That Demoralizing Wind

windyI really enjoyed my ride to the air show several days ago, except for the stiff headwind I found myself fighting on the way back. I hate wind even worse than I hate hills. Actually, I don’t hate hills — I just don’t do very well with them. But the wind is another story.

Part of my problem with the wind is my size. People in my bike club, even riders much faster than me, love to draft me on group rides, because I do such a great job of shielding them from the wind. That, of course, is what causes me big problems when I’m on my own. I’m just this human sail who finds himself slowing rapidly when I’m riding into the wind.

The problem was worse on the weekend ride, because I had miscalculated and picked a route into the wind that was at least twice as long as it would have been had I just retraced the route I took on the way out. It seemed like it would never end. Other riding-related maladies popped up as well. My bum started to pain me, and I was wearing my favorite pair of shorts. I started feeling some soreness in my lower back. It wasn’t a lot of fun.

I probably did everything wrong going into the headwind. I stayed on the hoods, for starters. Everything I’ve read says you get into the drops into a headwind, to make yourself smaller and more aerodynamic. And I committed the real non-no — I shifted into an easier gear. What you’re supposed to do is shift into a harder gear to force you to pedal harder and maintain your speed.

I even let the wind get the best of me, and stopped at the side of the road for a few minutes, to eat some fig bars and drink mass quantities of water. But mainly to rest. I always feels rejuvenated when starting off after a break, but in the wind Saturday, that feeling lasted maybe a minute.

As I got nearer to the end of the ride, I encountered some rollers again. But by this time, the wind was at my back and I could pedal up them without losing much momentum. Hills are a challenge for me. Wind is a chore, an adversary, a powerful foe.

Well, there’s only one way to deal with it. I have to tackle it head on. We’re having a particularly windy spring this year, and I’ll be looking for a stiff headwind on my upcoming rides. Maybe by the end of the summer, I’ll have the same attitude toward the wind as I do toward hills: tough, but doable.

Windy Day on the Bike

stock-footage-texas-flag-blowing-in-the-windAfter some beautiful weather earlier this week, a nasty front moved in. The forecast called for a “Wind Advisory,” with winds between 20-30 mph, gusting to 40. That’s some pretty heavy-duty stuff. A lot of folks I see online in our club Yahoo group posted that they were skipping a ride, because of the wind conditions.

But, a few daunting souls decided to give it a go. I shook my head, and gave it a pass.

That is, I did until my wife chimed in, “I want a bike ride today.”

To say I was surprised would be an understatement. She hates riding in the wind. But work-related stress was taking its toll, and getting outside, even for a short ride, would be good for her. I told her I would join her, but wanted to wait until it warmed up just a bit.

Our house is on a curved residential street, and is mostly shielded from strong winds. If we really want to get a feel for it, we have to look at the tops of the trees a couple of blocks over to see how much they’re blowing.

“I have a hunch that we’ll really feel it when we get off this block,” she said. I nodded agreement.

We weren’t disappointed. The wind did smack us, but for the first part of our ride, it smacked us in the back. We zoomed down a small hill to the first stoplight, topping 28 mph without even pedaling.

It wasn’t until we made a right turn another mile up the road that the wind hit us with force — from the side. I hate crosswinds, but this one seemed mostly manageable.

We were only going on a short route this day — about a nine-mile round trip. Usually, when we ride it together, I continue on when she finishes. I wasn’t going to do that this time.

Sure enough, when we made the turnaround halfway out, we got smacked by the wind again. This time, it was quartering head-on. All of a sudden, our ride turned into hard work. The worst part came during one of my favorite stretches. It’s a gentle downhill for about a half-mile. This time, instead of hitting 27 mph as I usually do, I had to shift into the small chain ring and struggle against the strong north wind.

I finally got to the stoplight, and waited for Pat. As I look across the intersection, there were four members of my club, returning from their morning hill ride. We waved at each other, and I wondered how tough it must have been for them on the hills.

“How many times did you nearly get blown off your bike?” I asked Pat, when she caught up to me.

“Oh, twice,” she said.

“Three times for me,” I responded.

Back home, we were glad to get the bikes in the shelter of the garage. But the ride had been worth it.

“Oh, that feels better!” said Pat.

It might have been a tough ride, but as one of the guys on the hill ride said, rides under these conditions just make all the other days easier.

Thankful for Cycling

“Oh, I need this,” cooed Pat, as we headed out from home on a Sunday morning ride.

“This” was a bike ride. We’d just gotten home late last night from four days on the road for Thanksgiving. It was great. We stayed with our son and daughter-in-law and our brand new grandson — our first grandchild. So, we had lots of time for family bonding, lots of time sitting around watching their 70-inch TV screen (some action scenes made Pat nauseous), and lots of time eating more than we should have. It was great.

