How to tell wind speed while cycling

When you are out riding or racing do you look at all the flags that are around?
I do! And if you want to become a better bike racer, you should too! Ride and Race tactics can change due to the wind. Sprint lead-outs can change due to wind variables. Paceline echelons can will change based on winds, and outcomes of races can change due to wind changes!

Knowing which way the wind is blowing can play a big role in rides and races. While doing the Winter Bike League I will sometimes have guys ask to swap sides of the double pace-line with me. Or I have seen cyclists jump out of a corner, just to swap which side of the road they are on to get a buffer from the wind.

Flat stages of races can often be fairly mundane – unless there is a stiff wind, then maybe a team will come to the front and change the pace-line and really put on the pressure. To me the windy stages can be just as exciting as the mountains. Being prepared for which way the wind is blowing and how hard can sometimes make the difference between being in all the action as it happens or getting shelled out the back of a race wondering why it got so tough. Racers who are aware of wind changes can often use it wisely to their advantage.

For example, if the wind is coming in from your left, and you are going to make a right hand turn, then you will have a tail wind. This is not the time for the break-away. As easy as it is to create a gap, it is likely just as easy for riders to close it back down. Each rider in the front will not be fighting a headwind, and they will most likely put more energy into reeling-in a break-away. However, for this reason it can be ideal situation for a sprinters team that are doing a lead-out. Each member will not be fighting the wind as they lead the field.

However, if the wind is coming in from the Left and you make a Left hand turn, you will be going into a head wind. This is a situation where the Time-Trialist riders have the best advantage of creating and maintaining a gap on the field. A break away has a better chance of creating and holding a gap with a headwind also, IF the break away riders work together and are committed to the break away. Remember, to close a gap, the pack has to ride Faster than those in the break away.

During a Time Trial, it is important to know which way the wind is blowing and to also adjust your Heart Rate and power output accordingly. If you start with the wind to your back and then have a head-wind on the way back, then chances are you are going to a much slower split than what is necessary. Save a little extra for the head-wind section. Also, if the Time trial has cross winds, it can be a factor to what wheel choice you make. A dish wheel and a strong cross-wind can be very dangerous.

I remember riding across America we had gotten to Las Vegas and the wind was blowing so strong that you would be riding in a normal upright position, but watching the sand blow across the road in between buildings. Then as we passed each building we would have to adjust our riding position to even stay on our bikes, only to almost fall over when the wind was blocked by the next building.

According the the Beaufort Scale Wind Speed (Bft) (size of the flag makes only a small difference) some easy way to approximate wind speed for are:

1-3mph – the flag only occasionally flips open, the outer end hangs lower.
4-7mph – the flag is mostly extended, the waves are deep, a large portion of the outer top corner flips back and forth.
8-12mph – the flag is completely extended, the waves are faster and smaller than 7mph
13-18mph – the flag is still completely extended, the waves are faster than 12mph. The changes from 20mph and up are more subtle and harder to distinguish from each other.
Info on flag related wind speed pictures, click here

Airports are a great place to check out the ‘wind sock’. At the airports you can see not only which direction the wind is blowing, but also fast the wind is going, due to how much of the ‘sock’ is extended. (if you have never seen them they are orange and cone like).

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