It’s a natural urge as soon as you start pedalling a bike to wonder how fast you are going. A simple bike computer will allow you to see your max, current and average speed for each ride. Once you have that information the questions start to roll — how do I compare to other riders? How much faster can I go? Keeping an eye on your average is a good indicator of your fitness and development.
We’ve come up with a few ways that you can instantly go faster and a few that need a bit more practice and patience. Whatever your starting speed, follow these tips to see your average increase.
The biggest thing slowing you down when you cycle is wind resistance. Many of these tips concern ways to reduce your frontal area and your drag so you slice more easily through the wind.
The simplest of all is to slightly lower your body position on the bike. Instead of sitting up straight in the saddle and catching a lot of wind, try lowering your body closer to the bars by bending and tucking in your elbows. You’ll immediately feel a difference.
This is a tricky one because here at Cycling Weekly we think you need all your senses to cycle safely and that riding with music reduces your ability to hear the traffic around you. However, the National Cycle Training Standards has actually recommended trying it in the past, so that you become aware of the need to check over your shoulder at frequent intervals — something that is reduced when riders think they can hear cars. There are also several headphone brands out there which promise to let outside sound in, too.
Safety aside, there is plenty of research that shows listening to fast-paced, uplifting music reduces your perceived effort levels. Dr Costas Karageorghis, a researcher in sports psychology, says this is because “music blocks out fatigue-related symptoms such as the burning lungs, the beating heart and the lactic acid in the muscles. It can reduce our perception of effort by as much as 10 per cent.”
You’ll be pedalling harder without even noticing. Using music that has a beat similar to an optimal cycling cadence will help you to pedal faster if you can match your cadence to the rhythm.
If you don’t want to plug in when on the road, you can do so when cycling indoors – and reap the benefits with a few structured training sessions.
You might consider this cheating but riding with other people will increase your average speed in several ways. Firstly if you take it in turns to ride in front and share the work of cutting through the wind you will travel faster as a group than on your own. Riding with others will also encourage you to lift your effort level, trying to keep up with someone a bit faster than you will help increase your average not just on that ride but help build your fitness for future rides.
Correctly inflated tyres will roll faster. You should check your tyre pressure before every ride as changes in temperature and slight seeping of air can mean that they go soft without necessarily being punctured. Check the side-wall of your tyre for the recommended pressure. Invest in a track pump so that you can easily get the pressure you need, a mini-pump is best kept only for emergencies out on the road.
How’s this for an obvious one. Try braking less. Braking slows you down and requires you to pedal harder to accelerate back up to speed. Unnecessary braking is a waste of energy and momentum. So how do you improve? Firstly try to eliminate ‘comfort’ braking. This occurs when you are rolling along a fast road or downhill and you start to go a little bit quicker than you are used to.
Braking to get your speed down to a level you feel comfortable with is fine but take a good look around first, if the road surface is good, clear of obstructions and relatively straight there is no reason to slow down so let the bike roll and enjoy some free speed. The next place to improve confidence is during cornering. Braking later will help you hold your speed for longer. Remember to always brake in a straight line so you are at a comfortable cornering speed before you start to turn.
If you are riding a drop-handled bar sports bike how often do you use the drops? Chances are not that much but getting down lower improves your bike handling, reduces your aerodynamic drag and will help you corner and descend with confidence. Riding on the drops lowers wind resistance by 20 per cent compared with riding on the tops.
Two main things stop people riding in the drops — not being able to reach the brakes and not feeling comfortable. Both of these things can be addressed with bike set-up. If your bike fits you properly you should be able to ride in the drop position for large parts of your ride. You may also need to do some stretching as tight hamstrings and an inflexible lower back makes it harder.
You may have spotted other commuters and bike couriers balancing, seemingly effortlessly, at traffic lights and thought that they were just showing off their superhuman bike skills. However, there’s much more to this little manoeuvre than showboating. While you’re still fumbling for your pedal they’ll have put in three or four good strokes and already be up to speed and away. Track standing does require practice and this is not best done in front of a van driver during the Monday morning rush hour. When you stop for food or are hanging around waiting for your mates, start playing around with the technique.
To learn this find a slight incline, the gradient helps find your balance point. If you normally ride clipped in switch to trainers for confidence. Start by riding really slowly in tight circles. This will help you get a sense of how to balance your weight. Go as slow and tight as you can and try to use smooth movements.
When you are comfortable, come to a slow stop with your wheel pointing uphill. Keep your head up rather than looking at the front hub. Pick a spot and focus your eyes on that spot. Now, with your lead foot — the one that is forward (feet at three and nine o’clock), turn the wheel (about 45°) into the incline keeping enough pressure on your lead food to keep your balance, but not enough to move up the incline.
Using the same ratcheting technique you employed to ride in circles, relax the pressure slightly so the wheel will roll back, apply it again and it will roll forward. With that slight rocking back and forth motion, you can maintain balance. Initially, you can always cheat by grabbing hold of a lamp post or railing when you are stopped. Just remember to start pedalling slightly before you let go so you have momentum, otherwise you might just plop over sideways!
Unless you are a sailor as well as a cyclist you might not give wind direction a thought on a daily basis but the wind can be both your friend and your enemy. A headwind can make riding feel like a struggle, making you feel slow regardless of the effort you put in. A tailwind makes you feel like a superhero as you can easily spin along at top speed.
Make use of the wind by planning your route so the outward part when you are freshest is into the headwind and the homeward leg when you may be feeling tired has a tailwind.
If you want to go a bit faster, losing some weight will make a big difference. Losing weight will allow you to go faster for the same amount of effort put in. Less weight will obviously help uphill as you have less to move against the force of gravity. Similarly, losing weight will help you punch a smaller hole in the air and reduce the drag you cause when cycling on the flat.
You don’t have to become obsessive with diet or training to lose enough weight to feel the difference. Not having a teaspoonful of sugar in your tea three or four times a day would be enough to lose 0.5lb of fat in a month. Riding an extra 30 minutes, three times per week would enable you to drop as much as 1lb a month.