Wind… it can be painful, it slows you down, and is sometimes accompanied by something wet… ultimately, however, once you push past it, you will be a stronger athlete.
Why wind makes you physically stronger
A study by Alan Cummings, a mechanical engineer at the University of Hull, was conducted after he battled against the wind on his bike near his home. “I’d noticed that on a particularly windy day, it took longer to complete my circuit,” he recalls. “Instead of taking about 25 minutes for the 7.5 miles, it could take up to 30 to 35 minutes.”
What Cummings found was that, regardless of receiving a tailwind, the stronger the wind blows, the longer a cyclist will take to complete a loop. The tailwind never compensates for the loss caused by the headwind. The results tend to be quite dramatic too, a 13kph wind speed will result in a journey taking 7% longer than windless conditions, while wind equal to the cyclists speed results in the journey taking 20% longer. At a speed three times that of the cyclist, the journey takes a whopping 350% longer - that or we might consider the journey unfinished if the rider succumbs to an accident (or perhaps common sense to avoid cycling in those conditions in the first place!).
While this might have little effect on those who go out and complete a specific timeframe of training, an hour for example, this has a marked effect on those who ride a specific loop or commute via bike.
If we take even the lower effect of wind on journeys at 7% slower, a cyclist who usually rides a modest 6 hours per week outdoors will have to ride almost 30 minutes more. What you do with that time, how you utilise that to better your physical fitness, is up to you. Thank you wind for giving us the perfect reason to get that extra bit of training in.
Why wind makes you mentally stronger
Fear: to be frightened by something or someone unpleasant. In this case the wind. No doubt all of us at some point, and most of us still probably do, feel a certain unease when we know we are about to be, or are, confronted by the wind.
Some of the common symptoms of fear include: chest pain, chills, dry mouth, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, and an upset stomach. All of this is compounded by the small issue of you riding a bike too, and none of which do you really want to be experiencing when your body is trying to propel you through the wind.
A paper published in Behaviour Research and Therapy in July 2014 suggests that the basis of fear treatments (also known as phobia treatment or exposure therapy) is simply familiarity; slowly minimising the fear response by making it feel familiar.
There are several methods you could employ to overcome any anxiety or fear about riding into the wind (however little this may be). Systematic desensitisation takes you through a slow series of exposures to the wind; this could be started by simply talking about the wind and how it makes you feel. Flooding exposes you to a vast quantity of the wind for a prolonged amount of time; go out on a very windy day. Coping would be using specific techniques such as meditation and mindfulness to become more accepting of the way wind makes you feel; if you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know how highly I value this anyway.
Of course, all of the above can also be used for becoming mentally stronger in any facet of cycling, be that climbing a hill, racing, or riding a particularly daunting Gran Fondo style event. Everything you learn in conquering your concerns of the wind is extrapolatable for any fear, phobia, or anxiety you might have. Your mental performance is just like your physical, you need to train it for it to perform at the highest level.
Why wind makes you more aerodynamic
This is fairly simple and I can draw on, what I presume, is everyone's first hand experience with starting to train. You do want to be faster and a big part of this will be reducing your aerodynamic drag.
Here the wind helps as the faster you ride, or the faster the wind is blowing, the more drag you will experience. You might spend thousands on improving your bike, but you (the rider) account for around 70% of the aerodynamic drag.
The great news is there are simple gains to be had here and they are somewhat easier to deal with than the previous two points to this post. Step one ‘open wallet’, step two ‘buy wind cheating items’, the end. Items such as tighter fitting clothing (skinsuits for example), aero inspired helmets, and items such as shoe covers, will go a long way to reducing your aerodynamic drag.
You can make some free gains too. Work on your position and do some testing. Make small adjustments to your position, hand position for example, and see how you feel, and what difference your speed is at a given power. You could also get a bike fit (note: not free) and save some time and faffing around.
Let’s all celebrate the wind for what it is, an opportunity for us to become stronger and faster athletes. Under the guise of the wind slowing you down, you can grab yourself some extra training time per week. Face your concerns about the wind (or any other challenge that sparks fear and/or anxiety) and allow your body to concentrate on what it needs to do; riding a bike. Use the wind as a tool to perfect your aerodynamics, and get really slippery. When you combine all of these, you will start to see some considerable improvements in your performance on the bike. Thanks, wind!
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