Nine moments everyone faces on a windy ride
From flying with a tailwind to desperately searching for shelter – the trials and tribulations we’ve all faced
Riding in March is a unique challenge.
The temperatures may have jumped and the lanes starting to dry, but early season excursions bring a whole other slew of trials and tribulations.
Whether it’s getting caught in an unforecast downpour, sudden freezing conditions, or taking a mud-strewn back-road in a moment of over-optimism, March’s deceptive spring feel catches out even the most experienced rider.
But one of the most challenging conditions is a long ride on a very gusty day.
From tantalising tailwinds to seeking shelter, here are the moments everyone faces during a windy day in the saddle.
1. I feel really strong… oh wait.
Coming out of winter, it’s tricky to know exactly how the legs will be.
You might have been putting in the miles on the turbo trainer, or maybe even treating yourself to a few months away from the bike.
But make sure you’re not fooled by those deceptive tailwinds when getting back out on the roads.
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I can’t count the number of times I’ve started to pedal and felt stronger than I expected, looking down at my Garmin and seeing I’m hitting upwards of 40kmh on the flat. It’s all going brilliantly.
Then you start to doubt yourself – maybe it’s not me, maybe it’s a tailwind.
Of course, this is only confirmed when you turn the next corner and are hit by the hard reality. It definitely was a tailwind.
2. Shouldn’t have chosen these wheels
Equipment choice is always paramount, but sometimes you’re just a little too enthusiastic about your lovely carbon deep-section wheels.
The roads might be dry and you might be hunting for those aero gains, but a gusty day often makes it a counter-intuitive choice.
Regret only really hits when you when you get caught by the choice blast of wind that knocks you sideways into traffic.
This moment often comes while riding leisurely along a country lane, with high hedges on either side, when a sudden break in the shrubbery leaves you exposed to the element and throws you sideways.
In those moments, just pray you’re holding the bars tight enough, your reactions are sharp, and there’s no cars overtaking from behind.
3. Regret wearing this loose jersey
Nothing will hold you back in a block headwind more than a rippling jersey catching the air.
I have to admit, most of my winter-fit clothing is not designed for aero gains but is instead more aimed at keeping my body temperature at a tolerable warmth.
But that can mean you’re effectively hoisting the sail as you battle onwards into what feels like a hurricane.
Of course you can opt for the super-tight fitting jersey, but these tend to be make of thinner material and leave you pretty chilly. It’s a catch 22.
4. Didn’t take enough food
I have a habit of running on empty on longer rides as it is, often forgetting to stock up on energy gels and bars pre-ride, instead telling myself I can stop at a shop on the roads.
The worst possible moment to realise you don’t have enough food is when you’re going head-to-head with a 45kmh breeze.
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Riding in the wind burns far more energy – kind of like riding with a sack of bricks tied to the seatstay – so keeping on top of feeding is even more essential.
And anyone who has bonked before (myself included, on more occasions that I’m keen to admit) will understand the kind of self-inflicted punishment you’re facing.
5. 350watts, 18km/h
Giving it full gas basically doesn’t happen in the wind. You’re slogging away on a usually super-fast stretch of road, but going nowhere.
You look down at the power readings and see 350 watts, you should easily be hitting a decent speed, but instead you’re just chugging along at 18km/h and falling.
It’s a disheartening experience to put in that much effort and get so little in return, but that is the nature of riding headfirst into weather conditions that are determined to stop you getting to your destination.
6. Searching for shelter
One of the few joys of a windy ride, is finding those moments of respite offered by woodlands or a high hedgerow.
These opportunities to rest the legs and actually enjoy the ride are few and far between, but often you find yourself searching out routes that offer a few minutes of calm.
Sometimes it’s worth avoiding these moments however, when you find yourself utterly disheartened when you finally return to exposed roads and have to go back to fighting the elements.
7. Which way is the wind even blowing
If you’re anything like me, riding in the wind is constant confusion as I’m never entirely sure which way the wind is blowing from.
Is it a tailwind? Is it a crosswind? where am I?
The only direction you can be certain of is when the wind is blowing directly into your face, and that’s only because your legs start screaming at you in a way absent from any other direction.
If I could learn to read the wind, like the true master of gusty riding Luke Rowe, then I’m sure my rides in adverse conditions would be far more bearable.
But for now I’ll just keep riding along in unblissful ignorance.
8. Stopped for coffee, now I’m freezing
Perhaps the most enjoyable moment in the windy ride is the well-earned coffee stop.
The perfect chance to refuel, recalibrate and try to rediscover that motivation that got you out on the bike in this first place, but even this moment of quiet can be disturbed by the winds.
Sitting inside a warm café away from the turbulence outside, or even sat outside in a sheltered area on those sunny days, can lull you into a false sense of security.
It’s not until your back out in the elements you realise that stopping may not have been a good idea, as the biting wind chills you through.
You try and spin at 110rpm to warm up and even get out of the saddle to get the blood flowing, but it always takes a little while to get back to a reasonable degree.
9. Well, at least it’s good training
Despite the aching legs, the waning motivation, and the risk to your health, a windy ride can be one of the most rewarding… once you’ve made it home.
It’s resistance training, requiring more power and getting your heart rate up quicker than calm conditions.
Try think of it as a less fun Alpe d’Huez.
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Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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