First published in Flashing Pedals, 2007.
With the strong winds around this spring, you might like to read this light hearted article, written with the lazy cyclist in mind.
The Lazy Cyclist’s Guide – Part 3
A tail-wind is a lazy cyclist’s dream. Indeed, why would a lazy person get out on the bike at all without some sort of pedaling assistance? Unfortunately, there’s no ‘Dial a Tail Wind’ service for cyclists. Indeed, the pessimist’s second law of cycling is: The wind is always against you. If you want to find how to break this law, there are some tips later in this article. (What is the first law of cycling? *)
It’s blowing a gale out there and you feel no motivation at all to get out on that bike. You’re committed to cycling with friends or the car is in for repairs or you find yourself a long way from home with only the bike to get you there! If you’ve ever been daunted by the prospect of cycling in wind, read on.
First, be realistic. If it’s really blowing at gale force, it may be safer to stay home and read that paperback, or take a bus. Storm force winds are dangerous for cyclists. Flying debris and dust are hazardous. You need to give other vehicles more leeway than ever – both you and they too can be affected by sudden gusts and airborne debris. You could even be blown off your bike, especially by wind gusts and strong side winds.
If you have decided that you are going to get on the bike, even for a short ride, here are some tips.
Minimise the time that you have to face the full brunt of the head or strong side wind. Vary your cycling route, to include cover (e.g. from trees and buildings). If you will be riding directly into a head wind, see if there is an alternate route which cuts across the wind at an angle, especially if you are riding in a built-up area. This can sometimes reduce a strong wind’s impact to little more than a nuisance.
Use your gears. They are not ornamental. Pedal faster, not harder. Don’t be coy about using the small chain ring. Spin your pedals; don’t grind them – better for you and the bike. It’s usually faster too. If you don’t believe this, test it on the bike – you’ll find that in hard conditions, a higher pedal rate (known as cadence to cyclists) will get you there as faster and without feeling you’re exhausted!
Take a portable wind break – otherwise known as a cycling friend (or friends). Being lazy, you will encourage your friend to go in front of you. Ride close behind, about a wheel length or less back. Let your friend’s body and bike act as a wind break. This is called drafting. If you want to keep your friends, it’s a good idea to take a turn at the front sometimes. If you have chosen your friends for generosity as well as effective size as a wind-break, and cultivate an air of exhaustion for your stints, you will probably be able to minimize this.
Changing the second law: The wind is always NEVER against you
This involves forward planning. Check out the wind direction and find a route and one-way distance that is in line with the wind and suits your cycling preference for distance. Now you need to find a way to travel the route one way (i.e. with a howling head wind) other than by bike. Take a train, or have a friend pick you up or drop you off so that you only cycle with a tail wind. It doesn’t really matter whether you cycle from home, or from the destination.
An example of this is in practice is a ride tailored to Geelong’s prevailing south-westerly wind. Cycle from Geelong to Melbourne (75 km approximately) or any intermediate V-Line station. With the new Federation Trail, and using the wide emergency lanes from Werribee to Geelong (or quiet back roads) this is an exhilarating wind-assisted ride. Off-peak trains run at least hourly to bring you back to Geelong. For strong northerly winds, take the train to Melbourne and come back by bike.
A pick-up from Queenscliff is a great solution for a day of north-easterly gale. After a fast easy 35 kilometres from Geelong and a delightful lunch or coffee break, pack the bike in the car for an easy trip back.
The cycling tourist (who is probably not a lazy cyclist) may even plan a cycling weekend around a proposed change in the weather – e.g. from Geelong south to Lorne with the northerly wind, and wait for the south-westerly change to come home. Don’t attempt this, unless your weekends are very flexible!
The last word on cycling and wind comes from a wise touring cyclist, with many Great Vic Bike Rides under his belt;
‘No matter what the prevailing wind, if baked beans are on the breakfast menu, ride at the front of the pack!’
*The first law of cycling: It’s all uphill.
2020 update. Nowadays many lazy cyclists have taken ‘pedal assist’ to a new level with electric bikes. These are perfect in the wind, and the extra weight adds to stability in gusty winds.