Adventure Cycling Association Forum

Bicycle Travel => General Discussion => Topic started by: Howard on April 03, 2006, 08:39:35 pm

Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: Howard on April 03, 2006, 08:39:35 pm
I'm a Californian who has never cycled east of the Rockies.  My other sojourns to the East have been on planes, in rental cars, and sleeping in comfy rooms.  

When I started to study the Northern Tier maps that  recently arrived, I couldn't believe my eyes: the greatest precipitation in the Midwest and the East occurs in June, July, and August!  Yikes, this is exactly when I'm cycling through.

I have experienced relatively few thunderstorms in my life, and only one while on my bike (which scared the daylights out of me --- although in retrospect, it was quite a show and I wish I had taken photographs!).

On the other hand, maybe I'm lucky to be alive and writing about the thunderstorm I did see.  I am pretty ignorant about what steps you must take to preserve life, limb, and your trusty steel tourer.

Soooo ... Can anyone provide me with advice on surviving the weather this summer on the Northern Tier west-to-east?  I would sorely like to live to tell about the monster tornado I witnessed, or the incredible bolts of lightning during the Great Thunderstorm of 2006.  You know, the stuff of legends!

Many thanks.

Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: RussellSeaton on April 03, 2006, 10:03:53 pm
"the greatest precipitation in the Midwest and the East occurs in June, July, and August"

This is why crops can grow in the middle of the midwest without expensive irrigation.  Irrigation is common in parts of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Thunderstorms usually happen at night when you are sleeping in your dry tent.  I'm sure there is some danger of getting hit with lightning or more likely a tree falling on your tent from the winds.  But it is a small, small chance.  After all only one person on RAGBRAI 2005 was killed by a tree falling on their tent in the very bad storm on Sunday night.  And the tree did not kill the two people sleeping on either side of the deceased.  Just killed 1 of 3.  And none of the other 5,000 people in tents that night were killed.  So your chances of dying in a thunderstorm are very remote.

Most of the rain in the midwest is just rain.  No terrible lightning or winds associated with it.  You get wet.  Not pleasant to ride in the rain but it does not hurt you.  And if its been hot the cool rain may feel great.  Greatest danger would be the slick roads and lower visibility of car drivers and the greater likelihood to not expect bicyclists to even be on the road.

It does not rain for lengthy periods of time or all that often.  You could just not ride when it rains.  If it stops and there is daylight left, then ride.  Or if you are riding and it starts raining, stop as soon as practical.  You are on vacation so should not have a timeline to meet.

Don't worry about your steel bike rusting away.  Rust/water does not destroy steel that quickly.  If you have been riding in the rain all day, you can take the good precaution of taking the seatpost out of the frame at the end of the day and turning the bike upside down to make sure the water drains out of the bottom bracket.  Assuming you do not have a drain hole in the bottom bracket shell.  Decent hubs and bottom brackets and headsets like most made in the past 20 years can take rain OK without losing much of their grease.

Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: ptaylor on April 03, 2006, 10:32:45 pm
I have lived in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana for 65 years. I have never seen a tornado.

I have been in several thunderstorms while out in the open. (I grew up on a farm). While I try to seek shelter during a storm, I'm not especially concerned about safety. I usually continue doing whatever I was doing, except I avoid standing under a tree, since it can act as a lightning rod.

Many people would say I am being reckless, and they may be right. Following is the official word from NOAA.

For lightning: ( .

For tornadoes: (

Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: TwoWheeledExplorer on April 04, 2006, 11:07:23 am
I would, for the most part, agree with Paul. I have lived Minnesota for almost 20 years and seen some pretty mean storms. I also went to college in Oklahoma. Yet the closest I ever came to a tornado was in my native New York, when a small funnel skipped along the hilltops, literally through our backyard, and into town.

I carry a small Motorola FRS radio with NOAA Weather Radio channels. You can buy them for less than $50.00 USD, and they work pretty much nation-wide. Skies get dark, the radio gets turned on. Some have a storm alert feature, and if it goes off, it's time to seek shelter. I wear it on the sternum strap of my hydration pack.

Ride safe,

Hans Erdman, WEMT
Backcountry Trail Patrol-MN
Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: ptaylor on April 04, 2006, 08:50:58 pm

Interesting that you carry a NOAA Weather Radio. I used to do the same, but last year I took a cell phone for the first time. My phone is internet capable, and I get my weather forecasts from there.

While we bikers are riding in the boonies, it is often hard to get good NOAA Weather Radio reception. Internet reception is not 100% either, but I had better luck with the internet than I have had with NOAA.  

Of course, there is a trade-off: my cell phone won't wake me in the middle of the night with a NOAA severe weather warning.

Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: FredHiltz on April 05, 2006, 08:43:04 am
Hi Paul,

My experience with the NOAA weather radio was much better than yours. I got a useful signal on a cheap Radio Shack receiver 95% of the way across the Northern Tier in 1999, and it should be better today according to NOAA's map at ( Perhaps your receiver was not up to par.

Browsing this map, it looks like the Great Divide route would not be well covered except up on the high ridges. Has anyone been there and done that?


This message was edited by FredHiltz on 4-5-06 @ 4:43 AM
Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: Howard on April 05, 2006, 11:50:06 am
As a gadget freak, this discussion thread is becoming dangerous for me.  Another electronic device (besides the GPS, PDA, and laptop) that I could use!

I much appreciate all the comments that have been written so far.  I read the footnote on the back of one of the Northern Tier maps about tornadoes, and I began to get very worried.  

I feel a lot more confident now that I'll be able to deal with the weather I am most likely to encounter.  I'm also better informed about how to survive weather that I'm unlikely to encounter.

Thanks to all for this great discussion.


Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: ptaylor on April 05, 2006, 10:04:52 pm
Interesting map Fred. Thanks.

I also have a cheap Radio Shack radio, but it's about 20 years old, and newer models may be improved. I checked out some of the areas where I remember getting no reception in the past. The maps indicated good signal, so I suppose technology has advanced.

Looking forward to meeting you in VT Fred, Gramps.

Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: driftlessregion on April 07, 2006, 11:18:38 pm
Depending on when you leave Anacortes you could be cold and wet in the mountains, if my trip was any indication. Yes to Gore Tex type coats and layers underneath so you can find the combination that works. I found tight lycra leg warmers kept my legs warm because there wasn't room for water in the fabric. I don't know where the idea came that thunderstorms mainly come at night in the midwest. I've lived in Iowa, MN or Wisconsin for 40 years and have gotten plenty wet riding during the day. Sometimes the storms come out of nowhere and you just try to find somewhere to hide. I've met some great people when running for their large oak trees and were invited in-well, as far as the porch due to being dripping wet! Most of the time it is warm to hot, but staying dry is always better no matter what the temperature. Summer t-storms in the midwest can also be incredibly beautiful as the clouds form. By the way, the reason we get most of our precip in the summer is that it comes down hard and then we're free of it for a while, unlike in some areas where it rains a little frequently. Enjoy your tour, it's a great route.

Title: How to survive weather on the Northern Tier
Post by: capejohn on April 15, 2006, 01:08:32 pm
Read the book "Hey Mom, Can I ride my bike Across America".  There are some really good descriptions of getting through bad weather.  

A very fun book to read.