Monday, 6 May 2013

Riding Faster is a Slow Business

When you first get into road cycling, you want to ride as fast as you can, completely understandable, particularly if you have a new bike.  Your early rides will involve you going out and riding as hard as you can, either with mates who have started at the same time as you or on your own.

It's only when you start to ride with stronger and faster riders do you realise that you may need to lift your average speed up quite a bit, to hang in a group or go on a club ride.  I've been riding for around four years now and consider myself an average rider based upon the amount of time I can devote to cycling.  I'm more in it for the personal fitness and thinking time than anything else, but also do like to see some steady improvement in exchange for the miles.

This weekend, I've covered 185 miles on the bike over three days and am really feeling the benefit of my planned training.  Day one was an easy 50 mile spin in preparation for a faster ride the following day, my average speed was 15.7mph.  Day two was an undulating 70 miles route at higher pace (avg speed 17.2mph), today was a 65 miles recovery ride at 16.2mph.  The main thing is not to beat yourself up if you don't always come back faster, a good headwind can knock you right back.

Average speed is impacted by so many factors including wind, ascent, weather, road surfaces, sole/group rides however when you ride a bit on your own you'll quickly figure out which rides are similar to judge your progress.

I've spent the last three months really focusing on building a strong aerobic base fitness.  Between Jan-March, I put around 910 miles in, and this established the basic fitness to ride distances.  This mostly involves riding at a controlled heart rate with lots of people whizzing past you.

During April, I've been working a lot more on intensity, taking on harder rides at a higher heart rate.  During each of the months my average speed has been creeping up, whilst my heart rate has stayed constant (meaning improving fitness).  On yesterday's ride (17.2mph) I felt the best I had all year.  Between April and May month to date, I've covered 523 miles with 21K ascent.

It helped yesterday having stronger riders in the group pushing the pace as it made me push myself harder.  What was clear to me is that the patience in putting in the building blocks has been well worth it and when you ride with a strong rider, you realise just how far you still have to go, but how far you've come too.  

My next major breakthrough would be to lose weight.  I've got the essentials in place now in terms of fitness and my ability to climb at pace is now the key focus for me.  On the flats I'm happy to motor along at 20-22mph generally, it's only on the hills that I find it harder to keep up.  If I could knock off 10kg, I'd probably go from being average to OK!

The message is this.  If you a new rider and wanting to get quicker, take your time.  Give yourself a few months of building fitness and try and ride as regularly as you can.  I ride around 100 miles a week, mostly at the weekends and this has been good enough to get me in a place where my fitness is good and my speed 'good enough' for what I want to do on the bike.  

Jot down all your rides so you can get some quality data.  I use Garmin Connect and upload all my ride info, which makes comparisons really easy, then measure your progress and work towards specific goals.  Doing lung busting rides will simply yo-yo your fitness and likely make progress slower than necessary. 


  1. That sounds exactly like me. I'm ok on the flat, and if only I could lose 10kgs I'd be ok on the climbs too. But it isn't all that easy losing those 10 kgs!

    I keep track of some of my Strava segments to see how I'm doing, but sometimes I wish I didn't when I see no improvement!

  2. Well done Phil. Good progress. It shows what a planned regimen can do. I have been trying to keep within HR zones and I actually enjoy it more challenging my self to keep to it, rather than challenging myself to go faster