? I have to ride over a couple of high bridges and the winds can be very strong. My instinct is to slow down, but traffic moves rather quickly ( well over the 45 & 35 mph speed limits ) on these bridges, and once you commit to them, it's a long ways before the first exit.

Wind Blown Wanderer

Dear Wanderer,

Wind has been the bane of motorcyclists almost since motorcycles existed. Add a high bridge to the equation and the trouble amplifies. A number of years ago I did a ride out here called the Western States 1000. One of the check points was a toll receipt from this bridge.

It's called the Bridge of the Gods and spans the Columbia River Gorge at Cascade Locks on the Oregon side. Unlike this idyllic photo, when we crossed the bridge the weather was rainy and windy. I never saw so many worried and scared riders at one place in my life. This bridge is somewhere around a hundred feet over the river. The total span is something like 1865 feet. To add to the fun, the roadway is mostly steel grating. Once you're on it, there's no exit except the other side. There is one guy who will forever live in my mind. He successfully rode the whole route on a Honda 250 scooter while wearing sweat pants and bedroom slippers!

The first step is to be prepared. Use the SIPDE process to look for clues that indicate you'll encounter wind. You may currently be riding in what feels like a gentle wind. Once on the bridge, however, you'll be subject to the full force of the wind. Another thing to remember is that things like rivers and canyons make their own weather to an extent. There may be no wind leading up to the bridge. Once over the chasm, though, the wind will likely be present. Take a firm, but relaxed, grip on the bars. Don't lock up into a solid unit. That makes the situation worse. Note: When dealing with sudden gusts, you will want to hang on tightly for the duration of the blast. The firm, but relaxed grip, is appropriate when dealing with a steady wind, bridge gratings, rain grooves, etc. Position the bike in the lane so that you have room on either side to move around a little without getting too close to the side of the bridge or other traffic.

You'll need to determine which direction the steady wind is blowing from, then lean into it by countersteering. If the wind is blowing from your right, for example, you'd be pressing forward on the right handgrip. The stronger the wind, the more pressure you'll need to exert. You may feel like you're leaning a long ways over. That's probably because you will be! You may not be comfortable doing that. However, that may be what it takes to counteract the push of the wind. I've been in the back of a line of bikes with a really strong desert wind blowing. All the bikes were leaned to what looked like 45 degrees or a little more. It was really weird to see. Ride at a steady speed while looking up and well ahead. This strategy applies whether on a bridge or a roadway. However, there's other things to be aware of at the same time.

These flags are a good clue that there's a big wind blowing! Be on the watch for things that will block or change the intensity of the steady wind. For example, when riding on a highway, be aware of things like buildings, freeway underpasses, and so on. You need to be prepared to decrease the pressure on the handgrip while the wind is blocked then reapply once back into the full force of the wind.

On a bridge, obviously, you won't find these situations. What you will find, however, are large vehicles coming at you from the other direction. Remember that these can both block a steady wind and create some buffeting of their own. Weirdly enough, the wind blast is usually the worst at the very back of the vehicle just after you pass it. I know, it gets complicated, doesn't it? Increase the space cushion between you and the oncoming vehicle. This will aid both in avoiding the buffeting and in keeping out of the draft that large vehicles produce near them. Yes, in the right circumstances, a large vehicle can suck a motorcycle right into the side of it if the bike is too close.

As to your speed, that's going to be a judgement call. Here's a bridge near my home that I regularly ride over. The wind often howls down the river.

For the most part, speed can be your friend. It's the forward motion and momentum that holds a bike up and keeps it travelling in a given direction. The old physics law of a body in motion wanting to stay in motion thing. There's also the old law of avoiding becoming a hood ornament! That being said, you'll have to decide what's right for the given situation. Taking away too much speed can make a bike more unstable. Adding too much speed, on the other hand, can contribute to riding beyond the limits of the environment and rider at the time. Earlier I mentioned riding at a steady speed. What I'm talking about here is determining what that speed will be.

