Sunday, February 13, 2011

Riding the Wind (and Making Choices)

No, this isn't a blog about sailing (although that makes me think about Bill Murray as Bob strapped to a mast and yelling, "I'm sailing!") or about the 1925 Monkey Trials (that's Inherit the Wind) or about Bob Seger (that's "Against the Wind"). This about two aspects of late winter/early spring riding that challenges serious cyclists—wind and choices about what rides to do.

Three things can add challenge to a ride—riding companions, terrain, and the wind. I enjoy being challenged by friends and the terrain, but I hate the wind. This past Saturday, I chose to join the GE (Great Escape) ride from Spartanburg and once again didn't ride the UWBL (Upstate Winter Bike League) in Greenville. The UWBL is excellent in my opinion as a training series, and I have been dedicated to that ride for many years, missing none of them the past two years in a row. But this year, the weather and other conflicts have made doing the whole series impossible.

So this past Saturday, with February zipping by, I was faced with riding options that offered about the same saddle time, 3 hours, and the potential for intense efforts. But I have been logging a good deal of 50-60-mile rides, several of which have been painful so far this season (to see my training this year: Click Here). To be honest, I need to start riding longer on Saturdays, and soon adding climbs, and I need to start stressing myself over two days on the weekends with long Saturdays (80-100 miles) followed by calmer but long Sundays (50-60-plus miles).

My compromise was to ride the GE ride in Spartanburg with extra miles before and after added by riding from my house on the bicycle:

Deciding what rides I do always includes some compromises, including how I ride at the rides I join. Now the wind and the ride yesterday (12 February 2011).

One difference for me riding at UWBL and a local eRide is my role in the pack. I can stay close to the front at UWBL rides, but I can't really drive the pace, rarely offering a meek pull in hopes of saving face. At the GE ride, I take pulls and contribute to the fun. In both settings, I am riding with a significant number of cyclists stronger than me, which is incredibly important to my training.

Yesterday, the GE ride was hard—as it always is—a nice mix of race-intense sections and an eye toward keeping the front pack relatively large (we even do a store stop and regroup). But the wind added another dimension of pain that riders need to think about seriously. So here are some tips and thoughts about riding in the wind:

• Windy rides are significantly impacted and harder about 75% of the time. New riders may expect head winds to be tough, but all riders should be aware that side winds are more brutal. Watch the Pro Tour riders getting splintered by wind—it's always side wind.

• If you have a heart rate monitor or power meter, note those instead of MPH when riding in the wind to gauge your efforts.
• Windy group rides are exponentially HARDER than usual group rides. The group dynamics are changed by the wind because FEWER people can work at the front, and MORE riders fight to stay off the front and out of the wind. The change in dynamics creates overlapped wheels and exhausted riders losing touch with their bike handling in an effort to hang on.

• The side winds create some basic rules that should be followed. (a) When the wind is from the RIGHT, rotate pace lines clockwise (advance out of the wind, drop back against the wind), (b) When the wind is from the LEFT, rotate pace lines counter-clockwise (advance out of the wind, drop back against the wind), and (c) AVOID the urge to shift the entire pack either to the yellow (middle) or white lines—especially DANGEROUS are winds from the right since larger packs will move to the middle of the road and endanger everyone when traffic comes from behind.

• Stressful rides should be monitored for HYDRATION. Stressed muscles perform and recover better when hydrated, meaning to drink well before, during, and after. As in cold weather, the wind can make us jittery and less likely to take our hands off the bars to drink, but we must and we do so safely. Also, during the stressful lead-up to the season, be sure to dedicate yourself to a stretching program that also aids the recovery of those muscles.

• Expect to be overextended on windy rides more quickly than usual, and thus, be dedicated to SAFETY first. Exhausted riders are dangerous to themselves and others.
As March approaches. . .expect the wind while making your choices about what rides to join and how to ride once you get there.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University
twitter: @plthomasEdD

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