The Lazy Cyclist’s Guide to Wind (Lazy Cyclist’s Guide Part 3)

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

Wind

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!’

Happy cycling.

*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.

The Lazy Cyclists’ Guide

Part 2 – The Lazy Cyclist’s Guide to Hills!

If you’re a lazy cyclist, by now you will know that seriously lazy cyclists only ride hills in a downward direction!  This can make trip planning difficult.

HILL AVOIDANCEHaving proudly graduated from lazy couch potato, the lazy cyclist quickly develops a set of hill avoidance strategies.  Here are a few that are tried and tested over many kilometres of lazy cycling.

  1. Don’t live at the top of a hill.  Hilltop seems a great place for a cyclist to live – downhill in all directions.  But there’s a downside.  If you start off on the bike, it’s likely you’ll have to come home on the bike.  Sure, you can get off and push your trusty treadly up, but this uses up even more of your precious energy per metre than cycling.  If you must live in a hilly area, living at the bottom of the hill at least ensures a comfortable glide downhill to home.  Serious lazy cyclists have cycling comfort high on the list when choosing a new home.
  2. If you have to cycle somewhere hilly, see if there is a flatter alternative route.  There may be another way which has fewer or no hills without too much extra distance.  If this isn’t possible, there is sometimes another way that reduces the worst of the slope, or includes several smaller hills.
  3. Perhaps you enjoy a regular cycle ride with friends.  Sooner or later someone will decide that the next ride will give you all a challenge and take in some serious climbing.  This is when the lazy cyclist discovers a nagging injury, pressing appointment, aging relative who suddenly needs undivided attention, or an unexpected visitor from Vladivostok who can only visit exactly when the ride is on.  The lazy cyclist has a ready store of plausible and/or creative excuses.

If for some reason you simply can’t avoid hills, there are still strategies to help the lazy cyclist.

Downhills are the lazy cyclist’s optimum energy saving indulgence.  Do you have a partner or friend who can give you a lift you up the hill?  A few hills even have a one-way transport option.  You can spend half an hour coasting down the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail from Beechworth, hardly touching a pedal, and a sag wagon will pick you and your bike up at Everton Station and return you to your starting point.  Cycling up the trail in the opposite direction takes even a fit cyclist over an hour and a half.  Similar services operate on some real mountains – like Mount Wellington near Hobart.

HILL CLIMBS:  The crunch eventually comes for all lazy cyclists.  There is a hill which you just have to climb.  Even then, there are strategies to help you use less energy, and make it to the top.  Here are a few.

If the hill is short, increase speed as you approach, while still on the flat.  This extra momentum will impel you up the first part of the hill.  Change gears downwards as soon as you feel a slowing and keep changing down so that you are always pedalling quickly and without too much effort.

For a longer or steeper hill, if you need to go to an easier front chain ring, change down before you need to pedal too hard.  Changing gears while putting the chain under pressure is difficult and may lead to the chain coming off.  Sometimes, for really steep short hills, it’s best to select your lowest gear at the very bottom of the rise.

Long hills need special perseverance!  If possible, find a gear that allows you to keep going without exerting too much energy.  Speed should not be a consideration.  Even at 7 kilometres per hour your bike is going faster than you can walk.  Keep the pedals turning at a fast ‘easy’ rate.  Pedal fast not hard – it doesn’t matter if your legs give the impression of your nana’s Mixmaster.  If you feel yourself flagging, relax and have a rest stop.  Water is the cyclist’s friend, so have a good drink, and maybe a snack before taking off again.  Look back down the road and see how far you have come.  When you take off again, you’ll have renewed energy.

The lazy cyclist likes nothing better than freewheeling down a long hill.  Enjoy but remember – downhills have led to many a cyclist’s downfall.  Keep your eyes on the road ahead for possible potholes and other hazards.  Make sure you ease off the speed before corners, especially where you can’t see what is around the bend.  Easing off the speed also allows you to accelerate into the bend.  This gives you a better grip on the road surface.

Despite revelling in the free ride a downhill slope gives, if there is another uphill ahead, even the lazy cyclist should pedal.  This maintains speed, and helps you up the climb.  Some cyclists (probably not lazy ones) even find that getting off the seat for a short distance, while they still have this momentum, gets them further up the hill before they have to slow down and change gears.

There is no hill yet invented that can be driven that a cyclist can’t walk up!  If all else fails, walk.  Enjoy the view and surroundings.  Chat if there are other walkers and contemplate the downhill on the other side.  Who knows, a friendly motorist might offer a lift.   You will of course reply,

‘What me?  I couldn’t possibly.  I’m in training for the Tour!’

Mechanically-minded partner

Serious lazy cyclists choose their bike with care, and make sure it’s kept in tip-top condition.  If you are buying a bike, and know you will be riding up hills, choose one with plenty of low gears, three front chain wheels and a ‘granny gear’.  If you have a mountain bike, consider changing to slick tyres unless you will be riding off road.  The knobbly tyres that are standard, are much harder to push on smooth paths and roads.  Keep your tyres fully inflated and have the bike serviced regularly.  A dirty or dry chain will slow you down and make the bike much harder to push.  (Hopefully, you have a mechanically-minded partner, who would love to keep your bike looking like new!)

The less you carry, the easier it is to cycle up the hill.  If you’re carrying much gear, panniers keep the load balanced low down on the bike and help stability.  Don’t carry more than you need.

There is one last hill-climbing tip for the lazy cyclist who wants to make hills enjoyable (if you insist).  If you must ride up hills, then do it!  Practise hills.  Ride short rides with little hills often.  Graduate to longer, harder hills.   Incorporate hills into at least one ride a week.  Good luck and see you on the downhill payoff!

The Lazy Cyclist

First published in Flashing Pedals June 2007

Watch this space for:  The Lazy Cyclist’s Guide to Wind