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Headwind vs climbing

Old 05-10-21, 02:13 PM
  #1  
SeniorCanadian
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Headwind vs climbing

This summer I plan a one way ride between Calgary and Vancouver. Prevailing winds are west to east and elevation goes from sea level at Vancouver to around 3500 feet above sea level at Calgary airport. Banff is about 4500 feet above sea level so that portion of the trip is a no brainer - downhill and with the wind. I have fond memories of a ride from Jasper to Calgary years ago - that stretch from Canmore to Calgary was almost just a coast with the high tail winds that day.

I am curious what other tourers might choose. I have a lot of gear so I would catch a lot of wind and I don't mind climbing so I am inclined to choose Vancouver to Calgary. What say you?
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Old 05-10-21, 02:25 PM
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You can always look at some numbers here.

And consider that (in no meaningful order) : (1) winds are more variable than elevations; (2) quite often, mornings are calm and afternoons breezy; (3) do you prefer riding with the sun in your face or on your back? (4) long and steady 2% grades are benign, short and undulating 10% grades are tiresome.

[EDIT]What is the situation wrt interprovincial travel? I though that BC had recently closed it's borders, and that Alberta was considering it. (I've also read that enforcement was spotty) [/EDIT]

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Old 05-10-21, 03:16 PM
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I enjoy climbing and love tailwinds 😊
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Old 05-10-21, 03:37 PM
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Headwinds are actually worse than going up hills... IMO Mentally speaking, going up some big hills you know it's going to take more effort more time, going on the flats and into a 30Km+ headwind is frustrating as you know you could be going much faster with less effort if that wind wasn't so strong...

I too enjoy tailwinds...
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Old 05-10-21, 03:41 PM
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In the scheme of things, 3500ft isn't much over ~1000km between Vancouver/Calgary. Winds can be variable and adjust. I could see doing it either direction but if it were a case of more consistent winds (e.g. seen that more in Atlantic Canada) then I would pick climbing over headwinds.

On a more general touring sense, I've sometimes considered: rain vs. headwinds vs. climbs - as far as which is a larger concern.

The first level answer is "it depends" since each of these three variables can have a wide range, i.e. a light headwind isn't the same as a strong gale in open country; intermittent showers are the same as cycling in remnants of a hurricane with steady rain all day long; a gradual climb isn't the same as short stretches of 10% or more...

However, I'm probably in the category of being most demoralized by persistent headwinds day after day, and next by steady cold rain and least by some climbing.
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Old 05-10-21, 07:45 PM
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Originally Posted by SeniorCanadian View Post
...Prevailing winds are west to east...
prevailing winds at what elevation? at ground level tend to be localized, with effects heavily dependent on terrain and vegetation.

Originally Posted by SeniorCanadian View Post
...elevation goes from sea level at Vancouver to around 3500 feet above sea level at Calgary airport....
how about an elevation profile? is this a constant grade, a series of shorter grades with plateaus, or lotsa up and down basin and range with 25000 feet of climbing and descending in betwixt?
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Old 05-10-21, 08:23 PM
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Originally Posted by 350htrr View Post
Headwinds are actually worse than going up hills... IMO Mentally speaking, going up some big hills you know it's going to take more effort more time, going on the flats and into a 30Km+ headwind is frustrating as you know you could be going much faster with less effort if that wind wasn't so strong...

I too enjoy tailwinds...
Absolutely. But going up hills into a wind sucks as well.
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Old 05-10-21, 08:33 PM
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Originally Posted by saddlesores View Post
prevailing winds at what elevation? at ground level tend to be localized, with effects heavily dependent on terrain and vegetation.



how about an elevation profile? is this a constant grade, a series of shorter grades with plateaus, or lotsa up and down basin and range with 25000 feet of climbing and descending in betwixt?
I hate headwinds and don't mind climbing so I would go Vancouver to Calgary. I have done it once, via Highway 3, Highway 5, Highway 93 and Highway 1. Why not include the icefields parkway in there if you can? Basically there are three main mountain ranges to traverse, The Coast range, the Selkirks and the Rockies, so there will be lots of climbing.

