Into the wind

Ride for the conditions

Riding in strong winds can be incredibly tough and frustrating or it can be a joyous and endless tailwind, giving you a handy push home. 

If it’s the former, there are some things that you can do to make your ride easier and more enjoyable:

  • Work together – riding in a group and sitting behind another rider shelters you from the worst of the wind, making pedalling easier and helping to conserve energy. When riding in a group, don’t forget to take your turn out the front, don’t overlap wheels and communicate with the riders around you.
  • Get low on the bike and on the gears – reduce your wind resistance and cut down on ‘drag’ by staying low and tucking your elbows in. Also, ride in a lower gear than normal. It might cost you some speed but it should help conserve the power in your legs. Everyone prefers a different pedalling speed – find yours and tap out your rhythm as you would on a hill climb. 
  • Don’t flap about – keep your jacket or jersey zipped up and wear tightly-fitted clothing so you don’t sail away.
     
  • Protect your eyes – Keep dust and pollen out of your eyes with a pair of cycling sunglasses.
     
  • Give yourself and others wobble room – Strong cross winds can blow you around a bit. Do your best to hold your line. And, if you’re ever feeling uncomfortable, go with your gut and pull over to the side of the road.
Battling headwinds on Melbourne's Beach Road

Into the wind

There’s nothing more gruelling or rewarding than doing battle with a headwind, finds Margot McGovern. 

Lately I’ve been spending far more time on my commuter than my roadie; however, one recent, unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday, I couldn’t resist donning my Lycra for a spin along Melbourne’s foreshore from Port Melbourne to Mordialloc and back. A group of friends were doing the same ride but, given they’re much more diligent about their weekend riding, I said I’d go at my own pace and meet them for coffee after.

I felt unexpectedly strong as I set out, my speedo reading 45km/h as I flew along the flat. Even when I was really fit, getting up that kind of speed would have left me wiped for the rest of the ride; this day it was almost effortless. The esplanade is relatively flat, but it felt as though even the few rollers had been smoothed out. My deceptively cruisy commute had clearly been building up my strength on the sly. This was going to be a cakewalk.

 

Around the Bay Beach Road 2015

However, before I could dwell too deeply on my new-found superpowers, the sharp slap of an invisible hand interrupted my self-worship and sent me swerving towards the kerb. Regaining control of my bike, I looked at the trees lining the road: trunks slightly bent, their branches straining south towards Mordialloc. The riders grinding north appeared to move in slow motion, pain and determination scarring their faces.

With great effort, I reminded myself that quitters don’t deserve mug-sized, post-ride coffees. Quitters aren’t entitled to spend the afternoon lolling on the couch with a good book and bakery treats…

A seed of dread planted itself in my gut and grew with every fresh gust of speed. By the time I reached the turnaround point, the train seemed like the smart return option. With great effort, I reminded myself that quitters don’t deserve mug-sized, post-ride coffees. Quitters aren’t entitled to spend the afternoon lolling on the couch with a good book and bakery treats. Quitters don’t get that happy-exhausted high that comes from pushing yourself beyond your limits to triumph over the elements.

I tucked in and headed back onto the road. It was like slamming into a concrete wall then pushing that wall, revolution by revolution, back to Port Melbourne.

The first 10km I was still almost fully fuelled and the road wound and rolled, with the brief east-west stretches and minor descents offering a slight reprieve. My spirits remained high: I could do this. However, at Black Rock, the wind launched a direct assault, a relentless blast from the north.

My shoulders instinctively hunched against the onslaught and my muscles seized in painful rebellion. My legs were liquid fire and, despite the rush of air, my breath came in half-choked, wheezing gasps. The demoralising certainty that I would not make it set in. I was barely halfway and had already burned through most of my energy reserves. I tried to draft off a couple of groups as they passed, but was too slow to hold the last rider’s wheel for more than a few minutes.

Image source: Cyclists brave wild Melbourne weather for Around the Bay, Herald Sun, 2016

I started thinking the guys must already be at the café enjoying a well-earned breakfast, while I was close to giving up and eventually have to be rescued.

With this in mind, I dug deep to find an extra power reserve that was not so much energy as stubborn determination. I started ticking off the suburbs: Elwood, St Kilda, Middle Park, breaking the route into manageable chunks and urging myself to push on to the next and then the next.

At last, the café rolled into view and I practically fell off my bike face first into the extra-large latte my friends had waiting for me. Nothing has ever tasted so good.

Despite being one of the more challenging rides I’ve done, it made me keen to get back on the roadie and build up my strength so that the next time there’s a big wind, I’ll be ready.

 

This article first appeared in Ride On magazine, Spring 2015.