01/11/2011 | 23 comments
While hills may be harder and wet weather more uncomfortable, nothing in road cycling is quite as dispiriting as a proper headwind.
Wind that stays in your face for mile after mile not only saps morale but, unless treated with respect, can eat up reserves of strength with impressive rapidity. And, on a long ride, knowing how to deal with the wind can make the difference between blowing and finishing strongly. So here are a few tips to help you overcome the challenge of the headwind.
1: Get aero
Not too hard to figure this one out. “Getting aero” on a bicycle means minimising wind resistance and there’s no better time to do so than when riding directly into it. Any road rider even remotely interested in optimal performance should already have close-fitting clothing with nothing hanging loose that might flap around. The bike itself can also be set up to keep down wind drag by keeping down clutter such as the unused brackets, zip ties and old Velcro straps than some riders seem loth to discard.
Most important, of course, is to get down “on the drops” and present as small a front area as feasible. This is where careful position setup pays off; bars that are too high will result in a less effective position, while too low and they will not be comfortable for long. For, having got down on the drops, the aim will be to stay there as long as is necessary, which might be quite a while…
2: Find a strong cyclist to ride behind
“Sitting on a wheel” or riding close behind and in the slipstream of another cyclist saves, according to reliable estimates, somewhere around 30percent of the effort needed to go the same speed on the front. That’s enough to make finding a friendly wheel well worth doing even if it means chasing to get on it.
For sure, the wheel in question may not stay friendly for very long, especially if its owner begins to feel that advantage is being taken. Should “words” ensue, it may be necessary to do a turn on the front from time to time. While it is wise to appear willing, it is very unwise to put too much effort into such turns since they will not only tire you out but put you at the mercy of the rider in front were they to decide to end the partnership. Better to go through, ease off and start rolling the shoulders within a few pedal strokes so the “stronger” rider impatiently takes the front again.
3: Slow down
If the gear you are in feels too hard, change down. This sounds simple and is, but the real key to riding into the wind is not to try to fight it. It will win. Slowing down even by 1mph will make a massive difference to how much power is needed. It’s an exponential thing; slowing down by 5percent equates to about a 15percent reduction in effort. A lower gear obviously makes pedalling easier but also inherently obliges you to ride more slowly; job done.
4: Get stuck in
You may need to slow down a bit into a headwind but that does not mean soft-pedalling. There’s work to be done and sticking at it is going to be the only way to get finished. Furthermore, should you have managed to drop a weaker companion, perhaps on a small rise, a headwind is the perfect ally when it comes to pressing home the advantage. See you in the pub/cafe/HQ!
5: Turn around
If you have to get somewhere, you may not have a choice about whether or not to ride into a headwind. If you are planning a training route, you might find it worthwhile to go a different way if this means either having a cross wind in both directions or a tailwind early on where the wind is forecast to die down later in the day. No shame in that; just don’t tell anyone.
6: Stay in bed
Autumn gale stripping the leaves from the boughs when you wake up? Remember, it could be dangerous out there, what with falling branches, the front wheel being blown sideways and the rest of it. There’s always tomorrow…
Got a tip to share? Tell us in the forum.