The other day I posted a little joke about a popular search term about speed on a bike that leads a lot of non-Word Press people to my blog. The search term that had me chuckling was “How do I get above 20 mph” and I responded, “pedal harder, faster and longer”. Another awesome idea was left by Eric in the comments section: Ride downhill! While these answers are both true, and hilarious, they don’t really help the recreational rider get any faster. Considering that the three of the six most popular posts on this blog have to do with speed, I figured I’d give a go at a decent explanation. For a detailed look at how I got fast, go here. That post has everything – miles per day, speed increases – everything.
When I originally started trying to speed up, I thought there was a magic silver bullet “thing” that if I just pedaled a little differently or something, I’d be up in the 22-23 mph range. When I started road biking a year and three months ago, I could already maintain a 20 mph average for a fair distance and I got to that point by riding a mountain bike as hard as I could for the previous six months or so (without looking up the time line). On my mountain bike I was around 15-16 mph average. I searched all over for little tidbits that, put together, might make riding fast a little less work. I think for most of us noobs, the real question that we want answered is, “how can I ride fast… without having to work so damn hard“. And that’s the problem – I don’t think there’s a good answer to that question. Hell, I worked my butt off just to get to 20 mph and what I learned was that I’m not getting a whole lot faster than that without doing some weight training, doing some serious interval training and “un-fun” stuff. Sure, rounding out your pedaling stroke will allow you to maintain your speed a little easier, but it won’t give you an additional mile per hour over any distance. Sure, proper hydration and eating habits help, but they won’t let you jump from 15 mph to 20… It just doesn’t work like that (oh how I wish it did…).
In the end, it really does boil down to hard work. It’s about interval training, hard rides, recovery rides and base miles. It’s about not taking the winter off (whether you choose to ride on a trainer inside or whether you brave the cold weather or run). It’s about eating right and dropping weight so that you’re not so tough to push down the road… And most important of all of the tricks, it’s about pushing passed the point where you want to quit – on a regular and consistent basis. To put the whole thing in a sentence, it’s about pedaling harder, faster and longer – or riding downhill.
On a closing note, and to wrap the post up in a tidy little bow, I did get to a point where trying to get faster became a drag on my enjoyment of cycling. I was on century last fall with about six other guys, most of whom were quite a bit stronger than me. We averaged somewhere between 22 and 24 mph for 90 miles before I finally fell off the back and took it easy the rest of the way in (and I still ended up with an overall average of 20) – I was hurting after 75 miles. For a non-racer that’s not too shabby and I was really happy with it but to get to that level took a lot of hard riding. To get to a level where that didn’t kick my butt would take a lot more of much harder work than I’m willing to commit to the endeavor. Cycling – and all fitness – for me is about balance. Sure I want to be fast, lean and sexy… But at what cost? I’d much rather have my daughter miss me enough to call me at the office twice when she’s home sick from school. That beats fast any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Just a thought.