Just Ask Jack: Fighting the Wind?

Jacob sent in the following question:

I’d be curious to know what you guys do to deal with wind. Are there good tips for how to ride during a stiff wind? Do you take the car when the wind gets above a certain speed?

Well, Jacob…wind can be tough, there’s no doubt about that. We don’t have much in the way of winter weather, but from December to May, the wind is a fairly constant thing here in Florida. And, just my luck…it’s almost always a headwind. I don’t own a car, so I can’t comment on whether I would use one if the wind was too high. I’ve ridden in some pretty stiff winds, including the 1993 “No Name Storm” and the runups to several hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. It’s certainly not something I’m a big fan of, but when you’ve got to get to work there’s sometimes no choice but to get out there and ride.

I asked several fellow cyclists if they had any solutions to offer, and overwhelmingly I was met with a bunch of good-natured ribs to “HTFU” (warning: excessive salty language) or “put your head down and deal with it”. That doesn’t really help us much, though…

So, what can we commuters do to help beat back the wind? There are two major “tricks” in a cyclist’s arsenal, one mostly impractical for day-to-day riding and one that’s fairly easy and long-used for just this sort of thing.

Let’s look at the first solution — the fairing:

fairing

I say that this is mostly impractical because a recumbent is not often a good choice for a commuter bike (too low-profile for motorists to see at reasonable distances), and I’ve not seen fairings for traditional bicycles. Still, these fairings do a pretty amazing job at getting you through the wind with less effort.

The second solution is right up my alley…the traditional road “drop bar”:

drops

Let’s face it — there are a lot of “commuter-friendly” bikes on the market such as Dutch-style upright citybikes, hybrids and comfort bikes with the features many commuters look for in a primary machine. But, they can be TERRIBLE to ride in stiff winds. That upright position — otherwise great for getting a good view of conditions around you — turns your body into a wind-catching sail. Enter the traditional road handlebar: multiple hand positions for all-day riding comfort, including a couple of positions that get you tucked in and out of the wind’s worst. Aerodynamic positioning is key for spending a lot of time riding in wind, and drop bars get you closer to that ideal position.

Many flat-bar or upright bikes can be converted to a drop-bar configuration, but it’s not always an easy proposition…since the bar diameters differ between flats and drops, you can’t just swap your brake levers and shifter pods over. Luckily, road-style brake levers are readily available (my favorite are the Tektro R200A), and if you replace your shifter pods with friction bar-end shifters, you can run just about any combination of derailleurs and cassette or freewheel, mixing brands as you see fit.

A couple of other tips come to mind. The first is clothing choice. Although many commuters are reluctant to wear cycling-specific gear, there’s a reason cycling wear is form-fitting — it doesn’t catch the wind the way street clothes might. Something to consider, in any case.

The second is route choice. If you have a commute where you can choose your route from several possibilities, a good choice is one that gets shielded from prevailing winds by treelines, buildings and the like. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but a little creative route planning can definitely help. Even a short break from the wind can make a huge difference in the amount of energy you expend.

Remember, there is a benefit to the wind…you WILL get stronger if you have to fight it on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to tough it out…your legs, heart and lungs will thank you for it eventually!

Finally, if you really want to dominate against that wind, here’s the vehicle for you:

aero

It’s able to slice through headwinds like a hot knife through butter…but hang on in a crosswind — you’ll be in for a wild ride!!!

Stay safe out there, and try some of these tips the next time you find yourself fighting against the wind.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


24 Comments

  1. Logan April 4, 2010 8:24 pm 

    I’ve always wanted to try the fairing on a typical commuter bike. Motorcycles make it look great. This looks like a great example of a fairing on a non-recumbent bike:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2008/09/18/gallery-kris-custom-bianchi-castro-valley/

    I’m not sure about cross-winds but a tail-wind would be doubly great since the fairing would probably act like a sail! :)

    Cheers,
    Logan.

  2. Marcus April 4, 2010 9:56 pm 

    The important thing to remember about wind and commuting is that a headwind going to work usually means a tailwind going home. Also wind tends to increase with approaching storms and decrease as the heat of the day decreases.

  3. Ghost Rider April 5, 2010 3:33 am 

    @Logan — good link! I hadn’t seen a fairing for an upright bike before, but I suspected such a thing HAD to be available.

    @Marcus — not necessarily, at least not here in Florida. The wind does shift as the land heats up and cools down, bringing winds onshore from the Gulf and Atlantic, but in my experience here, it’s ALWAYS a headwind or a violent crosswind, something not so fun when riding a loaded cargobike. Perhaps I’m just unlucky?

  4. Jack April 5, 2010 6:04 am 

    Hello from Dublin, I am in the unique position of having a couple of Bikes,Dutch ,Brompton Folding Bike,Trek 7.3fx. If I ride through the City Streets I usually do not have much problems,if you encounter a stiff wind for awhile it gradually gets Shielded away from you as you go along. However if you leave the City and head out along the Coast it can cause major Problems.