Ride at a speed that is appropriate for the limit set by the circumstances. If it holds up traffic some, so be it. Like I say, it's a judgement call. Sometimes good judgement might mean not riding under certain conditions.

To review, here's the steps.

Be ready for the wind whether gusts or a steady push. Use SIPDE to identify clues early.

Position the bike to allow maximum space cushion. Ride at a steady speed with your eyes looking up and well ahead.

Compensate for the wind by either countersteering into it or, in the case of gusts, being ready to hold on tightly!

Watch for things that will either block the wind or create wind of their own and be prepared to compensate.

Many things make a difference in how wind affects a bike. Bikes and riders come in all different shapes and sizes. It's not totally true that bigger bikes are less affected by wind. Some large cruisers have solid front wheels, which become sails in the wind. Other big touring and sport touring bikes have large fairings that catch the wind and make them rock from side to side.

Scooters, which you ride if I remember correctly, can actually be fairly stable in a steady wind. They're smaller which provides an interesting contrast. On the one hand, it's a little easier to move them since there's less rolling mass for stability. On the other hand, there's less surface area for the wind to press on. The key is to remember that the smaller wheels can make them feel twitchy. It's very important to be smooth with the handlebar presses. Due to the smaller wheels it often takes less pressure to make them lean so adjust accordingly.

You're right to be concerned about wind. Wind, especially strong gusts, can literally blow a motorcycle off the road.

I still shudder when I think of what happened to me about six years ago while riding my Honda CBR600 to work. I was on a four lane highway with a median in the middle. It was early and morning and traffic was light. I'm cruising along in the right hand lane. The land all around is flat for miles. Literally out of nowhere, a huge gust hit me square in the right side. I'm an alert rider who makes good use of the SIPDE process. There weren't any advance warnings. In an instant I'm in the left lane. Fortunately, nobody was anywhere near me. It could just as easily had a nastier outcome.

You could sum it up this way. "I have no problem with changing lanes. I just like to know where and when, is all!"

That's the only time I've ever had anything that severe happen to me as far as wind goes. I've ridden in some pretty nasty winds and the application of the strategies outlined here have kept me out of trouble.

I hope this answers your question and gives you some helpful tips to apply.

Miles and smiles,

The Maniac


mrs rc said...

SIPDE? I am familiar with SEE, TCLOCK, and many others. But what does SIPDE stand for?

irondad said...

Mrs Rc,
It's the long version of the formalized process for gathering critical information early.

S- Scan
I- Identify
P- Predict
D- Decide
E- Execute

In the MSF's experienced rider course, they condensed it. Scan and Identify are called, See. The predict is the same. Decide and Execute are combined under Act.

So the short version is See-Predict-Act, which is what you probably are familiar with.

Take care,


bobskoot said...

I remember the Bridge of the Gods. Firstly, there is no place to put your .50c, then that grating caught my wheel and my bike didn't track straight so I had to slow down.

Anyway my first experience with the Gorge "wind" was from Stevenson East on SR14 past Maryhill to Bickleton last August 2008. Fierce Wind which went to ZERO when you entered those Tunnels, then blasted at you again when you exited. We were in a group of 8 riders and one could not maintain the speed due to the buffeting of the "bodywork" and perceived "loss of steering control". I think she required more practice. You know there is a lot of wind when you see those windsurfers and the big Wind Turbines on the Ridge.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Charlie6 said...

Good pointers Irondad on spotting and dealing with strong wind conditions.

Been in a few gusty situations myself and the pucker factors is always there, I always say aloud to myself: relax the grip! relax the grip!

I really hate the gusty stuff hitting me from the right or starboard side....woof.

An acquaintance of mine told me: "no wonder you don't like the wind, your bike has the wind profile of a clipper ship!". Maria does catch every bit of wind heading in her directions some days.

Here the wind kind of rolls off the rockies and into the front range, can make for some exciting riding.

Arizona Harley Dude said...

