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.
For more detailed tips and tactics, check out my eArticle, Win Against Wind.