    If I am using the Dutch Bike it is worst of all,it can tire you out if you are heading into the Wind. I was often heading out on the Coastal Cycleway from Clontarf to Howth and if the Wind was in your Face very Tiring , sometimes I would just get off the Bike and walk for a Mile or so. The Coast twists and bends and sometimes if you are lucky you can get a respite from the Wind when the Cycleway bends away from it for awhile. The Cycleway is above the main Road by about 4ft on the Coastal Promonade and when the Wind is very bad a lot of Cyclists just Cycle on the Roadway to get away from the Wind by being protected by the Wall.

    I often found when heading outward I would come across a stiff Wind and said to myself it will be great on the Journey back to Home. But on the Homeward Journey I discovered that the Wind was actually coming from the Nth East and not directly behind me and so was caught in a Cross wind. It is worse on the Dutch Bike because of the Chain Guard and Coat Guard and general Clunkiness of the Bike.

    On the other hand the Wind does not seem to be as bad once you keep away from the Coast and sometimes when heading Home I divert away from the Coast on another Road to the right to get away from the Wind.

    if I know there is high Winds and I am going for a long Ride I just leave Dutchy at Home and take the Trek. It is a very light Bike but has Flat Bars but it does not worry me to much as I can still get down pretty low to keep out of the Wind. However my next fast Bike or Touring Bike I will consider Drop Handlebars.Dublin Ireland.

  5. John Romeo Alpha April 5, 2010 6:26 am 

    I’ve almost convinced myself that wind is an inevitable part of cycling, and to enjoy the added workout. Almost. It helped me a little bit when I considered: if there’s no wind you will still feel the air resistance you make on your own. Plus, what we perceive as a headwind can actually be coming from anything within 170 degrees (or something like that) of a straight-on headwind. What I can’t quite get used to in Phoenix is the sandblast effect when the wind picks up. I need to pick up a pair of desert goggles for those situations, so I don’t end up with conjunctivitis.

  6. BluesCat April 5, 2010 8:43 am 

    Great post, GR. Only thing I take exception to is the idea that ‘bents don’t make good commuter bikes because of their lower visibility. I’ve found that people actually “see” my ‘bent, Bluetiful, a LOT better than they see my MTB The Roadley. The ‘bent just looks so unusual that it attracts attention and motorists slow down to look at it … don’t just ignore it as “another bicycle.”

    Alternative to adapters for a drop bar on a MTB/Hybrid are to get a set of Trekking handlebars. Putting your forearms down across the loops of the Trekking bars actually gets you LOWER than drop bars.

  7. Ghost Rider April 5, 2010 8:46 am 

    @BluesCat — perhaps I’m too used to seeing tadpole trikes and hearing horror stories about road-going recumbent riders in my area.

    ‘Bents may work for some commuters, but I sure wouldn’t recommend one.

  8. Moe April 5, 2010 8:51 am 

    Here’s another “pro” for the Electric Hybrid bike like the Torker T-450 that I’m riding. Wind? no problem, just switch on the electric motor assist and soft pedal into the wind!

  9. Jules April 5, 2010 9:02 am 

    Zzipper fairings has made fairings for upright bikes for decades – -they’re also one of the most prominent makers of fairings for recumbents. Here’s a link to their upright bike fairing selection:

    http://www.zzipper.com/Products/prod_upright.php

  10. BluesCat April 5, 2010 9:03 am 

    GR: I know some routes I COULD take to work which would force me to mix it up with a lot more motor vehicle traffic. I’d be hesitant to ride ANY bike in those areas because of people changing lanes when they’re right up behind a guy coming up behind ME. You could be riding a 12-foot high bicycle and they STILL won’t be able to see you when they pull around to the right and mow you down.

    Some trike riders seem to get a psychological boost by putting a tall, fiberglass mast with a day-glo pennant — or even a blinky — at the top of it.

    Having ridden motorcycles, and driven two-seater British sports cars, I am ALWAYS aware of the fact that you are invisible to motorists unless you are the size of a Terex Titan, and I drive/ride accordingly.

  11. Iron_Man April 5, 2010 9:18 am 

    Why no mention of aerobars? Nothing says diehard commuter more than panniers and aerobars. Not so good in congested traffic of course, but if you have long stretches on quiet streets they can add a good 5 mph boost to your speed. Plus the aero position brings in other muscle groups of the legs and buttocks that can take the strain off other muscles that have been over-cooked by the constant pedaling.

    I often ride in the aero position without aerobars by resting my forearms on the handlebars. This takes some time to master, but it’s a huge help, especially on a mountain bike. Lightly hanging on to the cables coming off the bar helps you feel a little more in control while in this position.

