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How to ride in crosswinds

BikesEtc
23 Feb 2017

What to do about blasted winds when they’re walloping you from the side

Depending on the direction it’s blowing, wind can be a help or a hindrance for a cyclist. Headwinds suck, tailwinds rock, while crosswinds... well, they can be downright deadly.

But if you know what you’re doing, you can not only survive them but use them to your advantage. Here’s how...

Watch the weather

It sounds obvious and it is, but before heading out on a ride it’s always worth checking the weather. Use the Met Office’s free Android/iPhone app (UK Weather Maps), or the BBC Weather app.

Both give you fairly accurate, regularly updated information about what the skies have got in store.

Alternatively, check the Met Office’s website. Another good site is xcweather.co.uk, which focuses on detailed wind maps so is particularly good for cyclists.

If the forecast is predicting a windy day, try not to use deep-rimmed wheels if you have the choice as these create more of a target for crosswinds to buffet against. Keep a really tight grip on your handlebars and try not to ride too close to the gutter.

Weather, of course, is pesky, unpredictable stuff so just because the experts say it’ll do something, we all know they sometimes get it wrong.

So get in the habit of looking for signs, such as which way rubbish is blowing about or which way the grass or even trees at the side of the road are swaying.

What to do when riding on your own

When riding in crosswinds make sure you keep a firm grip of your handlebars. You might even want to adopt a more stable riding position by dropping down deeper over the bars and coming a little further forward on your saddle.

It’s also an idea to stay away from the edge of the road, as an outside crosswind could easily blast you into the gutter, potentially causing you to crash.

If you feel like the wind is strong enough to actually blow you off the bike, head home – there’s always tomorrow.

It’s worth being one step ahead when you’re on a bike, too, so if you’re riding in a headwind, and you can see a left-hand corner coming up, you know you can expect a crosswind when you make the turn.

What to do when riding with friends

When you’re riding with others, and you’re not leading the group, try to ride behind and slightly off to the sheltered side of the rider in front of you – left or right depending on the wind direction.

It may take a while to discover the ideal sweet spot, but when you do, you’ll save yourself tons of energy and may even be able to get a wee bit of coasting in.

If all riders in the group take this approach, you will soon form an echelon.

If you’re on a group ride where people are taking it in turns at the front, the rider making his way up the pack needs to be protected from the wind until the very last moment.

So if the wind is coming from the right, the group needs to rotate clockwise. If it’s coming from the left then it needs to rotate anti-clockwise. In these circumstances, courtesy is essential.

In the UK, we ride on the left, so if a crosswind is coming in from the right, it’s good road etiquette to leave some space on the inside so the trailing rider can get some shelter. 

An experienced group of riders will rotate through the sheltered side of the echelon so that everyone can do their bit at the front for a few minutes before peeling off and drifting to the back on the windward side.

They’ll keep this rotation smooth and steady, with the rider taking the lead pulling gently in front of the previous leader maintaining a similar pace.

As an echelon can only be as wide as the road, when there are a large number of riders, you always see a trail in single file hanging onto the back of the group.

In a headwind, riding in another cyclist’s slipstream is the best place to be. In a crosswind, it’s the worst place and you’ll often see pro teams use this tactically in races to drop opponents.

By working as a rotating unit, teams will hug the roadside, keeping rivals in the gutter where they get zero protection from crosswinds.

The result is often the break-up of the peloton with the leaders breaking away from the pack.

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