How To Ride Your Bike Into WIND!

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by Rebecca

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Cycling into wind starts with realising that in most cases EVERY bike ride you’ll ever do will be affected by the wind to some degree. On a bike ride the wind will most likely be:

  • A headwind – cycling ‘head-on’ into wind.
  • A tailwind – cycling with wind ‘on your back’, i.e: pushing you along
  • A cross-wind – when wind buffers you from one side or the other, usually with a headwind or tailwind bias!

If you live in a windy region – just like here in Scotland, where most days it’s windy, then you have to think about planning your bike rides appropriately.  What I do is check the wind direction before I go out on the bike.  I then plan my route to be cycling INTO wind for the first half and cycling with the wind on my back on the second half.

Cycling the first half of you bike ride into wind has some key benefits:

1. Helps tired legs on second half of the bike ride.

2. Helps prevent you getting ‘cold’ on the return leg home.  Most times when cycling into a headwind it’s a lot cooler and in winter this could be critical to whether you even get home or not!

3. Helps you conserve energies when tired – cycling straight into a headwind all the way home can sap a huge amount of energy from you.  For this reason, if you’ve got a long ride planned, it is best to ‘think ahead’ about the wind direction.

4. Helps you mentally get through a long training ride by knowing the wind will turn at about half way and things ‘should be’ a little easier!

I have a sportive or bike tour and there’s no way of controlling the route vs the wind direction:

In which case, think about the wind direction before setting off. Think about where the wind will aid you on route and where it will be against you.  By thinking ahead like this you will know what to expect and can tailor your energies to meet the extra demands.

How best should I cycle through a headwind?

1. Get your head down low by getting into the drop position: be mindful that you can still see where you are going but your aim is to be as ‘aerodynamic’ as you can. Remain seated as much as you can, even up steep hills – standing up is only going to set you up as a ‘sail’..!

2. Change up to a bigger gear and keep pushing through it.  The natural tendency is to change down to a lower gear, but this will only cause you to lose more speed.

3. Keep mentally strong by focusing on the moment you’re in!  Try not to react to the situation by getting negative, just know that to keep moving forward at a goodly pace you need to ‘keep going’ – so keep positive!

4. Shelter behind other riders if you can.  In cycling this is called “drafting”, although in windy conditions it can also be called “sheltering”.

5.  If practical, ride as close as you can to hedges along the roadside.  For example, if the wind is a cross-wind buffering you from the right, then ride up close to obstacles along your right side as you ride.  You can save much ‘buffering’ by riding like this as the obstacles give you a partial shelter.

Cycling hills and descents when it’s hilly:

When you are faced with a gale force wind up a hill, it makes cycling particularly tough!  Hang in there and keep going, even if it’s slow.  Sometimes cycling under these conditions can be ‘quite the worst’ – but can actually be some of the best biking experiences you’ll ever have – embrace it!

Descending a hill needs the utmost care when cycling with a wind.  The faster you descend with a ‘cross-wind’ the higher the probability you can be blown off the road with the bike!  Descend much slower than usual when there’s a wind – even a headwind or a tailwind.

When not to cycle when it’s windy…

Windy conditions need caution obviously if the wind is too strong.  You have to watch for tree branches falling or lying in the road…and the risk of being pushed into traffic as you cycle.  I remember cancelling some of my early morning commutes due to high winds – common sense prevails.

Final words:

Don’t get demoralised riding your bike on a windy day!  Instead, think about how to get the most out of the ride by planning ahead and checking the wind direction.  If you are caught in a screaming headwind in an event just get your head down (within safe reasons) and always remind yourself that you are experiencing what every other cyclist is experiencing – so embrace and enjoy your windy experience!

Remember if you enjoyed this post to share it with your cycle pals and I look forward to reading your comments or answering any questions.

 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr Jez McCole May 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Thanks Rebecca, this is really encouraging. I have cycled in some horrid conditions and always take the mental mantra that “weather happens” with me. That said, a continual headwind is demoralising and your words will definitely help the cranks keep turning. I love the feeling though when, as the bend comes and the route turns, the howl of the wind around your ears drops to a lovely silence and you begin to feel the push as you realise the wind is behind you. I also think that cycling is one of the few sports that provide a perfect symmetry. For every up, somewhere there’s a down and for every head wind there’s a tail wind – even if you catch it on another day.

That said, I abandoned an East -> West, Sheffield to Liverpool ride over the Winnat’s on Monday because it was head wind from A to B. I’ll get you next time!!