I got out for a couple of walks. The first day we were there, I set out to circle a large soccer-baseball complex near their house, and found that there was no quick way to do it. I wound up walking about four miles, and in the unseasonably mild Minnesota weather, I was soaked through with sweat when I got home.

Saturday’s weather was more seasonal. I walked a little over a mile to see a bald eagle nest near their house, and was treated to the sight of two eagles — one that flew about 50 yards from tree to tree while I looked on. I was a lot more bundled up for this walk, with temperatures in the low to mid 20s (-3C) and a biting wind. But it was better than the previous day, when we went to the movies. While we walked from the parking lot to the theater, the 25 mph wind cut through our jackets, and without hats or ear protection, we were really cold.

Now, I know hearty northerners ride in these conditions. On my walk to the eagles’ nest, a cyclists passed me, bundled up in a heavy parka, thermal cycling tights, thick gloves, and a skull cap. Tough guy, I thought. But we’ve lived in Austin for 12 years now, and our blood must have thinned out. My personal cycling cutoff is at 40 degrees (4C), and I’m mighty chilly even at that temperature.

So our ride this morning was a pleasure. Even with a brisk south wind, we pedaled easily over to the Veloway and did some laps. Good crowd out there today. Pat has been dealing with some work-related challenges, and she was glad to get on the bike, because ideas and solutions seem to come to her much more readily while cycling than while poring over a computer screen in the home office. As they did today. When I peeled away from her a couple of blocks from the house to continue my ride, she was already eager to get back to try out some things that came to her on the ride.

I tackled some local hills, and found that the pounds I tacked on over the holiday made themselves felt. Okay, I slipped from my careful eating campaign, and I’ll have to renew my efforts in that regard. But to ride in a short-sleeved jersey and shorts on a 65-70 degree (20C) day in November is something I’m thankful for at this time of year.

I Don’t Do Resolutions, But…

…I did the Resolution Ride again this year. A local bike shop puts on this New Year’s Day ride from its far north store. It’s an out-and-back of either 25 or 50 miles. Pat and I did it last year, and really enjoyed it, so we decided we’d make a return trip again this year.

The forecast was promising. We’ve had great weather since Christmas, and on December 31st, the high reached 77 degrees (25C). But for New Year’s Day, the prognosticators had a cold front moving through shortly after midnight, with 20 mph winds from the north and plummeting temperatures. The first half of the ride heads north. We prepared for the worst.

The dicey forecast didn’t deter the diehard cyclists in town. Ride organizers told us that 300 riders had registered for the ride — and it looked like most everyone showed up, despite the less than ideal conditions. The 50 milers took off first, then those of us in the 25-mile group.

Part of the 300 riders at the start. (Click pix to enlarge.)

The route is along Parmer Lane northwest of Austin. Parmer becomes Ronald Reagan Blvd. once it leaves the suburbs and gets into open rural land. For most of its length, long rolling hills test cyclists. Coupled with the wind in our faces, the ride out was challenging.

The long rolling hills along Ronald Reagan Blvd.

I was astounded at the number of cyclists who showed up underdressed. Several times, we encountered riders with just t-shirts and shorts — and loose, flapping athletic shorts at that. Some of them realized the folly of their ways, and turned around early to head back to the bike shop, but a substantial contingent stuck with it, and soldiered on into the cold wind.

I found myself moving ahead of Pat and having to wait for her from time to time. We were averaging a whopping 8-9 mph against the wind, and Pat was gasping at the summits of the big hills. One rider who joined us for a breather laughed when I told him the turnaround was at the next intersection, which we could see from where we’d stopped.

“I told my wife the turnaround came here, at the top of the hill,” he said. “She’s going to get here and wonder who moved the cheese.”

Pat: "Take off your sunglasses for the picture, Ray."

It turned out that I was wrong, too. I had glanced at a route map before the start, and saw that the turnaround for the 25-milers was at state highway 29. In fact, it was past that point, at a little side road. We made our turnaround at less than 12 miles.

But we didn’t care. As soon as we headed south, the wind became our friend. The sun warmed our fronts, and we sailed down the road, which was more downhill on the way back than on the way out. At one point, I hit 34 mph on a hill — and probably could have gone faster if my bike hadn’t started acting skittish on me, causing me to slow down a bit.

We pulled into the bike shop’s parking lot, and once again felt the cold north wind hit us. But as any good ride should do, breakfast tacos and coffee (and beer) were available at the finish. We sat in the warmth of the sun, shielded from the wind by the building’s wall.


