Finally, winter appears to have arrived in no uncertain terms after a gloriously mild autumn. All of a sudden there is water on the ground messing up my nice clean bike and the winds have picked up. I thought I was reasonably well prepared for the winter commutes to work but I had forgotten about the effect of higher winds when riding on the road, being reminded has not been very pleasant!
Riding to work is one thing, but how do winds affect a long distance rider and what can be done to mitigate the effect of a stiff breeze in your face?
There is a classic belief (at least it feels like that) amongst those planning to ride the UK End to End, that the start should be Land’s End to take advantage of the south westerlies that we more often than not get. The argument for this, I suspect, becomes much stronger in winter when wind speeds are higher and the logic is sound given that the average direction does indeed appear to be from the south west. However, this doesn’t help you much when you are riding from south to north and the wind decides to be a northerly!
Winds, like hills, come and go so there is always the positive to be had in the knowledge that the wind will drop eventually and you can crack on. But what can you do in the meantime when each pedal stroke feels like an effort? Let’s assume that you have the optimum touring bike without deep dish aero wheels that capture the wind like a sale and look at what you can do to make life easier.
Prepare in advance
Most people will take a smart phone with them, it makes sense to stay in touch with people if you are out on your own, especially as some of the Cumbrian and Scottish roads are very remote. Have a look at the weather forecast for the next day and get an idea of what you might be in for, knowing takes a lot of the fear out of things.
Eat well and ensure good hydration to prepare for the next day, we all know that horrible feeling when your energy reserve is exhausted, commonly known as the ‘bonk’. Riding in winds will use more energy compared to a still day.
A big, flappy coat won’t help your cause much, over an 8 hour day the cumulative effect of it catching the wind will sap your strength and lesson the pleasure of the days riding (it is supposed to be fun, right?).
Dress in layers to insulate against the cold and ensure that there are no exposed bits of skin where the wind can get in. Bib shorts are less than flattering for most of us but they do have a nice, high back which helps to keep that area warm even if your shirt rides up. Being warm gives you something less to worry about.
Don’t let the wind chill make your hands and feet painfully cold. A decent pair of winter gloves and overshoes do a sterling job to keep extremities nice and warm. The only issue you will have is drying out your gloves when arriving at your destination, most are very waterproof on the outside but easily get wet on the inside with sweat.
On a serious note regarding apparel, how visible are you to other road users? Cyclists are the first to complain about drivers who don’t give them enough space etc., etc. but was the cyclist giving the driver best chance to see them and their bike? Lights/hi viz/light coloured clothing?
Manage your energy as you ride
Eating well the night before won’t matter a jot if you shoot your bolt in the first hour. Take your time and accept that, for the same given amount of effort through the pedals, you will be slower on average overall on a windy day. Maybe drop a gear from your usual cruising ring and increase your pedal cadence, take regular breaks out of the wind and continue to eat and drink. Think about riding at a slower speed that can be sustained over the whole day.
Break things down, think about riding to the next village or the next coffee shop, try not to think about the overall trip or your final destination for the day, it just makes things drag. Look around and enjoy the countryside you are riding through, this can take your mind off things and before you know where you are, it’s the last hill before the next stop.
Try to avoid the temptation to keep an eye on your computer, time seems to go quicker that way and you won’t be continually disappointed by the speed data!
If you are riding with other people, morale can suffer a bit on days like these. Try and remain cheerful, almost laugh in the face of adversity but remember that some might be suffering more than others. Work as a team and take turns at the front so people get a rest on those really breezy days.
Yes, have a good look around at the countryside and enjoy but try not to zone out so much that you end up playing chicken with a 38 tonner. Gusty winds can push you out into the road or into the ditch at the side; riding in conditions like this takes concentration, especially if your panniers are carrying extra weight. Be aware of natural wind breaks like hedges ending suddenly and subjecting you to a strong gust. If it’s really bad, consider canning the day and live to fight another, you won’t get a posthumous medal for pushing on regardless.
Be as fit as you can be
This is not just for cycling but for anything in life. There is no such thing as too fit. Your core muscles do a lot of work on the bike, their workload spirals upwards when you are trying to balance a laden tourer in strong winds. Everyone is different and fitness is a whole different blog, I’m just saying it’s good idea to consider exercise to supplement all of your riding.
People adopt their own approach to cycling, the above isn’t meant to be prescriptive, just fuel the debate; I hope there is something useful in there somewhere! Feel free to comment constructively below and share for others to comment. The best thing about windy days in my opinion, is getting to your destination, sitting down with a pint or cup of tea and recounting that arduous day in the saddle with your mates. It’s a mid-life crisis thing?
If you liked this blog please take a moment to check out my book describing the solo Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in 2012, all profit from sales to www.criduchat.org.uk
Please click the cover image for the Kindle version or click here to order a paperback copy. Thank you!