I was asked this week how to increase your average speed while road cycling, and it got me thinking. When I started road cycling 14 years ago, I was fairly slow and I gradually increased over about three years, but I’m still not overly fast. I then plateaued and haven’t changed much since. When I reflect, I realise it’s not one thing but many that have contributed to me increasing my average and speed and then staying relatively stable.
Before I go on, I must stress that there is no magic average speed that you should be riding at. You should ride as fast or as slow as you want or are capable of. If you join your local cycling club and all their rides are too fast for you and you get no enjoyment from the rides, then find another club or group to ride with. Don’t be influenced by others. Do what works for you.
Here are my thoughts on how it happened for me:
Ride in a group
I ride slower when I’m on my own. Maybe it’s because I’m a daydreamer or I just don’t see the point when I’m on my own, but I definitely go slower. I do speed up on occasion if I want to overtake someone or avoid a situation, but I generally go slower. Conversely, when I ride with a group of people, I ride a bit faster. This is because I want to keep up with them for safety and socialising, but also because you gain a drafting advantage.
I’ve written quite a lot about how to find like-minded peeps to ride with and it’s never easy and straightforward, but your tribe is out there, even if you have to travel a distance to join them.
Improve your skills
Riding skills like cornering, climbing and descending have a huge impact on your overall speed. If you master these three skills, you will go faster. Efficient cornering will ensure you brake less and traverse corners faster. Climbing is also a skill that needs to be mastered and you’ll certainly go up hill faster once you’ve nailed it. The big one is descending because like many riders I tackle descents with too much trepidation. Once again, I’ve written a lot about these three skills.
Learn to use your gears and brakes efficiently
When I first started road riding, I thought there was nothing much to learn about operating a road bike efficiently. I couldn’t have been more wrong about it. Although from a technical perspective, road bikes are relatively simple, there is loads to learn about riding them properly and efficiently.
By learning to use the appropriate gear at the right time you’ll increase your average speed. Read my past blog post about changing gears properly. The same applies to braking. Learning to brake and use your front and rear brakes in combination, and at the right time, will bring many benefits.
Push yourself (sometimes)
It’s counterproductive to ride flat out all the time but you will benefit if you push yourself some of the time, and learn to use the theory of interval training. It’s easier to practice on an indoor trainer because you can focus just on the efforts, but it can also be achieved out on the road either in a group or individually. Interval training in all athletic endeavours is known to increase your speed.
Not long after I started riding, I realised that I was the sort of non-athletic human that needed to ride often to maintain my fitness. I have a few athletic-type mates who easily jump back on their bikes after a break and ride effortlessly, but I’m not made like that. I need to ride at least three times a week to maintain my fitness. This has been really hard recently in my hometown of Sydney Australia where we are suffering through our third La Nina rain pattern. If I ride less my average speed declines.
Practice, practice, practice
I often finish my skills-based blog posts with this heading. Practice all the things I’ve listed above, and you will definitely increase your average speed over time. It won’t happen immediately but if you’re patient it will certainly occur. Good luck.