By Fred Matheny
Wind is tough. The longest climb eventually ends, but a nasty headwind can last for the duration of a multiday tour. Even on a regular training ride, a 10-mph (16-kph) headwind section can seem like an eternity. But if you want to ride consistently, you’ll have to ride in the wind. Here’s how to combat those zephyrs and use them to help you improve.
Embrace the wind. I know some riders who combat wind by swearing that it doesn’t exist. They argue that you can’t see the wind so why even acknowledge its presence? By refusing to recognize wind’s existence, they claim they can keep their sanity when it blows day after day. Of course, ignoring something that exists is the opposite of sanity. But we all live by our illusions!
I prefer a more positive mental approach to wind. For instance, I try to remember that headwinds actually help improve fitness. They make you work harder for every inch you cover — terrific for power building. But in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter what mental approach to wind you adopt as long as you’re out there riding in all conditions. Don’t let wind keep you indoors unless it’s blowing so hard that you’re in danger of being unable to control your bike.
Gear down. Some riders fight headwinds by grinding heroically in a normal gear. That’s hard on your knees and on your motivation. Instead, just like on tough hills, choose a gear that allows you to maintain your normal cadence. With a sprightly spin you won’t go significantly slower, you’ll have more fun — and your knees will thank you.
Get aero. When you’re fighting a headwind, get low with your back almost flat. Either put your hands on the drops or on the brake hoods with your forearms horizontal. The idea is to keep the brunt of the wind off your chest. You may feel funny in a full aero tuck going 12 mph, but in a howling headwind every aero advantage helps. In fact, this gives you the chance to tune your position. It’s almost like being in a wind tunnel. You can feel how small changes in upper-body posture make a difference to speed and pedaling ease. Experiment with aerodynamics by putting your hands in different locations on the bar, moving your elbows in or out, and altering the angle of your back.
Lose the jacket. Baggy clothing can be a real drag in headwinds. If you’re wearing a jacket, it’ll act like a parachute, flapping loudly and sapping your power. On chilly, windy days, wear an extra layer under your jersey instead of a jacket. There is plenty of good thermal gear to choose from these days.
Get help. Headwind and crosswind sections are great times to be in a small group. Even one riding companion cuts your time on the front in half. A strong group of 4-6 riders can cleave a headwind and make the miles fly by.
Learn to echelon. Crosswinds mean that the area of maximum draft is not directly behind the rider in front butoff to his leeward side. When a group of riders is in this staggered formation, it’s called an echelon. A crosswind makes drafting safer, too. When you’re offset to one side, the road ahead isn’t obscured by your riding partner. You can see potholes and other hazards better. So far, so good, but strong crosswinds mean that you’ll have to overlap wheels to get maximum draft, and that can be dangerous. To reduce the risk, heed the No. 1 rule of echelon riding: When relinquishing the front position, always pull off into the wind.
Find shelter. On windy days when all you’d like to do is enjoy the bike, head for roads that offer windbreaks. These may be low in the valley or sheltered by trees, buildings or walls. Tall corn works well, but where the heck is it in the spring gales when you need it? If it’s really howling, ride a circuit a couple of miles around so the wind alternates from the front, side and rear at frequent intervals. Without this option, ride into the headwind to start the ride, then let the tailwind blow you home after the hard work is done.
Use a tailwind. When you turn and get a tailwind, go fast. Some riders coast or soft pedal to recover from their hard work into the headwind. But in an event you can gain significant time with tailwinds if you keep a steady and brisk pace. Shift to a bigger gear, spin and enjoy the ride.