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How to ride a motorcycle in high wind

Camping tent coffee, Jason Barton high wind

One of the trickiest conditions to ride in is high wind, especially if the road is also wet.

High winds can be dangerous as they can blow your bike off course. They can also be tiring on a rider and just plain annoying.

high wind
High wind doesn’t worry the Kiwi sheep

Don’t go riding in gale-force winds on purpose. However, sometimes you simply get caught out by high winds, so you need to be prepared.

If there is one place in New Zealand that has consistently strong windy conditions, it’s Mossburn in the southern region of the South Island. We had to ride through the area twice, but fortunately, it is an isolated area of high wind and we were soon out of it.

Here are 10 tips for riding in high winds:

Look for signs of wind
Look for signs of wind

1 Be alert for tell-tale signs of the wind so you can judge which way it is blowing. Look at grass, the tops of trees, flags, windmills and birds. If they are blowing in one direction, you can set up for the blast, but if they are blustering back and forth, you are in for a battering. Places of high winds are typically open plains, valleys, mountain tops and beside large bodies of water. When you have assessed the conditions, you can set up your riding position for the oncoming blast.

2 If you have to go riding in the wind and you have a selection of bikes to take, select one that does not have bodywork, panniers, top box or a windscreen, unless it’s frame mounted. Bar-mounted windscreens and fairings will push the bike around in the wind. Heavy bikes with a low centre of gravity are better than lighter and tall.

3 In a headwind or tail wind, duck down and pin your arms and legs in. In a headwind, drop down a gear and accelerate smoothly into the wind to give you more control. In a tailwind, you may like to trail a bit of rear brake.

4 Crosswinds are trickier. You need to loosen up and not grip the handlebars with white knuckles. The bike is going to be blown around a bit, but you don’t need to choke it to retain control. Move forward in the seat and raise your elbows, motocross style. This gives better control of the steering.

Knees and elbows out in high wind
Knees and elbows out in high wind

5 A Kiwi motorcycle journalist gave me this tip that seems to work: If the wind is blowing from one side, hang the corresponding knee out. Somehow the wind will blow your leg about rather than the bike.

6 Blustery conditions are the most unpredictable. Ride slow and loose, elbows out, and be prepared to accelerate, lean and steer suddenly to regain control.

7 Give yourself margin for error. Ride in the middle of the lane and don’t aim for apexes as a sudden gust may blow you into oncoming traffic or off the side of the road.

8 Look out for protection from crosswinds, such as buildings, bushes, lines of trees, culverts and moving protection such as vans and trucks. If the wind is blowing from the side, you will be leaning the bike into the wind and when you enter the protection zone, the bike will suddenly tip further. Likewise, as you leave the protection, you will be blown the opposite way. In short protection zones, this can blow you one way and the other very quickly.

9 Take more frequent rests. Looking for the prevailing wind, setting up your riding position and reacting to being blown around takes it out of a rider, physically and mentally. You’ll need to take more breaks.

10 Check the weather warnings before you head off.

  1. The Bluff, south of Invercargill, and sitting out into the Foveaux Strait, had the strongest winds we have experienced this side of a cyclone. The birds were flying backwards. Our mount, an R1200RT certainly got blown about. Big naked bikes handle cross winds better than faired bikes.

  2. We had those winds for two days on the South Island too. Warnings on the news for trucks and bikes not to be on the roads. But when you are on holiday with a schedule it’s got to be done. Very tiring but managed.

  3. Then, when you park your bike, put the side stand on the down-wind side. This makes it almost much less likely to blow over

  4. Yes, New Zealand has some ferocious winds. None more scary that the Rimutakas outside Wellington. Sometimes calm, but often gusty so that as you come around the hairpins, you are assailed from one side and then the other. in an instant. Normally, faster road speed helps on a straight, but when that is not possible it can get a bit scary!

    You live a lot closer to the edge in New Zealand, earthquakes, wind, wild weather and boiling lakes, its the most exciting country on Earth.

