Road cycling and the weather

road cycling

For anyone who has spent time struggling to cycle into a strong headwind or in the pouring rain, it'll be obvious that the weather can have a huge effect on the sport. Tim John Editor of Road Cycling UK talks us through the impact of weather on his sport.

Whether it's a time trial, road race, or any other kind of outdoor discipline, weather determines not only what a cyclist should wear, what they should eat and drink, and what equipment they should use, but can also be fundamental to tactics in a race.

With famously changeable weather here in the UK, all the Olympic cyclists will be taking note of the forecast before they put the finishing touches to their cycling race plan.

How the elements can play a part

Temperature: Clearly temperature will determine what a cyclist wears and their nutrition strategy (you can see more in our case study below), but there are other things cyclists may need to consider. Will it be cold enough for ice or snow - in which case conditions could be treacherous. At the other end of the scale, it can occasionally (although not often in the UK) get hot enough to soften tarmac, leaving potentially dangerous sections of road.

Wind: In road races, strong cross winds can cause big problems as riders can't find shelter in the slipstream of the rider in front. So they seek shelter from side winds by riding in echelons (sideways across the road), which means gaps can quickly form in a pack of riders. In these conditions riders need to be very tactically aware not to get left behind. Strong winds can also be a big factor in time trials, for example - the carbon disc wheels which are very good for straight line aerodynamics can cause real problems in cross winds, potentially causing a rider to lose control.

Rain: Grip is substantially reduced in wet weather, as road bikes normally have no tread on their already narrow tyres, so a rider would have to tackle corners with extreme caution.

How forecasts can help

During the Olympic and Paralympic Games the Met Office will be providing forecasts for competitors, coaches, and visitors to help them make the best of the weather. To give an example of how cyclists might prepare for a ride, we recently caught up with Ro Tilley, 49 and a competitive cyclist since the age of Ro Tilley checks the forecast Competitive cyclist Ro Tilley checks the forecast 11, as he prepared for a Saturday morning training ride. Ro began the day by checking the Met Office website, with forecasts every three hours in 10 categories including temperature, precipitation, gusts, and UV. The temperature on this day was in the mid teens, the probability of precipitation around 20 %, visibility 'good', but humidity high (in the 90s).

Armed with meteorological information for his training ride, Ro is able to embark on two further stages of preparation: choosing clothing, and deciding his hydration strategy.

His clothing choice comes first. The cyclist's wardrobe contains a seemingly endless array of garments from arm warmers to rain capes. Today, Ro chooses a pair of unlined shorts (not the fleecy, Roubaix-lined garments offered by some manufacturers for use with knee warmers in spring and autumn).

RoTilley Hydration Strategy Weather can dictate hydration strategy For the upper body, he selects a light, polyester base layer, and a short sleeved, polyester jersey. With a small chance of rain forecast, he also chooses a shower proof gilet, lightweight and foldable to remove or put on as conditions dictate.

Ro is also able to use the weather data to determine his hydration strategy. Having checked the conditions, he opts for the manufacturer's recommended  concentration of the carbohydrate energy drink powder he uses.

This might not always be the case. He points out that when the forecast is for warmer conditions, he will reduce the concentration because he will be consuming more liquid.

Whatever the weather, you can stay ahead in your sport by checking the forecast on the Met Office website or by downloading our apps for  iPhone or Android.

Tim John is the editor of Road Cycling UK. For the latest road bike news, reviews, features & advice visit the Road Cycling UK website.

Last updated: 6 August 2012

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