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I think I missed a lot of opportunities to go faster when cruising and not taking advantage of tailwind. I find that if I put short effort in acceleration, the tailwind will take care most of the speed maintaining work.

For big tailwind I can usually see leaves rolling on along my general direction. Lately, I think if wind noise is more quite, I might be in tailwind?

So how can you tell if you've got tailwind or wind direction in general? (without flag anywhere nearby)

  • 1
    Only if it is for Strava PR ( or whatever record you set) you can say you missed, but you cannot actually "miss" it unless you stop... There is maybe another question you are asking, is there an optimal speed at which you take more advantage of a tailwind? – gaurwraith Jan 26 '17 at 0:09
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    Generally speaking, if you're marveling at how well you're riding, you have a tailwind. Otherwise, you can look at vegetation, but it can often be deceptive. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 26 '17 at 0:26
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    @DanielRHicks are you sure? I am not convinced that the 70+ kph tailwind I experienced had anything with me maintaining at 60+ kph average over an 80 km ride many moons ago. – Rider_X Jan 26 '17 at 3:01
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    If it's summer and you suddenly get unusually hot while riding, then you probably have a tailwind ;) – rclocher3 Jan 26 '17 at 3:51
  • @Rider_X You still had to be blasting out the power to overcome the rolling resistance! – andy256 Jan 26 '17 at 5:48
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The most accurate way to do it would be with a pitot tube to measure wind velocity and then to contrast that against speed-over-ground from your GPS or wheel speed sensors.

Before one laughs about the science-fiction nature of this, there's a product that does so: The PowerPod (link is to DC RainMaker's review of it). The Isaac software that comes with the PowerPod allows you to extract effective wind speed and direction amongst other things.

PowerPod

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    An air-speed meter vs a ground speed meter. Sounds like something from an aeronautical standpoint. – Criggie Jan 26 '17 at 0:33
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    Despite all the advances in aviation tech, a little tube stuck in the wind stream is still how they measure wind speed. – RoboKaren Jan 26 '17 at 0:52
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    I never said it was a bad idea ! – Criggie Jan 26 '17 at 2:31
  • This is perfect! I've been ignoring power meters because of their prices, but this one is like at least $200 cheaper than the next one. – imel96 Jan 26 '17 at 6:11
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    It does measure direction in as far as whether the wind is a tailwind or headwind. – RoboKaren Jan 26 '17 at 16:43
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We like tailwinds as the effort to ride at a given speed is lowered. In the same token we like slight downward slopes.

If you base your riding on effort, rather than a fixed speed, you will automatically utilise a slight tailwind. If you however ride at a fixed speed, you simply had an effortless ride. In other words, you missed nothing.

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  • By missed opportunity, I mean like when someone passes by, if I jump behind them, I can draft. Without that jump, sure the effort will be less, but difference is very little that I almost always unaware of. – imel96 Jan 26 '17 at 5:45
  • @imel96 When drafting you are taking advantage of turbulent airflow all around you. When riding alone, one can suppose the incident air folw to be laminar. – Crowley Jan 26 '17 at 10:49
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    @imel96 typically there is no catching a tail wind. Typically we ride considerably faster than wind speeds. That is, unless you are riding in a gale. Then the wind direction is quite obvious. If it is not a constant wind, you would simply overtake it after a little while. Theoretically you might catch a gust of wind and ride with it. However, these are as said before very difficult to predict. You could also simply feel it rushing by and then catch up to it, match and match your speed. That is of course incredibly unpractical and only in quite unusual terrain even possible. – gschenk Jan 26 '17 at 16:44
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@Daniel has made several comments that capture what experienced cyclists have learned.

  • You think something like I'm going well, or killing it, or even (as happened today) this looks like it's uphill, while blasting along.

  • When you stop you discover the awful truth. It's a headwind home.

The reality is that we nearly always have a headwind, especially as Daniel says, when climbing a hill, because we're cyclists. And we usually have a headwind going there, and coming back. That one in a hundred tailwind case is not the first thing we think of.

Yes, vegetation can tell us. But in many cases in a built up environment we can't see any vegetation. But it wouldn't be the first time I've seen the vegetation looking like I have a tailwind when I actually have a headwind. Because I'm a cyclist.

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5

If you are biking along and you encounter a terrible smell -- look around and realize that it's you yourself that you're smelling -- then you're in a tailwind -- and that it's time you washed your bike jersey.

Thank you for the downvotes, I'll show myself the door. :-)

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  • You also know you have it when there's nothing but the sound of your own tyres on the ground.. it's a brilliant feeling especially when you're blasting along 30mph+ When you get it, you'll know. – John Hunt Jan 26 '17 at 11:21
  • The smelliest thing I carry turns out to be my cellphone case. – Criggie Jan 26 '17 at 18:57
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You can check wind direction from bending of vegetation, it stays bent to the wind for longer periods than it springs backwards in eddies, attach a white cotton/wool thread to the handlebars and check it's movement every time the bike slows, feel the wind in left ear, right ear, forwards and back, and check a weather graph with wind direction and speed expected for every hour of the day, and go out when it's max tailwind and come back when it's calmed on the return.

mostly the wind is as likely to be against you as with you, although checking the daily forecast can mean taking advantage of massive tailwinds to get some place very fast and then coming back in relative calm. If you travel through an entire country you can get a map of the prevailing winds for every season and for every region.

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    The other rule is that you only get a tailwind when you are climbing a hill on a warm day, and then the wind speed will exactly match your speed. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 26 '17 at 0:27
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    Agreed. You only get a tailwind on hot muggy days -- and that tailwind will match your ground speed so precisely to ensure zero airflow over your body. – RoboKaren Jan 26 '17 at 3:08
1

The simplest way is simply stop in an open space and feel where the wind is coming from, using your face. Downside is that any trees or buildings will make the wind veer, and traffic makes its own wind. Plus you have to stop (anathema!)

Flags work really well, because they're often up high and in the real airstream.

You can also check the local weather report for your area. For me that's http://www.metservice.com/towns-cities/christchurch/christchurch but you should have something similar for your location.

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    But, but, that requires me to stop!!! What if I'm in the middle of a Strava segment?! I'd miss my PB! – andy256 Jan 26 '17 at 4:27
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    @andy256 no its the other way around for strava sycophants - you see a stiff wind in the forecast, then figure out what segments will benefit from wind on that bearing, then go out and hammer them all in turn. – Criggie Jan 26 '17 at 8:32
  • Speak for yourself :-) I do the same training rides often enough that I get the wind from every direction. – andy256 Jan 26 '17 at 9:21
  • For any readers who might wonder Criggie and I are often in the chat room together. Join us :-) – andy256 Jan 26 '17 at 9:23
  • @Criggie It's especially annoying when the segment you want to take the KOM for consistently has winds prevailing cross or head... and correspondingly sweet when you see the next day has the rare strong tailwind forecast. – Michael Jan 27 '17 at 1:48
0

Fresh answer - I did a bit of a ride yesterday and it was quite warm. So I ended up rolling my pants cuffs up to my knees for added cooling.

An unexpected side effect is that on my shins I could feel air gusts and eddies that were different depending which way I was riding.

Its really hard to explain, but in a crosswind I could feel a wind vortex on the inside of my left leg and on the outside of my right leg.

In a headwind I could feel the wind curling around behind my shins, and in a tailwind there was no particular sensation either way.

So if like me you habitually wear pants, try some shorts, or roll up your pants cuffs and see how it feels.

Mind out for sunburn though - that's a whole separate painful issue right now.

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