Speed

The weekend approaches, and with it, the promise of longer rides than I get in during the week. Some hills will be involved, especially on Sunday’s ride, and that will probably bring my average speed below my average. (?)

I’ve always considered myself a 15-mile-per-hour rider, which is why I ride with the B group on club outings. But I’m not really sure how much faster I’ll have to go to bring up my overall average.

Reader Don from California says he considers himself to be a slow rider, but since he usually rides alone, he has no one to measure against. “On an average ride I’m in the 17 mph range,” he says. See ya, Don. I’ll watch as you leave me behind. Don wonders if he would go faster if he rode with someone.

But then he asks the key question: “I also wonder if speed matters?”

Well, of course it does. Man, I track my ride stats like pitchers track their ERA. And I’m kinda concerned. It looks like I might not be a 15 mph rider after all, if you believe my Bike Journal stats for June:

SpeedYikes! I’m only a 14.79 mph rider. Yeah, I see where I pushed it a couple of times, but those were when I was deliberately pushing it.

I averaged 15.47 on my century ride last fall, and I know I’m a better rider now. I’m having trouble accounting for this apparent slowdown. Should I be worried? Or should I be like Don, and wonder if speed matters?

What’s your average speed? Do you even track it?

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14 thoughts on “Speed

  1. Average speed doesn’t mean a lot unless you’re tracking it against a given course over time. Road conditions, weather, terrain, and just generally the way you’re feeling all have an impact, so the only time I care about average speed is on the standard morning route my wife and I take on the tandem a couple of mornings a week.

    If you’re like me and don’t ride a lot in groups very much, that makes it hard to judge how fast you really are. At age 49, I’ve conceded that in spite of the fact that I can climb like an antelope, I’m probably not going to keep up with the local hammers (nor would I want to try), so I was pleasantly surprised last week (http://springfieldcyclist.com/oklahoma-freewheel-2009/) when people kept calling me a fast rider. I sure don’t feel like one!

  2. I agree with Tracy. Average speed doesn’t mean a thing unless you’re using the same route in similar conditions to track it. For that matter miles don’t matter either. The only thing that counts is time on the bike. For example I can ride 2 hours on the road and go 36 miles. I can ride 2 hours on the mountain bike and maybe go 20 miles if I’m pushing really hard. I can guarantee you the time on the mountain bike was at least as difficult (if not more so) than the time on the road bike. Quit keeping such good statistics! Personally I think removing the computer from the bike would do a lot of people good :-) (and yes…coming from someone with a Garmin 305…but I almost never look at past rides!)

  3. I agree with tracywilkins. I don’t track overall average speed. I judge it on a ride-by-ride basis, as some rides are hard, some are easy, some are training, some are recovery, etc.

    That being said, you made me curious. I dumped data for my last 23 rides, and I averaged 18.7 mph. In a group setting, if they call out the fast group and say 19-22mph on average, I’m with ‘em. So maybe a large sample average speed IS useful. Hmmm….

  4. Low to mid 14′s in the summer, mid to high 12′s in the winter. Winter the roads are dicier, I’m bundled up tighter, and all the miles are done in a suburban/urban environment (lots of stops). In the Summer I’m taking long cuts to work (8miles in winter, low 30s in summer) out in the country where stops are miles apart.

    Does speed matter? Only if you’re racing.

    My Journal

  5. As everyone has eluded too speed doesn’t matter and for me time on the saddle doesn’t matter either. Intensity is where it’s at and time in different zones to elicit the desired training outcome. The only time you should really be concerned with your speed is during a time trial. It’s the only time you will be racing against the clock and where speed matters. A road race or crit speed doesn’t matter for the most part all you have to do is go as fast as everybody else till the last 100 meters and that’s when speed will matter. Now if you can’t maintain the speed of the lead group then that will be an issue.

  6. It’s obvious from the data that you are way faster on Friday so, maybe you chould just ride on Friday from now on.

  7. Don’t be worried, be happy. :)
    I agree with what others have said about comparing apples to apples.

    Your century probably had a lot less stops, starts and sharp turns per mile than your local training rides in town. Heat can take it out of you too, or just make pushing less fun. It’s been in the mid to upper 90′s here of late. Back when you did the century on Oct 18, the high was only 80, and you did most of your riding in the 60′s and 70′s. That makes a huge difference.

