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The Noob’s Guide To Cycling Faster: The Magic Pill


August 2013

In a very near future I will be picking up a new road bike.  The frame technology and the aerodynamics of the bike will be cutting edge and top-notch.  It will weigh, even with aluminum rims, somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 pounds and it will be awesome.  I won’t be buying the $10,000 electronic shifting team edition.  No, my bike won’t be anywhere near that price, but it will be very nice.

I will go to every length to make sure that it is set up perfectly for me – it will be one size small so I can have a good aerodynamic drop, proper length crank arms and stem, the whole nine yards.  It will be comfortable when I’m done and it will help me to ride, if imperceptibly, faster – and it will be the last road bike I buy for a long, long time.

It will be nice and I will be happy to ride it for the next decade or more but at most, it will be worth a few tenths of a mile per hour (or so I assume).  In the end, there really only is one magic pill that will help a noob go from a 16 mph average to better than 21 or 22 mph.  There is no magic pedal stroke, no amount of carbon and no expense one can go to that will replace the magic pill:

Frequency and Intensity.

Last week I rode in the Tour des Lacs 100 mile charity ride, I was on my sub $1,000, used, 1999 Trek 5200.  In the group behind me was a kid more than fifteen years my junior on a $15,000 Pinarello Dogma.  He rode in a group of 15-20 riders and I rode in a group of five.  I finished more than 20 minutes ahead of him.  My average was 20.5, his was 18.5.

There is no magic bike, no super-awesome technology, that will replace good old-fashioned frequency and intensity.  Unfortunately, it’s this simple:  I ride faster when I ride faster.  There are tactics to be learned, strategies to be considered and equipment that will improve one’s time but in the end it all comes down to how hard I can push on the pedals.

To that end I went out with a few of my friends yesterday for a pre-run of the Assenmacher 100 mile ride scheduled for this coming Sunday and had an absolute blast.  As with other rides that start at the local bike shop, I opted to ride over for my warm-up.  It’s only 5-1/2 miles so while it is a little crazy, opting to ride an extra eleven miles on top of a full century, we’re not talking about full-blown nuts (at least I don’t think so, I could be wrong).  Most of the course was done at or above 20 mph, but we weren’t afraid to take it easy from time to time either.  We even stopped for lunch at a Subway in Owosso (I recommend the toasted Chicken Bacon Ranch Melt – after 70 hard miles it was exactly what the doctor ordered to recharge).  We ended up with a pretty decent 19.6 mile average, excellent for what was just supposed to be an easy 18 mph ride.

Assuming that I complete the ride on Sunday that will be three centuries, three weeks in a row.  I love August in Michigan!  Incidentally, I had 198 miles last week which brought the total for the month of August to 411 miles so far (and we haven’t even hit the middle of the month yet).  I’m on pace for an 800 mile month which would best my previous best month by 125 miles and I’m riding faster than ever.

Frequency and Intensity:  Check.





  1. fizzhogg says:

    You are SO right. My friend just did a triathlon this weekend… the backstory is – she’s a former professional soccer player who had to retire early due to severe hip injuries. This past May (yes, less than 4 months ago) she got addicted to cycling and started riding frequently and intensely.

    This weekend she did a Tri she has done the past 2 years. Her best average speed for the bike portion was 19.7mph. This weekend she averaged 23.9mph.

    She was riding an aluminum Raleigh with 105 components and stock wheels and tires. Her average speed was faster than several women with $7500+ full blown TT bikes and aero helmets.

    She said the best part of the whole Tri was dropping anyone riding a TT bike.

    Now, of course, she wants to upgrade and given what she’s done in 4 months, I’d say she is worthy of any bike she wants. 🙂

    And thanks for this post — I have fallen slack lately and you’ve just reminded me to kick my own butt some so I can start kicking other butts.

  2. fizzhogg says:

    TYPO — her average speed was 24.9mph

    (she’d kill me if I didn’t correct that!)

  3. Paige says:

    Sounds like the secret to running. To run faster…you have to run faster.

  4. fizzhogg says:

    Jim, just want to add – once again – how inspiring your blog is… on more levels than just cycling. Keep it up!

  5. Kunal Panda says:

    i really love reading your blog. its both insightful and a lot of fun to read.
    i have never had a road bike ( the closest to the road is my touring surly )
    and i recently changed the tires from schwalbe marathon plus ( 1.5’s ) to vittoria street runners ( 1.25 ) and sliced over 2 minutes from one section ( on strava ) and plenty of other sections and even got three KOM’s. All on a heavy steel frame ( i average anywhere between 32-34 kms over a period of time on flats on the surly ).
    as i have had numerous injuries, i have a 6 inch stem riser as well, so i am not particularly aero dynamic. but gosh, its a lot of fun riding hard.
    the bike fit has been a total blessing and has made my riding so so so much more fun.

    • bgddyjim says:

      First, thank you kindly. Second, congratulations! I’ve written a couple of posts about getting comfortable with riding lower – doing so actually cured a lower back ache that I suffered with for years. I started out with a 2-1/2″ drop and am currently comfortable at 4-3/4″ from the nose of my saddle to the top of my handlebar. I just did that a little bit at a time. 5 mm every month or two. Obviously I don’t know your medical issues so that simply may not be possible but it might be worth considering. Ride hard, my friend. Thanks for commenting.

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