The Alberta/BC border is not closed, although travel is not advised. There are restrictions on travel between health regions in BC. Its complicated, but I expect they will drop the restrictions sometime in June. I dont think they would care about somebody on a bike, but who knows?
Right now Calgary has the highest covid infection rate in North America so you may not want to visit.
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Old 05-10-21, 08:40 PM
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This page has elevation profiles and gradients.

https://www.flattestroute.com/Vancou...-Jasper-Canada
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Old 05-10-21, 09:07 PM
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I hate climbing but living on Long Island has taught me that I have headwinds more. 30 mile ride on the race bike wanted to do 40 mi but caved when I could no longer ride above 13mph, had been 20 straight miles into what was a decent wind but still not a storm. Just drags it out of you as the pressure never lets up and it seems to get harder to stay at speed every time there's an extra gust. Still averaged 18.5 but would rather climb. Touring going into the wind with rain, just pitch the tent and call the day done, same rain with the wind pushing, not so bad if the temps are good and the rain coat is keeping you half dry. I'll take extra climbing and west to east any day.
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Old 05-10-21, 11:07 PM
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It's probably more important to decide if you want to avoid riding into the sun. Do you ride late in the day or do you ride early? Which ever is safer is the one I would choose.
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Old 05-10-21, 11:32 PM
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I will never be mistaken for a climber, but I would rather ride with 120'/mi elevation gain with no wind than ride a flat route with a 20mph headwind.
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Old 05-10-21, 11:35 PM
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My wife and I rode from Vancouver to Calgary, and then south to Whitefish, Montana. I don't remember the wind or the sun being a big problem, although there were a few hills. The route seldom goes directly east, so riding into the sun didn't seem like an issue in the morning.




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Old 05-11-21, 01:04 AM
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Unlike the prairie you only experience headwinds between Calgary and Canmore. Maybe Lake Louise on a bad day. After that it's variable.

However, going east from Vancouver you have one of three passes to climb (Coquihalla, Alison, Fraser Canyon) plus the Kicking Horse. Roger's is up and down either way.

The climb up Alison pass in Manning is 60 kms long. The climb up the Coke is steep and again out of Merrit is long and sustained. The Kicking Horse can also be a tough slog. In comparison once past Lake Louise you can mostly coast to Golden. All of Yoho is downhill (going west)

Banff Park is flat, Yoho is downhill. Golden is up and down. Roger's Pass is up and over. Revelstoke is up and down and then flat to Kamloops. Kamloops to hope is two humps of a camel but decidedly downhill overall and Hope to Vancouver is flat.

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Old 05-11-21, 02:16 AM
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The tallest single continuous hill that I recall climbing in one day was Going to the Sun Road, east to west, about 2,000 feet of elevation gain between breakfast and lunch, that day also had the downhill of 3,400 feet on the other side. (I looked at my GPS elevation data for those numbers.) And I had enough time that day to take lots of photos too. I could have done west to east in the same day, but would have enjoyed it less. My point is that a lot of elevation can be done in a day. Mapquest tells me that your trip is roughly 600 miles. I am guessing you are looking at a trip of a couple weeks or maybe a bit longer if you do a more relaxed pace.

I use the drops on drop bars when I push into the wind, but a lot of people sit more upright and catch more air in a headwind. How you ride into a headwind is also a factor to consider.

Bike touring, if I anticipate a head wind I often try to roll out of the campsite around 7 to 7:30am, generically winds often pickup around 9 to 9:30 and peak around 2pm but that is my generic assumption for North America, it could vary locally where you would be. Are you an early riser or late?

Off the map, I picked Kamloops airport as roughly a midpoint on your trip for weather data. At that location it looks like you are just as likely to have a south wind as a west wind. Maybe the wind is not as bad as you anticipate?
https://weatherspark.com/y/145304/Av...ada-Year-Round

If your home is Vancouver and you would take a train or fly to Calgary if you started there, there is an advantage to riding towards home. Timetable is more flexible when you do not have to arrive somewhere to make a scheduled flight or train. And when your trip ends at home, you do not then have to pack for transporting your bike and luggage at the end of the trip.

Whichever option you decide, have a great trip.

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Old 05-11-21, 04:25 AM
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How hard climbing is has a lot of dependency on how much you plus your bike plus your gear weighs. You can play around on sites like Bikecalculator , enter your numbers and then play with wind/grade and see how things change. For a heavy rider on a heavy bike that is heavily loaded, a 5% grade can be the equivalent of a 20 mph headwind.

I weigh 220, the math would say I'd burn less watts with most headwinds. On loop rides I don't worry much about headwinds - I just rode a charity flat century that had 24 mph sustained winds at the start and it was still at 16 mph at the end. The 40 miles or so that were direct into that wind were bad but with loop rides you know they won't last forever. An extra half hour on 6 hours of riding is not that bad.

A day long slog into a headwind on a tour is a different story - I'd rather be doing more climbing and taking weight off my rear end if I'm going to add 2-3 hours in the saddle.
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Old 05-11-21, 07:16 AM
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I heard this long ago: How can you tell an experienced cyclist from a rookie? The rookie complains about the hills. The pro complains about the wind.
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Old 05-11-21, 08:37 AM
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Just so we know what we are talking about.

