So you want to know if your average speed is any good?
The truth is it’s very difficult to say, so much is dependent on what route you are riding. To find a ‘true’ average speed you would need to ride in a velodrome, but as you are probably not an athlete, most of your riding will be done on normal roads, so let’s use normal roads for our route. Here are my suggestions for choosing a route to work out your average speed:
- Ride a circuit route, i.e. finish where you started, that way you will ascend the same amount as you descend and in theory any disadvantage from a headwind or advantage from a tailwind will swap round when you are heading back the other way.
- Try and pick a route without too many steep hills, it’s fine to have one or two but too many steep hills and small areas of flat will slow you down and make you think you are slower than you could be.
- Think about traffic, my route uses left turns all the time so I’m not crossing the traffic (traffic drives on the left in the UK for non GB readers), most of the route is on backroads or away from major traffic. Be advised though that riding in fast traffic, particularly lorries, although scary will help you go faster as the slipstream of the passing vehicles will pull you along slightly and shelter you from the oncoming wind, much in the same way drafting another rider in racing does.
- Whenever you make an attempt on your personal best, try and do it in the same weather conditions that you did when you set your last personal best.
My Route for testing my average speed 14.3 miles, a couple of hills, nice and circular, a mixture of busy roads and backroads, long straights, windy corners it’s all here.
Get a cycle computer, there are some fairly cheap ones available, as long as it shows average speed and current speed you will be fine, Halfords do them for under a tenner. Obviously wireless ones are best, but if you want to keep costs down a wired one is fine, just wrap the wire carefully around the front brake cable, making sure you don’t affect the braking. The computer sits on the handlebars and it’s so useful. Yes you could work out your average speed by timing yourself and working it out afterwards by measuring the distance and doing the maths, but a bike computer will show you exactly how far you have gone and at what speed. Not only that you will be able to see which points of the route you ride quickly and which bits slow you down. you can react instantly to a drop in speed by piling on the pressure. If your average hits 14mph you want to try and keep your speed above that, the only way you can do that is by getting ‘real-time’ ‘live’ information on how fast you are travelling.
Ok so you’ve got your computer and your route, now don’t do anything special, just ride it and see how you do. Ride at a comfortable level and don’t push yourself too hard. This will be your base level of average speed which you can build on. If I ride at a neutral, comfortable level these days I’m riding at between 15-17mph average speed for 14.3 miles. When I started riding again it was about 14mph. The lovely thing about cycling is that you very quickly start improving. I think it was only a month or so ago that I was riding flat out and getting an average of 17.3mph for this route, now I’m 2mph faster and I know I can do it even faster than that with a bit more practice and effort. If you are a bit sporty give it a bit of effort on that first run, push yourself a bit.
The next time you ride it try riding it at fast as you can. By the way, it’s a good idea to start from your house, or a base where you can collapse (pub? cafe?) afterwards if you really have given it your all and you’re out of energy. Compare the two readings of average speed. How did you do?
Now you can build on those speeds, your ‘easy’ speed and your ‘flat out’ speed. More on how to do that another time.
What is a good average speed?
Well it varies so much and so much depends on the bike and how it combines with the rider. For example a friend of mine averages 9-10mph on a mountainbike over 3.6 miles, which at first glance seems pretty slow. But then you consider that he’s riding in an urban environment, wearing his work clothes which he has to wear for the rest of the day, his bike is over 30lbs unladen, he’s carrying a rucksack with 10lbs full of stuff and he has no toeclips. Actually I’d say he was doing ok.
If you are riding to get fit then either you need to ride with an average speed of above 14mph or ride for a bit longer. Why 14mph? That’s the speed where you start to fight your own wind resistance so it becomes much harder work and you’re giving yourself a good workout, much of your energy is devoted to just pushing through the wall of air in front of you. If you are riding slower than that and you want to get fit, then you will need to ride for 30mins minimum if you want to see any benefit. An hours ride at least I would say. Very crudely, the reason is that it seems to take 30mins for the body to start pulling energy from your fat reserves so you’re not really burning the fat until that point. Obviously keep going for a bit more and you burn more fat.
You will hear of some road riders saying “oh we cruise at an average of about 30mph” which sounds impressive (actually it is impressive), but the clue is in the “we”. Road riders often ride in groups, taking turns to ‘pull’ the chain of riders. The rider cycling just behind the lead cyclist is using 20% less energy than the lead rider to ride the same speed, the first rider is giving them shelter from the wind, the rider behind that rider is using around 20% less again. When the first rider gets tired the next rider will take their turn ‘pulling’ while the others ‘draft’ and are ‘pulled’. Consequently the riders can ride faster for longer, thus upping their average. This is why the Tour de France riders ride in that big group called the ‘Peloton’. It’s also why solo breakaways on the flat during the Tour rarely succeed, without the shelter of the Peloton the solo rider can get no rest and is working much harder than the other riders to go the same speed. However it was a brave ride by Bradley Wiggens in this years Tour, though I love his reason for doing it, he thought it was a breakaway group then he realised he was on his own and just kept going so it looked like he meant to do it.
An average speed for a road bike (racing bike I guess) is generally agreed to be 17-25mph – that’s quite a big range, but it depends on the combination of bike and rider, and the distance being ridden. I would say 18mph+ is a ‘good’ average speed if you are wanting to go fast. Pro riders obviously ride much, much faster for much longer.
An average speed for a mountainbike off road on middling terrain is around 12-15mph, that’s pretty good going actually.
On road with semi-slick tyres a mountainbike could probably average around 14-17mph again depending on rider and bike set up.
A hybrid bike should by rights nestle somewhere between the road bike and the mountainbike.
Utility bikes, shoppers, brompton etc, it’s anyone’s guess – I can do 14-16mph average on the Brompton depending on whether I am wearing my big trousers or a pair of shorts. I bet Lance Armstrong could get it to go considerably faster.
So I would say that the average speed for ‘a bicycle‘ is about 14-15mph.
How can I improve my average speed David?
Good question, there are a few basic things we can do to the bike and how you ride, but I’ll add those later. Two things that are better than clipless pedals or thinner tyres etc are simply eat less and ride more.
The very bare bones of improvements to the bike are:
a) Tyres pumped up fully (less rolling resistance).
b) Chain clean – faster gear changes, smoother spinning, less energy wasted.
c) Suspension locked out if you have suspension – stop all your energy being absorbed by the bouncing.
d) Saddle the right height – too low and you will hurt your knees and/or lose power, too high and you will lose connection with the pedals, lose power and numb your softbits.
Of course, the main reason to up your average speed is so you can Ride Like the Wind and Be Home for Tea.
I hope you’ve found this useful, please let me know if you did or what I need to add in order to make it more useful to you.