If you’re anything like me you will be a little bit obsessed by speed! When I first threw my leg over (so to speak!) a road bike I wanted to go fast, I didn’t choose a commuter bike or a hybrid bike I chose a road bike and road bikes go fast so fast I want to go! So how do I know that I’m going fast, how do I know that my training and my lightweight bike is making me go faster? What is a good average speed for road cycling? How does my average speed compare with other road cyclists?
Dear Lord! When did I become so competitive in my old age? I’m fooling myself into believing that my meagre sporting prowess will allow me to effortlessly glide in and out of hordes of slower cyclists, I will zoom past the commuters and the mountain bike riders will be a mere speck in my rear view mirror (if indeed I had one on my bike!) Erm, well sadly the reality is a lot slower, more sweaty and breathless than in my imagination!
But, our natural tendency, particularly as road cyclists, is to measure our progress and boast about our achievements in terms of speed and average miles per hour. I know that when I first started road cycling I was desperate for these figures and purchased a cheap little computer so that after each ride I knew my average speed and my fastest speed over all.
But, I was wrong.
Well to be honest, my head tells me I’m wrong but in my heart I still measure myself in terms of average mph! Let’s stick with the rational viewpoint for a few moments and look at why being worried about average mph is not helpful and then we’ll look at some actual figures!
So, every cyclist, every bike and every cycle ride is different. Your average speed will depend upon the weather, the terrain, the length of the bike ride, your mood, your hangover, traffic and a host of other variable factors.
Let’s just be clear on this – there’s little point in comparing your general average road cycling speed with the average speed of other cyclists because you are not comparing like for like. It’s pointless and depressing.
However, there is probably some merit in comparing your own average speeds over the same cycle ride in similar conditions over time as then you are comparing something that is a little more constant and accurate.
For example, I have an hour long loop that I frequently did about three months ago which involves some flat riding, some hilly bits and a mile or so with traffic towards the end. I didn’t ride the loop for about three months and in the intervening time I worked on interval training and building up my endurance. I then went back to the loop and what a transformation! What had previously been a hard slog I now found considerably easier, my average speed rose by about 1.5mph and I knocked a few noticeable minutes off the total time.
Now this isn’t exactly scientific because I could have had a back wind or not got slowed down by traffic so much but, as I was essentially comparing like for like, I had some sense of my progress.
You see what I mean!? There’s no point in comparing myself to another cyclist in different conditions. The only thing that matters is my own average speed in conditions that are constant!
Ah, yes you think but how fast were you actually going? I know you hate yourself for asking but you want to know some numbers and I would want to know as well!
So, here goes.
I’ll go through my own experience as it is at the moment and also try to include what I consider to be some representative numbers as well.
Read at your peril. You might come away feeling smug and speedy and scoff at my puny achievement or you might feel slow and miserable. You don’t have to read on – you have been warned!
When I first started on my road bike I was averaging about 12/13mph for a short ride, maybe 15-20 minutes or so.
As I built up I started essentially doing two shorter rides during the week and one long ride at weekends. My riding environment is essentially flat with a variety of traffic conditions.
As I progressed I was eventually doing two shorter 1 hour rides during the week and averaged about 15/16mph for those and a longer two hour ride at the weekend, for this I averaged about 14/15mph.
I then started doing interval training and this made a big difference to the speed of my shorter rides – I can now average about 17/18mph for an hour. My longer rides have increased to about 3 hours and my average speed is still between 15.5 and 16mph for these.
I always think that it’s really interesting to realise how much faster and how much more fitness is needed to gain just an extra overall 1 mph average! I don’t actually think that I am trying harder it’s just that, over time, the amount of effort I am putting in is producing more power.
Some very general non scientific average speed for road cycling guidelines:
Beginner/average pop around town cyclist 12/13mph
Gentle touring speed over a long ride 14mph
Commuting speed/slower road cyclist 15/16mph
Intermediate road cyclist 17/18/19mph
Faster road cyclist 20mph+
For where I am in terms of my fitness being able to average over 20mph seems insane both in terms of my paltry fitness level and also simply crashing into cars and other road users. I sometimes feel as if I am cycling like a lunatic and often sustaining 20mph and over for a while as well as going very fast down hill and still coming out with an average of 17/18mph or so. It really depends on the road conditions.
Just to put this in context I just checked up on the average Tour de France speed – 34.5mph!!
To sum up then, don’t worry too much about anyone else’s average speed apart from your own. It’s usually pointless comparing yourself to others, comparing your own performance can be helpful and more fruitful but ultimately it comes down to what makes you happy and enjoying your road cycling.
Finally, the only accurate and scientific way to really measure your performance and to reasonably compare your effort to others is to use a power meter. Power meters aren’t effected by wind, traffic, hills or other variable factors and purely measure the amount of effort, rather than the resulting speed. This is much more useful! They come at a price but, if you are serious about your training and improvement they can be a valuable if rather addictive investment!!