Pat told me this ride was the longest she’d ridden since at least September. “I don’t care if we only did 23 miles,” she said. “In today’s conditions, it feels like 25, and that’s what I’m going to call it.”

Because I throttled back to stay close to Pat for most of the ride, my average speed was only 12.4 mph. But it was a good ride — with no major mechanicals, unlike last year — except for one that Pat discovered as we were putting the bikes on the car rack. More on that in the next post.

What’s Black and White and Blocks Wind All Over?

After that no-ride weekend, I was looking forward to getting back on the bike. But being an adopted Texan, I have also become a weather wuss. My friends in Minnesota would be mortified that we tend to avoid riding in what to them seem like mild temperatures. But so it goes.

However, driving home from work today, I resolved that I would get out on the bike regardless of the cold. The dashboard thermostat read 39 degrees (4C), and there was a brisk wind blowing from the northwest. But the sun shone brightly, and by almost any standard, it was a beautiful day.

When I told my wife I intended to ride, she said she’d been bent over her computer keyboard all day, and was up for a ride, too. We started getting into our selection of cold-weather riding gear.

I pulled on a short-sleeved base layer and my long-sleeved jersey with brushed insides. Over that, my windbreaker. This has worked in 40-degree weather in the past, but not in the kind of wind we had today. I decided to rely on a time-honored method bikers use to block the wind: the newspaper.

Fabian Cancellara stuffs a newspaper in his jersey just before starting a descent in this year's Tour de France.

I grabbed a thin section from the morning’s paper that was still lying on our kitchen table, folded it over once, and jammed it down the inside of my jersey. The tight-fitting fabric seemed like it would do a good job of keeping the paper in place over my upper torso.

Pat put on the long-sleeved jersey I got her last month for her birthday. It’s a warmer garment than mine, and the panels over the chest are made of a nylon wind-blocking material. Over that, she layered an old fleece pullover.

We fished out our wool socks, put the toe covers on our shoes, and dug the full-fingered gloves out of the bike stuff box.

“Whoa!” Pat yelled, as we pulled out of our driveway. “Have a little cold!”

At the first stoplight a mile into the ride, we caught up to another cyclist. Pat and he chatted a bit as we all climbed a long gentle hill, and then he passed me and took off.

“He wasn’t going to let an old woman on a hybrid stay even with him,” Pat laughed. “But he did say he thought this was the nicest biking weather of the year. He must be from the Midwest.”

On the way back, we were dead into the wind. Aside from making my eyes tear, which I hate when I’m building speed on downhills, it didn’t have any effect on what I was wearing. The layer of newspaper was doing its job.

While waiting at a red light, though, Pat complained that her tights weren’t thick enough to protect her thighs. They were cold, and that made the arthritis in her hip flare up. She soldiered through the discomfort and we got home before the sun set.

Inside, I dug the newspaper out from my jersey. It was a bit damp, but not wet. It had done its job of blocking the wind nicely, although by the time we finished the ride, it had slipped lower on my chest and shifted over to the side a bit. Still, a successful experiment.

Closed cell foam is often used by campers as sleeping pads.

Our club president has his own variation on the newspaper as wind blocker: bubble wrap. Well, that’s what he calls it, but it’s really a thin layer of closed-cell foam. He cuts generous squares off a roll and fits them over his torso under his jersey. He likes to tell the rest of us on our Sunday club rides how comfortable he is in cold and windy weather. I used to pooh-pooh his foam trick, but after my experience with the newspaper I think he might be on to something.

Have you ever resorted to newspapers or foam or something else to keep you comfortable on a ride?

Those @#$%&! Cross Winds!

The wind has been relentless this spring, mostly blowing from the south. I’ve been trying to plan my routes so that I’m heading more or less into it on the way out, and with it on the way back, to get a little relief.

But Saturday, I joined a small group ride in a different part of town from my usual haunts. The road we would mainly ride was Bee Caves Road — which goes roughly east-west, and features lots of long hills.

It’s a lot of fun to ride in decent weather. But I hadn’t thought about the key feature that would affect us this time — the wind was going to be hitting us crosswise, not head on.

Just a few minutes into the ride, we were heading east on a nice downhill, when pow! the wind smacked me and moved the bike toward the traffic lane. It was unsettling. Bee Caves Road is four lanes wide, with an added center lane. The speed limit is 65. Traffic is usually steady. Yipes! If that wind was going to have the potential to knock me into traffic, it could be a ride with an unhappy outcome.

