Jeff Allen

Wind Guts — Motorcycles And High Winds

A three-step plan in mastering riding in the wind

Willow Springs Raceway sits in the high desert of Southern California and can boast a handful of windless days per year—maybe less. I know this because for 12 years I worked at Petersen Publishing Company's Motorcyclist and Sport Rider magazines and Willow was our main testing venue. I was lucky enough to win a pair of WSMC #1 plates and that meant racing every month for almost three years. I won AMA and WERA 250 nationals there and was fortunate enough to be on the winning 24-hour endurance team three times…in the wind.

“Wind guts” was a term that came to describe the riders who could carry the mail despite Willow’s legendary afternoon breezes. I was one of them, and any rider who won a club or class championship at Willow had wind guts. I think of wind guts every time I’m at a windy track or on a windy street ride and wanted to pass along windy-day plan to all riders.

One: Be Little

A big sail catches more wind, so be the tiniest sail you can be, especially in crosswinds. On the track it’s easy and natural to tuck in so maximize that during windy track days or races. Do the same on the street. Scooting back in the seat makes tucking in much easier. Adjust your mirrors and be small.

Two: Be Pliable

Being pliable means: Let the wind move your body, but don’t let it transfer into the handlebars. A steady crosswind is fairly simple to adjust to, but when gusts come and go, this tip will be invaluable.

As the gust hits, your upper body will get rocked, but you need to let your palms and thumb/forefinger webbing rotate a bit on the handlebar, rather than steer the bike. Have pliable arms. Holding on with tight arms and torso, which seems natural and instinctive, will put steering pressure into the handgrips and the ride will be significantly more unnerving. Relax everything from the top of your head to your butt; let the wind move you but don’t let that movement feed into the handlebars.

Maximizing your tuck
It’s important to be the tiniest sail you can be in the wind. Maximize your tuck in the wind, whether it is on the track or street.Jeff Allen

Three: Be Really Good At Counter-steering

Countersteering is what every kid learns on a bicycle, usually after a few tip-overs. Pushing the right bar forward turns a two-wheeler to the right; left forward pressure turns the bike/motorcycle left. Properly done it’s a subtle rowing motion performed at the rate you want your motorcycle/bicycle to steer. Quick pressure snaps the bike around, gentle pressure rolls it over.

In the wind, it’s a ride saver, especially when you understand that pulling back on the left bar while pushing forward on the right bar really helps lever the bike to the right, and vice versa.

Pliable riding
Be Pliable: Holding on too tightly in the wind is counterproductive and also makes the ride more tense. Relax and let the wind move your body, but not the bars.Jeff Allen

A clear and expert-level understanding and application of countersteering allows the rider to counteract the pressure put upon them by the crosswind. Plan to be quick and decisive to make early adjustments as the gusts hit. There will be times when you must hold countersteering pressure to offset a heavy crosswind.

But there’s a delicate balance required by the rider. He or she must have a pliable body and arms but be quick to add bar pressure to counteract the wind. Your muscles are ready, but not in play until needed to use bar pressure to offset gusts. Challenging—and fun.

At Willow, riders who wanted to win championships had to master the wind. I remember watching the start of a 750 race, green-flagged just as a gigantic sandstorm blew across the track. We watched the lead pack of eight riders enter turn eight and disappear as the sandstorm blocked our view. Only two riders emerged—the two with wind guts.

More next Tuesday!