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  1. #1
    African Grey Love-Powered
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    Are bikers lightning rods?

    In this state, I often have to contend w/ commuting when thunderstorms are close. And, it is not unusual for there to be human hits around here, even if a storm is not right on top of them.

    I am cool w/ riding in up to moderate rain. If I can deal with the rain, am I taking a significant risk riding when there could be lightning strikes? Do the bike's tires provide the same insulation ability that cars' do?

    Does anyone here know of any cyclists hit by lightning?

  2. #2
    Life is short Ride hard
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    yes I think there has been one. He might have been scared about it I can't remember. If you do a search you could find the old thread. If it gets bad jump in a ditch or be the lowest object arround you. That is part of the commuting lifestyle know where the closest LBS is on your ride, if you need something. Know the best food place, and know what to do if the **** hits the proverbial fan. Whether it be get a cell phone, and hide in the gas station, or seek out a payphone. Always have quarters with you for payphones even if you have a cellphone batteries do die. So be prepared check weather conditions understand your route. Write down numbers if you don't have cell technology. You don't want to be remembering if there is a 9 before or after the 4. I already asked about the tyre situation, but It doesn't work out like a car. Also that is why they are called cage's the cage reduces lightning shock
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  3. #3
    Shut Up and Ride MyPC8MyBrain's Avatar
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    Colorado runs second to FL in lightning strikes so we are fairly aware here. Best course of action is not to venture out into an active cell. If you wait, it will pass soon enough. It's much more fun to ride after the storm than through it in my opinion.

    I have a well earned respect now for lightning. I have been within 10 feet of a strike 2 times. I'm hoping the third time is ~not~ the charm.

    If you want details of what it's like, let me know and I'll post more info. I was uninjured in both strikes aside from crappin' my pants. [neither was bike related]

    One point to consider.. the lightning strike spanned a mile or so up to the sky.[Yes it goes from ground up] An inch of rubber will not help. Cars are safer because the charge goes around the person through the metal.

  4. #4
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    I've ridden through a number of lightning storms and never been struck. Personally I think the chances of actually being hit by lightning are pretty negligible. In fact, given that I live in the city that proudly boasts about having the world's worst drivers, I actually think riding in the lightning could be safer if it keeps most of the idiots inside.
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  5. #5
    Palcontent ThatWhichRolls's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MyPC8MyBrain
    If you want details of what it's like, let me know and I'll post more info. I was uninjured in both strikes aside from crappin' my pants. [neither was bike related]
    Okay. I'm interested. What's it like being mere feet from a lightning strike? You can leave out the defecation details.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Zero_Enigma's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ryanparrish
    yes I think there has been one. He might have been scared about it I can't remember. If you do a search you could find the old thread. If it gets bad jump in a ditch or be the lowest object arround you. That is part of the commuting lifestyle know where the closest LBS is on your ride, if you need something. Know the best food place, and know what to do if the **** hits the proverbial fan. Whether it be get a cell phone, and hide in the gas station, or seek out a payphone. Always have quarters with you for payphones even if you have a cellphone batteries do die. So be prepared check weather conditions understand your route. Write down numbers if you don't have cell technology. You don't want to be remembering if there is a 9 before or after the 4. I already asked about the tyre situation, but It doesn't work out like a car. Also that is why they are called cage's the cage reduces lightning shock
    I'd like to add to the above list that a FRS/GMRS radio (cheap walkie talkies with ~3.2km-22km range. Approx. 1 mile - 12miles pure guess). Some of those FRS/GMRS radios have NOAA weather band radios built it so you can kill two birds with one stone when you carry one. Or you could get a Grundig Eton PE100 (if I recall the model right) whichi s a small pocket radio that fits inot the shirt pocket and runs off 2xAA that gives you AM/FM/Shortwave. One step up from the pocket radio is a compact portable handheld/pocketable frequency scanner that can pick up AM/FM/(I believe shortwave)/police/fire/ambulance/airport/HAM/military frequencies.

    Tho if you don't have a cellphone and don't want to pay the monthy or cost of a cellphone then a FRS/GMRS radio would be good to keep on you because you don't have to pay any fees to use it on the FRS side. GMRS in the USA needs a FCC licence tho in Canada GMRS fees are waived so we can use GMRS for free. GMRS channels extend your range.

