The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

2017 RAGBRAI

Top 10 Training Tips for RAGBRAI #9 – Thar She Blows, Ride Like the Wind

by Coach David Ertl

The prevailing westerlies determine the predominant wind pattern in Iowa. In the summer winds are usually out of the west or southwest owning to these westerlies. I don’t think it was an accident that the first RAGBRAI, and all subsequent ones, started at the west coast of Iowa and traveled east.  Take advantage of the prevailing westerlies on the trip east.   But mother nature doesn’t always obey her own rules.  There are days on RAGBRAI when the wind is out of the south or north, or more deadly, out of the east as a block headwind all day.  But you can count on one thing, there is almost always wind in Iowa.  So you’d better be ready to deal with it.  Headwinds are a fact of cycling life, so you need to learn to cope with them. Here are some tips to do so.

Like hills, headwinds are as much a mental game as a physical one.  No one really enjoys headwinds, even people who like hills don’t like headwinds. Why? Because they slow us down and make us feel weak.  If we want to ride slow, we want to do so on our own terms, not on the wind’s terms. Headwinds on uphills are even worse.  When you are out training you are going to run into the wind, so I’m not going to tell you to intentionally go out and ride on windy days. Those will happen frequently enough. But while you are out riding on a windy day, you can at least work on your attitude while riding into that headwind.  Think of it as a training opportunity. When you lift weights, you do ‘resistance training’. When you ride into the wind, you are also doing resistance training. This is an opportunity to work harder and build some strength and stamina.  Like hills, if you deal with headwinds in a positive manner, you will find they are easier to deal with.

Another tip is to not be in a hurry when riding into a headwind. The faster you try to ride into the wind, the harder it gets. And you don’t go all that much faster either!  Don’t be impatient either. This will just frustrate you. So tell yourself that you will be going on that stretch of road into the wind and the miles will eventually pass.  If you want to go out for a ride on a windy day there are a couple of other strategies you can try. One is to find roads protected by trees.  Now if you are from windy Kansas where the state tree is wheat, you are out of luck.  But if you have real trees, ride a course that’s somewhat protected. A lot of rails-to-trails bike trails are lined with trees and those are good places to ride when it is really windy.  If you don’t have trees, find a short loop, such as a four-mile loop so you are only riding into the wind for short stretches at a time and do several laps.

If you mountain bike, the woods are a good place to ride on windy days.  The trees protect you and actually give you a bit of breeze to help cool you down. If it is so windy that limbs are falling down, you probably don’t want to be riding outside anyway. Go do a spin class at the gym.

When riding into the wind, you will be going slower, so be sure to use your gears, just like you would on an uphill climb.  You still want your legs spinning 80-95 RPM into headwinds, so downshift into an easier gear to keep your leg speed up.  You can stress out your muscles and knees if you mash hard into headwinds at a low cadence, especially for long miles at a time (like across the state of Iowa).

Also, get down low so there is less wind resistance.  If you have drop handlebars, get into the drops to lower your body’s profile.  If you have straight bars, bend your elbows and at your waist to get down lower.  Find someone to draft behind if you feel comfortable doing that.   However, when drafting on a windy day, leave a little extra room between you and the person in front of you as the wind with blow them around and you don’t want to cross wheels.

Wind often picks up during the day and is more calm in the early morning and evenings. If you can, plan your rides accordingly. And finally, there’s the question whether you should go out on your ride into the headwind first, or ride out with the wind and back home into the wind on training rides.  Most people ride out into the wind so they will get a helping hand from the wind on the way back home when they tend to be more tired.  This is a pretty good strategy. It’s hard enough riding into the wind, but riding into the wind when your legs are tired is even harder.   But a few people ride out with the wind and work hard coming home to build strength or perhaps in hopes that the wind dies by the time they turn around to come home. I’ve only had that happen to me a couple of times in my life so don’t count on that.
The one good thing about the wind, other than the tailwind, is that it tends to keep you cooler.  And, like climbing hills, for every headwind there is usually a tailwind as a reward.

