There’s nothing quite like the feeling of speed on a bike. There is this incredible rush from knowing this is your power, your balance and gravity alone that’s creating the wiz of wind through your ears and the blur of road underneath. And there is always that potential glittering on the horizon to go just a little bit faster, so it’s not really that surprising that we get a bit addicted to cycling.
Sure an on-board computer can tell you your current speed, max and average speeds on a ride and Strava can compare you to other riders over the same section but are you improving? The way to tell is to monitor your average speed over a few months, if your average speed is getting faster, then you know you are improving your fitness and your riding ability.
An average speed also lets you work different circuits and different rides and still get a read on results, otherwise you are going to be racing yourself on the same circuit over and over not knowing how much impact the wind, weather, traffic or road conditions are having on your ride time.
Add in these tried and tested speed improvement factors to help get your average ride time to a place you can be proud of.
What’s a normal average cycling speed?
The introduction of Strava has really opened some exciting data doors for cyclists, one of which is the ability to get a rough read on average European speeds.
For men the average cycling speed is 24.5 km/h and women it’s 20.4 km/h taken from ride times posted in France, Germany, Holland, Spain, UK and the USA.
Unsurprisingly Holland topped the average time charts, with cycling being such a loved and accepted form or transport there (and with flatter roads), more people on bikes means more practice means more speed. The average speed for men is 26.9kmh while a country like Spain that has a lot of mountain rides sees the men’s average speed topple to 22.3 kmh.
Bending your elbows to crouch over the handle bars slightly is a sure fire way to decrease your wind resistance. When you are upright on the bike your torso catches moving air and prevents it from slipping easily past you, creating drag. Hunkering down allows the wind to whisk by, streamlining your path ahead.
Got drop bars? Use them. Most people get drop-handle bars as part of their high tech road bike set up from the manufacturer and never use them. Handling is a little slippery, brakes feel like too much of a stretch and you might find your leg and back muscles not flexible enough. Make sure your bike is correctly set up for your body and stretch before and after your ride. If you have drop bars get into the habit of using them intermittently on your rides. It naturally improves your speed by reducing wind resistance in that low aero dynamic position but also improves your bike handling skills, especially in corners and descents. You won’t want to stay there for the duration to begin with, but any bit of practice you gain counts. Plan to extend your drop stints as you go to increase your endurance.
Think track stands only belong on the track? Actually, they can significantly reduce your stop time at traffics lights and intersections which not only helps your average time standing it also keeps you ahead of the traffic and out of blind spots. As an added bonus it also improves your bike handling ability. The trick to track stands is that you are actually always moving, just very slowly in both forward and back directions.
The best place to start practicing track stands? Car parks and driveways. Start by riding in ever tightening circles as slowly as you can to get a sense of balance and wobble points. Resist the urge to look down as this will effect your position and focus. If you feel the bike will fall, slip back to a circle and tighten in again. Stay off the road to get going on ‘standing still’ so you can practice in non-pressure situations and safe environments. You might want to forgo the clips to start with as well.
The most important thing with bikes on the road is safety, so please keep that in mind with this next speed tip. Riding with one ear on your tunes can help keep your thoughts off everything but the beat. It gets your whole body in a consistent natural rhythm that improves cadence, saves energy and increases speed as well as provides a much needed distraction from your legs and lungs which might be complaining from too much work. Blocking out traffic noise is a high risk and not a very smart move. If you do want to ride with music use one ear bud only so you can remain present and aware of your surrounds and be ready for action if needed.
Music or none, you should always check over your shoulder frequently when you ride to be consciously aware of traffic you can’t hear that may cause a threat.
If you don’t feel safe with music on the road then use it when you are on the trainer.
Cycling gear is designed to be a tight fit to keep you dry and cool. By absorbing sweat and allowing your body heat to easily escape the fabric you remain daisy fresh for most of the ride. Secondly it allows air to pass over your body smoothly meaning that the faster you go, the less drag resistance you pick up.
Make sure your fit is tight and comfortable, zip your zips and wear weather appropriate sleeves and jackets so all that hard work from your legs doesn’t go to waste on your flapping clothes.
Riding faster and faster on warm summer days? That’s freedom!