How Much Wind Is Too Much for Cycling? What Every Rider Must Know!


Any cyclist knows that one of the biggest impacts on any given ride is going to be how windy the course is. Checking the weather app on your phone before a ride should always include a quick glance at the wind forecast. Whether it’s in the form of a headwind, tailwind, or even a crosswind, learning to ride in these conditions is an important part of becoming a better rider.

How much wind is too much for cycling? Anything above 30mph (48 kph) is likely too much wind for most cyclists, and anything above 40mph (64 kph) is considered a gale wind. However, any amount of wind can be enough to make for a challenging ride.

Wind can be your friend or foe when it comes to cycling, but you don’t have to let it stop you either way. The wind is here to stay and you can learn how to embrace it (even if you wish you didn’t have to). Think of it as nature’s way of making you a stronger rider.

We’ll dive into the different considerations you’ll want to make when it comes to riding with and against the wind.

Why Is It Difficult to Ride Against the Wind?

Riding into the wind (referred to as a headwind) significantly reduces your speed due to the increase in resistance. It is estimated that riders lose about half of their speed when dealing with a headwind. If one would normally be going at a solid 17 mph (27 kph) pace on a flat course with no wind, adding a headwind of 20 mph (32 kph) would drop your overall speed to a leisurely slog of 7 mph (11 kph) .

But that decrease in speed doesn’t translate into an easier ride like it normally would. The same power that would have led to your 20mph pace makes that 7mph effort a grueling endeavor. (Source)

A lot of riders would choose climbing a hill over riding into a headwind of almost any speed.

With hills, there’s at least an end in sight (though not always literally). A headwind, on the other hand, can last indefinitely. There also isn’t a guarantee that a change of direction will eliminate it (unless you pull a full U-turn). This kind of wind is referred to as a crosswind, meaning it can go in multiple different directions.

Is It Safe to Ride a Bike in High Winds?

Biking in high winds can be dangerous. Not only will it make bike handling more challenging, but there is also the risk of falling debris and obstacles. That 20 mph (32 kph) headwind is enough to start making small trees sway, which can lead to blowing branches. The rider will likely feel this gust while riding the bike and it could cause a bit of swaying.

But it isn’t necessarily dangerous for all riders. However, it’s always important to know your personal limits and comfort with risk. You don’t want to end up with an injury from falling or losing control of your bike. (Source)

Winds that are over 40 mph (64 kph) or 50 mph (80 kph) are considered gales

It is generally inadvisable to ride when the winds are moving that fast. Not only would it make bike handling incredibly difficult, but there is also a far greater risk of debris – think falling branches, mailboxes, or even rocks. Even the strongest and most skilled of riders face the risk of serious injury in these conditions.

How Much Difference Does a Tail Wind Make?

A tailwind is the opposite of a headwind – in this case, the wind is actually making the bike ride easier. The wind is at the back (or tail) of the rider, helping to push the rider along. Sometimes it’s so subtle that one may not even realize it’s happening, while just noticing that biking feels a bit easier. It is calculated that for every 10 mph ( 16 kph) of tailwind, the rider speed increases by around 34%. This is according to the kreuzotter calculator which only applies in an environment that neglects the effect of other elements such as the slop. (Source)

It is still important to be cautious and maintain control, especially if the rider starts picking up speeds faster than you’re used to

Tailwinds generally translate to an overall faster time, though it may not be as dramatic of a change as a headwind produces

There’s ultimately only so fast you can go on a bike, especially while maintaining control. In fact, the overall best conditions are when there is no wind at all.

That’s because one doesn’t typically bike into only a headwind or only a tailwind. It’s usually a mix of both, which ultimately throws off overall pacing and energy output. While you can pick up lost time on the way out of a headwind and into a tailwind, it’s not usually enough to make up the difference (Source).

Of course, few cyclists will ever complain about the effortless feeling a tailwind provides.

What Is Considered a Strong Wind for Cycling?

Every rider has different strength and power abilities, resulting in either an easier or more challenging ride depending on the situation. That being said, any wind above 5 mph (8 kph) is going to be noticeable, to varying degrees.

Is 15mph wind strong for cycling?

15mph wind is when many cyclists will start to struggle, but it’s not enough to be impossible (unless you’re new or otherwise still building up your strength and endurance). The more force you have to put out to push the bike forward, the harder any headwind will start to feel.

Can you bike in 20mph wind?

You can bike in 20mph wind, but it probably won’t be very enjoyable. This level of wind will knock your overall speed in half while you’re still putting out the same wattage. So rather than clicking along at a 15mph pace, you’ll be going a frustrating 5mph – you may feel like you’d rather be walking!

If you find yourself biking into wind like this, you can always decide to turn around and bike back. That horrible 20mph wind you’ve been cursing into suddenly becomes your best friend when it’s at your back.

How Do You Ride a Bike in Windy Conditions?

You won’t always be able to avoid biking in windy conditions, especially if you have a training timeline to work with. You can, however, make it easier on yourself in the process. Here are a few steps to improve your cycling when the wind is not working in your favor.

1- Drop Your Gear

You’ll want to drop down to a lower gear than you’d normally use while riding. Think of it like the way you’d shift gears as if you were climbing a hill. You’ll have to sacrifice a bit of speed in order to have better endurance overall. If you push yourself to try and maintain your speed at all costs, your legs will struggle to keep up.

2- Embrace Aerodynamics

It’s time to break out all of the tightest cycling gear you own. If you know you’ll be riding into a wind for at least part of your ride, you can do yourself a favor by limiting anything that will cause unnecessary drag during the trip. You don’t want anything that will billow out around you while you’re biking as that will cause a parachute effect that ultimately slows you down (Source).

3- Get Low

Try to make yourself as small as possible while you ride, getting into a tucked position that you can maintain while charging into the headwind. This will limit the amount of surface that the wind can work against, which means less resistance for you to power through. As a bonus, this will give you some training on bike handling with triathlon drop bars if you have them.

If you want to see some of these tips in action and to get a few more pointers, check out this YouTube video on biking against the wind by the Global Cycling Network.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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