Battling the Wind

No, I’m not reminiscing about the occurrences after binge-eating Mexican food. What I’m talking about here is REAL wind… you know the pushy, back-talking, grabby atmospheric stuff that you sometimes encounter during your training ride. The wind that trashes your mph average and leaves you frustrated, sore, and exhausted.

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Or it can, it depends on your perspective, how you tackle it, and your perspective. Yes: I mentioned ‘perspective’ twice on purpose.

Where I do most of my training rides can be extremely windy AND hilly. So: the right perspective is necessary to forestall any self-hate and loathing of your bike. It’s not you. It’s not the bike. It’s the weather and good luck doing anything to change it. The BEST thing you can do is: HTFU, shift down, get in your drops, look on the bright side, and don’t expect anything silly – like accomplishing the usual 19-20mph+ average or whatever.

Humility in large doses is required to survive a decent ride in significant winds. For example: the ride that has prompted this yammering came from a recent pre-race (low effort) ride. Winds were howling out of the north at 16-18 mph sustained and gusts over 27 mph. Needless to say, this was not ideal conditions for a pre-race ride. Since I didn’t wish to do any real efforts, I shifted to the small chain ring and focused on maintaining a high cadence – not worrying about how fast I wasn’t going. If you are racing – this is entirely different! Click HERE for a few tips.

There are several ways to approach a windy day:

  1. Don’t be in a hurry. Push a nice decent tempo without concerning yourself about maintaining your standard average. It won’t happen unless you have quads the size  of Robert Förstemann or you are very petite (and strong).
  2. Shift down. You won’t be happy in your usual gears, trust me. Shift to the small chain ring even.
  3. Maintaining a Higher Cadence. This is a good opportunity to work on higher revs, they use less muscle and more cardio. Higher cadence can help your endurance, increase your cardiovascular fitness, and hill climbing ability.
  4. Training Similar to Hill Climbing. Training in strong winds mimic the same endurance needed to sustain efforts on long climbs. Ideal for flat-landers needing to work on hill climbing. If you are in a hilly area with high winds – it’s a bonus day!
  5. Draft! If you are riding with someone else: be smart and trade off at the front. That way you may be able to push a faster pace but only for shorter periods of time into the wind for each rider. Group riding in higher winds is ideal. New to Drafting? Click HERE for some excellent info.
  6. Tailwinds are fun! While you are struggling into the headwind (ideally on the first part of the ride), keep in mind that there is a reward on the way back. This is so much fun that some will even plan and out-and-back ride just to reap these rewards.
  7. HTFU Points. You get bragging rights on Facebook to all your friends that you rode in strong winds!


Words of Caution:

  • If you ride with deeper-section wheels: think of swapping those out for regular training wheels. Deep section wheels can catch a lot of force in cross-winds and can be a danger in winds gusting over 28mph for lighter weight folks. It feels like a demented gremlin is grabbing your wheel and jerking it around.
  • Don’t have so much fun on the tailwind sections of the ride you burn out your legs for the rest of it. Keep something in the tank for the head or cross-winds.
  • If it’s a cold day: know that you will have more trouble sustaining body heat with the wind-chill factor so wind-blocking elements in strategic areas (like vests and shoe covers) aren’t a bad plan.
  • The Soul Crusher. Do your best NOT to start off a ride with a tailwind and then end the ride with a headwind. This can cause problems. You are tired, probably had way too much fun in the tailwind, and now there’s nothing between you and the end of the ride but unrelenting headwind.

Your mental endurance can be tested in serious winds, so I try my best to find the silver lining… “Well, at least the sun is shining.” Or: “At least it’s warm and the flowers are blooming.” And: “At least it’s not too cold”. If it’s freezing, no sun, and miserable… at least there’s hot yoga, and go do that instead.

Just kidding – get a grip and go ride your bike!


For many excellent articles about cycling basics and more: Check out Total Women’s Cycling for tons of fantastic info!