Keeping track of your average speed on a training ride or during a cycling event and comparing it to past performances can be an excellent way to measure your overall fitness and improvement over time. This metric can also help you push yourself if you need extra motivation and provide a long-term goal to shoot for as you get in better shape.
Though beginner cyclists can see huge improvements in average speed by getting on the bike and riding more often, eventually you’ll hit a plateau. While you can certainly attempt to get more aerodynamic with your body position, buy more expensive wheels and gear to lower your miles per hour, there are other (cheaper) ways to boost your speed over longer distances that only require a few tweaks to your current training regimen.
Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to raise your average cycling speed.
Whether it’s a race or a local climb with your training partners, one of the biggest mistakes cyclists make is not pacing their efforts correctly. If you begin a ride at a pace you can’t sustain, eventually you’ll have to slow down. While you might think this strategy would end up averaging out to about the same number you’d get riding at an even pace, the truth is riding steady keeps your legs feeling better and allows you to ride faster than trying to hang on during those last few miles.
Also think about those times during a ride when you steer away from a consistent effort. Climbs are one example when this often happens. Hammering to the top of a hill in a heart rate zone well above where you should be can leave you feeling tired and ragged for the rest of your ride, affecting your average speed. Instead, stick to a heart rate or power output number you know you can maintain for the duration of the ride no matter the terrain. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel at the end of the ride and how much faster your average speed is.
RIDE NEGATIVE SPLITS
If you want to take pacing to the next level, try riding negative splits. This method conserves energy for the second half of the ride when it is more efficient and less risky to crank up the speed.
To practice, take your average speed from a route you’ve ridden several times. For the first half of your ride, ride slightly below this number. Once you reach the midway point, pick up the pace a few notches so you’re at your previous average speed or slightly higher. During the last quarter of your ride, pick up the pace as much as possible and try to hammer out the remaining miles. In addition to boosting your average speed, it’s also a great way to practice pacing and the kind of effort you’ll need to produce for an upcoming cycling event.
IMPROVE YOUR COMFORT
When it comes to improving average speed, aerodynamics is what gets talked about most often. And while lowering your head position, tucking your elbows and buying things like aero helmets and wheels can certainly help, if you want to go faster you also need to be comfortable. Too often cyclists adopt aggressive positions on the bike to mimic the pros and to look fast, but it ends up causing is a sore back and neck and a position that isn’t all that efficient for your individual body type, causing you to slow down anyway.
Think of it this way: If you can’t ride in the drops for more than a few minutes because it isn’t comfortable, an aero bike setup isn’t going to do you much good. On the other hand, if you’re comfortable and spinning the pedals as efficiently as possible, you’ll be more likely to put more power to the pedals and average a higher speed over longer distances.
Instead of mimicking what you see on TV, get a professional bike fit. This helps you dial in your position and takes comfort and pedaling efficiency into account rather than focusing solely on what’s the most aerodynamic.
SWITCH UP YOUR TRAINING ROUTES
Hitting a plateau in your fitness is common, and is usually a result of riding the same training routes over and over at the same training intensity. To improve your average speed, you’ll need to get in better shape, and to do so it’s important to mix in as much variety as possible.
While it might not be feasible to pack your bike up and head to a new area for every training ride, doing so once per week can make a big difference. If your training rides are usually pretty flat, head to a place with rolling hills or a long climb. This shocks your muscles and forces them to adapt to new terrain, which leads to an improvement in fitness. For those other training rides, switch up your favorite route slightly by doing it backwards every now and then. The slightly different ups and downs keep your training from getting stale.
The same can be said for riding the same intensity and distance over and over. Your body eventually gets used to the effort and, after a while, progress is minimal. Avoid training extensively in zone 3, and instead mix up your training with variety. Long, slow rides, shorter interval sets and lactate-threshold type efforts boost your fitness over time and make you a faster cyclist.
Muscles require fuel to keep going mile after mile. If you aren’t eating and drinking enough during your rides, it will affect your energy levels — particularly in the second half of your rides. Focusing on eating early and often on rides lasting longer than two hours can keep you from feeling depleted and give you that extra boost to keep pushing.
Try eating half an energy bar or gel every 30–45 minutes along with drinking half a bottle of fluid. This can vary according to the intensity of your ride and how hot it is outside, so adjust accordingly.