Riding in crosswinds can be a challenge, especially for smaller riders. But no matter your size, these tips will help you ride confidently and faster in crosswinds.
For more training tips and information on other topics check out the Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 238
What Makes Crosswinds Difficult?
Crosswinds are demanding on both the mind and body. They have helped decide Tour de France winners and have given plenty of riders a scare. All riders have experienced wind when riding outside, but what makes crosswinds different?
There are two forces at work in a crosswind. The first is side force, which is what pushes you along the direction of the wind. The direction of the side force is called the yaw angle. Yaw angle is the relationship between the wind’s and your speed and direction. Riding directly into a headwind is a yaw angle of 0. Generally, as you speed up in a crosswind, the yaw angle decreases, and as you slow down, the angle increases. As the yaw angle increases, so does the side force pushing on you.
The second force is lift. Lift is the result of the pressure differential in the airflow over a wheel rim. The air is moving faster over the surface of the forward half of the rim than the rear half. Lift occurs because the faster moving air has a lower pressure than the slower moving air on the other rear half of the rim. This is what causes the wind to grab your front wheel and twist it.
The primary challenge in crosswinds is stability, or lack thereof. Winds are rarely constant, which means that the two forces are always changing. The side force changes in intensity and direction. The lift force can increase as the wind picks up and stall when the gust suddenly stops, which can shake or grab the front wheel. Add in a rider completing a workout outside, and the complications add up. However, there are a few tips to help you ride safer and faster in a crosswind.
Check Your Equipment
Wheel choice is an essential equipment decision for crosswinds. Deep section rims present more surface area for the side force to act on. Additionally, they also create a more substantial pressure differential and more lift. A proven tip is to ride shallower wheels when crosswinds are a concern, however some modern wheels are exceptional.
Some modern wheel manufacturers design their wheels to intentionally diminish the pressure differential and lift force, which increases stability. That said, seemingly similar wheel designs can deliver profoundly different results in a wind tunnel and out on the road, so do your research before buying, and when in doubt, ride a shallower front wheel.
Position Your Body
Your body position is critical for riding in a crosswind. First, rid your body of unnecessary tension, especially in the upper body. Focus on being supple and non-reactive. Relax your shoulders and bend your elbows, and keep a light grip on the bars. Some riders imagine they are gently holding potato chips or wiggle their fingers as a way to slacken the hands.
With a light grip on the bars, shift your weight forward over the front wheel. More weight requires more force to move an object. The added forward weight helps stabilize and protect the front wheel. At the same time, you can increase your connection to the bike by shifting to a harder gear and put more pressure on the pedals. Finally, lower your torso. This will lower your center of gravity and help you cut a smaller hole through the wind.
Prepare Your Mind
When experiencing a crosswind, the first thing you want to do is mentally prepare. Begin with the thought, “I am going to let the wind move me.” This idea will help you relax and avoid tensing the body. Relaxing helps you avoid sudden and twitchy movements. Smooth riders are fast riders.
While you want to calm the mind, you also need to stay mentally alert for things that can alter the effect of the crosswind. If the wind is interrupted, the two forces will minimize as well. Since you naturally lean into the wind, something that blocks the wind can quickly change your line. A passing car, a rider coming alongside you, or a gust that stops abruptly can move you into the direction that you are leaning.
On the rare occasion that the wind is extreme, be mentally prepared to call it a day and get off the bike. No one wants to lose months of hard work and experience a setback because of the weather.
Not riding alone? Coach Chad has an in-depth post on how to draft in a crosswind here.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to the Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.