Cycling in the wind is not something any cyclist looks forward to. I have to cycle in the wind often. In fact, a 20+ mph wind was constant during a recent ride. It prompted me to ride this post.
I’ll bet you must be cycling in the wind at times, as well.
It could be said, in the face of the wind, cyclists must learn to adjust their sails in order to reach their destination.
Although the wind may seem like a force that cannot be overcome, you must remember instead of fighting against the wind, you need to be working with it.
Just like knowing how to ride in the rain, once you learn the skill of riding in the wind you will feel more comfortable and safe.
The wind is an invisible force that can have a major impact on your ride, for better or for worse.
For most cyclists, the wind is about as enjoyable as hills. In fact, there are a lot of similarities. Both require you to exert more power than on flat or calm days. Both are unpredictable. A single climb often varies in degrees of incline as you progress up it. The speed (force) of the wind can suddenly increase or decrease. On one ride, you can be pushed by a headwind, stifled by a headwind, and hit by a crosswind.
While cycling in the wind, you should be prepared for the wind to hit you from different directions on most routes. The possibility of having to deal with the changes in the wind can be intimidating. You would not be the first to head back inside when faced with a windy day. Experience may have taught you that pushing against the wind can flat wear you out and make the ride take much longer to complete, and unenjoyable.
It is not always obvious that you are going to have to deal with the wind on your ride. Sometimes, will not encounter the gusts until well into your ride. So, having knowledge and the appropriate skills for riding in the wind is crucial.
Amature cyclists say they hate the winds. When they say that, they are normally referring to headwinds. That force slowing you down to a crawl is a problem.
Researchers have determined that a headwind slows a cyclist’s speed by approximately 50% of the wind speed. For example, if you normally ride your favorite, flat route at 17 mph (27 kph) in calm conditions, your speed into a 20-mph (32-kph) headwind will reduce your speed to a mere 7 mph (11kph) employing your normal power output. That is a considerable decrease in speed.
When cycling in the wind there is no way to blunt the force of a headwind, yet there are ways to minimize it.
As a general rule, make yourself less vulnerable to a headwind by taking steps to streamline your profile on the bike.
A good way to reduce the punishing resistance of a headwind is to reduce the size of the surface you offer it to push against. Get into the drops. Hunch over as close to your handlebars as you can.
Make sure that while hunching over you do not tighten your shoulders. This could cause you a lot of pain in that area later on in the day or in the morning.
Leave baggy and bulky clothes at home. They offer more surface for the wind to push against. They act like small sails trapping the wind.
Some coaches recommend wearing a helmet with a brim or visor when you are riding in a headwind.
It’s better to ride in lower gear, even if it means your ride will take a bit longer. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re not completely exhausted. Staying in a higher gear with a high cadence will cause you to burn out more quickly.
If you are cycling in the wind with other riders, drafting will certainly help. While drafting behind a strong rider will definitely help you, make sure to ask permission or take your turn taking a pull.
Of course, a tailwind is normally much more enjoyable than a headwind. The extra push can make you feel like you are really flying down the road.
A tailwind can be a great asset when you’re cycling. It’s like having a little helper pushing you from behind, making pedaling feel easier than normal. Even climbing takes less effort in a tailwind.
Sit up straight. The added surface for the wind to push against can add to your speed advantage.
Be careful during the tailwind not to increase your speed to a level that makes your feel nervous or causes you to lose control of your bike. Enjoy the added push, but unless you are a very experienced rider, do not increase your peddling power. You could find yourself cycling in the wind at a speed that you are unaccustomed to and put yourself in danger of crashing out.
If you are cycling in the wind, crosswinds are easily the most troubling. Headwinds or tailwinds make a big difference in the overall speed and effort you put into a ride. Crosswinds can end your ride altogether.
Not only is the potential of pushing against the wind something to consider, but nasty crosswinds are even more problematic. These crosswinds can be strong enough to blow riders into the opposite traffic lane or completely off the road. This is a serious danger to both you and the riders around you.
When you ride in a group, be extremely careful in the crosswinds. Bike handling demands are magnified by the unpredictable gusts that can jostle riders in the group, especially in a paceline or echelon.
If at all possible leave those deep-section wheels at home. In a crosswind you can easily be pushed over, injuring yourself and damaging your bike.
Changing Situation While Cycling in the Wind
When riding in the wind, you need to be aware of some situations that can suddenly affect your stability on the bike.
You need to pay attention when you are about to come to the end of a sheltered area. The sudden gust of a crosswind can cause you to lose control.
When you corner in a crosswind, you can help yourself by preparing for the wind. If you are cornering in the same direction as the wind, your speed will increase and you could lose traction and have the bike slide out from under you.
Choosing a Route When Cycling in the Wind
You can help yourself on a windy day by choosing an advantageous route. If at all possible ride with the wind at your back and enjoy the boost to your speed. Avoid the wind in your face as much as possible.
There are plenty of cycling apps that can help you plan an appropriate route.
However, unless your route only takes you in a single direction and someone picks you up at the end, you will experience the wind from alternating directions.
Crosswinds can throw a cyclist off balance. For this reason, if you know you will encounter crosswinds on your ride, it is important to choose a route that offers some protection from the wind. Rows of trees, for example, can help to reduce the impact of the wind. A path that takes you through woods or passes through a valley flanked by hills also reduces the blow.
Few things are more demoralizing than crawling home into a headwind after your legs are spent. To help with the psychological aspects of this, plan your ride so that you fight the wind on the way out and have a tailwind on the way back. You can take some of the sting out of the wind by plotting a course that has you facing the wind for the first part of the ride, then gives you a tailwind for the return trip home.
If you are a smaller rider, you are in luck, a headwind will not affect you as much as a larger rider. You will still be buffeted by crosswinds.
Position on the Road
Your position on the road or trail is also important. Give yourself some margin for error. If the wind is gusting, leave some space on the side that the wind is coming from so that you can correct your trajectory when you are suddenly pushed hard. This will help you to avoid being blown off course and will give you time to react if you are.
In addition to maintaining a safe position on the road, when the wind is gusting pay more attention than usual to your other riders near you. Stay relaxed, but attentive.
Speed vs Power While Cycling in the Wind
Your average speed is not always the best measure of what you accomplished on a ride. Obviously, your speed will be greatly affected by wind. Power is much more constant. So, attempt to keep your effort constant. If the wind is behind you keep the power up. If it is in front of you don’t pay a lot of attention to your speed, rather keep your power up, but do not overdo it so you suffer later on in the ride.
If You Must Stay Inside Out of the Wind
Sometimes the wind is just too strong to safely ride outside. Don’t opt for the couch and TV. Jump on your trainer instead. You intended to ride, so you must have the time. Use Zwift or another virtual reality platform to motivate you.