Jez

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Rebecca May 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Hey Jez, so true in cycling – what goes up must come down and for every head wind there’s usually always a tail wind! Great comment and let’s hope wind dies down a bit so we don’t miss any more rides tut tut:-)!!
(I also replied on your same comment on FB).
All the best,
Rebecca

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Laura May 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm

hey rebecca – really interested to read that staying a bigger gear into the wind is the way to go!

rode a particularly windy tt at the weekend and thought i was doing good by spinning an easier gear faster… will give the big gear crunching a go next time (my natural reaction is to crunch high in any case!)

thank you for the great article as ever.

laura *:)

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Rebecca May 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Hi Laura – thanks for commenting!

Just to add that you should stay in the gear you are in and try not to be tempted to change down to a lower gear when riding into wind. THEN, only if you need to should you change up to a higher gear (I didn’t make this clear in my post). You do have to watch how big a gear you push here as you probably are already pushing quite a big gear into wind (hence your temptation to change down). However, don’t muddle this with your usual rides (without much of a headwind) – it ‘is’ always better to err on the side of ‘spinning’ rather than crunch big gears, so do be aware not to get into any bad habits!:-)….

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richard May 20, 2011 at 5:26 pm

All useful stuff for windy days. Please do not forget about possible need to wear goggles! Big problem in Belfast, so much dust about can cause havoc with eyes when windy which is most of the time!!

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Rebecca May 20, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Great point Richard! Yes, eye protection is very important year round for the cyclist and especially on windy days as you say!

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nick June 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm

hmm!
not sure I would agree with the ‘stiff gear’ advice! I am constantly having a moan at my bike buddies at work for having too stiff a cadence (far too stiff) – I like to spin as much as possible, and for one very good reason: These ‘Triathlon fitness brigade’ nuts at work have all read all the articles in the glossy bike mags and have been told by their tri-coaches that a stiffer cadence builds muscle and endurance and saves energy.. Now, that is perfect advice if you are in a race with a million pounds prize, or you are being chased by a bear and your life depends on it.
Unfortunately, what they fail to tell you, is that cycling in too stiff a cadence all the time over years of cycling will likely result in nightmare problems with your knees in later life. Therefore on the ‘average’ bike ride you should aim to keep the cadence nice and fast as this is the best for the long-term health of your knees. indeed, in severe headwind on long rides I change right down to an easy gear to carve through the wind, and happily slow down, making myself as aerodynamic as possible as per the article above.. From my experience, what I lose in speed is more than gained by the energy and lactic acid saved for the rest of the ride. In a race situation; yes, go with the stiffer cadence. For the average training or leisure ride, I would keep those revs up if you don’t want knee replacement surgery when you are 65!
Here’s another tip: If you get back from a grueling sportive or flat-out training ride, or indeed you are exhausted from mullering into the wind, and you have been in a stiff gear and the old knees are a bit sore, try upside-down cycling. Lie with your back on the floor and prop your bum up slightly with your hands, and raise the legs into the air, and start ‘cycling.’ A few minutes of this ‘negative resistance’ works wonders for loosening up stiff knees. :-)

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Rebecca June 12, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Hi Nick,

Thanks for your comments – yes, pushing a big gear isn’t the way to go for the majority of your cycling as it is indeed very bad for your knees.

As to cycling into wind, either keeping the same gear you’re in or putting it up to a higher gear ‘can help’ maintain momentum – although it’s only for a short time period. If this is difficult or uncomfortable to maintain then YES by all means drop the gear…!

Hope this helps.

Rebecca

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Richard Hudson June 15, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Cycled 100 miles into a wet headwind last year while going to visit my mother in North Wales. Really hard work but a huge achievement for me. Tailwind and sunshine all the way home 2 days later…. Woohooo! :)

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Rebecca June 15, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Hey Richard…fantastic! What cycling is all about! Congrats!…and will you cycle again this year? :-)

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Schrodinger 'Spokesperson' Katz February 17, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Tailwind? What’s THAT? I live in Texas (US) and in my neck of the woods, our average windspeed is about 20 mph/32 kph and variable. Seems as tho’ there is NEVER a good tailwind. Just the other day, I was bucking a 25′er out of the south, with gusts to 35 mph (40 to 56) on the way home from a meeting. On the way to the meeting, it was 20 gusting 25 (32 gusting 40 kph) out of the northeast, so it pulled darnnigh a 180 degree shift on me. But, that’s Texas for you> If we were to wait for a clam day, none of us would ever ride.

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Schrodinger 'Spokesperson' Katz February 17, 2014 at 7:30 pm

*I meant, ‘CALM’ day!

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