Before you can get faster on the bike, you’ll need to stop slowing yourself down. Use this advice to avoid the seven most common things that kill your speed when you ride.
While riding hard might not seem like something that would slow you down, if you begin a ride at a speed you can’t maintain, you will eventually slow down or bonk. A better strategy, and one that will improve your overall miles per hour at the end of your ride, is to pace yourself. Use a heart rate monitor, power meter and your own perceived level of exertion to pace yourself during your ride. Begin at a speed you know you can maintain for the duration of your ride and try to up the pace slightly after you’ve hit the halfway point if you’re still feeling good.
The same strategy is good to use on long climbs, too. Instead of hitting the bottom of a climb hard, work yourself into a rhythm by beginning slow and building speed as the climb progresses.
BRAKING TOO FREQUENTLY
You have to work for every mile per hour you gain on the bike. While braking is necessary to control your speed and avoid hazards, braking when it isn’t necessary is more common than you might think. Whether it’s slowing too much in a corner or constant braking on a downhill, braking too much kills your momentum and slows you down.
NOT FUELING PROPERLY
Not hydrating and eating properly from the beginning of your ride can lead to bonking later on, forcing you to either slow to a snail’s pace or abandon your ride or race completely. While it’s not as big a concern on rides less than two hours, you’ll need to be consistent about fueling on longer rides. As a general rule, aim to drink 1–2 750ml bottles of fluid and around 60 grams of carbohydrates for every hour you’re riding.
Remember that it’s also important to experiment with different sports drinks and energy bars and find suitable nutrition options that don’t cause gastrointestinal distress during hard or long efforts, which can also slow you down.
The more weight you have to carry around, the harder you’ll have to work to maintain your average speed. But when it comes to shedding pounds, most cyclists look to the weight of their bike and frame instead of looking at more obvious and less expensive ways of decreasing weight.
Instead of heading out for that $5,000 aero road frame or a new set of expensive wheels, look first at how you might be able to shed extra weight off your midsection. Decreasing your weight while maintaining your power output can have a much greater benefit to your overall miles per hour than simply trying to purchase a 1- or 2-miles-per-hour advantage.
Also look at unnecessary gear you may be carrying in your saddle bag and jersey pockets. Rather than carrying a full-size hand pump, opt for lighter CO2 cartridges. A pound or two here or there ends up making a big difference over the course of a ride.
A loose-fitting jersey or jacket and baggy shorts can act as a parachute on the bike, catching the wind and slowing you down. If you don’t have dedicated cycling gear consider purchasing a tight-fitting jersey and bibshorts, which not only improves your comfort but also makes you more aerodynamic as you increase your speed. To take things a step further, consider the type of helmet you own, too. While all helmets offer a standard level of protection, higher-end helmets are more aerodynamic and breathe better — both of which can influence your performance.
UPRIGHT BODY POSITION
Lowering your upper body, even if it’s just slightly, can have a significant positive effect on your miles per hour. This is because the more upright your head and shoulders are the more they’ll be exposed to the wind and slow you down. Of course, there will be times such as on long climbs when placing your hands on the bar tops and adopting a more upright position is OK. But on downhills or flats, when you want to increase your miles per hour as much as possible, it’s important to lower your chest and head as much as you comfortably can to minimize wind drag.
You can do this by riding in the drops with a lower head position or even on the hoods with your elbows bent to 90 degrees. Since this aggressive position does place more strain on your lower back and neck, you may need to start out assuming these positions for short periods of time during your ride until you get used to it and build your strength. Supplementing your time on the bike with strength training can also help you maintain these positions for longer durations.
LACK OF BIKE MAINTENANCE
A dirty drivetrain can cause all sorts of problems, including poor shifting, slipping and grinding while you pedal. Since a clean drivetrain will always be faster than a dirty one, it’s important to keep your bike clean and working properly. Replace your chain and cables routinely (about once per year) and take your bike in for a tune up whenever you notice problems with your shifting that you can’t solve on your own.
Also make sure your wheels are true, your brake pads aren’t rubbing on your wheels and your tires are aired up to the recommended psi before every ride.