How windy does it have to be to blow you and your bike over? Google it and you’ll get thousands of hits, but no definitive answer. That’s because there are so many factors at work: Your weight, bike, aerodynamics, and handling ability all come into play, in addition to simple wind velocity and direction. Add the question of gusting wind versus a steady blast, and the math isn’t just tricky, it’s impossible.
Just ask Chris Yu and Ingmar Jungnickel, who work together at Specialized Bicycle Components on a team devoted to all things aero. Their claim to fame? Renting a massive industrial fan, placing it on the side of the road, and getting pro cyclists to ride by on different sets of wheels.
Sensors attached to the wheels showed how the gusts affected each one. To really level the playing field, the noise emitting from the machine was kept steady. Riders weren’t sure if they’d pedal past with no wind, or get caught in a huge gust.
So what did the researchers learn?
Watch Your Front Wheel
Your front wheel is what’s most likely to get caught in wind—even the crosswind and pull from a big truck whizzing by—so in windy conditions, focus on keeping it steady. “Every little steer can put you at risk, especially in traffic,” Jungnickel says. Unless you’re racing, he recommends slowing your roll and taking it easy when the wind is high.
Get in the Drops
Research has shown that wind makes up anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of your metabolic cost in cycling, so the more aero you can be, the better. Use drop handlebars, and put your hands as far down as they can go. It’s the most aerodynamic position, for one thing. But it also allows for better handling and makes you less of a human sail. The tighter you are to the bike, the less area the wind will hit. And be willing to lean into the wind, Yu says. It might feel scary at first, and in gusting wind, it can be an extremely difficult task. But in a consistent wind, a slight lean will help you ride steadier.
Shallower Wheels Equal Better Control
If you live in a windy area, skip the deep dish rims in favor of shallower wheels. For light riders, whose bodies are more aerodynamic to begin with, this is an important point. Remember: The lighter you are, the more quickly a high wind will blow you off the road. Shallow wheels will help keep you standing.
Gusting Winds Are the Worst
A gusting wind is far worse than a simple headwind or crosswind. “If you’re leaning into a corner and get caught by a gust, even the best handlers will have trouble,” Yu says. When the Weather Channel calls for gusts of wind, stay inside or seek routes that are tree-covered—or, at least, less car-infested.
At 60MPH, All Bets Are Off
In hurricane conditions, even if it’s not pouring rain, maybe just hit the trainer or take an off day. Especially if you live in an area with heavy traffic or where the roads have steep drop-offs. At 60 mph, the Specialized wind tunnel took out a 100-pound triathlete. Now, the team won’t turn it up that high for anyone.