Riding Into the Wind

By Nick Gnu Gerlich, Ph.d.

Headwind riding is a skill you learn over time. It is as much mental as it is physical. Having lived here in the Panhandle of Texas for 12.5 years, I figured out very quickly that you either become a good headwind rider...or you become an ex-rider.

Best bets

  1. Get narrow. Trim yourself down so there's less frontal resistance.
  2. Stay down. Use your aerobars to accomplish both this and the previous.
  3. Focus focus focus. Yes, going 8mph for a couple of hours is demoralizing, but if you can get in a comfortable cadence and never vary, you'll whittle the miles away fairly quickly.
  4. If you're in remote country, an MP3 player works wonders.
  5. Pick a cadence and gear that are comfortable for a seated position. I prefer a 53X17 on most days, but will gear down if it's really windy (wind above 25mph). I prefer mashing rather than spinning because your aero-down position will get uncomfortable quickly.
  6. Treat yourself to some good tailwind rides. Riding strongly in a tailwind is just as much a skill as is riding into it. It's a good test to see what your heart, lungs, and legs can handle under optimum circumstances.

Persistence is the most important thing, though. It's tough slogging it out day after day, but it builds strength and character. Besides, being small and a good headwind rider can give you the upper hand in group rides, because you'll be hard for anyone to draft.

I'll spare everyone my tales of windy riding out here. Suffice it to say, it's pretty blustery. But I have found that being a good headwind rider benefits me more than being a good climber. After all, a headwind is just another long hill when you think about it.

Nick Gnu Gerlich, a veteran of RAAM and Furnace Creek 508 and the former director of the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association, is a professor of marekting at West Texas A&M University. He hosts annual Hell Week endurance cycling adventures in Texas, Florida, and many other locations.