This is the elevation profile for Hwy1 / Hwy5 from Calgary to Vancouver. 1000kms. Look not just at the total difference but also the profiles on each side.
That's the price of avoiding one partial day of potential headwinds.
Having done this route a few times the wind generally picks up around Kananaskis and drops off past Canmore. About 40km's.


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Old 05-11-21, 02:07 PM
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In 2019 starting May 19, I rode a 3,900 mile loop from Edmonton thru Calgary, Revelstoke, Okanagan, Princeton, Hope, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Spokane, C'D, Cranbrook, Pincher Creek, etc. So I went E to W. The only stiff headwind I had was the second day to Ponoka, I quit after 23 miles that took 7 hours. LOL. I got that wind back the second last day, Olds to Ponoka at 27 mph to Red Deer. OTOH, Golden to Revelstoke was a double hump 98.5 miles, 11.5 or 12.5 hours. Time change confusion. That was a hot sunny day and I ran out of water twice. I did push my 120 lb-er about 3 of those miles. I guess I got lucky going Calgary to Canmore with little wind and just a shower when I got there. I took 22 days to Stanley Park, with 5 layover nights. All hotels. 17 days from Calgary.

I think you should go homeward, so you can adjust your arrival. The only day I got going early at 8:00 was in Golden. Kicking Horse pass was a laugher actually. I stopped in Field, so it was a short day too. One steep mile climb after the river crossing. Who knows what it's like now after 2 years of roadwork on that side of the mountain. The worst day by far was Vernon to Summerland, constant up/ down and steep miserable climbs. I was swearing all day. LOL. Was worse just getting out of damn Vernon. I took the back pass 33 miles to Keremeos, medium climbs. I pushed a few parts of hills going out of Manning. It poured rain Hope to Chilliwack, so I sloshed into the DQ soaking wet, cape and all. Next day was sunny and I said to hell with wandering hwy 7. So I got on the Trans Can all the way to the Port Mann bridge. I did get squeezed by one double lane merge in with a dump truck. LOL. To my left was a young guy in a small car going 70 mph with his mouth open gasping. LOL.
Crow's Nest going east was easy, the worst hills were going to Pincher Creek.
Kamloops has killer winds, heat and steep hills going out, at least on the old highway south to Merritt. Even my cars have coughed going up that.

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Old 05-11-21, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
Just so we know what we are talking about.

This is the elevation profile for Hwy1 / Hwy5 from Calgary to Vancouver. 1000kms. Look not just at the total difference but also the profiles on each side.
That's the price of avoiding one partial day of potential headwinds.
Having done this route a few times the wind generally picks up around Kananaskis and drops off past Canmore. About 40km's.


The link I posted above has a bunch of elevation profiles for various routes and gives gradient too. I doubt anybody looked at it.
I've done kicking horse from the west several times as part of the Golden Triangle. I like the last bit from Field as it feels like you are climbing a real mountain pass, and you can see your progress
and there is historical interest as you pass the spiral tunnels on your left and an old original railway bridge on your right near the top. Going the other direction is kind of boring, just a gradual climb to the summit and then a rather steep downhill, no time to look at the scenery. The lower canyon is closed right now due to construction but it is supposed to open this weekend and stay open for the summer.
You are right about the wind, it is worse from about Canmore to Calgary. And it can be really windy.
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Old 05-12-21, 07:10 PM
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Not riding into the sun in the afternoon appeals to me.
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Old 05-13-21, 02:37 PM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
Not riding into the sun in the afternoon appeals to me.
Always so interesting how different we all are 😊 I love riding with the sun on my back in the morning and towards the sunset.
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Old 05-13-21, 03:12 PM
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There's a couple straight roads in BC. LOL . Absolutely nothing to worry about. Don't get up so early, problem solved. LOL.
I don't recall the sun being in my eyes much on any day in my 13 week trip.
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Old 05-13-21, 03:44 PM
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Originally Posted by imi View Post
Always so interesting how different we all are 😊 I love riding with the sun on my back in the morning and towards the sunset.
It's not something that I've really thought about too much, but there have been a few times where I've been riding right into the lowering sun and it can be annoying. Same with a car, but to be honest, my helmet has a visor and this helps immensely with low sun, just a tilt of the head and with sunglasses it's not too bad.
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Old 05-13-21, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
Not riding into the sun in the afternoon appeals to me.
I do not mind riding into the sun, however if the driver of the car or truck behind me can't see me because they are driving into the sun, I could have a very bad day. But I have usually made my destination before the sun gets that low to be a hazard.

But, riding into a sunrise in early morning can be just as bad, like in the photo on a foggy morning.

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