How to Get Faster at Riding Your Bicycle

I cycle for fun, to clear my mind when I’ve been hitting the books too hard. I firmly believe that exercise is important — especially for people who spend the vast majority of their time sitting quietly behind a computer, which I daresay describes most white-collar jobs in America.

I like to ride fast. In terms of miles per hour, lately I have transitioned from averaging in the high teens to now in the low 20s. For example, today I rode 39.2 miles at an average of 21.7 mph, with 1,368ft elevation (which is relatively low for that distance).

How am I doing this? I’d like to talk about a few things that I think are really important to getting faster at riding your bicycle. I’ll begin with the stuff that is most intuitive, and then get into specifics that you may not have thought of but are working wonders for me.

  1. Practice. I’ve been cycling and running semi-seriously for 8 months. Not all of this was “smart training” (you can ascend in physical fitness much faster than this if you know what you’re doing) but the point is, you can’t go from zero to Mr. Athlete in two weeks. Be patient and be persistent.
  2. Don’t go alone. I ride my best rides when I’m with others. Part of this is the motivation factor, but more importantly, riding with a group of organized cyclists reduces wind resistance for everyone behind the leader by up to 30%. If you’ve never experienced this before, you have no idea what a difference it makes. It’s inconceivable.
  3. Use Strava.com.. As one rider recently said, “Strava is Facebook for guys.” It’s great. Use it to track your rides, and to congratulate other people on theirs. It’s great to keep track of who’s killing it in your city, and to watch your own growth. Strava is a very, very important part of my cycling life. Knowing that my friends are going to see my stats keeps me incentivized to push it even when it’s tough.
  4. Get a Garmin. You need instant feedback to do your best work. I didn’t realize until I got a Garmin 500 a month ago what a HUGE difference it makes. You can see your overall average and current speed at the same time; so if you’re averaging 19.6mph on a ride so far and your goal is 20+, you know that your current speed needs to be at least 20 or you’ll be making this goal difficult to achieve as the ride gets closer to completion. Garmin creates an awareness of all your numbers. Knowledge is power. Without it, you’re blindly guessing. When it comes to exercising, your intuition is often inaccurate, and it is always imprecise. Getting faster on a bicycle requires precision.
  5. Always have a soft drink right before the ride. This one’s controversial because “soft drinks are bad for you,” but in my opinion it is the single biggest helper in getting faster overnight. Soft drinks are loaded with sugar and that’s pure energy. As of a month ago, I now always always have a soft drink 30-60 minutes before the ride. As we get into summer and the rides get longer (closer to 50 or 60 miles), I may experiment with having a second soft drink halfway through the ride. A friend of a friend of mine is a pro racer and his trainer makes him have a soft drink during the last section of the race. That’s where I got the idea for it, and it works incredibly well.

Boom. Follow these steps and I guarantee that, at whatever level you are currently riding, you will get faster.

The Most Important Concept of Boolean Algebra

When one is introduced to Boolean algebra in high school it is easy to assume that it is quite simple. Things are either true or false? Got it. Let’s move on.

It turns out, however, that it gets a tad more complicated than that, primarily because computers can only do Boolean algebra (processing an electronic cycle or the lack thereof) and everything must be built from that. What results is that you get these really interesting ideas such as K-Maps, which require understanding how binary works. Boolean algebra involves number theory and is actually a vast field.

The most important concept is that you can mimic an OR gate using an AND gate, and an AND gate using an OR gate.

If you NOT your variables before you OR them, then NOT them again, it’s the exact same thing as if you ANDed them. Likewise, if you NOT your variables before you AND them, then NOT them again, it’s the exact same thing as if you ORed them.

Don’t believe me? Create a chart from 00 to 11 and flesh out the table using the psuedocode below, assuming that thing1 and thing2 are of type bool.

! ( ! thing1 || ! thing2 ) == (thing1 && thing2)
thing1 || thing2 == ! ( ! thing1 && ! thing2 )

I sometimes wonder how many self-taught programmers without a computer science background know about this. It’s very important — not just in theory, but in practice. I had a friend who vastly sped up an SQL query by going from an OR gate to using an AND gate — the return set was precisely the same, but it became much faster as a result.

Asking the Opposite

Some truths are controversial. We are well aware of the arguments on both sides, and we have an opinion that we believe is correct.

Other truths are never questioned. Everyone agrees on them. With these, we’ve never considered the opposite, because nobody ever mentioned it.

The interesting thing about these kinds of truths is that since we’ve never questioned them, we actually don’t really have good arguments in their favor — it’s a muscle we’ve never had to grow. We hold these truths to be self evident.

Often, these truths are dangerous, because they may not be as truthful as we think. Questioning everything is the way innovation happens.

Try taking a movie quote and reversing it, and you’ll learn something new about it. Take a conversation you had with your friends this evening, and reverse what they said, and you’ll learn something about the way they think, the way they see the world. Often times the negative space is more precious than real thing. You can paint an beautiful picture by taking a blank canvas and painting a blue sky around an invisible tree.

Deliberate thought is vital in programming. You assume that the user is logged in when that block of code executes, but are you sure about it?

Learning to question everything is a skill that every programmer learns when programming. The ability to extend this to other areas of life, and to have it even if you’re not a programmer, is a trait that distinguishes truly innovative people. It will make you responsible for much original thought. For someone who cares about pushing the human race forward, this is a thing.

On Getting Better at Getting Faster

When you approach a project with the assumption that it shouldn’t take that long, you tend to treat it that way. When you assume a problem has been solved before, you don’t worry about its solvability. You just execute.

The opposite is, alas, also true. If a project is supposed to take all day, or all week, then you certainly won’t allow it to take less than that.

In adulthood, most of us spend the majority of our waking hours thinking about money, whether directly or indirectly, because we’re working. Even if this money is not earned on a hard hourly contract, the number of hours is still of function of how expensive a project is. In essence, companies are billing hourly whether implicitly or explicitly.

When you consider this, the proposition of getting faster is very appealing. And it starts with something purely psychological — your mindset about how difficult your job is.