How to cycle in windy conditions

A windy bike course can wipe you out, leaving you exhausted for the run. But it needn’t be that way. Nik Cook shows you how to battle the breeze…

How to cycle in strong winds

It’s no coincidence that the flatlands of Europe have produced some of the strongest cyclists ever. There are no hills, but there’s an awful lot of wind. Anyone who’s ever spent hours battling against a North Sea headwind will know it’s as tough as any Alpine Col.

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Knowing how to deal with the wind is essential to not only improve your bike PB, but also to start the run with enough energy and to finish feeling strong. The following pointers will see you riding smoothly through the windiest courses, setting you up for the final race to the line…

Sort your bike out

This doesn’t mean that you have to drop loads of cash on a mega aero bike. With a strong head or tail wind, disc and deep profile wheels can make a real difference but can also be a real handful in a sidewind. Try to get some pre-race information on what wind is expected and consider taking a couple of wheelsets.

Make sure all cables are neatly installed and keep your cockpit similarly clutter-free. Too many age-groupers go mad for oversized bento boxes; just look how clean a pro’s front end is. Look into storing spare bottles, tubes and food behind your seat and out of the airstream.

Ride right

Get your position sorted. It’s always a balancing act between aero gains and power loss, so it’s worth getting some professional input.

When riding into the wind, smooth is the order of the day. You would shift down to climb a hill, so shift down into the wind.

Not fighting a big gear will help keep your upper body still, meaning you’re not having to punch as big a hole in the air. Try to keep your knees working slightly over your top tube. Be warned: ‘bandy-legged’ pedalling is an aero disgrace.

Streamlined sartorial elegance

In a race situation, when speed is everything, sacrificing that bit of comfort for skin-tight aero slipperiness is well worth it. Ditch the billowing windproof. Instead, don a pair of arm warmers to take the edge off any chill and just work a bit harder.

If it’s a hot day, resist the temptation to unzip your jersey. Wind-tunnel research has put the time loss of having an unzipped jersey at almost a minute over 40km.   When out training, you can afford to sacrifice some aerodynamic edge for a bit of comfort, but there’s no need to go out looking like the Michelin Man.

Prioritise wind-proofing your extremities and you’ll go a long way to keeping the rest of you warm. Windproof gloves, an under-helmet skull cap and overshoes are all essentials on cold, blustery days.

There are some excellent jerseys available with windproof fronts and fully breathable backs, as well as tights with windproof panels on the knees.   Finally, whether racing or training, a quality pair of wrap-round glasses are a must-have to prevent streaming eyes.

It’s not all about the bike

Although the bike leg is most obviously wind-affected, being wind-savvy on the swim and run can shave a few seconds off your time, as well as conserving vital energy.

On the swim, make sure you’re comfortable breathing both ways to avoid having to breathe into wind-chop. Also, if swimming into a headwind, sit on someone’s toes and let them do the hard work.

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There are no drafting penalties to be had on the run so, if you’re battling a headwind, tuck in behind someone, catch a free ride and then blast past when you turn away from the wind.