Cross winds are funny (not funny ha-ha, but funny hmm). If the wind was steady, it wouldn’t be a problem. Leaning a bit to the side toward the wind — like the riders in the picture — seems to help.

It’s the gusts that get you. How do you maintain control of your bike when it’s being buffeted from the side?

A quick check of the interwebs doesn’t turn up much help. Most of the advice about riding in cross winds applies to racers, and tells them to form an echelon. Although I was in a small group — maybe eight people — there was no way we would be able to stay packed tightly enough to form an echelon. I doubt any of us would know how to. I spent most of the ride on my own anyway, with a few riders well ahead of me, and the rest trailing by a large distance.

My reaction was to slow down. I was not comfortable riding on a shoulder — even a generous one like  the ones on this road — if I was going to get pushed one way or the other. But some advice I’ve seen says your stability will improve as you pick up your speed. For example, instead of coasting those downhills as I was doing, the advice is to pedal. By applying some power to the rear wheel, you’ll become more stable.

Gack. I was hitting speeds above 30 mph on the downhill stretches, and getting smacked by a gust at that speed can be pretty unnerving. That’s why I slowed down.

A commenter on one of the biking forums I visit said, “It takes a while to get used to the idea that getting blown around some is OK.” Yeah, I’m not there yet. But I’m sure I’ll have lots more times to try, the way the weather is going lately.

Others say to relax, especially in the elbows and upper body. One commenter suggested that unlike headwinds, when you want to minimize drag by keeping your body in an aero position, a better strategy in a cross wind would be to sit upright. That makes “holes” in your profile to allow wind to pass through.

I won’t be seeking opportunities to ride in cross winds, but I’m sure they’ll come. I’ll remember to relax, enjoy getting buffeted, and stay close to the right side of the shoulder. In the meantime, I’ll be glad I don’t regularly ride in the conditions this Dutch cycling team had to contend with earlier this year. The travails of the guy 48 seconds into the video are a hoot. Click the YouTube button to watch it in a larger size – and perhaps a smoother speed.

“Ja, Michael, you have the lightest bike!”

That Fickle Wind

I always look forward to Spring Break. Often, I’m out of town, but this year I had plans to stay home and do a lot of riding. But we had to run up to Dallas Tuesday and Wednesday, which put a hole in those plans. This morning, I was ready to get out and put down some miles.

I haven’t had a lot of decent mileage rides yet this year. Time seems to get in the way, and I usually can’t find more than an hour and a half for the bike. That’s good for about 20-25 miles — a nice ride, but not what I’ve been looking for.

So today, I was ready. Pat would be at some business appointments around town, and I had the morning to myself. It was an almost perfect day: overcast, in the upper 60s, but with a brisk cool wind that forced me to put on my arm warmers for comfort.

I decided to head for a favorite destination of mine — the little town of Creedmoor, southeast of Austin. With the wind blowing from the southeast, I knew I would struggle heading out — but I would have a nice tailwind heading back.

Mostly, when I ride to Creedmoor, it’s on Sunday mornings when the traffic is almost nonexistent. Today, I had to contend with lots of trucks. Mostly, they were pretty good. They gave me room on the right, and often waited behind me if the road was narrow.

I didn’t break any speed records getting to Creedmoor, but I wasn’t trying to, and the wind wasn’t helping. We always stop at a gas station/convenience store to fill water bottles and take a break, and I did this time, too. The few people going into and out of the store were friendly, and almost every one of them had a pleasant, “Good mornin’.”

I finished a Clif Bar, and got back on the bike. The ride back was going to be a good one. Right off the bat, the farm-to-market road I was on pointed down, and with the wind at my back, I easily topped 30 mph, just coasting along. It happened again a few minutes later on another northbound road. And that would be the last time on this ride that the wind would be my friend.

Going west on a narrow country road, I felt a strong cross wind. If the wind was continuing from the southeast, it should have pushed me along, not hindered me. Clearly, it was now coming straight from  the south. I couldn’t depend on that helping tailwind.

I reached a built-up intersection, and saw from the flags flying from some buildings that my suspicions were correct. The wind had shifted. But it had shifted to more than south. Now, it was blowing from the southwest. It would be more or less in my face most of the way home.

As I pedaled, I shifted my left hand to near the center of my bar, and grabbed my water bottle with my right. I nearly fell over. A gust of wind got the bike, and pushed it toward the curb. I got it back under control, but knew I would have to pay attention from here on out.

So it was a bit of a slog. I still got in more miles than I’d done so far this year, so that was good. But it occurred to me that I can’t remember a ride where one leg was so much better because of a helping wind. I’m sure the wind god is saying, “Here comes the Bike Noob — let’s get ‘im.”