I don’t mind hills so much. I lived in West Seattle for a decade, and I learned to live with—if not actually love—the hilly terrain there.

Now I live in the flatlands of the Sacramento Valley in Northern California. I think I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to climb… I mean really climb. Perhaps that explains our penchant for heavy steel bikes like our Pashleys. When you’re on level ground, the playing field gets…ahem…leveled, and weight becomes less of a factor. But I digress.

What we have plenty of around here is wind. It’s not a perpetual wind like on the coast, and it’s not usually a howling wind either, but in the spring and summer we often get what we locals call a “Delta Breeze” that comes up in the evenings. I’m no meteorologist, but it has something to do with cooling temperatures in the evening that causes the wind to blow up from the Sac River Delta.

I’m not a big fan of wind. At least with hills you can see what you’re up against, you know when you’ve won the battle, and there’s almost always a reward on the other side. Wind, on the other hand, can be an unpredictable and cruel opponent, never showing its face and never relenting. There’s a tendency with wind to hunker down and just push and push to exhaustion.

Of course, there’s another side to wind — that being the downwind side. There’s nothing quite like riding along at 20-25 mph with a 20 mph wind at your back; it’s the closest many of us will ever come to knowing what it feels like to be a professional bike racer.

There’s an old bike rider’s saying, something to the effect of, “There’s no such thing as a tailwind, only good days and windy days.” Perhaps the wind will be at my back on this evening’s commute and I’ll have one of those “good days” on the bike.

16 Responses to “Wind”

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Wind is one of the reasons I like my recumbents. Wind is quite mean to cyclists but not as painful on a recumbent. I can’t wait to ride into a headwind on my raptobike lowracer when it arrives. I want to measure the level of suffering.

  • Ryan says:

    I was just sitting outside at work in Rancho Cordova pondering my ride home tonight. “I really hope these gusts are at my back” is all I kept thinking. It is blowing pretty good and I have a decent load today and I’m on a fixed gear. Good times.

  • Ian says:

    Ah, wind. I get plenty of that out here in the desert of eastern Washington. One of the reasons that I purchased a Quest velomobile. I notice the wind far, far less now. In fact, with the aerodynamics, I actually get a bit of an assist from a quartering headwind. Feels very wierd.

    Yeah, its about the opposite end of the cycling spectrum from a Pashley, but its sure nice to crank into a 20mph headwind and only lose 1-2mph, maybe.

  • Scott Wayland says:

    I live at the southern-most pass of the Sierras, Tehachapi. We have hundreds of wind turbines to attest to our daily wind dose. Our rides, unless you go very early in the morning, have both headwinds and tailwinds. The prevailing currents come out of the west, but the super clear days are signaled by easterlies. We plan fun/fitness rides sometimes based on this fact, especially rides to the east. It’s a big pain to come home into the wind, so we choose to do the big rides in that direction to coincide with easterlies. Then waaahoo all the way home.

    My most traumatic experience with wind (I still have night sweats about it) occurred in west Kansas during my ride across the USA in 2007. Mostly a side or quartering wind, it hammered me for day after day, bitch-slapping me into a drooling fool for hundreds of miles. I consider west Kansas–by far–to be the low point of my tour. Oh, don’t forget to add large trucks into the mix for extra turbulence.

    Keep yer heads down!


  • Tamia Nelson says:

    Is there such a thing as a tailwind when cycling?

  • Lyle says:

    Up in Chico, I’m getting the garden ready and made three trips to Orchard Supply House today. Fortunately, the wind was at my back going home. 3 medium large clay pots and two bags of potting soil made it home on back of my bike today. Had it been a side wind, who knows where we would have ended up!

    Those tomatoes will taste all that much better for the effort!


  • Alan says:


    “Is there such a thing as a tailwind when cycling?”

    Tailwind = “Wow, I feel great today!”
    Headwind = “Boy, it’s windy!”

  • Josef says:

    I go with Ian on this. If you want to love the wind, get a Quest Velomobile. And wind loves velomobiles.
    Now that I ride the Quest, windy and rainy days have almost become my favorite: much less traffic on the bike lanes.


  • Steve Fuller says:

    Around here in central Iowa, the wind is our hills. After being out west for a week, anything around here that I used to consider a hill is now nothing but a bump.

  • Alan says:

    Well, it turned out to be a headwind tonight. The bright side is that I got a good workout…


  • Ows says:

    I rode from my house to Cardiff Bay (I’m in Wales, UK) yesterday with a tailwind at my back the whole way – the commute took, literally, half the time it would normally. Last night, the ride home was into a headwind… double the usual time yet again.

    Yes Alan, you’re absolutely right – tailwinds rock.

  • ksteinhoff says:

    I wrote about carrying a portable wind gauge last year and found a great link to a power calculator.

    Here’s one of the most amazing factoids: riding 13 mph with a 6 mph headwind requires 80.6 watts of power, but it takes just 4.03 watts to maintain13 mph with a 6 mph tailwind. That’s why even a tailwind that barely causes the grass to move makes you feel like Superman/woman.

  • bongobike says:

    I agree 100% with Alan. Give me all the hills you want to throw at me. I know where the end is. With headwinds you never know when it’s going to end, and it might even get worse.

  • andy parmentier says:

    ahem for a second! ms. headwind has become my friend thru the mutual acquaintance of my unicycle. you see, i have ridden recumbents/DF’s and yes the ‘bent cuts the wind quite nicely, but even on my ‘bent the tendency was to push against the wind. but on my unicycle i’d rather DANCE with the wind..slowdance? since a unicycle is definitely NOT a speed machine (unless you’re on a geared 36’er haha which the folks at RIDE THE LOBSTER unicycle race and rally this summer in windy nova scotia could attest to).

  • Eddie says:

    Headwind, tailwind, quarterwind – even no wind – it’s all a roll of the dice. The Anemoi must enjoy toying with us. Give me hills any day, but without the pesky wind!

  • Ows says:

    This may be of interest to you guys:

    It’s reckoned that 15 mins of biking with a HYmini will generate enough electricity to make 15mins of cellphone calls or take 50 digital camera photographs. Sounds like nothing – but just imagine what an hour’s riding could achieve!

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