Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Secret To Averaging 19mph on a Bike

Tips and Tricks to Becoming a Faster Recreational Cyclist

Not Trying to toot my own horn here, but a few times a year I belong to the 19+mph club.

Why 19mph? Why not set a 20+mph average speed as a personal goal? First of all, because I only speak from experience. In all of my 8 or more years of cycling recreationally, I have yet to do a 20mph average speed on a ride, group or solo. I have soloed 18 to 19mph riding alone doing distances of over 20 miles. Second of all, anyone averaging over 20mph on a solo ride or in a group setting has improved to a whole other level. Averaging 20+mph consistently on long rides sets the rider up for racing and holding 24mph averages in criteriums. The difference between an 18-19mph average and a 20mph average is what separates the riders from the racers in the cycling world.  I have enough experience to offer suggestions to my readers on at least how to get to my level, which has taken me a long time (maybe a little too long) to achieve. For those of my readers new to cycling, this article is for you. My hope is that anyone looking to get faster on a bike will have an accelerated learning curve by following the tips and suggestions that I offer.

Rule #1: Pay Your Dues: There are no shortcuts to building endurance, because endurance is how well we manage pain. For the first time rider or even the veteran rider, that means getting out on your bike regularly. Even with regular amounts of cycling, speed comes in stages and there will be plateaus both physically as well as in overall performance. Plateaus don't generally last long, as long as the cyclist is willing to push through them. Averaging 16 to 17mph is a plateau most people can't or don't want to overcome. That is because they are either content with their speed or don't have the time or the energy to go a little farther out on their rides and push a little harder. Paying your dues in cycling means holding on to pacelines on group rides knowing that you will inevitably fall off the pace and get dropped. It involves overcoming discouraging experiences being willing to go through the same experiences again the next  time. Mental fortitude is as important as physical gains (maybe even more so) when trying to improve one's performance, especially when it comes to cycling.

Rule#2: Ride Hills, Ride them Hard: Hills are natural intervals we encounter while out riding. While many cyclists dread going up hills and generally avoid them on their routes, I say embrace them. Hills are  a part of life. In life, we have our ups and downs. Whatever doesn't keep us down makes us stronger individuals the next time we have to pick ourselves up. Successful cyclists approach hills the same way they approach life. I'm not trying to get philosophical here, but most 16mph cyclists don't ride hills, they cruise on flat terrain thinking that they are going fast.  They are content to take the easy approach to riding, therefore many of them are fat or potbellied and don't look good in Lycra. Want to be a fine and fit cyclist? Ride hills. Don't just look at hills as part of the ride or a mere obstacle to overcome, look at hills as the main event. When approaching a hill, the objective to should be to give it as much gas up the hill as possible. This doesn't always mean getting into your climbing gears, either. To build strength up the hills, it's best to practice climbing them on a harder gear than you would normally do otherwise. Use the time not climbing hills to recover, riding tempo while you approach the next hill. While descending skills are important, climbing skills are even more so and merit the most attention. The foundation of  a cyclist's speed and endurance is made going up and down hills.

Rule#3: Ride Some More Hills on your Fixie: "What?!?!? Blasphemy!" One might say. "A fixie for training?" Yes, and let me explain why. Fixed geared bikes have their purpose. Their purpose is not to be used for posing around campus trying to look cool or to be in the next Macaframa video. Although skidding is a neat trick on a fixed geared bike that is not all a fixed gear bike is intended to do. Actually, a fixed geared bike is sort of a bonus tool that a cyclist can possess in building leg muscle and perfecting pedaling technique and timing. 

My new fixed gear bike is giving me impressive results when I hop back on my regular bikes. Note the brakes on the bike. I'm crazy but I'm not stupid. ;)

On a fixed geared bike, backpedaling is an essential skill that not only helps control speeds going downhill but also builds strength in the hamstring region of the thigh. Most cyclists boast impressive quads and many overdevelop their quads to the point of looking like track sprinters. The hamstrings are just as important to exercise as they activate more quickly than quads when climbing. So while the gear ratio can't change on a fixed geared bike, a fixed geared bike has the potential to make someone a better climber. A fixed geared bike is also a great tool for the time crunched cyclist because a big workout can be had in a shorter distance than on a regular 20 mile ride. So if you already have a geared bike and want an awesome training bike that can be used to run errands or to sit on your trainer in the wintertime, get a fixie. Preferably buy a purpose built track bike like the one in the picture rather than hacking up a classic 80's frame just to make it a fixed gear. Oh yeah, and use brakes if you want to stop.

Rule #4: Exercise off the bike: All the fast guys that I ride with are triathletes. When I say fast, I mean regular 20+mph cyclists.  The secret to their speed is that they are working out all parts of their bodies; their upper bodies while swimming, their abs when running and their legs when cycling. So what if you, like me, are not a triathlete and are not inclined to run? You can still find another sport away from cycling that engages the body in another way. Playing soccer, skateboarding and playing basketball are all complete cardio workouts that don't involve repetitive running or swimming laps, but have the same positive benefits. Hiking trails is a great way to get out in nature while getting the same benefits of running. 


These are my tricks and "cheats" to becoming a faster cyclist. If I could add one more it would be to make it interesting, not boring, not a chore for you or your loved one. However, don't do it just enough to hate it. Stay consistent, and you will see results. 











3 comments:

  1. I agree, there are no shortcuts to success! You really have to grind it out if you want to be a faster cyclist. I particularly like your Rule #4. One should do another exercise/workout - something that you love - to build endurance and strength.

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  2. I am not too fussed about becoming a faster cyclist, but I will agree that climbing lots of hills, especially in uncomfortably high gears, does build up strength and fitness quickly.

    I'm still old and fat, but I don't feel old when I'm riding, and obesity is to be treasured - it provides an excellent excuse for a bike ride at any time.

    P Buddery

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