10 ways to improve your average speed on a road bike

GCN's Hank shares 10 ways any cyclist can get faster on their bike: Strength training, fitness, training plans, nutrition and tech. It's all in here.

ClockUpdated 09:00, Tuesday 5th December 2023. Published 12:46, Monday 4th December 2023

Do you know your average speed when you ride? Some of us will know it by heart and will constantly strive to get it higher. And perhaps it should be – your average speed is a good way to get a sense of how fit you are.

Just remember, though, that there are loads of other ways of measuring your fitness that are more accurate. Average speed is influenced by the wind, by the elevation, and by the traffic. If you want a simple way of measuring your performance, why not pick a climb to set a baseline time on that you can come back to?

If, on the other hand, you are set on improving your average speed, here's how you can do it.

Improve your fitness

Improve your fitness

First of all the hardest one: improve your average speed by improving your fitness. Getting fitter is a case of riding more, and riding harder. We've got a guide for how to make a training plan here.

Design some focussed interval sessions

Design some focused interval sessions

To improve your fitness fast, try some focused interval sessions. To make the most of these, try not to change too many variables each time. Choose one training zone and design a set of intervals around it.

Choose your terrain

Choose your terrain

If you only work on one part of your cycling, whether that's blasting along the flat, steep climbs or long, steady days, you might find that different terrains catch you out. Ride routes that challenge you to make yourself a more rounded cyclist.

Switch up your cadence

It's best to pedal at the cadence we're used to, but if you're new to cycling, you might get stuck doing one cadence and never try anything else.

To break habit, and to make yourself a more versatile cyclist, try pedalling at a range of cadences. Practising high cadence cycling is particularly important, as it'll force you to develop a smooth, efficient pedalling style.

Pace your ride

Pace your ride

Whatever route or distance you decide to take, pacing is essential if you want to get a higher average speed. The ultimate goal is to achieve a negative split, which is when you ride out relatively easy, and then go hard on the way home, bringing up the average in the final half.

Remember though that that's not always possible if your route is flatter and faster in the first half, for example. To get the highest average speed on your rides, we'd advise you to go hard on hard bits (climbs, headwinds), and easy on easy bits (descents, flats, tailwinds)

Plan your efforts

Plan your efforts

Ride smarter, not harder, by using momentum and inertia to improve your average speed. Carry speed into climbs and accelerate into descents so you can make the most of gravity's helping hand.

Keep an eye on what's coming up – there's no point wasting energy on pedalling and then having to stop for a junction, for example.

Fuel your rides

If you want to ride fast, make sure you fuel your rides. To do so, have a carbohydrate-rich meal at least two hours before you leave, and if you're riding for more than 90 minutes, eat whilst you ride as well.

To keep properly fuelled, you'll need about 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. To get that you can have sports nutrition, or just some sugary snacks.

It's worth thinking about which type of fuel is right for each part of the ride. Initially, you might want something with slower energy release, like an energy bar. In the final hour or so, something with fast-release energy is better, like an energy gel.

Choose your route carefully

Choose your route carefully

A flat route with smooth roads and no traffic lights will allow you to ride at a higher average speed. It might not mean you're any fitter, or riding any better, but it's satisfying blasting along a fast road and seeing that average speed number on your head unit.

Get aero

Get aero

The more aerodynamic you are, the faster you will go for the same effort. And whilst some people think aero is a byword for 'really expensive', there are loads of things you can do to get more aerodynamic without spending a penny. Think about your position on the bike. Get low by bending your elbows, rolling your shoulders and lowering your head. A few changes will make your frontal area far smaller, allowing you to slice through the wind.

Reduce rolling resistance

Reduce rolling resistance

After aerodynamic drag, the second biggest thing slowing you down on the roads is rolling resistance. This is the energy lost when your tyres interact with the ground, and the energy lost to friction within your wheel bearings and drivetrain.

Swapping heavy clincher tyres with butyl tubes to lighter, 'race-ready' tyres with latex or TPU inner tubes can make a big difference to rolling resistance for a relatively small cost. Swapping to a tubeless setup can save watts too.

For extra free speed, make sure your drivetrain - especially your chain - is clean and properly lubricated. A clean drivetrain can save you a few watts, which means you'll go faster for the same amount of effort.

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