    I found a FRS radio very handy when I was riding during the blackout of 2003 (I believe it was 2003). I always carry a cell + FRS radio. My cellphone got cut off wiht signal and I was away from home without a AM/FM radio to find out what was happening. As usual I hit the scan button on my FRS and heard other people tlaking about a blackout so I jumped in and asked what happened and people quickly started getting the word out that the power stations dropped off and the HAM radio operators relayed info back and forth on thier more powerful ametuer radio sets through the cheap FRS radios so others can find out what was going on if they did not have any radios handy. I have radios but they're at home so the HAM's saved the day for me.

    Anyways, just a suggestion to add to the list. If you're getting a FRS/GMRS radio get one that can take AA batteries. That way if oyur unit is out of power you can get AA's anywhere. Rechargeable propritary battery packs while nice and keeps a slim small profile of the radio will be the suck when you can't pump some juice into when the cells die. Aways carry some safety communications because not everyone is willing to help you out. I find that half the poeple are some what xenophobic to helping people out. If you're out in the rural areas it may be a while till you reach some safety if the locals don't open thier doors to you. BTW I don't endorse this but you /could/ use the GMRS in the USA without a licence but if you get caught you will be fined. How much is the fine? I don't know but in an emergency I'm sure you can talk your way out of that one.



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  7. #7
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    sitting on a metal object in an open space is a great way to get struck by lightning.

    I was in a car that was struck by lightning while driving down the highway. Since an automobile functions as a Faraday cage and thus protects the occupants from the charge we were relatively unharmed though our windshield blew out and showered me with glass and my alternator bolt fused to the engine block. Not to mention that it scared the beejezus out of me when it happened especially since the storm had pretty much abated and it was starting to clear and the rain was stopping. Oh, yeah it was also accompanied by a strong smell of what someone said was ozone. It was a very sharp smell like smelling salts.

  8. #8
    African Grey Love-Powered
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    Not to mention that it scared the beejezus out of me when it happened especially since the storm had pretty much abated and it was starting to clear and the rain was stopping
    I guess that's what spooks me, there have been many oblique hits where the storm wasn't over the vic.

    And often it's storm after storm after storm so's makes it hard to wait 'em out. At least tonight, they gave my legs some real incentive to slide the butt back to home base.

    It makes fine sense about cages vs. insulation of tires <not>, so I shall not be so blythe about bolting through the bolts.

  9. #9
    Seņior Member ItsJustMe's Avatar
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    The antenna on top of my house is over 30 feet high, is higher than any of the trees for a half mile around (new subdivision), and is grounded. And in the 10 years I've lived there, it hasn't been hit. The one by my brother's house has been there since the 50s and has never been hit.

    I figure my odds have got to be better than that. Offhand I don't think there are any significant parts of my commute where I don't have trees or buildings or electric lines by the side of the road that are much higher than I am. If I were riding through a storm cell in the plains with nothing around I might start to get concerned.
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  10. #10
    Bicycle built for 5 tuolumne's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=BirdOnABike]...Do the bike's tires provide the same insulation ability that cars' do?...QUOTE]

    By the way, it's not the cars tires that offer any protection, but being surrounded by a conductive cage. Lightning can easily jump to the car/bike from the ground.
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  11. #11
    Pedaled too far. Artkansas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BirdOnABike
    Does anyone here know of any cyclists hit by lightning?
    Bike tires might provide the same insulation against lightning, but mostly because car tires don't provide insulation. What keeps you safer inside a car is that the steel body and frame of the car act as a Faraday cage, so that the lightning passes around you, not through you.

    So yes, it is possible that lightning could strike you. I don't know of any bicyclists personally, but I did read this summer of a motorcyclist struck by lightning. Lightning Strike

    I also found this article about a bicyclist struck by lightning in "blue sky" conditions.
    Lightning Strike

  12. #12
    A treat for the freaks! MCODave's Avatar
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    I also live in Florida (Orlando), and really the only thing you can do is wait out any really bad storms. Just yesterday, I left about an hour early to avoid a storm that was headed our way.

    On a positive note, I've been riding in Central FL since the early 80's, and can't say I know or have heard of anyone being hit by lightning on a bike. Not that it couldn't happen, but the odds are really against it.

