Tip: Riding in windy conditions

QuickTipsfeature1-300x92QuickI have recently had some twitter followers asked me to cover some topics they are curious about and one really stood out for me. How do I ride in windy conditions? So I thought I would cover a few tactics a solo rider can us to make their next windy ride a bit easier.

From about January through April the South East and Mid West will be dealing with lots of wind and I am sure other parts of the US and other countries as well. We seem to be pretty fortunate in the US that we do not have to deal with Shifting Cross winds as much as our friends in Europe so I will focus on wind conditions we deal with in the US. Our friends in Europe and Asia should still be able to benefit from this list of tips.

I am going to break out the tips by the most common things to look out for such as timing your ride, understanding wind direction, gearing, kit that you wear, and bike set up.


When you go out and ride during the windy season may be one of the biggest obstacles to your success. You need to become an amateur meteorologist! If you haven’t figured this out yet you will. I constantly monitor temp, wind direction and wind speed. I will check the daily forecast on my smart phone to see when and where wind will pick up and plan my route accordingly. If I am going to go out for an easy ride I want the wind at my back. If I am going out for a ride where muscle and power endurance are being worked on I will head out into the wind.

Wind Speed

While timing is important understanding how fast the wind is blowing is also very important. If you do not track wind reports your next best solution is to be a weather observer.

  • If tall grass, weeds, and brush are all that is moving wind is 1-4 MPH
  • If tall grass is swaying, leaves are moving on trees wind is 4-8 MPH
  • If tree limbs are barely moving and flags are moving wind is 8-10 MPH
  • If tree limbs are swaying and flags are staying up wind is 10-18 MPH
  • If small trees begin to sway and flags are snapping wind is 18-25 MPH
  • If large trees are swaying and leaf litter is present wind is 25+ MPH

Wind Direction

Now that we know how fast the wind is moving do you know which direction it is coming from? Look at trees, shrubs, flags and litter to determine direction.

  • If wind is coming at you it’s a head wind
    • Get in the drops and get aero
    • Keep head low but on the road
  • If wind is coming from behind you it’s a tail wind
    • Sit up proud and use your back as a sail
    • It does not pay to be aero
  • If the wind is coming from the left or right it’s a cross wind
    • Not all cross winds come directly from the left or right
    • Some cross winds have an element of a head wind or tail wind
    • On roads free of traffic try the following:
      • Move to the left of the road when a head wind comes from the right side
      • Move to the right of the road when a head wind comes from the left side
      • If a cross wind is coming from the rear you might try to ride aero or sit up but stay center of your lane if traffic allows.


Gearing in windy conditions is pretty straightforward for both head and tail winds. Gearing for crosswinds will be based purely on what you can do get through it as a solo rider.

  • In a head wind use easy gears and higher cadence as pushing biger gears will just be a lesson in futility unless you are training for Force, Power and Muscular Endurance.
  • In a tail wind you will want to use harder than normal gears and apply steady pressure on the pedals. You may be able to continue to gear up as wind increases.


What you wear on a windy day may also help you improve your chances of a much more successful day on the road. If the weather is cold and you need to wear extra layers make sure they are form fitting. Lots of cycling windbreakers are a bit over sized to accommodate additional layers. If you find this is the case with your jacket and your not wearing extra layers leave it at home and ride with a long sleeve jersey or short sleeve jersey with arm warmers because that ill fitting jacket just became a parachute.


Depending on how strong the wind is you may want to leave your TT/Tri bike or even your aero road bike at home, especially if the wind is 20+ MPH. The problem with riding in high wind conditions is that wind will change directions at a moments notice, causing bikes to track erratically. For those of us cyclists with aero wheels you may want to leave those at home as well as they can have even more pronounced effect on how well a ride can maintain a predictable line on the road.

Word of caution

I think it’s great idea to get out and ride in windy conditions but remember that there are consequences for getting in over your head. If you decide to get out and see how you do handling high winds just don’t ride to far from home and make sure someone knows where you are and when to expect you back.

Until the next tip, have a great ride.

Coach Rob

4 Comments on “Tip: Riding in windy conditions”

  1. I think you need to check out and review the benefits of Zipp Firecrest wheels. I thought it was hype until I rode a pair of 404 in the wind. Very stable!!

  2. Hi Andy, I have ridden Zipps in the past and have been happy with their performance but I do not own a set of Zipps currently. I only review products I own. I am not in the market for a new set of Zipps after the build of the wheels I covered in the review. I no longer hit up product companies for products to review. The primary focus of PPC is tips and articles on cycling, training racing and coaching. I do not ever write negative reviews on products and let me tell you have purchased some really horrible cycling related products. So when I do offer up a review it is for something I think was of exceptional value and had the best bang for the buck when it comes to performance. When I coach someone I most certainly share what I know of products that should NOT be purchased!

    Thanks for reading!
    Coach Rob

  3. Does a head wind affect a heavier rider more than a lighter one, much like an incline, or are both riders affected equally??

  4. Hi Andrew,

    Great question. The answer would be yes a head wind would affect a heavier rider. A headwind needs a body to push against. The larger the body the more the headwind has to work with. Basically the body is a sail and the more sail material there is the more there is to push on.

    Coach Rob

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