THE HOUSING BUBBLE HAS HURT MANY PEOPLE in the US, including me. My house is worth a fraction of what it once was. To add insult to injury, there are new housing developments that have been stalled for years. We have huge would-be communities around north Florida that began mid-decade and haven’t been built-out yet.
Although the housing bubble has caused grief for many, I must admit to finding joy in one aspect of it. You see, all these new communities that were started five and six years ago, began with the road system. We have seemingly endless miles of beautiful paved roads with nothing but street lights on them; few if any houses and very minimal traffic. And for a cyclist who likes to get out and crank it up, this is heaven!
Northeast Florida is a very flat region, save for the many bridges that crisscross our waterways. But in place of leg-busting hill climbs, we have leg-busting headwinds, the consequence of living amidst a web of waterways including the St. Johns River, the Intercoastal Waterway, dozens of smaller rivers, and the Atlantic Ocean. The wind, out where all of these new, but empty communities are waiting to be built, can be unbelievably strong.
Last month I was out on one of these new, smooth, wide-open, black-topped surfaces, and I was struggling. I was riding into an unobstructed headwind that had to be over 35-mph. My legs were screaming. My heart rate was at 181. And I was only moving at 12 miles per hour! I felt like I had my own private Alpe d’ Huez.
My wife hates riding in strong wind. I’ve come to love it. I often tell her, ya know, there’s a blessing in disguise here, but she ain’t buyin’ it. Although you can’t stop Mother Nature, there are a few things you can do to make your ride easier.
Basic preparation for riding in the wind
1. WEAR SNUG-FITTING CLOTHING. The idea is to make your body as aerodynamic as possible. A loose fitting shirt or unzipped jacket that flaps in the wind or billows-up from your back can create a significant drag.
2. TUCK. Road bikes were designed with curved, drop down handlebars for a reason: (a) for comfort, so you can change your hand position on long rides and, (b) to get low for an aerodynamic profile. So, get in the drops to ride lower. Tuck your elbows in, keep your knees close to the top tube, and keep your head down. Making your body compact can make a huge difference.
3. REDUCE DRAG. Keep your bike as naked as possible. A bike free of handlebar bags or other comfort equipment will slice through the wind easier. Also you may want to rethink those high-profile aero-rims. They can make bike handling difficult in strong crosswinds.
4. GEAR DOWN. Most modern road bikes and even hybrids and mountain bikes have multiple gear options. On my rides, I frequently notice riders who don’t use their gearing options to the best advantage. Gear down and try to keep your cadence in the 85 to 95 rpm range for optimum efficiency.
5. DRAFT. If you can ride in someone else’s slipstream (paceline) you’ll find pedaling much easier, and you can save as much as 30% of your energy. Other riders in your group will expect you to rotate your position to give everyone a break.
6. RIDE WITH THE WIND. Try to configure your ride for minimal exposure to headwinds. Or, put another way; try to configure your ride so that you can benefit from a tailwind on the homeward stretch. Where I live, that’s nearly impossible, because the wind is always changing direction, but it might work in your area.
7. GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT. Don’t hate the wind. Embrace it. Minimize its effects. It’s a great workout. You’ll strengthen your legs, your heart, and you’ll burn extra calories.