If I had a towel on me, I’d throw it in.75% of my century ride done, and I am both completely bushed and heartbroken. Well, kind of.
Why? Because of the wind. I hate it. I really really do. A few km’s ago I did a 7km segment where I always try to push myself and top my average speed, usually around 38-41km/h.
This time I got 24,6km/h. Because of the wind.
Well, sorry for the rant. I now had my last flapjack and I have no other choice than to hop on the bike and do the last 25kms.
Can you relate it to yourself? Let me know!
So let’s drive deep into this to analyze how much wind is too much for cycling!
There are three main types of wind direction:
- at your back (tailwind)
- in your face (headwind)
- on your side (crosswind).
Tailwind is a blessing. With the wind at your back, it will feel like you are riding an e-bike, as the wind pressure will propel you forwards without you having to pedal as hard. You can easily see significant increases in speed in a tailwind. If you struggle to reach 15 mph on your bike on a typical day, then on a windy day you’ll find it a breeze to do so (I love my puns!).
However, unlike an e-bike, you cannot control your acceleration and deceleration in the wind. If you’re not cautious, you might end up spending too much which, at the least, throws you off your game, and, at worst, leads to injury.
Think of the tailwind as a downward slope. I normally don’t pedal much, if at all, when going down a slope. Depending on the decline of the slope, pedaling would be very dangerous. Similarly, in a strong tailwind, be careful of other pedestrians and vehicles on the road. If it is off the road, there is room for excitement, as nothing beats a good tailwind in free and unobstructed routes.
If the tailwind is a downward slope, the headwind is an upward slope.
This means two things:
a) you struggle to reach the same speed as on a typical day, and certainly as during a tailwind,
b) you struggle more, period. In other words, not only is the speed cut down significantly, but you also have to struggle to even pedal. It’s like pedaling in high gear or turning the tension high on an exercise bike.
To add to all that, if the headwind is strong enough, you may also get things in your eye, or at least be buffeted by the wind so much that you can’t look forward at ease, if at all.
But that’s almost the least concern in a crosswind. The crosswind is potentially the most dangerous of all three wind directions. Why? Because you might quite literally be picked up off your feet and flung away by the wind.
Yes, really. Accidents have happened like this in strong crosswinds. While a crosswind doesn’t directly mess with your speed, as it isn’t in your face, it can still obstruct your pedaling and force you to increase your effort.
In short, the tailwind is a blessing, the headwind is a nuisance, and the crosswind is a menace. This also works as a speed factor for most bikes and bikers!
However, this is oversimplification without taking into account the amount of wind. If the wind speed is negligible, such as below 10 mph, then it will be almost a non-existent factor. In wind speeds of 25 mph or 30 mph, however, you better stay at home unless it’s an essential ride. But at wind speeds of 40 mph or more? Even driving is dangerous at that point. And you’d be prone to be buffeted not only by the gales but also debris being carried by the wind.
10 mph Wind Cycling
A 10 mpg wind speed shouldn’t worry you at all. If you are a beginner cyclist, then of course be wary, but then again, a beginner would best be cautious even on non-windy days when cycling. But a 10 mph headwind shouldn’t be a significant problem on its own.
15 mph Wind Cycling
15 mph is a benchmark when it comes to cycling speeds. A person who can sustain 15 mph is considered an intermediate cyclist. Similarly, a wind speed of 15 mph is considered a sufficient wind speed that causes trouble (unless it’s a tailwind).
Is 15 mph wind cycling dangerous? Potentially. If you’re a beginner or intermediate cyclist, then you’ll struggle against a 15 mph wind speed. And accidents may occur due to negligence or intimidation of the wind. However, by itself, a 15 mph wind speed should not be a hazard.
Different people have different ceiling points when it comes to cycling in the wind. Some people won’t even cycle if there is a noticeable wind, and it’s good to be cautious. However, if you are an avid cyclist, or if you need to cycle on a windy day for other reasons, then don’t be fearful of a 15 mph wind speed. Yes, a 15 mph headwind will suck, and you’ll have to push through. Also, be wary of the crosswind, but if you’re lucky enough to get a tailwind, then 15 mph wind cycling is a cruise!
20 mph Wind Cycling
Cycling in 20 mph winds is quite a tough prospect indeed. If you, for example, average 17 mph in regular weather conditions (which means you are at least an intermediate cyclist), then you would only reach 7 mph when cycling against a 20 mph headwind using the same effort. Speed cut by over half! But, yes, 20 mph wind cycling is manageable by many cyclists.
