Updated: Jun 7
How to Cycle Faster and Improve Your Average Speed
Once you have your first information about your speed as a cyclist, you begin to have other questions - how much faster can I go? Thing is, taking note of your average speed is a good indicator of fitness, and once observed, your average speed can provide some valuable insight into your improvement as a cyclist. So, if your wish is to go faster or improve your average riding speed, here are some tips that can help. With patience, these tips can boost your average increase.
1. Bend Your Elbows
The easiest thing that slows down most riders is wind resistance. The trick is to reduce your frontal area and drag so slicing through the wind is easier.
A simple way to achieve this is to slightly lower your body position on the bike, closer to the bars. Don't sit up straight in the saddle, you'll catch the unnecessary wind. Try bending and tucking your elbows for an immediate difference.
Tucked close to the bars means less wind resistance.
2. Bump Some Music
This could be a little tricky, because listening to music while riding could seriously reduce your ability to hear traffic around you. Try this with headphones that let outside sound in such as bone conduction headphones or open-ear earbuds. (We do not advocate riding on roads unless you can hear your surroundings, if you are purely an outdoor rider there are many ways to safely listen to music while riding)
Research in sports psychology has revealed that "music blocks out fatigue-related symptoms such as the burning lungs, the beating heart and the lactic acid in the muscles. It can reduce our perception of effort by as much as 10 percent."
To get the best out of this, play the music that has a beat that matches your riding rhythm. This will get you pedaling faster as you try to keep up. If you are looking for a specific cadence, try finding a playlist that matches the rpm (revolutions per minute) with bpm (beats per minute) such as a 90bpm playlist for riding around 90rpm.
3. Ride With Groups
This does not imply that you cannot enjoy a ride on your own or even motivate yourself to ride faster. The benefits of riding with others are for the long-term, so it is worth it if you want to improve your average speed.
As a group, merely trying to keep up with someone faster than you will increase your average speed and help build your fitness for future rides. It will encourage you to lift your effort level.
Additionally, you can take turns riding in front. Sharing the work of cutting through the wind will get you traveling faster as a group than on your own.
There are some exercises that just cannot be mimicked without a group, such as taking advantage of the draft or slingshotting around riders.
4. Pump Your Tyres
A cyclist should normally check their tire pressure before every ride. Normal factors of air, temperature, and humidity can make your tires go soft without being punctured.
The reason you should however pump your tires is that nicely inflated tires will roll smoother and faster. Invest in a good track pump and make good use of pressure calculators (for example, Silca) to easily get the right pressure or PSI. Silca has an amazing calculator that figures optimal tire pressure based on factors like road surface and rider weight.
There's a reason world tour teams have an extensive mechanic team that constantly check tyre pressure.
Different conditions call for different PSI.
5. Use Brakes Less
This probably seems like the most obvious tip - try braking less.
Truth is, braking slows you down and requires more pedaling to accelerate you back up to speed. Breaking unnecessarily, or for comfort can prove to be a waste of energy and momentum.
Braking to reduce your speed to a level you find comfortable is not a bad idea, but if you can take a good look around first, try to check for some things. If the road is good, free of obstruction, and relatively straight, there is no reason not to enjoy some free speed.
Mario Cipollini, often hailed as the greatest sprinter of his generation, famously said, "If you brake, you don't win."
6. Use Your Drops
Getting down lower improves your overall riding experience in bike handling and reduction of aerodynamic drag. Many people riding drop-handled bikes often forget to use the drops. Riding on the drops lowers wind resistance by 20 percent, compared to riding on the tops.
If there is no error with your bike setup and your bike fits properly, you should be able to ride in the drop position for large parts of your ride. If you find it uncomfortable, try stretching your hamstrings and lower back to make it easier. It is also worthwhile to invest in a professional bike fit to find the most optimal riding position that aligns with your riding goals (such as fitment with a focus on climbing, time trials, criteriums, etc.)
7. Ride the Winds
Wind direction should be in a cyclist's regular daily thoughts, because the wind can be either your friend or your enemy. Wind can be such a major factor that there is a fun Dutch race called the "Dutch Headwind Cycling Championship" which totes 100kph headwinds and some videos of the event display dismounted riders clinging onto their bikes caught up in the wind.
Using the wind can be quite useful in planning your route so you can ride out into a headwind at your freshest, and home in a tailwind when you may be feeling tired. The difference is, that headwinds make riding feel like a chore whereas, with tailwinds, you can breeze along at top speed.
If what you want is to improve your average speed you will find other, more creative ways to achieve this. To be sure, the ways to increase your average hardly end here. Other ways worth trying are:
Interval training, etc.
It is natural to wonder how your average speed compares to others. It is also a tough question to answer as so much could be influencing your average speed on any ride.
The important thing to bear in mind is whereas keeping a mental note of your average speed can help your fitness journey, it is dangerous to become a slave to it. Becoming obsessed can have you demoralized while also leading to being strung out and always tired.