I've ridden in some very high side winds and I can say they weren't any fun. Then when you catch a semi and think you have a moment to relax it ends and there is the result you mentioned about being in the left lane all of a sudden. Side winds wear me out.

Now a question. With the flags standing straight out to the left, isn't the motorcycle more apt to be blown over parked facing that way? Just asking because I was in California and stopped for gas when a gust caught Petunia and I just barely caught her on the way over. My helmet wasn't so lucky and landed about 30 feet away.

Yes, when I got home I replaced it. I subscribe to the one and done theory of helmets making hard impacts with the ground.

Dave said...

When you said break an then started talking wind you had me worried at first ; )

My nick over at scooterdawgs is Oldf : )

One thing I do is check the weather report be for I head out for wind speed a directshun

The part of Ohio Iam in can have steady winds of 20 to25 mph for weeks at a time in winter.

If it looks like I will be in cross winds most of the way I take the back roads an stay out of heavy traffic .

I had an interesting ride in Dec I have an 09 Kymco Grand Vista an the wind was out of the south west
Not quite a head wind an not quite a cross wind an I had buffeting like what you get after a 18 wheeler goes by but it was constant.

The wind was blowing 20 to 25 with gusts up to 30. I was just out an about to see how the Kymco handled the wind.

I wouldn’t want a long ride in it like this but I know I can if I have to.

So were was this blog when I needed it back in Dec : )
Dave aka oldf

-Tim said...

Wind is an interesting thing...I believe that every rider in Oregon/Southern Washington should ride the gorge from end to is an experience.
I did it a few times...the last was on my way out here to SLC.
The bike was fully loaded, and I was averaging about 65-70. The wind speed was about 40+...I was fine, and learned that keeping my speed up was much better...

mrs rc said...

Thanks, I figured the acronym was something like that. I recall using Search-Evaluate-Execute (SEE) in my ERC.

Steve Williams said...

I'll print this one out tomorrow and add it to the collected wisdom of irondad. Great post and as always something more for me to learn!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

cpa3485 said...

Thanks Dan for this information. When encountering wind, I have, through trial and error, learned to relax a bit and not tighten up and get too tense.
I can take some nice tree lined streets on part of my commute to work, which protects me from the wind to some extent, but as I near the downtown area I am frequently surprised how winds can whip around taller buildings. I think its the unpredictability that bothers me the most.
I like that acronym and will commit it to memory.

Jack Riepe said...

I always did okay in the wind... It was the steel grate bridges that would give me a case of the fantods, especially if they were damp, had a lot of traffic on them, or in the case of a bridge in Hudson County, NJ, followed a curve.

The lesson was very informative tonight, Irondad. Thank you.

Jack Riepe
Twisted Roads

jon said...


I find that it helps to grip the bike with my legs, and transfer weight to the pegs. This lowers the centre of gravity - and reduces the steering input from my arms, which can be affected by gusts.
It gets to be hard work after a while though.
Does this sound sensible?

Lucky said...

Scooters more stable?

I will admit I have only ridden a couple scooters, but Lady Luck's Vespa feels like it's going to get sucked out from under me in high winds.

The Triumph, on the other hand, laughs in the face of wind.

This is just my personal experience of course. I have yet to ride a bike with a fairing, and I could definitely see how they could catch the wind and become a kite-cycle.

Doug C said...

Dan, Great post. The image of sweat pants and slippers is still in my mind, though.

Dave's right about his section of Ohio. And the flat terrain and plowed or harvested fields during spring or fall make the wind gust unpredictable. Best to leave plenty of lateral space between you and where you might find yourself.

Slippers. Jeez.

cpa3485 said...

To Jack:

I had to look up the word fantods in the online dictionary. I found it to be a legitimate word and fits perfectly. Your vocabulary must be immense.

The LEGEND lives on !!

irondad said...

