We have all been there and unfortunately, a headwind is a regular feature of cycling. The other day I spent the day on the front battling against a headwind whilst my friend sat in the arm chair behind spinning away! And it got me thinking… for me a headwind is one of the worst cycling conditions to ride in so here’s a few good tips to help you conquer a headwind… or at the least survive it!
Tip #1 – Think of it as a climb
When exposed to a headwind rather than try and power on through pushing yourself into the red, think of it as a climb pacing, efficiency are king here. Keep a comfortable effort level and stick to it regardless of the speed.
Tip #2 – Help each other
If riding in a group, don’t just leave your buddy out there on the front… whilst it may be easier for you or even slightly funny, doing big turns on the front will seriously fatiguing. Work together rotating frequently (every minute), keep it smooth and when you have done your turn, pull off on the windward side allowing the group to move through before joining the back of the pack. Keep the back wheel, be prepared to work hard to keep the wheel and communicate with your group. The key here is to stay together, you are going to be in a better, stronger position than being split.
Tip #3 – Stay small
Really focus on your position, your aim here is to reduce your frontal area exposed to the wind thus slowing you down. The key is to get as aero as you can, but being able to comfortably hold for long periods of time. Try riding on the hoods or drops with a flat back and elbows in but also maintain a good line of site of the road ahead. If the wind is blowing, there could potentially be debris blown in front of you, so don’t be looking down at your cross bar as I often see. This will reduce the drag and allow you to travel at a greater speed for the same power output. A tip that can be used in normal conditions as well as a headwind.
Tip #4 – Smooth pedalling
This is a balance, but if you are starting to feel a little unsettled on the bike, pushing a slightly harder gear and slowing your cadence can assist in making you feel more stable on the bike. Care should be taken here as you don’t want to grind a big gear and blow your legs. A nice smooth cadence is what you are aiming for, play around with it to find what you are comfortable with.
Tip #5 – Ignore speed
Treat a headwind like a climb, it can take as much, if not more, effort to get through it… often without the rest bite offered by a descent after a climb. Try to switch off from the focus of speed and focus on feel, power and/or heart rate. Have a mental check every 5 minutes; how am I feeling? Is this pace hard, easy etc.? I find power and heart rate is a great combination in a headwind as you are monitoring your effort levels.
Tip #6 – Choosing the right route.
Is there an option to traverse the headwind and leave a tail wind for the last leg of the ride? Nobody wants a headwind at the end of a hard ride, I accept this isn’t always an option. Check if there are roads you can ride on which offer shelter.
Tip #7 – Equipment
This is also key, tight-fitting clothing aid in reducing drag and please, please, please leave the deep aero rims at home; whilst they look great, they are more of a hindrance in a cross wind.
Tip #8 – And finally, think of the benefits
Think of the benefits of a headwind… It’s great training and will make you stronger; by adjusting your mind set it puts a more positive spin on the headwind so it won’t ruin the ride.
It’s inevitable that you are going to hit a headwind on you rides so hopefully a few of these tips will have you better prepared, and come out the other side in the best shape to finish the ride.