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A Recurring Cycling Search Theme: Is X mph over X Miles Fast (or Good)


October 2012

Here’s a search that led someone to my blog:  “cycling 14 mph over 45 miles good”.  Of course it’s good – dude, you just rode 45 miles!

For everyone out there on the internet, listen up, because I wondered the same thing when I started out – what’s fast, what’s not, so on and so forth.  I Googled the same things.  The truth is there are too many variables to put everything into nice little speed categories.

For instance:

14 mph is slow for a road bike, but pretty decent for a mountain bike – especially over 45 miles.  But that’s not the point.  If you spent three hours on a bike, unless you’re dogging it, that’s still good!  Who cares if it’s fast or not, you’re movin’ baby.  I can, however, throw out some pretty common numbers:

For a road bike – less than 40-50 miles, no drafting, 16 mph is slow for relatively flat roads, but not so bad when you’ve got a lot of steep climbs (to borrow a phrase, Aaron).  18-19 mph is pretty quick (on the flats, but fast with a lot of hills) and 20-21 is pretty stinkin’ fast.  If you’ve got a decent group add 3 miles per hour to each of those…  Yes, drafting works that well, and yes, you can sling-shot too, but there are limits for us mere mortals.

For a mountain bike – less than 35 miles, on roads (dirt or paved) – NOT Trails, deduct 3 miles per hour, so 13 is slow, 15-16 is pretty decent and 17-18 is fast.  If you’re on a trail, depending on the technical nature of the trail, 10 average miles per hour can be pretty fast – On a local trail I ride, I can manage 11 mph and I’ve been told by people far more knowledgable than I am that I’m in the top 80-85%, on the other hand, if it’s an easy trail, that’s slow…  Trails are too subjective to put a good figure on them.  Here’s the best way to figure out whether you’re fast, slow or somewhere in the middle on a trail…  When you go out, if you’re passing a bunch of people when you hit a straight sections, congratulations!  You’re fast.  If you’re being passed by a bunch of people when you hit a straight, you’re slow.  If you’re not being passed or passing people, than you’re about average…  UNLESS, it’s a slow day on the trail, in which case I give up, you’ve got me.

Now, this is for the weekend warriors, for your charity century riders, for your fitness nuts.  Pros and racers are a hell of a lot faster than that.  Figure mid 20’s to 30 mph in a pack – as far as I know – and admittedly, I don’t know much, I’m not a pro or a racer.  Put it this way, the Prolog at this year’s Tour de France was just shy of 4 miles (3.97678 to be exact)  in length and it was being done in the low 7 minute range (7:13 -7:30 for the top ten, the top 175 finished under 8 minutes) – that’s less than two minutes a mile folks, 34-35 mph.  That’s fast.

Here’s the best way to tell whether or not you’re fast on a road bike…  If you’re feeling cocky and think you’re fast, I can offer you this: Walk into your local bike shop and ask what day, place and time the local advanced club ride meets. If you can keep up to the end, you’re fast. If you get dropped within the first 5 miles you’re not. If you hold on for a good 15-20 miles, you’re pretty damned good. That’s the best way to know where you stand because that takes all of the variables and throws them in the garbage can.

What I do know is this:  If you’re working hard, breathing heavy and sweating over 45 miles, it really doesn’t matter how fast you’re going – you are getting fit…  And at the end of the day, if you’ve got that and a smile on your face, does it really matter who thinks what is fast?  I think not.


  1. Sandra says:

    Awesome validation! Yea!

  2. elisariva says:

    Once again confirming my theory that every one needs to know algebra. Life is solving for X. Good post.

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