Any cyclist will know that riding into a block headwind can be more difficult than going up a hill. Many tips for riding into a wind are common sense, but it is worth repeating for completeness.
- Get low and aero. Riding on the drops is more aerodynamic that riding on the tops. Also, if you can bear the pressure, get as low as you can. I spend a lot of time riding on Time trial bike, so have adapted to a relatively lower position. It is a big help for keeping low in headwind riding. See more tips for being more aerodynamic
- Make sure your clothes are not acting as a wind break. The worst is to have a jacket half zipped up billowing out the back. It is better to have the jacket flapping around than half zipped up to catch the wind and act as a parachute. If possible, take off any surplus jacket, though often when it’s very windy, it’s raining too.
- Don’t worry about average speed. When riding into a headwind and you’re doing 15mph on a flat bit of road, it can be demoralising. But, the important thing is to maintain a sustainable power, rather than trying to keep a typical average speed. This doesn’t mean you will try keep the same power into headwind as tailwind. You will want to make more effort into headwind, but sometimes, you will just have to go into a lower gear and keep going at a lower speed.
- Improve quality of group riding. Riding in a group is best way to take some shelter from headwind. Taking it in turns and forming effective paceline. Don’t let gaps appear or let anyone drop off. Stronger riders can take longer turns.
In very windy conditions.
- I will tend to ride into headwind, to get tailwind on way back.
- I will look for routes which are more sheltered and leave the overexposed moors for another day.
- I have been known to occasionally take a train into a block headwind. e.g. train from Bingley to Clapham North Yorks. It costs £10, but it’s a real treat to miss out on 20 miles of headwind.
Pacing a time trial into headwind/tailwind
Generally, it does pay to make more effort into headwind than tailwind. This is because the aerodynamic cost increases exponentially with speed. You get more effort for increasing power at lower speeds.
I did a 10 mile TT with a 25mph (40km/h) wind. My time was 20.35. Average power of 325 watts.
Outleg with tailwind
- Distance: 5.5 miles. Time: 9.49
- Average speed – 33.7 mph Av. power – 305 watts.
Return leg into headwind.
- Distance: 4.3 miles – time: 10:12
- Average speed: 25.4 mph – Av. Power – 346 watts
I’m convinced this was a quicker way than doing 325 watts all the way round.
Which type of rider benefits from wind?
- With a strong tailwind, a lighter rider will tend to go relatively faster up a hill. This is because with a strong tailwind, the watt/kg is more important. When doing hill climbs, I always hope for tailwind because I’m generally lighter.
- Into a headwind, it will favour riders with a high power/CdA (aerodynamics)
- Generally speaking in windy conditions, the gap between strong riders and weaker riders is bigger because a strong headwind is a bigger discrimination. After time trials, you often hear people say ‘The wind doesn’t seem to affect the strong guys”
What equipment to use?
I can use a discwheel in a time trial even in quite windy conditions. However, a front wheel with big deep section can be dangerous. As a light rider, I can easily get blown around so have to leave the Zipp 808 at home.
Riding in echelons
When there is strong side winds, you often see a pro peleton split into echelons. This is because in strong cross winds, the best place to shelter is not directly behind a rider but, slightly to one side. The problem is once the echelon stretches across the road, it’s very hard to cycle behind because you are getting impact of cross wind.
The important thing to do in an echelon is keep moving up, take a short turn at the front and then turn into the direction of the wind as you split to the back of echelon. Try to avoid getting off the back, but come back up the echelon, where you will be sheltered from riders come down the other (windward side)
Echelon makes for exciting racing, but hard for the racers. The manta of strong crosswinds is ride in the top 20 to try and stay in leading echelons. This means everyone is fighting for position, fighting to stay in the leading echelon.
Putting it in the gutter
If there is a strong crosswind coming from the left. A team on the front of the peleton may move over to the right hand side of the road so that other teams can’t benefit from sheltering from crosswind. This makes it harder for other teams to stay on the wheel. A strong organised team, can split a peleton by riding on the front and creating a mini echelon which only their team members can stay. In 2016, I saw stage 3 of the Tour of Turkey, where Lotto Soudol kept doing this tactic. In the end, the leading group had 8 Lotto riders out of 10. Fascinating racing.
Cycle races in the wind
Blog from 2015 after watching Gent Wevelgem
The great thing about windy weather, is that it makes for spectacular cycle races (as long as you are watching from the comfort of your own living room, of course.)
A much shared image over the past few days. Here, the redoubtable Geraint Thomas is being thrown off his bike by gusting Belgian winds – only to get back on, finish third and enhance his growing classics reputation even more.
Gent Wevelgem was carnage – which made for compulsive viewing and an absorbing race. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the race unfold – so many twists and turns. Towards the end, it was like watching punch-drunk boxers make the final tiring efforts to knock out their opponent. You could see the fatigue in the faces and legs – gaps which would have been nothing to close down at the start of the race, became tantalisingly difficult; you could almost feel the effort of riders trying to mark down moves. I wanted Thomas to make it a weekend double, but you couldn’t ask for a more ‘epic’ race.
With cycle racing on TV – you win some, you lose some. But, when it’s good, it really is good. Make space for the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. If it’s as half as good as last year – it will be worth watching.
The problem with watching a blustery Gent Wevelgem is that there is another side to the story. Carnage makes for excellent viewing, but also broken bones and seasons put on hold. The fans love a side-wind, the riders want to minimise risk.
I was caught in two worlds on Sunday. In the morning I survived a windy Hemel Hempstead 22 miles TT. I don’t think the wind was as bad in the Chilterns as northern Belgium, but I wouldn’t have fancied descending those roads in an echelon led by a rampaging Etiix Quick Step. As a cycle spectator, I like epic weather for making great viewing. As a racer, I have a natural empathy for riders not wanting to have a bad crash – The UCI extreme weather protocol will have to make some difficult decisions.
Racing in the wind
In retrospect, I made a mistake on Sunday to ride a discwheel and deep section front wheel (with draft box on the back of bike for good measure). At 62kg I felt particularly vulnerable on the exposed downhills. Yes, there are downsides to being an ultralight hill climber – not that I’m complaining, too much!. Going down hill on Sunday was one day when I could have done with a bit of ballast – at least on the descent.
I did actually plan to use a normal front wheel, but I got a puncture before the race. When riding in the wind, the front wheel is the most important. Anything deep section can really catch the wind and make handling difficult. A rear wheel solid disc can be surprisingly stable compared to the front.
The thing about riding into a block headwind, is that it is really tough, there’s no way around it. Sometimes you just have to get your head down, zip up your flapping jacket and grind out the miles. The bad news is that into a headwind – generally, slower riders find it proportionally harder than faster riders. When it’s very windy, there tends to be a bigger gap between the top riders and the middle riders. On any windy day, at a TT, you will hear at least five people say ‘The wind doesn’t seem to affect the fast riders’. There’s a law of physics in there somewhere, but unfortunately I studied PPE so can’t explain.
I was out on my TT bike today – with strong gusting winds. The surprising thing is that I felt quite stable on the tribars. I’m not sure why. Perhaps when you’re in an aero position, there is less surface area for the wind to hit. Still on the descents, I was holding on to the sidebars, very tightly.
Intervals with tailwind
I don’t think I’ve ever chosen to do intervals into a strong headwind. A good tailwind can flatter your uphill efforts and give a misleading sense of satisfaction. Still if it’s good for morale, it will encourage you to go out and train.
Out and back. If I’m going for a steady ride with strong winds, I’ll tend to ride into the wind, so that psychologically, you can look forward to a tailwind. Though it can also be tempting to just have a cross wind all day and avoid the block headwind.