Ever since moving to Cornwall from Wiltshire, I have had to learn to love the wind. It’s always there, whether a light coastal breeze or a full-on force 3. Living by the sea is fantastic in all kinds of ways, but always being windy is not one of them. So I have learned to adapt, watched the pros and asked from people about riding in the wind like a pro.
Here’s what I have learned.
When I first moved here, I treated the wind as the enemy. It was something to be challenged and beaten. I quickly learned that was a battle I would always lose. To live and cycle successfully in windy areas you had to embrace and accept the wind rather than fight it.
So rather than swearing at it and fighting it when riding alone, I use it as a training aid. A sort of personal resistance band to my cycling. It is far from perfect, but it’s all I have.
Cycling in the wind is hard work
The higher the air speed, the more effort is needed to propel yourself forward at a given speed. Consequently, more energy is needed both in terms of wattage produced and calories burned to achieve it. If it’s windy outside and you’re going out, you need to prepare properly. Eat a little more and carry more food to compensate for those extra calories you’re going to need to get round.
The majority of wind resistance produced on a bike is from the rider. This effect is present enough on still days as the air resists your forward motion enough to make cycling the endurance sport it is. Add a 20mph headwind into the equation and that resistance grows exponentially.
So get down into the drops as much as possible. Keep your back straight, shoulders loose, elbows in and head tucked but looking forward. If you use a cycle computer, make small positional changes to see the effect in speed until you can balance comfort, or at least the ability to maintain the position, and speed.
All the gears
Trying to maintain a particular gear in windy conditions is another fight you’re going to lose. It burns more calories, hurts more, depletes motivation more and becomes uncomfortable after a while. Drop a gear or three and maintain a cadence and wattage you’re comfortable with.
Time it right
Another thing I learned by living by the coast is that wind is much calmer in the morning and evening. If you really want to avoid the wind wherever possible, time your rides for before or after work to take this avoid the worst of the wind.
The other factor of time is maintaining a speed. You may have a mental minimum speed you will accept when riding a particular route. Forget it when it’s windy. Just ride for the pleasure or for the training but never for the speed. To maintain an average of 18 mph with a 10mph headwind needs twice the effort of a 2mph headwind.
Watch for the cross
Unless you do an out and back route, at some point you’re going to come across side winds. Cycling past a gap in buildings or a farm wall, cycling with traffic or coming round a corner can all surprise you with a crosswind. Keep your upper body relaxed and be aware of the possibility of side winds when you’re out.
Keep it tight
There is a good reason why roadies wear Lycra and it certainly isn’t because it makes us look good. Lycra allows us the freedom to move into position while maintaining aero efficiency. Loose clothing will flap in the wind and can act like a sail when caught wrong. Wear tight-fitting windstoppers to reduce drag as much as possible.
Riding in the wind is as much about your mental strength as it is physical. The fact that you’re expending all this effort for no perceptible gain, or being slowed down by gusts of wind despite the fact you’re putting out 350 watts can be mentally tough. But, accept the challenge and use it as a training tool and your attitude towards the wind can and will change. Mine certainly has and I’m physically and mentally fitter for it.