Wind! The ultimate enemy of the cyclist. There isn't much worse than battling away into a headwind, pedalling through cement and getting nowhere. Or when you ride past a gap in a hedge and get blindsided by a hurricane - best case it'll wake you up with a jolt, worst case you could end up on the other side of the road!
So how do you ride safely in the wind? Surely it's the wind, right? How are you supposed to prepare for wind! But there are ways to not only be safer in the wind, but also to be faster and expend less energy. With high winds forecast for this weekend's Velo South & L'Etape London events, this guide will hopefully make your ride more enjoyable, and keep you upright!
Pay Attention To Your Surroundings
This applies to every time you ride, of course, but even more so when you're riding in the wind. Pay attention to what's coming up on the road ahead, especially gaps in hedges, buildings, fences etc. You will get hit with a side wind, so prepare yourself. What does the terrain ahead look like? Is it high up? Is it an open area? If so, it's going to be very windy, so get ready. You don't want to brace yourself too hard, and if you jerk against the wind, you run the risk of over balancing. Keep a moderate grip on the bars and let the wind take you a little bit. It's ok to move in the road a little bit, paying attention to anyone who is next to you, but push back against the wind gently, as opposed to severely. Jerky movements can see you off in the nearest ditch!
Select Your Equipment Wisely
Do you regularly ride with deep rims? (i.e. more than 50mm deep?) If so, leave them at home. They may be Aero AF, look super cool and let everyone around you know that you're a 'proper cyclist', but on a windy day, they're nothing but trouble. The extra surface area will act like a sail and have you blowing all over the road. If you can, switch out your wheels for some shallower rims. If you can't, then just do all thine things on this list, just much much better than people with shallow rims!
Types Of Wind To Look Out For
So what types of wind are there? Answer - lots, and they're all miserable. What's even more fun, is that a normal route won't be in a completely straight line, so you'll probably experience all types of wind in one ride as you change direction. Our top four all-time favourite winds below:
1. Head wind: Miserable. Feels like you're cycling in sand. Unrelenting headwinds can make you want to give up. Get your head down and battle on. Top tip - easier gear & higher cadence, makes it feel easier. Top top tip - tuck in & suck all the wheels you can!
2. Side/cross wind: If it's a steady side wind, it feels like there's a strong hand pushing you in the side, trying to topple you over. Get low, lean into it and keep going. If it's a surging side wind, most notable in hedge gaps, see point 1 above. Top tip - ride a stronger gear, it makes you feel more stable.
3. Cross + head wind: Lovely combination of above. Top tip - find someone big and hide behind/just to the side of them! See below.
4. Tailwind: No such thing... you're just having a really good day ;)
Use The Riders Around You
If you're riding on your own, well then that's your fault for riding on your own! Join a group, get some cycling pals and make life easier for yourself. If you're in a group, or doing a sportive or race, then using the riders around you will make a huge difference. Sitting directly behind another rider (or ideally, riders) will really help in a headwind. Sitting behind and just to the left or right (depending on wind direction) will help you in a cross or cross/head wind. In the pro ranks this is called an Echelon (see pic below).
Please be careful only to get into a full echelon on very quiet/closed roads - the car coming the other way won't care that it's a cross/head wind! Don't cross over wheels (half wheeling), as a strong gust could blow the wheel in front into you, which wouldn't be nice. Also, take it in turns at the front so everyone in the group shares the workload and therefore stays fresher for longer. Teamwork!
Get Aero AF Bro!
No, this doesn't mean get the deep dish wheels out! It means crouch down as low as you can and become the bike. If your chin leaves your stem you've lost! But seriously, get into the drops (more aero and more stable in both head and cross winds). Make sure your jersey, jacket, gilet is done up and you pockets aren't flapping around behind you. Top tip: Don't lean over the bike with your forearms on the handle bars, like those guys in the Tour de France; it's really unstable, and there's a gap in the hedgerow coming up!
Check The Route And The Wind Direction
Whether you're out for a Sunday spin, taking on Velo South or attempting to bag the local KOM because the wind is going in the right direction (you know who you are), checking the wind direction/speed is key. Is your route circular (like Velo South)? Is it out and back? Knowing where the wind will be strongest, where it'll be head on, where sideways etc., means you can properly prepare for it. Forewarned is forearmed is the cyclist's motto, and being prepared is the key to surviving the wind.
Above All Else... Be Sensible
It goes without saying (we hope) that discretion is the better part of valour, and sometimes not going out in the wind is the best course of action. There is absolutely no shame in wanting to stay safe, so giving a ride a miss when it's blowing a gale can be a smart move. There is always another day. If you are going out; be careful, be sensible and use the above tips to stay safe. And if you're ever in doubt, just remember, what is the best thing you can do when cycling into a head wind? In the immortal words of Bonnie Tyler, turn around ;)