We all sat impatiently glued to our iPads and computer screens in mid October waiting for the clouds to part and the wind to drop in Virgin, Utah as we wanted to see what Cam Zink and Kyle Strait had up thier sleeves for their second run in the 2013 RedBull Rampage. We waited and didn’t happen. The winds were to strong which made the riding too dangerous and the last few riders didn’t get a second go. While it was enough for Strait to claim the prize and for Zink and Mcgarry to show some of the most amazing tricks ever performed, many were disappointed and typed on various social media forums “why didn’t they just get on with it” – they have obviously never ridden bikes in high winds.
I have seen gusts blow riders off a trail in front of me and have been knocked to the ground myself while being caught unawares coming out of shelter into a high wind. Its serious stuff and a wind in any direction could have resulted in major casualties or worse at the Rampage.
That was the dramatic and enticing start to my blog post, now I’m going to have a moan about how hard it was riding in the wind this weekend!
We set off at about 9.30am knowing we had around 50km to cover and maybe around 600m of climbing. This sort of distance (maybe not the climb) is often classed as an Epic if it was billed as a MTB or XC event and its a big ride by our local standards. Our local terrain isn’t too tough but at this time of the year the puddles get deeper and the rutts get softer and muddier. Winter/mud tyres help to cut through the quagmire but long grassy tracks feel like sponge and suck the speed out of the bike and energy out of you as you have to push harder into the pedals.
Add to this the wind. Yes the same wind I waxed lyrically about at the beginning of this post that prevented us seeing more spectacular stunts in Utah in October. This same wind made our ride really tough yesterday. Cross winds drove rain into us at right angles to the track and obscured our goal as we climbed the ridge line to Barbury Castle yesterday. We had to lean into the wind to stay upright and combined with the boggy ground and wet blasts made it one of the slowest rides of the year. (I may be over egging this but it was hardwork.)
Going along the flat was an effort and even going downhill required a few turns of the pedals to keep the momentum up. By the time we finished the ride we figured we were about 40 mins behind the expected finish time. Was the ride bigger than expected? Was the average speed ambitious? Was it the wind? It was without doubt the wind. Significantly adding to the required effort we figured we lost a fair bit of time not due to punctures or waiting for riders to regroup – simply put it was the wind.
So here are some Gear Factor tips for riding in the wind:
1. Keep you chin up. Well down is better really, but what I mean here is be positive and try not to let it beat you mentally. Consider it a challenge or a training aid. If you can beat that climb or Strava segment in these conditions imagine what you can do on a still day!
2. Keep your chin down! Minimise the wind resistance by making yourself as aerodynamic as possible. We are all mountain bikers here aren’t we? Therefore at this time of the year you are probably wearing a coat and baggies with multiple layers etc – you might as well be a kite! If you know you are going out in high winds try to wear clothing with less flap!
3. Treat the wind like a hill. You wouldn’t push hard up a hill in too high a gear – the same should go for the wind.
4. Trust the gust. (I just thought of that!) Lean into a cross wind, trust its power and rather than use up extra energy trying to stay upright let the wind hold you up. Just remember to stop leaning when the wind stops!
5. Find shelter. If your route lends itself to a sheltered detour then take it. Ride within the shelter of bushes and tree lines when possible and you will find this so much easier.
6. Pedal downhill. You might find you have no choice if the wind is blowing straight into your face, but pedalling will give you some added stability. The added traction and power delivered to the bike will keep you on course and prevent the wind taking you off your line.
I am sure this may seem obvious to you but honestly the ride was a tough ride… I tried to search for some science and find calculations as to the effects of high winds on your speed and found so many different accounts and variations I gave up. I am pretty convinced that the wind at least doubled the effort at some points and my legs today agree!