5 Tactics to Ride Better in the Wind

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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5 Tactics to Ride Better in the Wind

Wind is a part of cycling that is almost impossible to avoid. Even in an indoor velodrome where there is no wind, cyclists will draft and tuck very low to optimize their aerodynamics and reduce the work they have to do to overcome air resistance. When riding outside, wind adds a variable, and sometimes an aggressive force cyclists must deal with using these five strategies:

Wind can be overwhelming, it is not irregular for riders to end rides early, call for rides home or drop out of races due to the wind. You can become mentally prepared to thrive in the wind by not using speed to gauge your performance. Speed is affected by many variables (e.g you go faster downhill and slower uphill) so it is not a great metric to base your effort or self-worth on. Focus more on metrics that are not affected by wind or gradient, such as power and heart rate. Even how hard it feels is a valuable way to pace yourself and ensure you finish strong and happy.

The other mental technique to hone on windy training rides is trying to relax. Many riders tense up in the wind, but instead, take a few deep breaths and shift your focus to a functional component of your ride that you can control like your pedal stroke or breathing to ease the pressure. This skill of relaxing and performing while uncomfortable transfers well to many important moments in cycling — and in life.

Your riding position can be thought of in two ways: first, where you are relative to other riders and, second, how you’re sitting on your bike. If you are on a ride with stronger riders the wind can provide an opportunity to position yourself to draft behind them and make them do a lot of work, while you enjoy putting out less effort. The drafting ‘sweet spot’ is not always directly behind the rider since wind is rarely blowing exactly from the direction you are going. If the wind is coming from the right, position yourself slightly to the left of the rider ahead. Generally avoid crossing wheels (lining your front wheel up beside their rear wheel) so that any gusts or sudden turns don’t cause your wheels to touch. In extreme crosswinds you may be best riding beside another rider rather than behind.

How you sit on your bike is also a large part of slicing through the wind. Getting lower by hinging at your hips to get your chest closer to the handlebar reduces your frontal area that catches the wind. Narrowing your arms, especially on wider handlebars, can also help reduce the frontal area that catches the wind.

Your bike setup can be adjusted to thrive on windy days. Removing any accessories you won’t need but that grab wind, like fenders and lights, is an easy tweak. Deep-dish wheels can also be challenging on windy days, so if you have an option to use other wheels this can improve your safety in gusts and crosswinds. Riders who spend a lot of time in the wind will set their handlebars lower to help them get lower. A low position requires significant mobility so adopt such a position gradually and make sure you’re doing your mobility and strength routines regularly.

Since aerodynamics become a larger factor in our speed and performance on windy days, it is important to consider tight-fitting clothing to avoid becoming a wind-sail. Tight-fitting wind vests are great for keeping you warm and your clothes pressed tight against your body. If your rides are often windy, consider an aero helmet to reduce your drag significantly, they also are nice on colder days because they tend to have fewer vents.

I recall one of my first windy group rides. I was told to use both a higher cadence (easier gear) and lower cadence (harder gear) on the same ride. This confusing advice is often doled out about shifting, cadence and wind. In wind, especially if it is gusty, it is a challenge to maintain your normal, optimal cadence. What is optimal for you will be different than your friend, but a general goal is to increase your tolerance for a range of cadences so you can respond to gusts and changes in resistance by changing your cadence slightly. The beginner’s mistake is to not shift enough as the wind changes and end up pedaling in a very low or very high cadence.

Some cyclists use online wind forecasts to pick a less windy time to ride, while others may shift disciplines to avoid the wind (e.g. mountain bike on windy days). If you have no flexibility on the time or type of riding you will do then you should plan whether you want to start or finish with a headwind to optimize your ride enjoyment or workout quality. Most riders prefer to finish with a tailwind, which helps avoid running out of energy and having to slog home slowly. I often try to choose roads that offer more crosswind than headwind or tailwind to equalize the effort over the ride but this is not always possible.


READ MORE > HOW COLD IS TOO COLD TO TRAIN OUTSIDE?


Similar to riders who climb hills well, the best wind riders are the ones who put time into training on windy days. The more you ride in the wind, the more you will figure out what mental techniques, positions, gear and tactics work best for you. If you find you are dreading windy days or getting dropped due to a head, cross or tailwind, that’s a good sign you should start prioritizing training on windy days.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.

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