Of wind and rain

Rain proof parachute?

The four enemies of the cyclist: punctures, hills, wind and rain. If you live in parts of East Anglia you may avoid the second but you will get more of the third; in west Wales, you get all four in good measure while in central London the first and last generally hold sway.

The less said about punctures, the better.

Hills? well, you get to go downhill afterwards and a spell spent riding on flat roads will soon make anyone yearn for a decent rise to attack.

Personally, I don’t mind rain so much. In fact, some of my best competitive performances have been done in it; keeps you cool if you are bit on the lardy side, don’t you know. Having mudguards on several of my bikes means I rarely have to get wet and gritty, which I don’t like. Otherwise, well; it’s only water.

Wind? Wind is the big one. Never attack into the wind is one of the iron rules that should be drummed into every prospective road racer’s head. It wasn’t drummed into mine; there was nobody to do the drumming and I ended up finding out the hard way during the Tour of the Fens in about 1986.

That was a windy race enlivened by the likes of Gary Baker, John French and most of the Dinnington Road Club. The bit back across  the fens south of Wicken was single track with grass growing down the central strip, but the wind was behind us. It was a headwind through the village, which was where I decided to attack to impress my family, who lived there.

I still finished. In the top 12 as far as I remember, but there was nothing left at the end. Attack into a headwind and the bunch will just sit on your wheel laughing unless you get a small gap, in which case they will simply watch you waste your strength.

That’s the trouble with the wind. You simply can’t fight it on a bike. Instead, you must reach some kind of accommodation with it. Luckily, the slower you  go, the easier it gets. That’s because, as you go down through the gears, the thrust at the tyre’s point of contact with the road, which is what pushes you along, increases. So, your speed relative to the wind increases as it gets stronger… Faced with a headwind, just slow down a bit, get down on the drops if you have ’em, accept the longer journey time and away you go. Just don’t try top drop wheelsuckers while riding into it.

For that you will need a tail wind. The converse is true of riding with the wind behind you; gear up to take advantage and the thrust between the tyre and road is commensurately reduced. 42×21 is exactly half the gear made by 52×13; in the latter, you go twice the distance if you pedal as hard and as fast, but have half the push at the tyre. Go to an even higher gear and thrust diminishes even more.

What this means is that the faster you go with a strong wind, the harder it is to exceed the speed of the wind as anyone who has tried to go 50mph with a 25mph tailwind will know. Go fast with a tailwind and anyone sitting on your wheel will have to work hard to stay there since they will have to push a big gear without getting much shelter. Back in 2000, Andrei Tchmil took advantage of a tailwind at the finale of the Tour of Flanders, attacking over the top of the Bosberg and holding off the chasers for 20km despite having gap of less than 10 seconds.

Then again, if you are lucky to find yourself with a tailwind, you might as well just soft pedal and enjoy it while it lasts.

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