I was over that bridge again in September, a month after your trip. The wind was still just as bad. I remember being stopped on the bridge in traffic and trying to dig some quarters out of my pocket. Then hold them in one glove while waiting to pay. Had to do it twice as we were detoured to Washington at Hood River and then back over to Oregon West of Stevenson. The attendants were still shaking their heads and telling me I wasn't as smooth as that guy who came across in August!

Interesting. Why the special ire towards the right side? Does it have to do with being blown into traffic? You're certainly right about the pucker factor.

Arizona Harley Dude,
You're right about the wind. I have seen bikes blown over from being broadside in the wind. I put extra rocks in the left saddlebag. :) Seriously, Sophie's pretty heavy and leans over enough that I don't worry too much unless there's some battering gusts.

Take care,


irondad said...

I have been known to do that which is why I mostly have to ride alone.

Checking up on riding conditions before you set out is smart. It's part of the mental preparation. I've ridden in those hammering winds. Talk about exhausting. Like you say, you would choose not to ride in those winds but you've gained valuable experience in the process.

It's also a good chance to learn how to deal with boredom!

Steve W,
Ah, shucks, there you go making me blush, again.

Take care,

irondad said...

You're exactly right about the unpredictability of wind. That's what makes it so rough to deal with sometimes. SIPDE is a wonderful, powerful tool to help keep us safe.

It's making good use of our mental powers of observation and good decision making. The whole point is to get critical information early so we can make small adjustments in time to avoid hazards.

May using the process bring you many blessings!

Take care,


irondad said...

Mr. Riepe,
I share your dislike of bridge gratings but have had to learn to deal with them successfully. I'm too stubborn to admit there's a place I can't ride because of a lack of skill.

I'm honored you found something of use in this post.

See, isn't that better than a poison dart square in the ass?

Take care,


Charlie6 said...


not ire, fear.

wind from the right side causes me to lean to the right obviously to stay in my lane, when it comes to left and right turns, my right turns are not as good as my left's something I keep working on.

so, I am more "comfortable" leaning farther to the left than to the right.....

irondad said...

It makes sense to do something that helps you avoid locking up your arms. Like you say, though, pressing down on the pegs is pretty tiring for little practical reward.

You might try squeezing the tank with your knees, but not so much that your legs hurt. Then lean slightly forward which will help keep your elbows bent. Putting weight down and forward helps. A rider themself will catch wind so leaning forward reduces that affect a little bit, too.

Take care,


irondad said...

I actually wrote, CAN BE a little more stable. I think part of the instability you feel is the fact that your feet are close together on the floor board. It's like your upper body is pivoting on a relatively small base.

I'm not a muscular in the upper body as you so I don't feel it as much!

Take care,


irondad said...

Doug C,
Thanks. I always try to make everyone's day a little more surreal. It's nice to know I succeeded!

Good strategy about leaving a space cushion. I like the way you said it. "Between you and where you might find yourself."

Well put.

Take care,

irondad said...

You're not alone. Probably 90 percent of my students prefer left turns to right turns. There's no cure except seat time. Go ride and turn left, young man!

Take care,


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sir:

I've learned to accept the threat of steel-decked bridges because they are everywhere. I haven't had to contend with one longer than a hundred yards in quite a while though. On the other hand, I contend with the poison darts everyday. Allow me to introduce you to ADK (Chris) sometime.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Charlie6 said...


timely article on your part, couple of the things I read here from you and the commenters helped out on my windy commute home today.

The wind was gusting from mid to high 30s but it felt worse. I was on the lighter of my two motorcycles so that was probably a factor as well.

Two things helped a lot, going into full "racing" tuck and hiding behind the small fairing that my R80 has; and bringing in the knees to hug the gas tank.

Still, quite an exciting ride, I even briefly entertained thoughts of pulling over and waiting it out (first for me) but saw a rider on a scooter ahead hanging in there and so was "encouraged" to ride on.

Charlie6 aka "Dances with the Winds"

irondad said...

Thank you for sharing that story. Glad something I wrote actually proved to be of value to somebody!

I can totally understand the source of your "encouragement".