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Cycling and the Blessing or Curse that is Living in Flatlandia

June 2021
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My friends and I did a fairly easy ride yesterday. I had a lot left in the tank when we finished (though there were a few times I got a little ragged). We finished the 100km+ ride with an 18-1/2-mph average (30 kph). Our Tuesday night rides are, by most standards, blisteringly fast. The A guys average between 24 & 25-mph on 32 miles of open roads (I’d love to see what we could do if we could close the route down once). We in the B Group (male and female mix) are between 22 & 24-mph on an open 29-mile route.

We have a little trick to our average speeds, though. We climbed, on average, about 18′ per mile… just a little less than six meters a mile on that 100k ride. I think our biggest “climb” of the day was 3 or 4% and lasted less than a quarter of one mile. Our average “up” on Tuesday night is just 19′ per mile (5.8 meters).

When others from hillier parts look at our average pace on Strava and from comments on posts about our rides, I experience everything from shock to kudos. Taken in context, there’s no question we’re dedicated and fast, but that speed is also a benefit of living in the flatlands. We actually have to look for hills around here.

That’s our route from Saturday. Now contrast that with our Horsey Hundred route from last Saturday where we were closer to a normal 53′ of “up” per mile that we finished with a 17.1-mph average (16 per mile, 27 kmh, 160 kms in distance):

Now, that 17-mph average doesn’t exactly do us justice, either. We weren’t hammering for the finish from the starting gun. The goal was to enjoy the ride, not get it done as soon as humanly possible. In previous years we’ve finished faster – 17.85 average in 2019 and 18.08 in 2015… that 18 average is a little closer to my limit – I can remember working quite hard on that one… but we also have to take into account, that’s for 100 miles (160 km). Even with all of that elevation, were we to be turned loose on a 30-mile section with that kind of elevation and no worries of completing another 70, I’m sure we could top 20-mph (32 kph). That’s a lot less than 22-24, though. In fact, we’ve actually done the second day of the Horsey Hundred north of 19-mph for 48 miles, so we can use that as a general guide as well (and yes, it did happen on Strava).

In short, for a bunch of older farts, we’re definitely on the sharp end of the avid enthusiast peloton but the point I’m trying to get at is a lack of elevation does wonders for the average pace and looks awesome on Strava.


6 Comments

  1. kirkmtb says:

    As a mainly off road rider I find Strava is unfair. It doesn’t bias it’s estimations for wattage nearly enough to account for hard going on the dirt. I average way more watts on a road ride compared to off road, where I know I was working harder. How do you find it’s estimates for flat versus hilly, Jim?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Shhhh… don’t tell anyone… I rarely pay attention to them. The calorie estimates are just as bad. Wear a heart rate monitor and the count will be halved. Sometimes it’s neat to see that 254 watt average after a Tuesday night ride, but I have to be careful how much stock I put into that.

    • I’ve found Strava’s power estimates can be anywhere from “kinda close” to “wildy out” as there’s no accounting for wind direction, aerodynamic changes or drafting or road surface. Strava watts are interesting to note, useless to train by.

  2. I wouldn’t play down your speeds! I think sometimes flat is actually harder than having a more “rolling” course, as there’s no let up. You’re pedalling always without rest. I find I clock slower (average speed) on a super flat ride as opposed to one with more changes in elevation. Maybe that just plays to my strengths. Power to weight VS power to aero drag?

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