    1. Totally agree about the Rimutakas! My wife and I went across there heading North towards Featherston. But my wife had a much rougher time than I . She was on a 400 Honda, and I was on my Sportster. The big difference in weight seemed to be the critical factor, as my bike had a windscreen and Jill’ s did not.

  5. I Use the knee trick all the time and i find its the drag it creates that pulls you back into the cross wind and keeps you going straight.

    1. Exactly, the drag created applies a moment about the axis of the bike, which cancels out the lateral force applied by the crosswind, thus your bike happily continues travelling straight.

  6. The trick with sticking the knee out into the wind does work quite well. It actually comes down to physics. See, when you stick your knee out, your leg creates a sort-of sail effect. The headwind thus blows against your thigh, pushing your leg out more, which creates a moment (rotational force) about the axis of the bike. Since the crosswind is simultaneously pushing against that side of the bike, the applied moment more-or-less zeros-out the lateral force applied to the bike by the crosswind. The two forces therefore basically cancel each other out, and your bike ends up going straight (more-or-less). As you gain experience with this maneuver, you learn to judge how far out to stick your knee based on the strength and relative angle of the crosswind.

  7. Very helpful tips and a great article. However, all these articles about high winds never actually specify what speeds high wind actually is. 20kph? 30kph? 40kph? at which point is it “high winds”.

  8. I got caught in a cross wind today, frightening stiff, this article makes alot of sense, will definitely apply these tactics when the situation arises again.

  9. I had to ride from Taupo to Auckland 2 days ago, most exhausting ride I’ve ever experienced due to the sudden storm. Crosswind was so unpredictable and sudden, one moment I’m pushed right another I’m thrown left at such force I felt I lost control a few times. I have a light cruiser which didn’t help probably. I resorted to staying under 60km/h for 2+ hours and deliberately taking the route with the most straights.
    If I’m ever in this situation again I’ll try the knee method.

    And also maybe it’s time to get a bigger bike.

    1. Hi,
      Not sure if a heavier bike will make much of a difference. It’s more about the surface area presented to the wind.
      For example, a small fully faired sportsbike would present more of a windsock to the wind than even a big naked bike or cruiser.
      Please tell me how you go with our knee method when next you have the opportunity to try it.
      Cheers and safe riding,

  10. One other thing to look out for when riding in high winds: Breaks in the wind blocks. That means gaps between tall buildings, gaps between tall mountains, gaps between thickly forested sections, like you might encounter in farmland, etc. Those gaps tend to become wind tunnels with much higher wind velocities that can really knock you around and possibly cause a crash.

  11. On a border to border trip from the Mexico border @ Lukeville,AZ to the Canadian border @ Sweet Grass, MT. 3 weeks ago. We had to alter plans and head south due to winter weather approaching. Road hard all day to Casper, WY that night. The next morning heading south on I-25 between Chugwater & Cheyenne 45+ MPH cross wind gusts (at least that is what the overhead electric DOT signs were warning). Major pucker factor, especially at first. Would’ve used the stick the leg out maneuver had I know of it. Closed helmet shields, moved up on seat, crouched lower than wind shield and it smoothed out fairly well. We slowed down from about 85 to roughly 65/70. Fortunately it only last about 30 minutes in all. Would’ve been exhausting to ride for hours that way. Blew my 900 pound motorcycle from far right on right lane to outside part of left lane about 7/8 times during the whole stretch.

    1. Stick out your knee into the wind also causes a counter steer (sit on a swivel chair notice how it turns) the bike will react to turn in that direction. Apply some weight on the opposite peg as well. You will also notice some normal input at the handles as many suggest. In addition relax! If the wind changes up, dip your helmet in the wind, let the aerodynamics do its thing and draw your knees to the tank. Making a smaller point of contact. Keep on the throttle don’t let up. Yes position your bike to give you maneuver room in case the bike is pushed from one side to another. Remember relax! Don’t Panic.

      PS when you are back in the barn do a “nut and bolt” on your windscreen. Tighteners can tend to loosen up with a hefty head and cross wind.

      — keep you knees in the breeze.

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