Posted by: audaxing | February 24, 2011

Oddly Fast

Some people tell you how they got faster on a bike. They reveal their training secrets. But not me. I have no idea how it happens.

Since the New Year I’ve been on a few longer (100km+) rides and an odd trend has emerged. I am going faster than expected. For instance, this weekend I did 100km in 3 hours 28 minutes. On the same weekend last year doing the same distance on a similar route took me 4 hours and 5 minutes. That’s quite a large difference. And the other rides this year show a similar speed up. I have been riding for a number of years and after the initial improvement of getting to barely being able to do 100km to being happy to do the distance I have not seen much change. I have prepared for specific events in the summer and managed to do these. But overall any improvement in speed has been at best minor and gradual.
In particular, speed over distances of 100km+ has been difficult to increase

Descending near Wellington Monument

Descending near Wellington Monument

I do not believe it is due to providential winds on all the rides. It might be the case if I was seeing a slight improvement on one ride but it seems to be a general increase in speed.

It isn’t spring yet so it isn’t due to the “Spring Effect”. If you ride a bike then you know when spring is really here. The body seems to step up a gear and suddenly you are going just a bit better. And so is everyone else 🙂

I do not have a lower body weight than last year. I am pretty much the same. The routes are hilly so this might have a small effect.

I do have a new bike but I do not think that explains it. The new bike is pretty much the same as my old best bike for weight and tyres. The riding position on both bikes is similar- fairly high. The old bike had tri bars fitted so under some circumstance it might be faster. The new bike has a stiffer feeling transmission and the gear changes work better. But over all if there is a difference it is a small one.

Last year I did put some thought into what might be loosely called “training” as I did the Mille Cymru 1000km ride in July. This was not only 1000km in 75 hours but also 13,500 metres of ascent. I was fit enough to get around this without major problems. But will the events I did last year alter how I am going now? Again I am dubious

Another different thing I’ve done this year is getting a new commuter bike with gears. It also takes ice tyres. In theory this was supposed to help me ride the commute more frequently. Previous to the new hub geared bike I had a single speed. On the single speed if it was poor weather and I felt not that great I would not ride. So I took the car more. The numbers for the whole of 2009 against the whole of 2010 show that in 2010 I commuted 192 times and in 2009 143 times. So the new bike concept worked. But…commuting is low intensity, not even particularly long rides. It’s an hour(ish) each way.
Commuting bike with ice tyres

Initially I also thought that I’d been riding less at the weekends this year, as I was riding a little bit more in the week. Perhaps I was doing less rides faster? But looking at the numbers seemed to discount this. The frequency was very similar.

I am baffled at this speed increase. I suspect that it is nothing to do with the bike. Maybe over the last year I have got more relaxed and I am sleeping better?



  1. I don’t know what your age is and it probably doesn’t have a bearing one way or the other but here is a possible explanation as to why you have become on average , faster than you were.
    Cycling is one of those physical persuits that works on your metabolism and physical fitness in a long slow curve of improvement. The longer you ride, and you say you have been riding regularly for 5 years the more accustomed your body becomes to the activity and the more it feels “right” to be on your bike.
    If you use a heart rate monitor regularly you will find the following will occur over a period of months / years.
    If you ride at 70% of maximum which is an easy, steady ride for a period of say 1 hour each day (as you say you do with your commute),you will be riding at your “recovery ceiling” or the point at which you go from warming up to aerobic which is easy to identify because you start to need to take a breath between words if talking, you will find that over several months your performance / effort ratio will increase. In other words, if you ride at 70% of maximum every day, and you try to keep your HR at 70% your average speed will increase in relation to your HR. This is what training is all about. Slowly evolving your metabolism to do more work for the same effort.
    The speeds you quote i.e. 26kph up to 28kph in the period are very representative of this type of improvement. Because the 70% mark is a level of activity that you can maintain for a long period (I know I have ridden for up to 9 hrs at this level) your average speed over the 100km will increase and your “perceived effort” which can be backed up by hard facts if you use a HR Monitor will remain the same.

    You will feel like you are working the same, but your average speed will increase.
    It’s simply marvelous how the body adapts. Keep it up.

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