How to Tell You Have a Headwind

Nothing can ruin an ordinarily pleasant ride like the wind bashing you in the face, slowing you down, and dragging you back. A strong headwind will make it feel like you're trying to ride your bike underwater, each rotation of the pedals heavier and harder than the last, sapping your energy and leaving you gasping for more 'go'.

It's commonly understood that there's no such thing as a tailwind on two-wheels (it sure doesn't feel like it anyway), but in today's post we'll run through the best ways to confirm your biggest free-wheelin' fear - how to tell you're riding into the wind.


While you're huffing and puffing and desperately looking around for some outside confirmation that it's the world's fault and not a sign of your rapidly weakening body - the first place to throw your attention is the tops of flagpoles.

Flags, banners, weathervanes, windsocks, anything that's designed to billow in the breeze will give you some quick confirmation that "yes, that wind is blasting straight back against you and sapping your strength". It won't make the ride any easier, but it will help shift the blame away from your legs.

Planes (and birds)

But if your commute is lacking in those wind-born wavers, you have some other options at your disposal. If you ride near an airport, keep your eyes on the skies to check out the air traffic. Planes will typically take off and land heading into the wind for the added lift that that extra air hitting the wings provides. (That's right, the very same wind that can cripple your commute helps 750,000 pound chunks of metal float gracefully into the air!)

If you see planes arriving or departing in the same direction you're heading, you guessed it, you're riding into the wind.

And if you don't have an airport nearby, you can turn your eyes to their natural equivalent for a (slightly less reliable) read. For the same reasons as planes, birds will typically take off and land with the wind in their faces. So, if you see birds fleeing the trees or coming in for a landing heading the same way you are - you've got yourself a headwind. Feel free to post that facebook rant against the forces of nature.

Other Riders' Faces

Lacking planes and wildlife, your next clue will be written on the faces of the riders you meet heading the other way. If the people that ride past are sitting up, smiling, and generally seem to be enjoying some secret joy as opposed to sharing in your suffering, you've probably got yourself a headwind. 

Note: Because tailwinds on bikes are still mostly mythological, you can't assume those other riders are actually enjoying any meteorological support, but the contrast between their experience and yours is enough to draw conclusions about the headwind.

Your Language

But what do you do if you're riding through the desert wilderness, with no flags, no birds or planes, and no friendly faces heading the other way? The answer might be right under your nose. That's right, if your rides are normally backed by whatever song is stuck in your head, an elaborate re-imaginging of that argument you could have won, or daydreams about taking the podium at the track - but today your mouth is spouting a steady stream of swear words and creative curses, it's probably that invisible infuriator the wind again.

Nothing generates more vocal frustration than a headwind, so if you've gone from Mary Poppins to swearing sailor, there's a good chance you're riding straight into the breeze.


And swearing is usually just the beginning. The last and most effective way to tell if you're riding into a headwind is to be able to recognize the five stages of grief. There's no question that grief is the best way to describe a headwind hustle, so knowing how your brain responds to that trauma is an important part of recognizing the reason for your struggle. As you pedal into the pushback, expect to shift through the following five stages:

  1. Denial: "Man, riding is hard today. I must've slept funny, or had too much to drink last night, or something."
  2. Anger: "$&@%*!, @$&%*%ing *@&#*$!" (see section on swearing)
  3. Bargaining: "Come on, just let me make it to work. I won't even ride tomorrow, just let me get there today." 
  4. Depression: "I hate the weather. I hate weathermen. I hate the sky. Curse this cruel, uninhabitable world."
  5. Acceptance: "Ugh, headwinds. At least I won't have to do intervals this week."

Eventually you'll make it to acceptance, and that's when you'll know.

Headwinds are truly terrible, the kind of thing you'd only wish on bike thieves and those that've personally hurt your family.

At least now you know what to look for. You can also do your best to minimize the adverse effects of a headwind, but nothing will eliminate them completely. Just know that we're suffering with you. And we'll see you out there.