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How Hard is it to Maintain a 25 mph Average on a Bike?

January 2015
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Someone out there in cyberland asked Google the title question and wound up clicking on a link to one of my posts. No doubt the link Google displayed was to my post on how I got to a 23 mph average, my most popular post of all I’ve written. Put in perspective, about 8-10% of my daily hits are on that one post. For all of 2014, it was better than 10%.

For the purpose of this post, please keep a few things in mind: I am a mere avid enthusiast. I have a great bike or two, a day-job and dad legs so everything in this post will come from that perspective. I ride a lot, by “average” standards, between 5,300 and 6,000 miles a year but this is not a lot by “avid enthusiast” standards. I do not race (nor do I have a desire to – I don’t want to make cycling work).

There is one simple description for how hard it is to hold a 25 mph average on a bike: A 20 mph average is hard, 23 is really hard. So that makes 25, just 1mph (and change) slower than the average pace at the Tour de France, well, really, really, really hard (I truly believe I short-changed it, that could use a few more “really’s”).

First, we must address context: Closed vs. Open roads. If you’re riding on closed roads, a 25 mph average will suck a little less – in my experience, open roads which require obeying traffic laws, take about two or three miles per hour off an average. I rode in a particularly fast century in my neck of the woods, we have a racing phenom or ten show up for it and they lead us out at a blistering pace. We average, not including stops, around 25-27 mph while pedaling (it’s not too difficult if the pace is consistent and the group is big enough) – the trick is all of the traffic stops. Two years ago we hit a perfect consistent pace and we were absolutely cruising. We skipped the first hydration station, hit the second for a quick nature break and to top off the bottles and were back at. We rolled into the 58 mile food/hydration station and I was sure we’d be well north of 25 mph… The tracking software on my phone showed 23.8mph, that’s it. We ended up dropping a mile an hour by the next stop, in the hills, at 85 miles (22.8) but I was pretty much shot by then anyway. A smaller group of us finished at 21.7. The main group blew through the stop and picked up the pace. In any event, there’s no doubt we would have been a lot faster if stopping hadn’t been required at traffic signs.

Second, are we talking about a group ride or solo? If solo, right after you get to a point where you can hold that 25 mph average for an hour on open roads, get into racing because you will win. A lot.  In fact, at that speed you’ll be faster than about 99% of anyone who rides a bike.  If you weren’t aware, the world record for an hour, on an indoor track, with no wind, is just over 31 mph…  No hills, no traffic, no debris in the road – and was ridden by one of the toughest pros in recent memory.

As far as my experience goes, when you’re looking at 25 mph, that’s so fast that for we simple avid enthusiasts, if we can pull at the front of a pack for a mile or two at that speed it’s exceptional.  I can do it, but I usually like a pretty fair tailwind and it hurts.  If you’re close to that pace and honestly looking at getting to that level, I’d have to recommend a coach because that’s some next-level cycling right there.  Pat yourself on the back because you’re a monster.

ED:  I almost forgot, 25 mph is a little more attainable as an average on a time trial or triathlon bike but this post looks at the question from the standpoint of a road bike.  If you’re asking the question from the saddle of a mountain bike, on your next ride, stop by the bike shop, buy a decent road bike, call Sky (the pro cycling team) and ask for a tryout.

UPDATE: If you wonder about elevation, it can have a huge impact on average speed. See the first comment string below.

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10 Comments

  1. Niall says:

    What would you rate as a good average speed for a solo rider and what would riding in a group add to that (I know that is hard to gauge without knowing the group!)?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Depending largely on how hilly the course is, 20 mph on relatively flat ground (small and/or short hills) is pretty good solo and 22-23 for a group setting. More hills and steeper climbs will knock the pace down to maybe 18-18.5 and 20 respectively. Size of the group will speed things up too. I’m happy with a 20 mph century, 3,000 feet of gain, with five cyclists (not including stops). With 30-40 in the train that bumps up to 21-22.

    • Average speeds can be misleading, as everyone is riding on different roads with differing elevation and in different conditions. Even road surface makes a huge difference to your speed. Not many solo guys average 20mph around here. I find getting into a competent group can usually add anywhere from 2-5mph to your average.

  2. Clocking bang on an hour for a 25 mile time trial would put you in the league of some very good cyclists, especially if you’re cranking that out on a road bike! Maybe if you live in the Florida flatlands, hehe! One of my long term goals is to get under the hour on one of my local time trial courses – and that’s on my TT bike!

    • bgddyjim says:

      Indeed, you are correct. I was really surprised to find that query in my “Stats”. I figured if someone searched that in Google, they’re definitely a noob because anyone with some miles on their tires knows exactly how hard 25 is. These are the subjects I enjoy writing about. I know a few guys at least close to that fast on their road bikes (they all race), they’re exceptional cyclists.

  3. Started too late, most I’ve ever got is 19 mph solo over 40 km, ah well! Hard this winter to get over 15, but it’s hilly & icy, rainy or windy BUT a lot of those rides have been so enjoyable! Hores for courses?

  4. cycle1 says:

    providing a couple of links on drag coefficients:

    http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/drag-coefficient-d_627.html

    And:
    http://www.triradar.com/training-advice/how-to-calculate-your-drag/

    Interesting drag coefficient is 0.88 when riding with hands on drops. With tri-bars drag coefficient goes down to 0.70. Look at above links to understand the physics…

    Bottom line: if you want faster (once you are in shape), its all about drag…

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