Shocking Discovery at the Top of a Kyoto Mountain
Totally Shocking! ( and not just because of my outfit ) -- Otowyama (音羽山) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl,
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 50mm — 1/1250 sec, f/8, ISO 560 — map & image datanearby photos
Totally Shocking!
( and not just because of my outfit )

I led my recent post about inaccuracies with consumer GPS devices with the photo above, but I'm repeating it here to tell a different story...

In the photo, taken by a passing hiker at the summit of Mt. Otowa (音羽山) in Kyoto, my fingers are lightly resting on the bike frame. When touching the bike that way as I was posing for the shot, my fingers felt a kind of buzzing vibration sensation, which I thought was odd. The wind was strong, but I didn't think the gusting would hit the bike's resonate frequency or anything.

Later, when moving the bike around I got some pretty nasty shocks, which also seemed odd because I was a long way from the nearest electric outlet. I eventually realized that the smaller the contact between my skin and metal from the bike, the larger the pain. But unlike a shock from, say, static electricity, it was ongoing. I quickly learned to not touch the metal parts of the bike.

The reason is apparent in once sense if you see the view in another direction. Here's looking north toward the city of Otsu:

View of Otsu from the top of Mt. Otowa (音羽山) -- Mt. Otowa (音羽山) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl,
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 50mm — 1/1250 sec, f/8, ISO 560 — map & image datanearby photos
View of Otsu
from the top of Mt. Otowa (音羽山)

This view is remarkably similar to this Google Earth view from my article about Strava the other day, except that this photo is worse because of the horribly hazy day, and because of the ugly power-transmission wires.

They led to a tower right at the peak of the mountain. Retreating down the mountain a bit and snapping a photo toward the top, you can see my bike in the lower right...

Ugliness as Japan does best )-: -- Mt. Otowa (音羽山) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2015 Jeffrey Friedl,
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 58mm — 1/1600 sec, f/8, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
as Japan does best )-:

The lines simply pass over the mountain and do not in any way seem to be required to be there, running up and down the most exposed ridges for no apparent reason other than to destroy the maximum amount of natural beauty when viewed from either side of the mountain. This is a skill that Japan seems to excel at.

Anyway, the mere presence of the lines near the bike was enough to give it a shocking amount of, well, shock. I suppose the flowing electricity creates a magnetic field, which in turn turns partially back to electricity in the presence of metal like the bike frame? I wonder whether my iPhone was getting charged at the same time, as well as my credit cards getting wiped?

I'm not kidding when I say that shocks were painful. I wonder what would happen to someone with metal implanted in their body (bone screws, pacemaker, dental filling, etc.).

Apparently nothing, though. A web search reveals articles about the phenomenon (such as this and this), and apparently it's just an inconvenience. Still, a painful one, so I'll take more care next time. Or maybe I should just switch to a non-metallic bike... a good excuse for a carbon-fiber bike! 🙂

All 7 comments so far, oldest first...

Interesting. Next time you should try placing your bike’s frame perpendicular to the power lines. This should minimise the magnetic flux through the bike’s frame, that could be acting as a coil.

Actually, I tried that and it didn’t seem to make much difference, though with the shocks being painful and all, I didn’t do detailed quantitative tests. —Jeffrey

— comment by Tiago on May 16th, 2015 at 11:36pm JST (8 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Wild guess: the reason could be that the bike frame contains loops. The electromagnetic field could induce currents in such loop, particularly when properly oriented with respect to the power lines. I should bring some metallic wire and a multimeter next time I go cycling 😉

The iPhone charging was a joke of course, but it may work on phones that support inductive charging. One would have to quantify the effect though, and I suspect it would not be worth it.

— comment by Damien on May 17th, 2015 at 12:04am JST (8 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

As far as having power lines on the ridge tops: from your second photo of Otsu, it seems like the majority of the people there live in the valley, thus making it hard to route the lines through the valley. The only place left to route the lines is across the ridge (where it looks like there’s not too much development) to get the power down to the town, which is where this line looks to be headed. Happens here in the US too. My sister in law lives in Salem, Virginia and has a nice view of a ridge line of the Blue Ridge mountains. The view is somewhat marred by the large power line running near the top of it. It does suck, but we do like our electricity.

Halfway down the mountain is equally as unpopulated as the top. —Jeffrey

— comment by Dan Roeder on May 17th, 2015 at 2:01am JST (8 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

That’s weird, but covered by the explanation. It’s crazy to think power lines that powerful run just a few meters above your head :0

— comment by nnkka on May 19th, 2015 at 10:45am JST (8 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

The electricity is going from the bike frame through your body to ground. It wouldn’t be a problem if your bike frame had an eletrical contact with ground. Is your bicycle stand made of plastic?

Yes, I think it is —Jeffrey

— comment by Daniel Cutter on May 19th, 2015 at 5:08pm JST (8 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

New Ipswich, NH, USA

Jeffrey, you need to be careful. Folks around here have gotten shocks from touching metal parts of their truck while parked under our transmission lines. I do have a pacemaker and have been warned to stay away from them (although I just violated that warning with no ill effects.

Sadly a Texas pipeline company wants to build a natural gas pipe line NEXT to these power lines which many of the folks in our town oppose. What I learned is that the induced currents in the pipe can actually hasten corrosion and lead to pin holes. The whole damn thing is crazy.

— comment by John Poltrack on June 22nd, 2015 at 7:08pm JST (8 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

Woa. I wish someday came here scenic and explore Kyoto by bike my favorites

— comment by Tony on August 23rd, 2015 at 5:06pm JST (8 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink
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