Even without actual named storms, the UK is a windy place. Upside: there are days when the country is mostly powered by wind-generated electricity. Downside: riding in the wind can be miserable and even dangerous. Here are our hard-earned tips for coping with riding in the wind.
Cycling in the wind isn’t always fun, and it can also be dangerous. Pay attention to any weather warnings issued by the local forecaster. Unless you really need to go out in gale force winds it might be the smart choice to reschedule your ride. Remember too that even when the wind is predominantly coming from one direction it can swirl and change in the blink of an eye - so you can spend minutes leaning in to that north westerly and suddenly find you're falling over as it suddenly stops or worse still find you're being pushed as it momentarily turns in to a south westerly - a very unnerving experience.
This is where indoor trainers are invaluable, and with tools like Zwift, TrainerRoad and Sufferfest you can still get your riding done in the safety of your home.
If you have to ride in the wind, then try and plan your route to avoid the worst of it. One of our best tips, provided you have the choice, is to head out into a headwind first and then enjoy the tailwind home - it’s way better than finding yourself 30 miles from home with a killer wind in your face!
It’s also worth trying to avoid busy roads and choose a quiet route; it's better not to have traffic around you if you do have a wobble. If you commute in windy weather trying to find a quieter route is all the more important - equally though it's not always easy. You’ll also want to avoid exposed areas like hilltops, plains and moorland. Look for sheltered areas but bear in mind that there's always the chance of falling branches if you ride in woodland. If riding in the city take particular care when crossing junctions where any crosswind may be channelled and amplified in the countryside be wary of field entrances or big gaps in hedges or dry stone walls where crosswinds can punch through.
Something to definitely consider when riding in the wind is that the weather can change very suddenly. It could be dry and sunny when you set out but halfway through your ride you could get lashed by horizontal rain, so make sure you're wearing suitable clothing, wind blocking jerseys and jackets, and think about carrying an emergency rain jacket just in case. If the wind is moving fast so is any accompanying rain, hail, or snow – so if you are going out be prepared.
Aerodynamics is even more important when the wind is blowing hard. Unless there's a strong wind behind you, this is the time to hunker down into the drops and get your profile as small and low as possible to reduce drag and the potential to be blown off course.
If you want to reduce your energy expenditure in strong winds, make sure you wear a tight-fitting jersey. Baggy clothes will flap in the wind and slow you down.
When the wind is really strong you should leave your deep section wheels at home. They might be fast in many conditions, but in strong and gusty crosswinds they can be downright dangerous as you’ll be blown across the road, so swap for something with a lower profile.
If you can ride with a couple of friends, or even better a big group, you’ll spend some of the time nicely sheltered from the wind. A study a few years ago found that riders in the sixth, seventh and eighth rows in a bunch encountered between five and 10 times less air resistance than those at the front.
You can’t ride all day expecting someone else to shelter you from the wind, so take it in turns using the through-and-off technique. This shared effort will mean you only spend a short amount of time in the wind before getting some time to recover. Vary the length of the time at the front to suit the conditions and strength of the riders.
A good pro tip is to learn the art of riding in an echelon. It’s tricky to do on busy roads with lots of traffic, but on quieter roads, you can do it with two or three cyclists. It simply involves overlapping the person in the front so they’re sheltering you from the wind and moving through quickly so you then take their place. You’re constantly in rotation and done well can feel great and be faster than riding on your own.
We caution that this can be dangerous, especially if it’s gusty, as sudden movements could result in the touch of wheels, and we don’t want that.
Riding in strong winds is hard work. You just have to accept that you’re not going to ride as fast as you would on a regular day. However, that’s not to say you won’t get a good workout; wear a heart rate monitor or use a power meter and use those numbers to gauge your effort rather than average speed.
Part of the reason riding in the wind is difficult is that the effort you know would result in say 15 or 20mph actually only delivers half that speed, if you’re lucky. It's demoralising to say the least, so riding in the wind isn’t the time to worry about your Strava speed.
I know, I know, you look outside the window and the trees are bent over and the trampoline has vanished, and your heart sinks. However, it is possible to see riding in the wind as a positive; it’s really good training.
Riding in the wind is basically the same as turning the resistance level up. Even better, you don’t need to ride that fast to churn out some serious watts, so try embracing the wind and seeing it as a really good training opportunity.
If you’re lucky and you’ve planned your route well, you should at least get a fairly decent reward in that strong tailwinds make you feel like a riding god!
If you’re bothered, you can use this to good effect and bag a few Strava PRs or KOMs (not that any of the road.cc crew would ever sink to such depths, oh no!).
If you just want to revel in the free speed of a tailwind but can’t be doing with all the struggling into a headwind, how about getting a train somewhere and then riding home?
We’re only joking, of course. We'd never do that and neither would you... would you?
Those are our top tips for riding in wind, what are yours? Let’s hear them down below.
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.