Tips to make your next ride in to the headwind bearable

We’ve all been there – early morning ride to work, the journey back after a long day, or perhaps your planned long weekend ride – all can become an epic slog if the wind decides to try and blow you back to where you came from.

Here’s some advice on making it a tad more bearable:

Draft your way there

Drafting – riding close to another rider to benefit from their slipstream – really comes into it’s own on a windy day. If you’re lucky enough to have a ride buddy, working as a team will pay dividends. However – be careful – only draft riders you trust, make sure they know the rules, and don’t ever overlap wheels.

If there’s just two of you, drafting means the front rider (A) makes an effort, whilst the rear rider (B) recovers. Choose an allotted time, perhaps 30 seconds, and swap – so rider A sits behind rider B. At the swap point, the rider on the front should signal to the rear rider, before moving back. If one rider is stronger than the other, they should take longer turns on the front – this means you both finish your journey quicker.

If you’ve got more than two riders, you can form a proper paceline – each riding one behind the other, with the front rider moving to the back when they need a rest. The front rider should always signal before moving back, and pedal gently until they reach the back of the line. By the time they get to the front again, they’ll have had a good rest.

More advanced, is a formation called a chaingang, which really needs at least 8 riders and is illustrated beautifully by Dave Walker of Cycling Cartoons:

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Drop your gears

Riding into a headwind creates extra resistance, as does riding in a high gear. On a calm day, your biggest gear might feel great on a long stretch of flat road, but if the wind is blowing against you, it’ll feel considerably harder.

Dropping down a gear, or a few, compensates for the effect. Try to keep spinning your legs in a smaller gear, aiming for 90 revolutions per minute if we’re being technical – pushing a high gear with the added resistance of the wind won’t do your knees any favours.

Forget about speed and distance

If you usually like to keep a track of your speed and distance, windy weather needs to be taken into account. Anyone who has ever trained with a power meter, or even a heart rate monitor, will tell you that riding 10 miles in 30 minutes with a headwind can take just the same, if not more, effort than riding 10 miles in 25 minutes in calm conditions.

Just accept you’re going slower, and rest assured that you’ll be working just as hard, if not harder – and thus will reap the same or better fitness gains. If it’s a fitness ride, don’t push yourself to complete an allotted number of miles, push yourself to reach an allotted amount of time, instead. If it’s a commute, accept it’s going to take a little longer.

Plan your route

Again, if this is a commute – you’re probably going to have to suck it up. However, if it’s a weekend or ‘just because’ ride, and you know it’s windy, plan your route so that you begin by riding into the headwind, and finish with a tail wind. The first half might feel hard, but it’ll be well worth it.

Drop flappy kit and get down

You don’t have to ride a road bike at 30mph down a dual carriageway at 8am (see: time trials) for aerodynamics to be relevant. Even if you ride a hybrid and wear a suit jacket, you can still make the ride easier with a few tricks.

Beating a headwind is about reducing the drag created by yourself and the bicycle. Since on average, the riders body accounts for 80% of that drag – making yourself less of a ‘flag in the wind’ actually has the most effect.

If you’ve got drop bars – use them to get low. If you ride with flat bars, lower your body. In both cases – keep your elbows in.

Your snuggly warm waterproof jacket might be great for keeping you dry on wet days, but if it isn’t raining, lose it – or any other flapping excess materials you might usually wear. Baggy clothing will catch the wind, and turn you into a sail – which genuinely will make the journey more painful. You don’t have to wear full lycra, but the closer fitting, the better – and if it’s a long weekend ride, lycra will probably be the best bet.

Finally – remember it’s a good workout – and try to enjoy it.

Go on – give us a smile?!

(I’m the one with the blue helmet… trying to smile…)

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10 Responses to Tips to make your next ride in to the headwind bearable

  1. MJ Ray 16/01/2015 at 9:34 am #

    On flat bars, either fit drop or ski handle ends, or grab the bar near the stem and tuck yourself down… in both situations, be ready to move at least one hand back to the brakes quickly if needed. I live at the far end of the Fen Line from London, so we get a few headwinds to enjoy along with the wide skies!

  2. Magnus 16/01/2015 at 10:14 am #

    Think of it like porridge, it can be a struggle to eat, but it’ll make you stronger.

  3. Phil 16/01/2015 at 12:52 pm #

    Re: drafting. Make sure the person in front a )knows that you’re drafting and not creeping up behind to mug and rob them, and b) is comfortable with being drafted. I have been ‘surprise drafted’ by selfish and inconsiderate cyclists on the Bristol to Bath cycle path a number of times- when you’re the person being drafted and not ‘in’ on the process it is somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. Now, if anyone tries it I slow down and pull over: I do not want any other vehicle that close to my back wheel.

  4. Mrs janet groves 16/01/2015 at 6:17 pm #

    You’ll end up with beautiful thighs !

    • Phil 19/01/2015 at 9:24 am #

      I have *grin*

  5. bob 16/01/2015 at 9:14 pm #

    best way to deal with headwinds?
    get a recumbent!
    works every time for me.

    • Vincent 16/01/2015 at 10:39 pm #

      Even better: Get a velomobile 🙂

  6. Spencer 17/01/2015 at 2:38 pm #

    I’m uncomfortable with people drafting me on my commute. Always feel I should either slow down and let them pass or speed up and pull away. Problem with the latter is it inevitably knackers me for the remainder.

    I have also been hit by someone riding too close to my rear wheel. Pedestrian stepped off the pavement so I braked and got hit from behind. Other cyclist reckoned it was my fault for stopping so fast, sorry but you shouldn’t be riding so far up my backside that you could see what I had for breakfast and should try and keep your eyes on what’s ahead!

    • MJ Ray 19/01/2015 at 12:02 pm #

      The sad thing about that is that you can get most of the benefit of drafting without being so close that you can’t avoid a collision.

  7. luporini 18/01/2015 at 2:32 pm #

    If you are unable to draft and choose to ride for a distance in your drops, be careful to avoid neck hyperextension. I once rode in my drops against a strong wind for about 18 miles at the end of a long ride. I was in pain for a long time afterward and eventually had to visit a physiotherapist who diagnosed me. Since that time, I am careful to keep my head and neck in a straight position and use my eyes instead of my head and neck to look ahead and down at the road.

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