Most cyclists are familiar with riding in the wind. Headwinds are annoying, tailwinds are awesome, and crosswinds ... well, crosswinds can be deadly.
For a long-distance touring cyclist, riding in a crosswind may be unavoidable. Whether it’s a gust blowing across a prairie or a stiff ocean breeze coming towards shore, crosswinds pose a real danger to cyclists — especially fully-loaded touring cyclists, whose panniers and trailers can act as sails, catching the wind and pushing them either off the road or into traffic.
I remember encountering my first crosswind near Rawlins, Wyoming. It’s a region that’s famous for wind, and I’d been seeing the same postcard in all the gas stations for over a week. The postcard featured a black and white photograph of a heavy metal chain being blown sideways. “Wyoming Wind Sock” read the caption. Haha.
I hadn’t been tempted to take the hype seriously. Sure, it was my first bicycle tour, but I’d already pedaled over one thousand miles from Oregon to Wyoming. I was feeling pretty confident about my riding skills. Too confident, as it turns out.
I was crossing the wide Separation Flats towards Rawlins when a stiff wind began pushing my bicycle toward the ditch at the side of the road. I tensed up, cocking my shoulders and using a surprising amount of upper body strength to keep my handlebars pointed forward. My tires were rolling over broken glass and tire wires, but I couldn’t dodge a thing. All my energy was needed to keep from flying off the road.
Then put on your reading helmet.
The wind was roaring so loudly in my ears that I didn’t hear a semi-truck coming up from behind. Suddenly a high wall of metal was whizzing past, temporarily blocking the crosswind. My bike was sucked into its slipstream, veering suddenly towards the truck’s massive wheels. When I yanked my handlebars away, I shot off the road and plowed to a stop in the loose gravel. I was stunned, straddling my bicycle and breathing hard. Another semi truck roared by. And then another.
I dismounted, hauling my bike back onto the pavement. I knew I was not the first rider to be smacked around by the wind, and I wouldn’t be the last. So I began to pedal forward again. Other cyclists probably do this all the time, I told myself. I just need the right technique.
But it wasn’t a matter of technique. A few semi trucks later, I was once again standing ankle-deep in gravel, heart hammering. I’d been careening back and forth across the highway shoulder, buffeted by the crosswind and the trucks’ slipstreams to the point where I felt as in-control as a ping-pong ball.
So I did what any wise cyclist does: I stopped riding. Bracing my bike against my thighs, I stuck out my thumb and was rescued by the very first pickup truck to appear. That’s my advice for navigating dangerous crosswinds: don’t. Play it safe, know your limitations, and accept help when you need it. You’ll live to ride another day!
Ever been caught in the crosswind? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below.