Every once in a while someone finds my blog and helps me by giving me a great topic with their search term… To the person who queried, “What is a respectable time for cycling 50 miles”, I tip my cap to you.
The easy answer is 2-1/2 hours with a little help. Three or four others would be enough. For a larger group, 20+, 2:20-2:25 is quite decent. In my humble opinion, you can get away with a few more minutes if you are flying solo though, maybe 2:35 to 2:40.
Sadly, when it comes to the century there’s no rest for the weary. Double the fifty mile times but don’t count a couple of breaks to refill H2O and/or Gatorade and a nature stop or two – maybe even time to grab a bite to eat (see below).
Now, for the clarifications: This is my estimation of “respectable”. It’s what works in down-state Michigan. The times given are not just me slapping down my fastest times and saying, “well here, this is respectable because this is what I can do and it’ll make me look kinda cool” either. I’m actually faster than what I’ve listed, I’ve done a century in just over 4-1/2 hours (4:36) so don’t get the impression that my opinion is based on my best times – to publish something like that would be cheap, dishonest and egotistical to a point I’d smell my own funk (and nobody likes that…). In addition, we’re not talking about a whole lot of climbing here. I only had to climb 1,600 feet (and not all at the same time) on that 4-1/2 hour century… On the other hand, 1,600 feet isn’t exactly a flat course either and we did have most of the climbing at the end (bastards!). Either way, the climbing will slow your average down a bit. You should also take wind into account. The more help you have, the less wind will matter, but the simple truth is, you can’t make up speed and time lost on a demoralizing headwind with a tailwind and descents because you still have traffic and traffic signals to deal with – that and the freaking wind will, almost without doubt, shift on you within a few miles of heading back the way you came – that’s just how things work. Then you’ve got the type of bike… This post assumes a road bike. You should be a little faster on a TT bike and quite a bit slower on a hybrid or a mountain bike. Then there’s age. Once you get past your early sixties, the speed drops considerably for all but the exceptionally fit. Finally, I go by moving time only. In a perfect world, we’d have support guys and girls falling back to grab water for us and we’d have a crew standing out there with feed bags specially prepared for us and we’d all be able to pee at the side of the road (or in our shorts, for the love of God) without having to get off our bike. You know what? That wouldn’t be perfect. I like the rest stops… but you get the point.
With all of that said, these are not easy times to hit but they’re not all that tough either with a fair amount of saddle time. If you’re having a tough time hitting a 20 mph average pace you can do one of two things: First, you can train harder, maybe lose some weight, eat a little better (more fuel, less crap), attack the hills a little more, etc.. Or, you can just accept where you’re at and be happy, because in the end, you’ll be the only person who really gives a crap about how fast you can ride a bike over 50 or 100 miles. The important thing is that you ride it and have a good time. In my case, while I can take it easy now and again, especially when I’m out riding with my wife, I am not truly happy unless I’ve got a little bit of speed going. I’m happiest when I’m putting in the effort but that’s all about personal choice. The point is this: Do what makes you happy. If it becomes too much work and not enough fun, back off a little bit and call it good.
The hardest part in that last paragraph will be, and read this very carefully, what you believe others think about how fast you ride. I structured that sentence in the manner I did for a very specific purpose. If you don’t read that sentence and think, “Well worrying about what someone else thinks about how fast I ride would be bat-shit crazy”, you have a much larger problem than how hard you can push the pedals on a bike. While most people will push themselves to ride to the best of their ability (myself included), in the end the important things are happiness and the enjoyment of becoming, being and staying fit that matters most. The rest is just window dressing.