Question: I’m a 51-year-old recreational rider with a decent sprint and above-average climbing ability. However, wind kills me! When I rotate to the front of a paceline, I can’t maintain the group’s pace if it’s even a little breezy. When I drop back, I often can’t hitch onto the end of the line, so I get dropped. Any suggestions? — Richard D.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: You didn’t say how big you are, but if you are a good climber, you’re probably relatively small and light. That’s a problem on flat, windy roads.
Generally, smaller riders produce less power (in an absolute sense) than bigger riders simply because they have less muscle mass. They climb well because they’re light and have a higher power-to-weight ratio. But on flat roads where gravity doesn’t reward that, the superior wattage output of big riders dominates.
Another key factor: Big riders don’t have an appreciably larger frontal area than small ones when in the riding position. The wind doesn’t penalize them as much as it does lightweights.
To make the most of the power you do have, think about whether any of these common errors apply to you.
If you’re in a paceline
Don’t miss the draft. The area of maximum shelter depends on wind direction. If it’s a direct headwind, the best draft is straight behind a rider. If it’s a quartering headwind from the left, the “cone” of shelter moves to that rider’s right. In crosswinds, you may need to ride almost beside another rider to get maximum draft.
Don’t dwell at the front. It’s tempting to sit on the front for several minutes to prove your strength. Don’t do it. You’ll burn out and soon be unable to pull through. You may even get dropped. Trade off at the front every 30-60 seconds and you and your group will go faster with less effort.
If you’re riding solo
Don’t overgear. If you fight the wind in an excessively large gear, you’ll soon be down for the count. The ratio that works on a given road when it’s calm is guaranteed to be too big. Gear down far enough to keep your cadence between 90 and 100 rpm.
Don’t be a sail. Headwinds reward a tight, narrow profile. To get low, grip the drops or hold the brake lever hoods with your palms cupped over the rubber with forearms parallel to the ground.
Don’t back off. Headwinds make riding tough.We all know that. So resign yourself to working harder and don’t bellyache about it. Think of it as you would a climb. You don’t get to the top of the Alpe d’Wheeze without effort, and you won’t easily make headway into a gale, either.
Don’t fear. The wind blows on everyone. If others can handle it, you can, too. If you hate to ride when the corn is bending, at least learn to tolerate it. Like other challenges in cycling, meeting wind head on will make you stronger.
Kerry Irons says
To help with the psychological aspects, plan your ride so that you fight the wind on the way out and have a tail wind on the way back. Nothing is more demoralizing that crawling home into a headwind after your legs are spent. And look for routes that are better sheltered from the wind: more trees, more hills, tall corn, etc.
Dave Easlick says
Yep! I usually check the forecast and the wind direction and plan my route, into the wind first part of the loop, wind on my back for the leg home.
I’m the small type rider Fred alludes to & have the same issue. I used to hate the wind as opposed to hills. Some of this is psychological because it’s an unseen foe holding you back, unlike hills where you can measure effort & attack them. I read something a few years ago that changed my attitude. It was how the Dutch racers were always good on climbs even though they come from a flat country with little climbing. But, the Dutch face fierce winds on those flat roads….. Fred’s pointers are all correct, & if you add the psychology of the wind just being another hill, albeit invisible, it can change your whole perspective on how to treat this foe. Welcome that wind just like the climb. It’s still frustrating at times for the reasons Fred gives, but it will help you welcome that wind like a hill climb.
The metric that I try to pay the most attention to is power, not speed. Power is absolute, a constant. To a large extent, this means that other than for bike handling being a bit more challenging, slugging it out by riding into the wind is generally no harder than riding on a more calm day. Sure, I end up riding a different gear and go slower (sometimes a lot slower) but my enjoyment of the ride stays constant.
That’s why we call it ‘The Dutch Mountain’
William Wightman says
Please forgive me but I cannot help but to be a bit snarky. But first, I think a good overarching solution mentioned in the article is to just gear down and stay in zone 2 or whatever keeps your level of effort flat and sustainable. Keep it fun… But for the snarky part the best solution is my current road recumbent which is 30% more efficient than a common diamond frame in a headwind and with the new fairing I am making that covers the front wheel, legs, lower torso, shoes, cranks, and cassette/derailleur, it will be ~30% more efficient than that. Only about one month of fabrication left. The bike loves a strong headwind, going up hills not so much. I love fabricating speed. More fun than training, although that is needed in moderation.