Gone (Biking) With The Wind

Any cyclist living in the UK can vouch for the fact that this island of ours is prone to producing some windy riding conditions. Living as I do in coastal north Lancashire, the prevailing south-westerly is often felt rushing in off the Irish sea, with nothing to stand in it’s way except salt flats and flood plains.

Your first option when faced with a ride in the wind is to behave like a Dutchman. In lieu of any decent hills, I’m led to believe a Dutch cyclist is liable to treat a headwind like a gnarly old training partner; it’s there to keep you honest and banish any thought of taking it steady for an easy ride. No hill to climb? No problem…just find yourself a sturdy headwind and ride straight into it, strengthening lungs and legs for use at a later date. If it helps, you can also convince yourself that by doing this you are some kind of cycling badass, and are using this constant battering headwind to hone both mind and body.

Bit windy for a ride? (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - Flickr CC)
Bit windy for a ride?
(Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center – Flickr CC)

If that’s not your style you can compromise, strike a deal with the wind, and plan your route so that for the first half of the ride you are riding into it, in the glorious knowledge that for the return journey you will be swept along by a joyous and life affirming tailwind. The beauty of a tailwind is that, occasionally, you will hit that sweet spot where you are travelling at more or less the same speed as the wind, and so you cruise along effortlessly and in almost complete silence; the only sounds come from your tires gliding on the tarmac, a satisfying click-click from your drive train and an occasional exultant whooping noise coming from your mouth.

The thing that you must avoid when employing this tactic is that persecution complex common to those hangdog glass-half-empty types who will swear blind that as they reached the mid point of their ride the wind, in a sudden and unlikely change of heart, swung round dramatically to create a homeward headwind. This is usually an illusion based on paranoia and some swirling air currents in the local landscape.

If, by some stroke of tremendous bad luck, the wind actually HAS swung around you need to take this unfortunate occurrence on the chin and get on with it; this is nature, after all, and you are playing with forces beyond your control.

Tour of Britain 2013 - Windy! (Photo: oneshotimages - Flickr CC)
Tour of Britain 2013 – Windy!
(Photo: oneshotimages – Flickr CC)

Your final option when tackling a windy ride is to try and hide, by following sheltered dales and valleys and tucking yourself into every fold of the countryside – this requires a Zen like relationship with nature on a par with a grizzled old cycling veteran who knows every hill, valley and bump in the road. When it comes to air temperature, rainfall and wind direction this guy seems to have a mind like an excel spreadsheet; he simply feeds all the available data through his brain and works the percentages to plan the route.

Ultimately, whatever tactic you employ…never get into a fight with a headwind. Never curse, struggle and swear, never let yourself feel indignant and hard done by, and under no circumstances should you leap from your bike in a wind related tantrum and throw your bike into the nearest hedge. This is a very visual admittance of the worst kind of failure, and there’s no coming back from it.

Even if you are riding alone, the sheep and cows in the adjacent field will watch through sad and knowing eyes, passing silent judgement as they witness your mental meltdown.

But remember, there is no shame in finding yourself reduced to a 20 kph crawl in the face of a block headwind. Even pro cyclists are, from time to time, put in their place by the raw elemental power of the wind. Witness the Tour of Britain 2013, taking part as it did in near biblical weather conditions. As the peloton headed south from Scotland into northern England the bunch of riders were, at times, reduced to cowering and huddling together as they struggled along at a relative snail’s pace.

Of course, on checking the forecast and seeing gusting wind conditions of 50 kph you could simply decide to give the ride a miss and put your feet up with a nice cup of tea and a cheese sandwich…but where’s the sense of accomplishment (and badass credentials) in that?

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25 comments

  1. Zen relationships with nature seem an excellent way to proceed, up here in East Lothian hills to hide behind, hedgerows and walls abound so practise makes perfect?

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    • I would think that the wind that hits you in Merseyside is no different at all to the one that reaches me here, a bit further up the coast in lancaster. I’ve never ridden in Kent but, traffic apart, i expect it’s pure idyllic British countryside – It’s the garden of England after all. I mean, Merseyside has it’s plus points, but it’s no cyclists paradise.

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      • Yeah, Kent is great for biking on- and off-road for it’s mild undulations through the country and slightly better weather. The North West is great for cycling when you get out of the cities (cities are great for cycle commuting) and that constant wind keeps the riding challenging 🙂

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  2. That was me yesterday morning trying to talk myself out of a windy commute. The only thing that kept me going into that headwind was the thought of cruising home courtesy of the planned tailwind.

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  3. I had a stern headwind cycling home yesterday and went Dutch thinking this was the only way I’ll be able to find a steep 8 mile hill in the Midlands. Once you accept that you’re going nowhere fast it definitely becomes easier.

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