Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tortoises are not aerodynamic - March 31, 2011

They aren’t, but they should be.  I mean look at their shells.  They are flat on the bottom, often with great wind channels.  They have a nice narrow profile and smooth air flow over the top of their shells, with a minimization of turbulence down the back over an elongated end point.  With a low center of gravity and all wheel drive, they should be tearing it up in the animal kingdom, but they don’t.
Apparently human tortoises don’t either.  I discovered another hybrid species of humans.  I have often chased down the rabbits and seen the jack-asses, but this morning I discovered this new species. 
They seem to be commuters like me for the most part and like their animal counter-parts are loaded down with either a back-pack or panniers much like the shell of a tortoise.  Unlike rabbits which tend to move quickly for short periods of time, human tortoises seem to have one pace (slow) that they are able to maintain regardless of terrain or conditions.
This morning was a wonderful, windy commute.  With the promise of rain in the forecast I took my winter bike and drove part way.  Maybe it was the light traffic or just good timing, but I ended up being on my bike ten minutes ahead of schedule.  No argument from me as I refuse to push hard into a wind, especially one that is 15 to 20 miles per hour.
I had seen the telltale flash of another poor cyclist battling the wind ahead of me, but I had it firmly in my head that I wasn’t chasing anyone down or battling the wind any harder than I needed to.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself quickly catching up to them.  It was my first tortoise.
Granted they had a bulky pannier and we were into the wind.  They also had what looked like a good solid (read heavy) commuter with nice wide tires.  But seriously!  They were in their second lowest gear doing maybe 6 mph…on a flat section of road!  I hope they didn’t have far to go.  Granted they made it up a 5% slope, but if they had too much further they would hit an 8% and I worry they wouldn’t make it up.
After waiting for traffic, I passed them and carried on my way still cursing at the wind.  I pedaled down a steep slope barely above a pace I could normally keep on the flats.  Still grumbling about the wind (and still not hurrying) I started up Market Street hill.  There is not one, but two blinking lights ahead of me.  The first one is pretty darn close and even though I can see they are standing up (in a very easy gear) I’m catching up quickly.
I pass the back-pack burdened tortoise, happy to have a brief respite from the wind and noticed that the other cyclist had disappeared over the top of the hill.  Good to see someone who is not moving like the two cyclists in the new species I discovered.
At the crest of the hill, I found myself back in the full brunt of the wind and pedaled my way down the hill.  Without trees or buildings for protection, the wind along the lake was brutal.  Again, I was ahead of schedule and not fighting the wind.  Apparently I was putting more effort in then the new cyclist that appeared ahead of me.  Ah! It was the one that had made good time up Market Street, but now they were in a super-easy gear at maybe 10mph on the flats.  I pulled around and figured if I was breaking the wind they would probably keep up in my draft.  Maybe it was the panniers slowing them down or maybe it was the tortoise effect, but they quickly dropped off my wheel and I was once again alone.
I don’t know how to feel about the new tortoise-humans.  It’s great that they are out biking.  It’s great that I won’t feel inclined to spend energy chasing them down , but I worry that I will have to try and get around them on a busy street or they will pull their tortoise shell asses in front of me at an intersection. 
Really, I’m not the fastest person and some days slow and steady doesn’t win the race.  Even though they look the part, tortoises really aren’t aerodynamic.

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