Cycling into a Headwind

there are few things in life more dispiriting than cycling into the rotten teeth of a vicious headwind. if you live somewhere with prevailing winds driving off the sea, then it’s a common occurence. it’s mercifully not that typical near Bristol, but i suspect we get more than our fair share of south-easterlies blowing off the atlantic.

there are some ways to get around it – not going out being one, stick to the turbo and sweat up a windless frenzy. this is resolutely unappealing. i suggest the following:

1. plan an out and back route, with the out being right into the wind; look on it as a necessary suffering with the tempting lure of a fantastic tailwind on the way home; spinning away in the 53.11

2. do some ‘tacking’, ride out at right angles to the wind direction where possible, then come back again – this tactic is used by mountain bikers and was recommended to me by a local hero, Rob ‘Box’ Cooksley. he owns and runs a fantastic bike shop at the bottom of burrington combe, Bad Ass Bikes. Their workspace is like an autopsy room; gleaming and metallic with loads of space. the combe this morning was like a wind tunnel, all gales funnelling up the valley – if i’d ascended instead of descended i suspect i could have set a PB, even on 10 kilos of raleigh.

3. keep low, hunch down, grab the drops, flatten the back and minimise the ‘sail’ effect. the opposite works amazingly well when riding uphill with a tailwind.

4. watch out for gaps in the hedgerow, or gates, or areas where it is suddenly more exposed, a ferocious gust can be enough to knock you over. be careful descending for this reason.

4. push big gears where you can. I’m sure someone else will disagree.

5. form an echelon! it’s quite an artform, and one of the most exciting aspects of cycling – a strong sidewind forces the riders to line across the road; this then leaves the rest in the gutter – you can only fit a finite number in an echelon, then a new one needs to be formed; if you’re not quick about it you’ll be dropped and never get back on. some riders read the race particularly well – famously lance armstrong, and get in the echelon straight away, having seen the right hand turn or similar on the route map and interpreted the weather conditions. others fail to spot it coming and end up in a real pickle. really clean echelons consist of two lines of riders, rotating clockwise, and diagonally to share the effort.

echelons nearly always cause time splits and total chaos; you can see the gaps in formation below:

going out on a really windy day makes you appreciate those float days that much more and you feel proud of yourself for making an effort.

a particularly windy race; devolder taken out by a wheelie bin:

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