  13. #13
    we are 138 Philatio's Avatar
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    don't forget to assume the lightning desperation position!


  14. #14
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    As others have mentioned, when lightening reaches the ground it has already arced across a mile or more of air. Even tall objects on the ground are tiny by comparison, and the lightening-attracting effect of object height is limited to it's radius.

    Basically, if the lightning hits a tree 20' high, then chances are it would have hit the ground somewhere in that 20' radius had the tree been there or not.

    Hence, whether or not you are sitting on a bike or lying in a ditch is bit of a moot point, unless you are the guy who keeps having lightening hit right next to him. I actually know someone who seems to have that same problem

  15. #15
    Neat - w/ ice on the side dalmore's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThatWhichRolls
    Okay. I'm interested. What's it like being mere feet from a lightning strike? You can leave out the defecation details.
    I've seen a couple of lightning strikes - one very near but I was inside looking out a window. I felt that one first. All my hair stood on end like when rubbing your arms with a staticy sweater or something only at a maginitude of about 10 or so and all over the body. I heard a loud pop like a balloon bursting and the lights went out. A second or so later the transformer on the pole about 15 feet away exploded in a huge flash. It was like a flash bulb right in my face. I felt but did not hear what I assume was a clap of thunder. It was like the pressure you get in your ears when you dive to the bottom of the pool. I instinctively fell to the floor of the room and stayed there for a long while. I was unable to see anything but spots for what seemed like hours but was probably only minutes. When I could see well enough I got up and looked around. The pole I was looking at had been struck by lightning.

    When power was restored several hours later. I found that the light in my room was not working nor was the tv. The circuit breaker had not been tripped. The light bulb in the fixture in my room was shattered. My theory is that static charge in the air exploded the bulb and fried the tv but I have no idea whether that is the case or not.

    The second strike I witnessed was about 4 months later. It was a good ways away. It struck near a power line - perhaps the power line itself. And I had a straight line view of power line run and got a little fireworks display as one after another of the transformers blew with a shower of sparks. Probably 6 or 8 of them.

    On another note, my father was an electrician. He frequently did inspections of lightning strikes to provide repair estimates for an insurance adjuster. I would tag along whenever I could. I have concluded that lightning can do whatever it damn pleases.

    Finally - regarding rubber insulation from your tires. No - not on a bike or a car. It's actually the metal "cage " of the car surrounding you that provides protection from lightning. I've read the explanation before but I can't recall the details.I think it's like faraday's cage - might google for that and see what that turns up if you are interested.
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  16. #16
    domestique squeakywheel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MyPC8MyBrain
    Colorado runs second to FL in lightning strikes so we are fairly aware here. Best course of action is not to venture out into an active cell. If you wait, it will pass soon enough. It's much more fun to ride after the storm than through it in my opinion.
    ...
    That only works in Colorado with the daily 20 minute storm blowing over the mountain. In other places, it can storm all day and night.

    If it is storming when I want to leave work and doesn't seem like it will end soon, I call my wife for a resque. One time it was starting on my way home. I could see lightning on the horizon coming my way. I sprinted home.

  17. #17
    Shut Up and Ride MyPC8MyBrain's Avatar
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    Ok, here are the details.. The pants crapping was more of a figure of speech than actual poo in the pants.

    The first time was about 5 years back... I was leaving the office at my last job during a pretty significant lightning storm. I decided to wait under the awning until the cell passed because I had to head out across and empty parking lot to the car. About 15 minutes later I could tell the the cell had moved on to the east, and the strikes were all off in that direction now. I headed out to the car. Note that I had parked with the front of the car at a light pole. As soon as I touched the car the light pole rang like it was hit with a baseball bat immediately followed by sound like a cannon shot. The smell of ozone was so strong the I though I was on fire. After checking myself for flames and smoke [none was present] I got in the car... and sat for 20minutes before I could drive away. I didn't get any of the hair raising static you are supposed to get on that one. Just a big bang. Funny thing is... that light was always on after that, day, night, even when the other lot lights were out.

