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Cycling Faster 

Part 1

So, you are interested in improving your bicycling performance. To improve performance, it is necessary to expend energy, time, and some money. Improving performance will be addressed in two parts. Part 1 is addressed here, and Part 2 will be addressed in August.

The obvious way to make you and your bicycle go faster is to either make the pedals turn faster, or spin in a higher gear. Each type of activity will require more effort on the rider’s part. 

As we age, our strength and endurance decrease. Studies show that strength diminishes more than endurance. It is not unusual to find that you can ride as far as you used to but not as fast. There are many considerations at play in these situations. The type of bicycle, type of tires, rider conditioning, rider technique, nutrition, and even clothing will affect one’s performance. 

There are various physical forces that make going faster on a bicycle more difficult. Wind resistance, gravity, inertia, rider and bicycle weight, and friction. 

  • We all have experienced the extra effort needed to ride into a head wind as opposed to a tail wind. Wind resistance can be lessened by wearing fitted clothing. Loose fitting clothing catches the wind and slows the rider. Assuming a lower profile such as riding in the drops (the lower portions of the handlebars) with a straight back lowers wind resistance. Some bike frames and components are more aerodynamic as well.
  • The more the mass the harder it is to start moving or when moving, getting up hills. Reducing weight could be as easy as getting rid of non-essential items. Six snack bars for a 20 mile ride is excessive but the tire repair kit is essential. You are the judge of what is necessary, just remember extra weight slows you down. Reducing rider mass is probably the cheapest weight reduction but not the easiest. Ride lots - eat less. Fueling the “engine” in a timely manner will allow the rider to consistently keep the pace. Oxygen is needed to use the fuel so breathe deep and exhale fully. A straight spine with shoulders pulled back increases lung capacity. Ride relaxed. Being tense is a waste of energy like squeezing the handlebars to tightly. Bob Roll the former pro racer said that each rider has a book of matches that corresponds to the individual’s fitness level, and he needs to decide when to burn them. If he burns too many or too fast, he may stall or burn out before the ride’s end.
  • Friction caused by a rubbing brake pad certainly will make a long ride feel a lot longer. A tire that does not spin freely or low tire pressure as well a dirty chain can slow you down, so good bike maintenance is essential. 

There are two types of rides to target endurance: Long Slow Distance (LSD) and Interval Training (IT). Doing a combination of each will improve your ability to increase cadence and torque. LSD is increasing your miles but not exerting too much, but not plodding along either. IT requires intense exertion for short times followed by measured recovery periods. A simple example of IT is one minute near full exertion followed by two minutes easy pedaling recovery repeated ten times. Generally short exertions a minute or less have double the time for recovery. Medium exertion times of 2-5 minutes at about 80% max will have equal recovery times, while longer exertions will have half the time for recovery. The program is designed to stress muscle that will recover at a stronger level, so an IT day is usually followed by an off day or very easy training day to allow muscle to repair and recover.

One of our newer Silver Wheels member shared some of the strategies she used to improve her endurance and the goals she set for herself. These strategies may work for you as well. Knowing that endurance takes time and commitment; it does not happen overnight. Here is her story.

As far as increasing endurance since I began biking about 2 ½ years ago 2015, aside from just consistently adding a few more miles onto my routes over time, one of the biggest things I started to do was to change the amount of food I eat - both on ride day and before a long ride AND during the ride. Unfortunately, in my first couple of years, I didn’t realize how much of a difference proper caloric intake could make, and often ran myself into the “red”, not realizing that’s what was limiting me. I learned some good tips from the folks at GCN once I found their YouTube channel last year and put some of that to the test when I rode the 65-mile Dog Days route last July. I still make that error once in a while if I’m not thinking ahead, but do a much better job, overall, of “carbing up” in the 24 hours before a longer ride, as well as snacking (and keeping hydrated!), along the way. Eating enough in preparation for and during a long ride really makes a huge difference in the distance I can ride, and the overall joy of the ride.


Implementing some or all the above suggestions should help you to increase speed and endurance. Individual activities should provide incremental improvement and build on each to provide better performance. Ride Lots. Train Smart.

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