Are you one of those cyclists who feels the need for speed? Part of the fun of riding is finding out just how fast you can go. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.
Whether you’re a beginner cyclist or have hit a wall in your overall fitness and development, use these five tips to improve your average speed and find your peak.
- Be more Aero
While trading your baggy jersey and standard road helmet for more aerodynamic options will definitely increase your overall average speed, your body position on the bike will make an even greater difference.
Instead of riding with your hands on the tops or hoods of your handlebars, you can improve the aerodynamics of your position and expose less of yourself to the wind by:
- Riding in the hoods.
- Tucking your elbows so they fall directly in front of your knees.
- Bending your elbows to lower your torso and achieve a flat back.
- Lowering your head.
On average, this will save you around 15 per cent of your power output when compared with riding in a more upright position.
2. Watch your Diet
To get faster, you’ll either have to get stronger or lose weight. Cycling, particularly when you head uphill, is all about your power-to-weight ratio — or how many watts you can generate per pound of body weight. If your bike, equipment, power and fitness stay the same, your average speed will improve with every pound you lose.
This means opting for meals consisting of lean meats and vegetables that are portioned appropriately following your ride instead of lunging for beer and pizza. Eating a balanced diet and laying off the indulgences eventually will make a big difference out on the road.
3. Ride with Training Partners
It’s basic science: The less exposed you are to the wind, the faster you’ll ride. Riding behind another cyclist will allow you to save up to 40 per cent in energy expenditure when compared with riding exposed to the wind.
While this alone will improve your average speed considerably, riding with a training partner who is better than you a few times per week can help you when you decide to ride solo, too. A good training partner will push you to ride farther and faster than you normally would alone. And the more often you step outside of your comfort zone, the faster you’ll get.
4. Practice your Bike Handling
You can’t go fast if you’re constantly hitting the brakes to slow down. And believe it or not, this has nothing to do with rolling through stop signs or jumping red lights. By improving your bike handling, you’ll be able to descend faster and handle sharp turns at higher speeds, which means laying off the brakes as much as possible.
Working on your bike handling skills will also allow you to ride closer to other riders to shield yourself from the wind safely, without fear of crashing. Here are a few things you can do to improve your skills:
- Practice track stands. These are great for improving balance and coordination.
- Join a group ride. Learning not to overreact to obstacles will help you to maintain your overall speed instead of reaching for the brakes when you don’t really need to.
- Try riding with no hands. This will teach you how to control the bike with your hips instead of steering with your hands, which can be especially useful on descents and for handling corners at high speeds.
5. Increase your Lactate Threshold
As a basic definition, your lactate threshold is the highest average speed/wattage you can maintain for 60 minutes. By improving your lactate threshold, you’ll be able to produce a higher power output at a similar heart rate — meaning you’ll be faster for longer and pedal at a higher average speed.
Before you focus on specific intervals, you’ll need to obtain your lactate threshold. Do this by taking the maximum average power you can sustain for 20 minutes and multiplying it by 0.95.
When you do your intervals, you’ll to pace your efforts to match this number. A classic lactate threshold interval you can begin with is 2×20 minutes at your lactate threshold with five minutes of recovery between efforts. As these get easier, try 3 x 15 minutes with five minutes of recovery in between repetitions, eventually working your way up to 3 x 20 minutes.
Many things influence your average speed on a ride; wind direction and strength, terrain, road surface, humidity and heat and traffic volume. If you become too obsessed with minor changes you can feel demoralised on the slow days, even though a slower speed might not represent your effort or fitness levels but be due to changes in conditions.
Chasing ever faster averages daily will leave you strung out and tired. Plus, it might encourage you to take more risks as the speed becomes more important than the ride. Other than as a way of monitoring your progress, average speed doesn’t matter that much. We’d recommend that you pick a safe, flattish route that you know reasonably well and ride it hard once a month to watch your average speed rise.
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