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Cycle Faster: Head For the, Err… Mountains.


July 2013

The play on the popular line is completely coincidental but the fact remains, it’s right.

It may be difficult to grasp, the idea that riding at 7-8 mph up a mountain pass could help one ride faster on flat ground but the correlation is undeniable.

This last vacation was my second trip to the mountains with my bike. I rode daily, just an hour, but the capper to my ride was an incredibly difficult final climb. It was slow, hard work, the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself physically but here I am, back home in the flatlands of southeastern Michigan and what was a good workout three weeks ago seems like standing still today. Now, I’m not one for hill repeats. I do ride almost the same route every day and I can live with that, but hitting a hill, just to turn around and do it again is, generally speaking, too much like self-flagellation. On the other hand, a decent route with plenty of hills, and/or long mountain climbs, is right up my alley.

So, for the second year in a row I’ve come home from vacation stronger than the day we left. The change isn’t one of those barely noticeable differences like the old Tiger Woods tale where he tests three identical drivers and tells the Nike guy that he likes the heavier one… Incredulously the fella looks at Tiger and says they’re the same – of course when they weigh them, one is just a few grams heavier. No, we’re easily talking a 1/2 to 1 mph increase in easy speed.

As an example, we’ve had some heavy winds over the last couple of days so I can normally expect between an 18-1/2 to 19 mph ride in those conditions. I was maintaining an easy 19-20 mph pace without really working that hard – even into the wind. Another, just last night, after two hard rides in a row (and pressed for time), I decided on a ten-mile time trial just to cram a decent workout into a half-hour. 20.6 mph average but that doesn’t tell the whole story. With stop signs and four U-Turns I actually had to maintain 22 mph throughout much of the ride to get that 20.6. On my fastest mile (no breeze, dead calm and flat) I averaged 23.5 mph.

I can’t ride that fast, or at least I couldn’t have a few weeks ago – and this is exactly how I felt last year when I got back from vacation.

So here’s the deal: If you’re looking for a relatively quick way to increase your ability to cycle faster, vacation in the mountains, bring your bike and ride it. If your results are anything like mine, you should be pleased.


  1. That’s great! I think that’s really the best way to train – doing long steady climbs – because it really forces you to keep an even tempo that will prove to be really rewarding in the long term.

  2. […] this timely post while we camped on the Isle of Wight reminded me that I do have more gears at my disposal than the […]

  3. Love climbing hills and I certainly see the results after doing them a few times. Coming down is another story. I am still not confident in the saddle pushing high speeds, that will come with time I am sure.

  4. It amazing what the hills do for strengthening the muscles and such an awesome feeling when you notice the difference not climbing hills! 🙂

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