How to Deal with Wind Resistance
Now that we know that winds often serve as a hazard to most cyclists, let’s discuss the precautions we can take to safely ride out in the wind.
First of all, know when to say no and stay indoors. If wind speeds reach over 30 mph, you better not step outside. 30 mph itself is not that high of a number, though. To put things into perspective, the speed of Stage 1 hurricanes is at least 74 mph. So, 30 mph is manageable for expert cyclists, but don’t take the risk.
The reason crosswinds are dangerous is that they can knock you over or at least off your balance, resulting in potential accidents or at least a scare. It is important to not be afraid, though, as being knocked over by the wind is a relatively rare occurrence. Rather, losing your calm will more often lead to accidents. One thing you can do is to not go against the wind but instead move with the wind, sometimes swaying your bike in the direction of the crosswind.
As for dealing with headwinds, try to assume a near-horizontal posture by leaning forwards and down towards your handlebars. Also, keep your elbows engaged instead of bent outwards. The idea is to assume a posture that maximizes aerodynamics. If your body surface area is low, less of the wind will hit you and slow you down.
This also means wearing tight-fitting clothes rather than baggy ones so that the surface area does not increase. An open jacket, for example, may act as a parachute, cutting down your speed immensely.
Besides clothes, your bike shape will also naturally affect the amount of drag you experience. Large rimmed wheels, such as in some efficient road bikes, will bait much of the wind, causing you to not only slow down but also have potential accidents. I suggest you use thinner wheels if possible.
Is there anything like a winding bicycle? Not really, but mountain bikes are designed heavier, especially ones with suspension. If anything, though, an e-bike is a winding bike.
Especially if you live in rural areas with open fields where winds are sustained, an e-bike will help you tremendously. It will of course take much of the pedaling strain away, and also sustain good speeds. Headwinds and crosswinds, however, can still affect you. You might want to try wearing goggles to protect your eyes from the wind and flying debris.
Biking Against Wind Workouts
As difficult as it is to ride in the wind, you can use it to your advantage by capitalizing on windy days by working out.
Biking against the wind can certainly serve as a good workout, and the opportunities are endless. Let your imagination run wild. You can do interval training, such as heading out in a headwind at 90% of your maximum heart rate for 2 minutes, then rest for one, and repeat.
An alternative is to simply go out intentionally at times when it is windier. If you know what time the wind normally picks up in your area, you can schedule your biking against wind workouts at those opportune times.
Till now, we have been talking casually about wind speeds and bike speeds. But how do we actually get those numbers, and how do we know whether it’s too windy or not to cycle?
Well, getting an exactly accurate number is not at all necessary unless you’re a weather reporter or statistician of some sort.
As for some reasonable estimates, I consider it to be a windy day if the wind speed is over 10 mph. At 20 mph, even small trees will sway. Above that, small branches may break off and potentially hit you.
A Final Word
From the above discussion, I would say 30 mph wind is too much for cycling, and wind speeds of 20 mph and above are also worrisome but manageable. If you like to stay on the safe side, don’t venture out in wind speeds of over 15 mph.
Pat yourself on your back for a job well done and do not be too harsh on yourself. If it’s a significant ride then that ride requires a long duration of manual pedal power and sat on a saddle that is barely 4 inches across. Reward yourself with that cold beer that you know you desperately wanted!
Do headwinds last longer than tailwinds?
It may indeed feel like the wind is in your face more so than it is on your back. Why is that so? This is because your speed in a tailwind is boosted, whereas in a headwind it is obstructed. In other words, it only seems like you are encountering headwinds for longer periods until you turn around, whereas in a tailwind, you reach your destination or you make a turn much quicker. In addition, you also have to pedal harder in a headwind, and we all know that hard times feel longer and dragged than breezy ones (double pun there, by the way)!
In short, no, headwinds don’t necessarily last longer than tailwinds. But yes, they do indeed feel longer.
Is cycling in a headwind more difficult than going up a slope?
Headwinds are indeed comparable to slopes, specifically upward slopes. But are they more difficult? Yes, they might very well be.
Many people feel headwinds are even more difficult than traversing upward slopes because when we climb a hill, we can see the destination. Even if it takes an hour or two, we know after a certain time, we will reach the top if we keep going. Afterward, the road is flat or even downhill, which is a veritable reward after a difficult climb.
On the other hand, there is no telling that a headwind will stop after 2 hours. If you encounter a headwind all throughout your destination, then the travel may very well be worse than going up a slope.
Of course, other variables are there, such as the incline of the slope and the wind speed. But in general, headwinds are often as difficult as encountering slopes, if not more difficult.