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How to stay upright, safe and cycling in the right direction when the wind is blowing hard

It's been pretty windy for the past couple of weeks and as another storm batters the UK, we decided it was time to put our heads together and come up with some top tips (learned the hard way) to help you combat riding in the wind. 

1. Stay at home and hit the indoor trainer

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.

Elite Direto Interactive Power Meter Trainer - with bike.jpg

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.

- 6 reasons why using a home trainer is the best way to get fit — and how to make it fun too

2. Plan your route to avoid the worst of the wind

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!

Zefal Z Console Lite iPhone 6 - phone mounted 2

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.

- GPS cycle route planning made easy - how to plan and follow a bike route

3. Check the forecast

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.

- 12 of the best windproof cycling jackets — packable outer layers to keep out the chill

4. Get low and aerodynamic

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.

Why riders like you need to go aero, wheel weight doesn't matter — and how the wind tunnel proves it

5. Wear tight-fitting clothing

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.

dhb Aeron Lab All Winter Soft Shell Jacket - riding.jpg

6. Ditch the deep section wheels

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.

Merida Reacto Disc Team-E - fork.jpg

7. Suck wheels and work together

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.

Nine_rider_echelon_followed_the_UCI_Commissaire_on_the_Rahal_Straight_at_Laguna_Seca_(42045587094)

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.

8. Lower gears - don’t worry about your speed

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.

9. It’s good training

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.

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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.

10. Enjoy the tailwind!

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!).

11. Get the train out and ride home

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 has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. 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.

17 comments

Avatar
Miller [306 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes

This is absolutely Strava weather if you can wrestle your bike round to a target segment with a favourable wind. 

Avatar
NickJP [14 posts] 9 months ago
4 likes

One of the best bike tours we ever did was a couple of thousand kilometres up the Queensland coast heading north from Brisbane. SE trade winds behind us day after day - I think of the 15 days it took to get to Cairns, 14 days of that was strong tailwinds.

We caught the train back from Cairns...

Crossing the Daintree River:

 

Avatar
CXR94Di2 [2771 posts] 9 months ago
1 like
NickJP wrote:

One of the best bike tours we ever did was a couple of thousand kilometres up the Queensland coast heading north from Brisbane. SE trade winds behind us day after day - I think of the 15 days it took to get to Cairns, 14 days of that was strong tailwinds.

We caught the train back from Cairns...

Crossing the Daintree River:

 

 

We stood on the other bank last year.  Beautiful area, just dont go out on the beaches at night!!

Avatar
spragger [53 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes

If you have lots of hedges in your locality better to go out ninety degrees to the wind.

Why fight against a heavy head wind

Just watch the gaps in the hedge, the wind will catch you.

Avatar
spragger [53 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

If you have lots of hedges in your locality better to go out ninety degrees to the wind.

Why fight against a heavy head wind

Just watch the gaps in the hedge, the wind will catch you.

Avatar
PRSboy [595 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes

I find riding in wind and bad weather generally is never as bad as I expect.  Best just to get out there, accept that it will be harder work than usual at times and just enjoy being outside.

Though I've found even if I plan a route to mean headwind out, tailwind home I never seem to feel the full advantage of the tailwind, I guess because the mechanical drag of the bike etc starts to take its toll at higher speeds.

No question, a loop in windy conditions is slower than the same route without wind, despite presumably getting an equal distance in headwind/tailwind (so says mywindsock anyway).  Most mysterious...

Avatar
Simon E [3887 posts] 8 months ago
3 likes
PRSboy wrote:

I find riding in wind and bad weather generally is never as bad as I expect.  Best just to get out there, accept that it will be harder work than usual at times and just enjoy being outside.

That was me this morning. wink

A bit of a grind in places for the first half of my commute but the hedges shielded me from the worst of it. Brief tailwind towards the finish.

On Wednesdays I usually do a 16 mile loop rather than the 8-mile direct route through Shrewsbury - the main roads are so busy and I'm f..ked off with the MGIFs, the cocks in Audis cars of all brands who think they own the road, the plumbers drinking their Costa at the wheel etc etc. It's a good workout and almost entirely rural back lanes so the views are better and the air is cleaner (although my bike certainly isn't!). I arrived at work upbeat, energised and cheerful. Despite storm Gareth, cycle commuting absolutely rocks!

Hoping those further North who may be experiencing rather more severe conditions are all OK.

Avatar
StuInNorway [335 posts] 8 months ago
1 like
PRSboy wrote:

I find riding in wind and bad weather generally is never as bad as I expect.  Best just to get out there, accept that it will be harder work than usual at times and just enjoy being outside.

 

 

I thought that last winter . .  took bike to work to ride home (need van for job), lovely if chilly.
Next morning the predicted wind of 5m/s had been replaced by a full on gale, with an extremely gusty temperament.  bridge over the marina 2km into my ride, I walked over,  2km further on on a slight uphill over a roundabout, a sudden extreme gust stopped me dead in the middle of the roundabout. Detoured onto side roads for protection and took the train most of the rest of the way.
(Wasn't helped by being the day my main front light died too, but that's why I always run 2 . .  in case)

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gmac101 [243 posts] 8 months ago
3 likes

Anybody else notice that point with a tailwind when you're cycling at the same speed as the wind and it goes quiet 

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IanEdward [384 posts] 8 months ago
2 likes

I notice it more as a warning on the way out!

If my legs are feeling really good but everything is eerily calm, it's at that point I realise I have a tailwind and remind myself to save something for the return leg...

Avatar
hawkinspeter [4390 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
PRSboy wrote:

I find riding in wind and bad weather generally is never as bad as I expect.  Best just to get out there, accept that it will be harder work than usual at times and just enjoy being outside.

Though I've found even if I plan a route to mean headwind out, tailwind home I never seem to feel the full advantage of the tailwind, I guess because the mechanical drag of the bike etc starts to take its toll at higher speeds.

No question, a loop in windy conditions is slower than the same route without wind, despite presumably getting an equal distance in headwind/tailwind (so says mywindsock anyway).  Most mysterious...

Yes, windy conditions will make you slower overall.

If you consider a bike journey with a headwind might take e.g. 35 minutes and the return with a tailwind may take 25 minutes. That would mean that you;re spending 10 minutes more cycling into a headwind than taking advantage of a tailwind, so on average you're going to be much slower.

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ktache [2323 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

It's the vortexes created by big tall buildings in close proximity that tend to get me.  I can do big wind, even manage big gusts, but the power of those vortexes, wow.  Theres a "windy" corner as you come down the hill from Reading station, then the big funnel of the rail bridge on the IDR.

When I was unlocking my bicycle to go home at the end of storm Doris, the number of drivers who just had to say "ooh, I wouldn't want to be you..", I was kind of excited by it.  At least I would have been able to hear any falling trees, and I'm never going fast enough to ride into a fallen tree.  I was at least experiencing The World.

On the way in the train had been stopped at Sandhurst by a fallen tree, I decided to make my own way to get to the Basingstoke Canal by riding the Blackwater Valley path.  Got very wet and muddy, then the sun came out, I went too far and was passed by several trains.  Had fun mind.

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MikeCope [4 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

Take to the forest out of the wind ...ride your cross bike or MTB .

It works for the Danes !

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StraelGuy [1747 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes
gmac101 wrote:

Anybody else notice that point with a tailwind when you're cycling at the same speed as the wind and it goes quiet 

 

Yes! I remember a couple of winters ago it was so windy I decided just to cycle up and down the cycle path next to the bypass to get some miles in. In one direction it was like cycling on the deck of a trawler in a storm, in the other it was almost literally like cycling in a silent vacuum.

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leaway2 [117 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

How to ride in the wind. The first point. Stay at home. Thanks for that!

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Zebra [52 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
NickJP wrote:

One of the best bike tours we ever did was a couple of thousand kilometres up the Queensland coast heading north from Brisbane. SE trade winds behind us day after day - I think of the 15 days it took to get to Cairns, 14 days of that was strong tailwinds.

We caught the train back from Cairns...

Crossing the Daintree River:

 

 Pretty much my backyard.  The south-easterly is pretty constant, so at least you can plan whether you want it behind you in the first half or on the way home, and head either north or south accordingly.  I have only actually sighted a croc during a ride twice, once at the location of your photo.

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Edgeley [548 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

Of course the danger of headwind out for tailwind back is that sometimes the wind changes direction half way through your ride.  It's happened to all of us.