5 top secret tips for becoming a faster cyclist
“It does not get any easier, you just get faster”
(Former American professional road racing World Champion and three time winner of the Tour de France)
With time and regular riding your pace will naturally increase. The increases will be incremental and slow, sometimes you will feel like youre getting slower and your legs are lead weights attached to your hip joints. Most cyclists reach a point where they want to actively pursue riding at a faster pace for a variety of reasons. Suffering at a slow pace does mean you suffer for longer and when you want to take your cycling to the next level and begin competing, speed is a necessary skill you must develop. You probably do not need much convincing of the benefits of cycling faster.
So now you want to improve your own pace average?
We compiled a list of the top 3 scientifically proven methods of increasing your ability to ride faster on and off road:
1. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)
The quickest way to increase your average speed is to train at speeds above it. Riding a fast average speed is ineffective especially if you are training on road as average speeds are affected by downhill coasting. Focused training at high intensities for longer intervals will build your speed endurance faster than you can spell it out! Obviously you can’t just go out and ride your normal route faster than usual, you’d rapidly start to hurt or run out of energy. For this reason interval training is most effective and sustainable plus you are able to put your body under a greater stress and strain which means greater adaptation benefits. You should aim to cycle for short bursts at speeds above your usual average pace and then slow down and recover before going fast again. The result: adaptation to riding faster and harder for longer periods. You will see a noticable improvement in your ability to sustain riding at a faster pace.
For off-road/gravel/technical climbing, HIIT is a MUST. If you want to be able to tackle technical climbs with agility and speed, you should train at a very high power output (high power interval) for shorter bursts and do LOTS of them. For example: 80-90% of your maximum power output fot 15 seconds followed by 45 second recovery X 10 reps. It’s a killer but it works.
2. High cadence POWER training
Cadence is the speed at which your pedals rotate. Fast pedalling creates a higher demand on your cardiovascular system than slow pedalling in a heavy gear. High cadence pedalling is also more efficient as you are able to use up less energy over a longer distance but be patient with yourself because it requires many hours of training to create the neuromuscular pathways that foster good quality high cadence pedalling techniques. High cadence pedalling is important to get your muscles firing rapidly and establish the right connections between your brain, nervous system and the muscle fibres. Pro cyclists are renowed for the high cadence at which they cycle and this is because it makes them go faster! However, to improve your average you want to be able to turn a big gear fast, twiddling a small gear, no matter how quick your legs turn, won’t get you there any quicker.
Training for high cadence cycling should be built over time to allow your body to adapt to the increased physical demand. The connective tissue and ligaments in your hips and knees take at least 3-6 months to adapt to increase stress and strain. If you jump right into high cadence, high power training you are putting yourself at a high risk for injury. Begin cadence training with little to no resistance and build you resistance over time. Eventually, you are aiming to cycle at 130 – 140 RPM at high power outputs (zone 3 – zone 4 power zones).
Tips on high cadence pedalling:
1. Focus on keeping your core muscles engaged continuously. Pedal from your core and your hips.
2. Do not bounce in the saddle. As soon as you start bouncing you have lost control of the pedal stroke and need to pedal slower. Focus again on pedalling from your core and your hips to stop bouncing regain control.
3. Practice ‘spin ups’. Begin at 90 RPM and gradually increase your cadence for the next 30 seconds. The aim is to reach your peak cadence (as fast as possible without bouncing) by the time you reach 25-30 seconds. Recover for 1 minute then repeat!
3. Power to weight ratio
This does not mean go on diet! While it often may be effective to drop 5- 10 lbs, in effort to manipulate your power to weight ratio, any more than this can have the opposite effect. Power to weight ratio is defined as the amount of power required to move your heavy body up a hill. The less heavy your body is, the less power you need to move it; but equally effective is working on increasing your power output ability. Science and athletes have consistently proven that increasing power output has greater long-term gains versus weight loss alone.
Focusing on increasing your power output with targeted power training programs will make you stronger and in turn much faster.
Power training is measured in WATTS, and watts don’t lie. When you are training power and you sustain a high wattage for extended periods of time, your strength endurance improves and grows. This allows your muscles to adapt to giving a greater power output for the amount of energy expended. The result: a powerful rider with the capability of pedalling at a high cadence and a high wattage for a long time.
Additional tips for becoming a faster cyclist (not necessarily scientifically proven but they definitely do work):
Become more aerodynamic on your bicycle
Wind resistance can slow you down especially when you’re wearing excess clothing like a jacket. Reduce drag by tucking in your elbows and lowering your body position closer to the bars while you ride. You will need core endurance to maintain this body position so cross training with high repetition core strengthening exercises is essential to maintaining an aerodynamic body position during riding.
Pump up your tyres
Remember to check your tyre pressure before every ride as changes in temperature and minor air seepage can mean that they go soft without necessarily being punctured. Softer tyres create more resistance. When your tyres are pumped to the correct pressure they will roll faster and that means greater speed for you.
Check the wind direction
If you plan the route of your ride to go out into the headwind and back home in a tailwind you will finish faster. This tip applies specifically to road cyclists. A headwind can make riding feel like a struggle, forcing you to put in more effort to ride at a reasonable speed. A tailwind will push you when you’re feeling tired from the day’s ride. Make use of the wind by planning your route so the outward part when you are freshest is into the headwind and the homeward leg when you may be feeling tired has a tailwind.