    Also, you want to start slow and let your body loosen up into a ride. For a short one hour ride, that slow warmup can be a substantial chunk of the ride, skewing the average speed. A slower average riding speed on a shorter ride often just means you’re riding smart and avoiding injury.

    You also had a forced rest the week before the century and maybe some nervous adrenaline built up too, so your body was probably raring to go on that day. :)

    Now if the 15.47 average speed for the century had included all your rest stops, then yes, compared to 14.79 for shorter rides now, I might worry that you’ve either lost fitness or have been over training. Maybe. Even then I still would chalk it up to temperature and route differences. But since you calculated it on riding time only, you can really relax about this.

    I tend to just mentally note my time and distance for a ride and figure the average roughly in my head. If it’s a ride I do a lot, I don’t necessarily bother with average, I just know what a fast and slow time for me are on that ride. But I will think about what I was trying to accomplish or which way the wind was blowing on a one-way ride so I don’t get too down or too high about a slow or fast time.

    I include rest time in my speed calculations, since a) I’m more interested in how long it takes to actually cover a given distance than my speed on the bike, and b) I’m lazy and don’t want to keep track of many time fragments. The only time that my odometer keeps track of is time of day, so I actually have to remember to check my watch at the beginning and end, and then hopefully remember what the first time was. Doesn’t always happen. On lots of my rides, I end up stopping for groceries or fast food a couple miles from the end, so I’ll just ignore that part.

    But now that I just got the bikejournal account, who knows what will happen if I start analyzing data. This could be bad… :)

    • Hey – I started commuting in late February and started riding road bikes in late april. I had my first 15 mile ride with an avg of 15.

      If you see a bigger guy on 360 having some troubles going up the long hills, that would be me! hehe.

      Anyways, I view this thread like this: You should purposely vary your MPH so you can do the most important thing. Finish the ride even if that means you come in at last place (like me).

      Jon

  8. Average Speed – Not Important
    Who you can ride faster than – Not important
    Number of Kilometres ridden THAT YOU ENJOY – Very Important
    Thats all

  9. This from Don in California, submitted by email:

    It seems to have been quite a debate over speed. My feeling is that many cyclists want to be able to ride fast in the same way that many golfers want to be able to hit 300-yard drives to the center of the fairway. Those who can’t either scoff at those who do or learn to operate comfortably within their own zone, some even do both.

    A former racer who now works at my local LBS told me one day that he was stoked because he recently did a 30-mile ride at an average speed of 24 mph. I thought: Man I’ll never do that. But then again, I enjoy biking but the irony is that I’m not built for cycling. At least not for the endurance part of it. I’d probably be more of a sprinter, at least that’s what those involved in racing tell me.

    So I go out, try to enjoy myself and get in the work. I used to be more speed-oriented when I got my first bike computer, that one just had speed and time. Earlier this year I switched to a Garmin 305 and now work with cadence and heart rate more than speed. I have noticed that on routes with fewer stops that I go faster when I pedal faster — duh. My most recent achievement was doing a 45 mile ride at an average speed of 17.5 mph. My average heart rate was 91 percent, all stats that showed I worked really hard during that ride, all while enjoying myself. Although that former racer would’ve smoked me.

    I still love my bike computer and wouldn’t ride without it. This one gives me enough stats and allows me to set up training programs and routes so that I can challenge myself or just cruise around slowly if that’s all that I want to do. Admittedly, if I could go out and ride 24-26 mph for extended periods, I would. And maybe I can and I just haven’t discovered yet. But the fun of all of this is whether you’re fast or slow, that you can go out and ride at whatever level and have fun doing so.

  10. I’m a data junky. I track distance, average speed, average cadence, and more. I always rate a ride based on my average speed, but I do realize there are other factors that affect my performance. I do like to compare the same routes from time to time and see if I am improving my avg speeds.

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