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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.