May the wind be always at your back…

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at coach@cyclesportcoaching.com.

5 Comments

mootsman, Jun 27, 2017 at 7:02 am

All great advice. I don’t mind riding into the wind since I decided not to fight it and ride harder to compensate.

A word of advice about jumping on someone else’s wheel though. Unless you know them always ask if they are OK with it first. First to let them know your there. If they don’t it can be a problem. Additional responsibilities get bestowed on someone when someone else is drafting off them. They may not want those so proper road etiquette means you ask before you draft.

mootsman, Jun 27, 2017 at 7:03 am

I meant NOT ride harder to compensate…..

Robert Bleck, Jun 28, 2017 at 9:07 am

I’ve done the Ride Across Wisconsin (RAW) its first two years. 175 miles, one day, Dubuque, IA to Kenosha, WI. Both times we had east headwinds. The best way to battle it is to maintain a large group and draft and riding with people of similar ability. My worst wind experience ever was doing a 2 man TT on a 42 degree day with 35mph winds and a partner 6 inches shorter than me. Of course the race started with the wind. The finish was a huge mental training exercise.

The other key as mentioned is minimizing your frontal area, which means, stay low. The key to the low position is a strong core. If you haven’t been doing them all along, do planks, especially hold on your forearms, staying as horizontal as you can, for as long as you can. They mimic the position. Also, I prefer hands on the hoods, forearms horizontal. It has less frontal area than the drops.

Robert Bleck, Jun 28, 2017 at 9:59 am

Also, if the forecast is windy, choose your tightest fitting jersey / jacket. A loose windbreaker may as well be a sail.

Todd Williams, Jun 28, 2017 at 2:41 pm

Robert I totally agree with everything you say. However I am a bit off my rocker and unorthodox… hear me out. I think the wind is fun and exciting! The wind can be our foe and it can be our nemesis. As Robert mentioned a loose fitting jersey can be used as a sail. We can ALL go topless to mimic a tight fitting jersey. See boys, this is where the excitement comes in! LOL!
side note – Do not forget your sunscreen!!!!

But seriously, I had the opportunity to ride 13 miles into a constant 30 mph wind. As a commuter I often just accept the elements and press on. On that blustery March afternoon taking off my warm jacket was not an option. I imagined I was riding up the side of a mountain. I began my switch back accent. It double the length of my ride but amazingly the wind was spitting me forward with each switch back. At the end of the commute I was so proud and knew I would never ever forget this ride. I didn’t know it at the time but I was tacking and gybing. For centuries sailors have transformed wind into power. A loose jersey…can be a mainsail to help us tack back and forth…OR slightly unzip the jersey and turn it into a headsail to fly like the wind or slow the bike down! I enjoy listening to the wind and being constantly aware of its direction. I can now enjoy a gentle summer breeze or get really excited for a gusty windy day.
I plan to ride my ole black beat up FIXIE with flaming socks and army boots! Please ride by and say hello!
May the wind be at your back!

Robert Bleck, Jun 29, 2017 at 10:03 am

Todd, sorry to send the wrong message. I embrace the wind as a challenge to be met with happy resolve. When it gets really strong I get low, hands together out in front, forearms on the flats. As a religious person I recognize the posture to be not wholly different from praying. It’s a cross I will happily bear. Also, if you want to latch on behind and ride in my draft you are welcome to do so. I’ll keep an eye out for the unusual footwear. I’ll likely be in red, white, green Colavita kit, or as we like to say, Oily gear.

Denise Giles, Jun 29, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Todd: I agree, you are totally off your rocker and since you are using this platform to code talk…. I prefer to face it head on as sharp as possible…..oh, that wind …. she is something! Yep, you are going to need that cross, no doubt, into the wind…she can be very unforgiving and brutal …right in your face, spitting at you like a fireball that will make you buckle to your knees, she’ll make you stop on a dime, ride forward like a normal human being and not backing up into others ….make you rethink that initial strategy you had going….. Karma plays no favor and You certainly are not exempt from her wrath…. ride on Big Boy! PS: The elite can handle the wind; lose or snug jersey!

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