Environmental Wind Modeling

What if I told you that on a given race, I could predict an area where you would have a 25% reduction in drag that only you would know about in advance–where you could throw down a surprise attack and make a break?  Or conversely, if I told you that I could predict an area where there would be a 25% increase in drag that only you would know about in advance–where you could duck into a group and make someone else take the pull?

Right now, bike companies are spending untold piles of cash trying to squeeze 1% better aerodynamics out of their bikes–or even a fraction of a percent.  What if they’re leaving easy advantages on the table?

Next time you’re on a ride, pay attention to the wind as you go around obstacles.  On Wednesday, on the group ride, we had a cornering tailwind coming into town; the wind was from the Northwest, and we were headed due East.  We came into an area with a farm on the left side of the road with a grove of trees.  As we approached that impediment, I knew what the wind would do…it would wrap around the trees and farmstead, and we would have a brief ~1,000 foot headwind.  Similarly, in other conditions you may be riding into a headwind when the terrain gives a partial shield that disrupts the wind and gives you either a temporary break or a temporary tailwind.

What I’m starting to notice is that the wind does this in a predictable fashion.  If you pay attention to the route and the wind, you start to see areas where the impact of the terrain on the wind can be predicted–and modeled.  Heading towards that farmstead on Wednesday, I knew what the wind would do, and it played into how I rode that section.

Teams spend a lot of time scouting routes in major tours.  If you listed to Stage 6 of the Tour de France, you heard the commentators talking about how much time the major teams spent scouting the cobbles included in that stage.  What if they started looking at conditions other than just elevation, road condition, turns and terrain?  What if they started driving the routes in varying wind conditions with anemometers, wind vanes and sophisticated barometers–and started doing environmental wind modeling of how the terrain and structures impact conditions on the road.  What if you knew that as you rounded a particular bend with a Southeast wind, that you would get a disproportionately strong tailwind for a period of a thousand feet?  It could be a significant tactical advantage if only some had the information.

Food for thought.


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