Why is it.... Tailwind v Headwind

I can hold X watts on TR (in my case X is a minuscule number but surely an awesome one in your case), I can hold those same X watts on the road in the calm or with a tailwind with nary a budge in the RPE needle. However as soon as I turn into the “Dutch Mountain” and face the wind it all gets creaky. That same X starts to nudge the RPE needle into the surrender zone. What gives? Is it purely in the head or is there something real there? Some sort of change in the force distribution in the pedal stroke? I have tried various psych out tricks over the years (ear plugs to eliminate the wind noise, reducing the computer data fields to power and cadence only, so I can’t see how sucky the speed or time are). Nothing seems to work.

I notice that some of my training buddies have it worse than me and die totally in the wind to the point where we go from me having been barely hanging onto their wheels, to them having to suck mine all the way home. Now I make a bigger hole in the wind than these guys so it is not that. When I ask them they come out with the same observation. So in the head or real?


Not a psychologist or a physiologist … I have always attributed this to a combination of psychology as you point out and perhaps less efficient breathing akin to trying to breathe with your head out a car window.


Yeah I thought of that one too. But for me the position aero v upright was not a factor and surely the ‘ram’ effect of going into the wind would help one breath better :slight_smile:

If you have erg mode on your trainer, try using lower gears to reduce the flywheel effect.
Knocking out threshold work like this helps me with climbs and pushing into the wind.
I MTB so that’s pretty much half of the time these days.


Indeed, living as I do in the flattest place in Europe has me reaching for any hill training hack I can get and I cottoned on to the gear flywheel thing pretty early and also found a use for my old encyclopedias (20cm stack under my front wheel). Perhaps that is why I don’t fold as quick as my buddies. Which would imply that there is an underlying physiological aspect.


My experience has been that the lower gear thing will only get you so far. I’m sure it’s a physiological situation that you can train easily on the trainer.
The SPB gave me pretty big gains in that regard. The GB I’m currently doing seem to be heading down a similar path.

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You’re not the only one - there’s a few things going on…

  • When being buffeted by wind, especially if gusty, the resistance you face is more variable making it harder to consistently get the power down - your effort will fluctuate more.
  • You may (consciously or subconsciously) adopt a more aerodynamic position, which may impact your breathing and cause different muscle groups to be used.
  • You need more mental energy to control the bike - harder to focus on your effort.
  • You may tense your upper body, making you less efficient.

If you remove all of these and go to a trainer environment, you can fully relax your upper body, lock into a powerful position, focus 100% on the effort and your breathing.

Wind (especially gusty wind) is actually very different to being on a climb, where the lower speed mitigates all of the factors above and makes it easier to produce a solid effort.

Inertia will be slightly lower but its the variability that causes the issues - most people are relatively good at putting out power on a climb where the inertia is also low relative to a flat road…

Its not something you can easily replicate on a trainer other than riding in a more aerodynamic position. Maybe use erg mode and deliberately keep pushing on/backing off slightly so that the trainer resistance keeps fighting against you?


Strange - I find my power into the wind is higher than otherwise - similar to how I can often push higher numbers going up a hill than I can otherwise. Having something pushing back against me (be it gravity or the elements) makes it easier for me to go hard

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Your momentum is different going into a headwind. As a result, I think most riders tend to subconsciously alter their pedal stroke to apply power over more of the rotation plus drop cadence a bit. That can make it seem harder to put out the same power versus with no wind. Riding into a stiff headwind is very similar to going up hill actually.

Well, that and the wind howling in the ears and the 10mph drop in speed. That adds 50 watts to any effort.


Back in my road FTP testing days, I always went into the wind and found power more consistent and usually (but not always) higher. I think it feels harder because we’re putting out XXX watts but only seeing a markedly slower speed on a road that’s flat. Perception is different sitting up on a climb. JMO, no data… sorry.

Agreed - far too much focus on speed. Take it off your computer display

As do I. I find when I have to reach the dizzy heights of suprathreshold an external forcing factor is a help. Either uphill or into the wind.
Perhaps I am just abnormally allergic to physical effort :grin:

I took the computer down to cadence and power only. Same effect. X watts upwind = higher RPE.

Dutch Mountain sounds like a road near me - “Mt Lambert” that is perfectly flat and at sea level. These are difficult because you need:

  • raw power (high FTP) to maintain speed
  • anaerobic power to deal with gusty wind

For example at a 250W ftp, its not unusual to need 350-500W for a 30 second pull at 20mph / 32kph. And 220-260W sustained effort just to hang in the paceline/echelon. Those are very hard 40 minute efforts (on a group ride!). Smaller riders with lower FTPs can get aero and hide behind bigger riders like me.

Our club is near the foothills of the mountains, and sometimes strong climbers come out to our flat rides and are humbled.

My belief - you have to conquer the mental game. Which for me was going out at the windiest times (afternoons) and putting in the work by myself. Every week for 6 months I did 2 or 3 hard rides for 40-60 minutes. Eventually I got physically stronger (lactate buffering, anaerobic efforts) and started to somewhat enjoy the wind.


inertia is the reason. with a tailwind or going downhill the power you put out is trying to accelerate you, and the gear gets away from you. on a hill or headwind your power prevents deceleration and you can keep on top of the gear. that gear getting away from you makes it harder to keep a consistent power and you need to shift up gears.

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Try to lower your cadence when going headwind. At least for me, it helps minimize the rpe increase keeping the power at the same level. It may sound obvious for some but I do 80% of my training indoor on erg mode and it took me some time to figure out how to deal with wind outdoor since I would tend to keep the same cadence regardless of wind conditions.

I think its cause of certain things mentioned above but main one i’d say is momentum. With no wind or tailwind, if you were to “stand still” on the bike, you’d be whether not moving or going forward (say if you outfitted yourself with a sail lol). Which means that if you STOP putting the exact same amount of effort you keep going.

When you have the headwind, you start at a disadvantage. So even if the power your put down is the same at the pedal, the power that goes “against” that power is higher as there’s more resistance coming from outside sources. So your power that you are expanding is less efficient, where there is basically not a leakage but loss of the power your putting down due to outside forces.

At least that’s how i see it with my “broscience”

Forget the headwind, that’s no problem!

I struggle with a very strong crosswind, I feel like it sucks the air right out of me and I have trouble getting in the oxygen I need.

I’m wondering if it has something to do with the way you’re breathing or maybe it’s just psychological.

From last summer, riding with SSW wind at 13 mph / 21 kph, and gusting 20 mph / 32 kph.

Here are 3 intervals of Geiger on the trainer:

Notice that tempo/sweet spot/threshold make up ~82% of the effort. And almost nothing at vo2max.

and a week later, 3 intervals of Geiger outside in windy headwind/crosswind:

Notice that tempo/sweet spot/threshold make up ~59% of the effort. And now 24% is vo2max or higher.

Having done a lot of outside intervals and riding into the wind and cross-winds, I think the first-order explanation is simple. Riding in the wind requires more variable power. It isn’t like the artificially steady power you can hold on the trainer (Erg mode). And then the psychology, riding into the wind requires a stronger mental attitude. Without being on a hill, the mind gets confused why vo2max power only results in 14mph / 22kph.


Only reason I keep speed on a head unit is to keep from surging a group or paceline unless I want to.