Cycling in wind

Riding in wind used to really get me down.  On race morning if I heard the wind whistling through the trees I’d dread what was to come during the bike leg.  If a training ride was on the cards and I could see the trees in my front yard leaning over I’d begrudgingly turn to the indoor trainer.  Deep down I knew that surely it’s just a state of mind, and there’s a way to deal with the challenges of a solid breeze.

It wasn’t until 2007 when I was training for IRONMAN Hawaii that I figured I had better get used to riding in the wind.  The infamous Kohala winds along the Queen K Highway were going to be a force to be reckoned with and I had to know how to cope.

I’ve now turned things around and have found a way to use the wind to my advantage.  It the same for everyone, it’s just how each person copes with the conditions that defines how they will be impacted.  This is what I did…

Learn to love the wind

These days I don’t mind training and racing on a windy day but sure, I’d prefer a light breeze any day, but if the wind does pick up on race day or the course turns into a significant cross or tailwind I see that now as an advantage.  I’m not scared by it, or nervous of how I will cope, I just know how to handle it.  I also bank on the fact that most people are the opposite, so from a competitive perspective I feel I relish in a windy day.

Get out there in the wind and learn how your bike and body react to the wind from various directions and speeds.  Your Triathlon Bike may behave different to your Road Bike so you have to find that out before race day too.

Get aerodynamic

The smaller the surface area you present to the wind the better.  It’s not possible to reduce our physical size by a great deal, but we can position ourselves with a smaller frontal area through having a good bike fit.  Keep in mind you need to work at this position, get comfortable on it, and be aware that the most aerodynamic position may not be the most comfortable, especially if trying to hold it for hours and hours.  So there may have to be a small compromise here for comfort and efficiency over aerodynamics.

One big difference can be just to drop your head.  Be like a turtle and retract your head and lower it a bit.  This will affect your ability to see up the road clearly so be very careful when you do this.

It’s well worth finding ways to be more aerodynamically efficient with your bike position.  Small changes here can be worth a lot more than a flash new set of wheels on your bike.

Keep low on your bars

As mentioned above, the more aerodynamic you are the less you will be affected by the wind.  But it may be so strong that staying on your aerobars is too unstable and dangerous.  Therefore you should ride in your drops or on your bull horns.  Get low, widen your elbows a bit to create a wider stance, bend them every so slightly and soften your grip on the bars so your bike is still able to move a bit as the wind gusts on and off. Put a bit of a smile on your face, make people around you wonder how the heck you can be enjoying it so much….it might be enough to put them off their game.

Lean on a crosswind

Air is pretty dense, and air that moves swiftly can provide quite a solid medium to lean on…that’s why it’s harder to ride into the wind.  You can use this to your advantage when it’s coming at you from the side.  Learning how to lean on the wind has a similar affect as a yacht sailing across a breeze.  You’re getting blown from the side and being pushed forward a little bit.  Used properly a crosswind can be your friend, used incorrectly a crosswind can be a real hinderance to your forward advancement.

Let the wind move you

Being all tense and fighting every gust of wind is very stressful, uses a lot of energy, and can leave you feeling quite exhausted.  If you just relax and let the wind move you slightly as you regain your control and balance you will be much better off for it.

One thing you should never do when you get pushed by a crosswind is stop pedalling and sit up.  Suddenly you have lost all control of your bike.  One piece of advice I remember Chris Lieto saying (IRONMAN Super Biker from the mid 2000’s) was ‘Tension on the chain, point and shoot”. This really resonated with me, it makes perfect sense and it’s something I tell all my athletes to think of when they are dealing with a crosswind.

Think of your wheel selection

I could write a whole blog on this, and one day I probably should.  But the basic idea is that the deeper your front wheel is the more surface area is presented to a crosswind and the more your front wheel can be shifted, sometimes very dangerously with horrible outcomes.  The is less significant with a deep rear wheel, but a less powerful lightweight rider will still have to be careful.
The best piece of advice would be that if you think it’s going to be too deep it probably is, and it would be safer and more effective to go for the shallower rime depth, certainly on the front.
Don’t be that person sitting up out of their aerobars, white knuckled trying to deal with an 80mm deep front wheel and a 20koh crosswind. Instead be that person riding smoothly and comfortably in the aerobars with the nice 32mm deep front wheel, easily riding past.

Invest in a Power Meter

The moment I started using a Power Meter the head and crosswind stopped, not literally obviously but theoretically it did.  That’s because power is power, it’s absolute, it’s the output of your effort right then and there, regardless of the environment.  The environmental conditions (and a few other things) will dictate how fast you are going to move, but if you can’t push any harder on the pedals than you are at that time then you can’t do anything about it.  If you’re going slower then I guarantee the majority of the field will be going slower too.

A power meter will very quickly teach you how much harder you are having to work into a headwind to maintain a given speed.  And the converse to this applies to a tailwind, you will be surprised how little power you have to put out to maintain that same speed. You get a real appreciation of how important it is to be smooth and efficient in your pedaling, and remain at an effort you know you can handle for the duration of the ride.

That being said, you should actually push a little bit harder into a headwind than you would in a still day, and when it comes to the tailwind, ride a little bit easier and use that time to regain some energy.  A crosswind is similar to a headwind, so be prepared to push slightly harder here too.

This is stuff you wouldn’t be able to manage if you didn’t have a power number in front of you to refer to.

Watch the road ahead

Quite often a bike course may have long sections of trees lining the road intermittently broken up with gaps where there are no trees.  The wind will funnel through these points and create quite a gust, often taking you by surprise, especially if you aren’t familiar with the bike course.  If in a race watch the riders ahead of you, so if you see one suddenly shift to the side from a gust then you know what’s coming and you can prepare for the same gust.  If you are on your own just keep looking ahead and making little decisions about what may or may not happen at various stages.

And a small tip when passing other athletes in these sections, they can get blown into you if you are too close, so just give another meter of space just to be on the safe side.