Login | June 25, 2018

Wind and cycling

Pete’s World

Published: May 8, 2017

Northeast Ohio springs are notorious for endless days of steady blowing and gusting winds, which isn't so awfully bad…until you decide to get out there for a bike ride.

That’s when even a consistent 10 to 12 mph wind can turn every pedal stroke into a painful physical as well as mental challenge. And suddenly what started out as a much anticipated fun ride morphs into an agony filled, Hell On Wheels ride.

Heck, non-wind mph’s can easily be slashed in half with a stiff headwind, which means one’s energy expenditure might have to double to maintain that same windless speed.

So let’s take a look at this turbulent issue from two standpoints, the physical, scientific side, and then the mental, mind-over-matter side.

First, realize that even on a flat road with no headwind, aerodynamic drag is by far the greatest barrier to a cyclist's speed, accounting for 70 to 90 percent of the resistance felt when pedaling.

Toss in an ugly headwind and those percentages really get nasty.

So reducing wind resistance is crucial to maintaining your typical non-wind cycling speed when headwind riding.

Second, understand that the more upright your riding posture, the more aerodynamic drag you create.

Therefore, by lowering your upper body towards the top tube such that the wind “flows” across your back, well, that puts you into a more aerodynamic position, especially when you’re battling a headwind.

Okay, so you’re not a bike racer, you just hate riding stretched out on the drops, and more than anything, you think it’s uncomfortable as heck.

I get it, and it can be tough, yet understand that learning to adjust to a more aerodynamically efficient position during frisky headwinds will absolutely make your cycling experiences much more pleasurable.

And the best way to acclimate to a low riding position is to approach it in small chunks of time.

Begin with 2- to 5-minute stretches where you keep a low back and ride with your hands on the drops.

Initially, you’ll likely feel quite uncomfortable, and you might even loose a bit of power, but eventually you’ll be able to spend more and more of your headwind riding time down there on those dreaded drops without a loss in power.

Once you acclimate to the drop position, and it could take months, you might want to think about lowering your stem height.

Again, as you did with time also do with height - lower incrementally until you’ve achieved your desired position.

Doing so will decrease the angle at your torso, thereby further reducing the aerodynamic drag from your upper body, even when you’re on the bar tops.

Now to the nonscientific side of this headwind thing, which I’d like to address with a bit of personal retrospection.

Many years ago, I often encountered, both during recreational riding, racing, and training, occasions when my fellow cyclists and I became mentally beat down by a gnarly head or crosswind.

We’d just kind of give up, sometimes out of frustration, sometimes out of agony, sometimes out of lack of willpower.

Well, it was those incidents that eventually motivated me to begin accepting the wind as not only an invisible adversary to compete against, but also as a training partner and a teammate when cycling in mass start events.

With only two choices available, challenging the wind and using it as a motivator, or letting it break me, I chose the former.

This mindset became especially helpful when racing in time trial events, where I was confident that any nasty headwind would help to break my competitor’s will to win.

Several years after adopting this mindset I literally thrived in dicy wind situations, that while my competition bitched, moaned, complained…and sometimes gave up.

Once I left racing I took that same attitude into cross-country riding, pedaling against 20-, 30- and even 40-mph headwinds out on the Great Plains. A strong mindset, not fitness, helped me to endure those tortuous days of unrelenting winds in places where I stood out as the tallest wind-target on an endlessly flat landscape.

So think about this the next time you’re out there battling a brutal headwind, sometimes fitness isn’t the primary element that separates one athlete from another, it can also be mindset, attitude and composure.

With that I say, “embrace the wind.”