Do you want to ride faster? Sure, we all do!
Did you ever see that commercial that said, “Do you want to make more money? Sure, we all do!” There’s a similar thought in the sport of triathlon: “Yes, I want to get faster, so how do I do it?”
A few days back, I ran into a coach that has a bicycle team and also trains people to ride their bike better. As I sipped on my Starbucks, I asked him about pacing strategies and how to bike faster. I guess I was looking for a magic bullet or something, because I thought his answers were too simple.
I wanted science, and he told me it was art.
He said that pacing your bike well before the run comes from experience. Over time, you’ll know how hard you can push yourself on the bike and still have enough gas in the tank for the run.
Then he said that if you want to get faster on the bike you have to bike faster during your training rides. Then he went on to say that most people don’t like that because it’s uncomfortable.
Push your average speed.
Staying in one single gear is great if you live in a land that’s totally flat and never has a headwind. Also there must be no traffic lights, turns, stop signs on your route.
If you put it in a big gear (also known as a harder gear) it’s still pretty easy to fly.
Flat roads are fast and fun.
But what about race day? Hilly courses and heinous headwinds.
One of our races has a hill that was so steep, my max speed was 9 mph. Yeah, that kinda kills the averages for the first half.
I can think of another race we did that had such a fierce headwind it felt like I was climbing a hill for 8 miles straight. My max was about 14 mph, and I mean I had to work for that!
All that to say, there are a ton of variables when it comes to riding your bike, both during training and during a race.
So how fast should you pedal?
Well, more importantly then speed is efficiency and cadence. When you maintain a cadence of 90 rpm, then you are being very efficient and cycling in the best possible way to save a bit of juice in your legs for the run.
With that said, whatever gear you need be in to maintain 90 rpm is the golden gear of the moment. That gear is different for Jess and me and probably most of you. Fight the urge to compare or look down and see what gear your cycling buddies are riding in. Who cares! You’re keeping up with them, right? That’s all you need to worry about then. That and maintaining 90 rpm.
My favorite way to do this is a time trial ride. Map out a route with a mileage close to your race distance (12-14 miles is perfect) and go out and bike it. If you’re doing a local triathlon, then you’re totally at an advantage because you can practice on the exact bike route and that will give you a HUGE confidence boost.
So, go out and bike your 12-14 miles and time yourself. Also, you’ll need a speedometer to see what your max, average and low speeds are. Once you have these numbers, you can try to beat your time, push yourself and bike faster next ride. This is a great way to improve your speed without the trap of comparing yourself with other triathletes.
Another way to get faster is to put your bike on a trainer or hop on a spin or stationary bike at the gym and do interval sprints. During your workout, sprint as fast as you can for 30 seconds – 2 minutes. You can even bump up the resistance for an added challenge and although your legs will be crying for mercy, they will be getting stronger and before you know it, you’ll be biking faster.
Lastly, I’m a bit hesitant to say this because comparison is like playing with fire, but if you really want to know what speed other triathletes are cycling at during the race, you can check the race results from last year and see what others in your age group averaged during the bike.
Again, I don’t recommend doing this because it can be very discouraging and frustrating, but if you’re the kind of person who thrives on that and wants to place in their age group, it might help to know what pace you’ll need to maintain to do well on the bike.
I wish there was a magic drink or a special speed gel that would make it easy for us all to bike faster, but the hard truth is that if you want to bike faster, you have to bike faster and spend some time in the saddle building your speed and endurance.
Now go out there and ride fast!