by Katie Macarelli
By my often exaggerated calculations it’s windy along the Colorado Front Range about 85% of the year. If you dread riding in the wind and avoid it like the plague, that’s a lot of time off the bike. Having grown up in Eastern Colorado, I feel I was born to take the wind. The #1 tip for dealing with wind on a bike ride is simple: embrace it. You can’t do anything about it, so you may as well welcome the wind as an aid to becoming a better rider. Think of it as a form of hill climbing (at slower speeds, each 5 mph of wind speed equals 1% of grade i.e. a 20-mph headwind would equal a 4% hill). Then it becomes a happy challenge rather than something to loathe.
That being said, that positivity tends to catch fire and explode into rage the first time you get nailed by a trashcan. So here are some tricks I’ve learned over the years to avoid such a catastrophe.
There’s a Time and Place for Everything
If possible, start rides into the wind. Battle while you’re fresh, then let the gale blow you home. This is assuming the head-wind doesn’t change, of course. (Shhhh! Don’t even think it, as you’ll jinx yourself). Wind is usually lighter in the early morning or in the evening. If you start your ride a little earlier, the headwind could be (relatively) tame before you’re treated to a roaring tailwind on the return trip. Choosing routes with trees, through a valley, around buildings, stone walls or other wind blockers can take your ride status from “that sucked” to “it wasn’t bad!”. Or you can ride behind/beside someone like me. That also works.
Don’t fight to keep a set speed. Remember, to maintain 18 mph into a 10-mph headwind you need about twice the effort as when riding 18 on a calm day. Pushing your normal gear into a wind is hard on your knees (and it will crush your spirit). Just as with a hill, drop down a gear or two to allow you to maintain your normal cadence. Use the wind to hone your riding position. There’s nothing like the wind to help you notice how small postural changes affect your speed. Keep your elbows in to minimize your frontal area instead of splayed outward. You’re a boxer in a fight, not Lady Gaga striking a pose at the Super Bowl.
Dress for Success
A baggy jacket can act like a sail, flapping and eventually slapping you silly with it’s unzipped zipper. Another detriment to loose clothing is that it can trap cold air. Adding a parachute of frigid air to a sweaty body can be a dangerously bad idea in March. Might I also suggest anchoring your sunglasses inside your helmet straps (yes, I’ve had them blown off my face before–good times). Dress accordingly. I can’t stress this enough. 45 degrees can feel like -20 with high, frigid winds. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I did get an “ice cream headache” on my commute home tonight and after 2 miles I was no longer able to feel my hands. Shame on me. I knew better.
The Adrenaline Junkie
Be aware of the allure of the tailwind. Tailwinds can be riotously enjoyable. Ride them while you can but ride them responsibly and don’t forget to pedal. Coasting during a massive tailwind can allow the wind to push you dangerously off your line. Your bike will be more stable on descents if you’re applying even a little power to the rear wheel. Shifting to a harder gear and pedaling will give you a noticeable edge in stability. Prepare to stop a little (ahem) earlier–not that I’d know from experience. Once stopped, hug your bike between your legs and brace yourself with one foot slightly ahead.
A Natural Disaster Movie
As always, be aware of flying debris. Things like tumble-weeds, trash cans, sheets of corrugated metal, empty milk jugs, fuzzy lil’ bunnies, etc. Anything can be dangerous when it’s flying towards your face or your wheel. Above all, ride (as my mom would say) with your wits about you.
*I feel obligated to disclose that I am 5’10” and 150 pounds. Disregard at least half of what I wrote above if you’re smaller than this. I call it “The Katie Index”. You can ignore it, but you’ll regret it. #airborne
Katie is a bicycle enthusiast all the way around. She puts in more miles on her bike than in the car each year. She is a respected and beloved contributor to 303cycling and as Marketing Manager at Feedback Sports she is a vital part of their team.