    Second time was this summer camping up behind Pikes Peak. A pretty good storm was brewing and I was sitting under the canopy at the picnic table. The wind was blowing the rain around, so I took an aluminum lawn chair into the tent [huge 3 br tent] to sit with the GF. She was laying on the 6"thick air mattress reading a book. This time I got the static hair rising.. feels like a charged balloon is passing all over your body making your hair stand up. Knowing what was about to happen, I dove out of the chair onto the mattress just as the bolt hit. It was only a couple of seconds from the time felt the static until it struck. It hit the tree that was right next to the tent. Smoking debris was flying everywhere as it blasted off a 6" wide stripe down the length of the tree. That one was especially loud...and scary. After the storm, I was finding pieces of the tree 100' away. Amazing! Nothing was damaged except for the tree and my confidence during lightning storms.

    It's more powerful than you think! An inch of rubber will not save you. Only dumb luck will.

  18. #18
    Two H's!!! TWO!!!!! chephy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BirdOnABike
    Do the bike's tires provide the same insulation ability that cars' do?
    Yes, they do - and that's about zero. What protects car occupants is not the rubber tires of a car, but the metal cage surrounding them. On a bike you have no such protection, so yeah, you are vulnerable.

    Lightning victims are most likely to be farmers and outdoor enthusiasts - people who may find themselves out in the open field with nowhere to run. Statistics seems to indicate that cyclists are fair game for lightning. They do get struck, although I personally do not know such people.

    I would ride a bike in the city during lightning storms without a second thought: there are so many objects around so much taller than me that the chances of being struck seem absolutely tiny. Out in the country is another matter - I'd be scared but, actually, I think I'd still ride on if there was no shelter around... It is no fun at all planting yourself face down into the muddy ditch - and it's not clear whether that even provides a whole lot of protection. However, if lightning was forecast, I might not ride that day, or might wait for the storm to pass, or get a ride back in a car - something like that.

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    IIRC, it would take ten-foot-thick (or more) car tires to be of much help.

  20. #20
    No-Pants Island bbonnn's Avatar
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    Pshaw. They compare the chances of winning the lottery to being struck by lighting to prove a point. Both are low probability. If your number's up, you're going to get got no matter what.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Paul L.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MyPC8MyBrain
    Ok, here are the details.. The pants crapping was more of a figure of speech than actual poo in the pants.


    It's more powerful than you think! An inch of rubber will not save you. Only dumb luck will.

    One of my experiences is similar to yours. I had just finished a 4 day trek through the Paria Canyon wilderness with some friends and we were walking in the last 2 miles across a long flat area and a small dark cloud was in the sky, no rain, no static feeling. Lighting struck right in the middle of all of us. It was not a very strong strike but the fact that it struck at all was a huge surprise. The ranger that had just passed us 15-20 seconds before came running back to us saying "Wow, that bolt almost hit me!" We just breathlessly nodded our heads back.

    The summer after that I was a handicraft director at a local scout camp. During lunch a latrine about 30 feet away was struck. The lightning carved a 5 inch slot down the side of a near tree and then jumped over to the outhouse vent and went down through the urinal. Pieces of roof fell out of the sky for the next 20 - 30 seconds. Luckily no one was in the john at the time (it was the staff latrine).

    During that same summer there was a man standing in a wall tent when the lightning struck the tent pole. He was knocked unconcious for 10 minutes.

    The transformer on the powerpole out back of our house was hit when I was younger during a storm and before the past 3 experiences I used to think that was close
    Our neighbors down the street had their TV catch fire when their cable tv cable took a hit.

    Oops, almost forgot, the house around the corner was destroyed by lightning a few summers ago when it was struck and the attic caught fire. They had to gut it and rebuild.

    Lightning is crazy stuff. Anywhere it is striking you cannot be 100% sure it will not strike where you are but as the storm moves away your chances of getting hit do decrease statistically even though it may be some time before your chances hit 0%. Incidentally, there are a lot of things inside the house that you are not supposed to do during lighting like talking on the phone (of course with wireless phones that is probably less so), showering, washing dishes etc.... So, compared with those I think Cycling is safer.

    If there is a lot of lightning striking within 2 miles I will seek shelter (a car if possible) usually. Further than that and I accept my risks.
    Last edited by Paul L.; 09-20-06 at 05:59 PM.
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