    Both positions have a learning curve when it comes to balance and comfort. Also your ability to react to obstacles is drastically hampered while riding this way. Which is why aero bars are outlawed in the peloton.

  12. harry krishna April 5, 2010 10:14 am 

    i think the most important part of dealing with a headwind is saving your knees. make sure you maintain your rpm or tomorrow’s trip won’t be fun.

  13. Al in Seattle April 5, 2010 3:59 pm 

    Well, I think wind is different for everyone depending on your route and location, and your experience. I regularly encounter stronger winds from the southwest in the spring and winds from the northwest in the winter, and any kinds of in between at any time.

    What I pay attention to is wind speeds and/or if it’s combined with rain/snow both of which reduce visibility. I am comfortable in 35 mph winds. I know someone who stops riding at 40 mph. On Friday I rode home in winds of 35 mph with gusts up to 55-60 mph. That’s when it gets scary. I only rode b/c I knew my route and which direction the wind was coming from. So I knew when I hit 1st Ave there would be bad gusts and a wind tunnel effect (and I was darn sure to take the lane ’cause I was blown about very well). I was also riding INTO the wind most of the way which is vastly different that having a side wind the whole time – which is much more dangerous as you can be blown not only off-course but off-your-bike.

    I either tuck in and ride steady or if it seems too dangerous, hop a bus.

  14. Laura April 5, 2010 6:19 pm 

    I enjoyed the headwinds on my grocery trip today (oh! the sarcasm!). I think it’s cruel and sadistic of Mother Nature to give us warm sunshine and a blustery breeze that throws street dirt in my face all on the same day. One more whine? Ok, here goes: AND I was riding into the wind both ways on my ride (the worst was the uphill, pannier laden ride in the wind on the way home).

    OK, it is a good workout. And I loved the warmth of the sun on my bare arms after the cold winter. As well, it’s a lot easier to ride in short sleeves and cargo shorts than an insulated rain coat with double layers on my legs.

  15. Ghost Rider April 5, 2010 7:01 pm 

    @Laura,

    that’s the spirit! There are always positives, no matter how hard the wind is blowing.

  16. Val April 6, 2010 9:15 am 

    How do I deal with riding in the wind? I ride more slowly.

  17. Eric April 9, 2010 11:24 pm 

    A really cheap solution that worked for me on a flat-bar bike before I switched to a drop-bar bike was bar-ends. Preferably somewhat longer ones, especially if they curve in a bit. Mount so they stick close to straight forward and when holding onto those you’re leaning forward more than the normal handlebar position. $10 and 10 minutes to install. (though if you find yourself using them regularly you’ll probably want to invest another $10 for grips or handlebar tape)

  18. Raiyn April 10, 2010 3:33 pm 

    I’d sooner ride without a saddle than use aerobars on an MTB. I don’t much care for them on road bikes either. I ride in too much traffic on not-so-nice roads to make them a safe option in the first place.

  19. ponger April 14, 2010 3:17 pm 

    I say that this is mostly impractical because a recumbent is not often a good choice for a commuter bike (too low-profile for motorists to see at reasonable distances)…

    and

    … hearing horror stories about road-going recumbent riders in my area.

    Wish I had known this sooner. Oh well, better late than never.

    Gonna need to sell that Tour Easy I’ve been riding to work on the roads north of Tampa for the past couple of years before I get drain bamage! ;^)

  20. Ghost Rider April 14, 2010 4:19 pm 

    @Ponger…far be it from me to discourage a fellow commuter. Remember that the above is my opinion based on my experiences talking to recumbent riders. But hey, if it works for you (and it sounds like it has so far), stick with it. You may be onto something!

  21. Darrren April 15, 2010 1:45 pm 

    Luckily we don’t have much wind here in SoCal. Consistent winds don’t bother me much, it only slows me down (or speeds me up if it is tail wind). I make it there just fine. Now gusty conditions are a little different. 30mph to 40mph gusts making riding much more … umm… exciting? Concentration has to be higher so you don’t end up riding into something.

    I’ll also admit to riding a unfaired recumbent for commuting. It really isn’t the problem people think it is. Generally I’m eye to eye with car drivers on my high racer. Just like any cyclist I assume people are stupid, make eye contact when I can, and yell if need be. Not to say I haven’t had a close call, but they came just a close to hitting a parked. So I doubt what I was riding would have had any affect. Instead I should have not starting to zone out when I got a few blocks from home.

    In fact I’ve ridden with trikes on a busy pedestrian beach paths and in traffic. I fully expected them to have some serious issues being so far below eye level. Even discussed it with someone else. We were both surprised that they really didn’t have any more difficulty than any other cyclist. Makes me think most of it is about the rider, and it is just perception with little basis in actual facts.

    The important thing is to ride what you like. If you like it you will ride and the riding will be fun! (Which is the point right?)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *