One of the questions I get asked most often is how to cycle faster. Seasoned cyclists and newbies alike want to learn how they can improve their speed, whether it be for fun, or so that they can cycle competitively.
It doesn’t surprise me that people want to learn how to go faster on their bikes; humans want to improve all the time. Over the years I have learned a few things about improving speed that I will tell you about here. I like to divide them into two categories: body and bike.
It wouldn’t be smart to think that you can become a faster cyclist if your body isn’t primed for it. Cycling requires strength and cycling faster requires even more strength. In order to improve your speed, you have to train your body. If you work out regularly this may not be such a big deal, but if you don’t, you have your work cut out for you.
You also cannot cycle faster if you don’t have the right bicycle, or if you don’t know how your bicycle works. I have written on how to find the perfect bike. You can read about bike size chart, kids’ bike size chart and women’s bike size chart all which tell you the factors that you should take into account when you are choosing a bicycle. I have also written an ultimate guide to types of bicycles which teaches you about different kinds of bicycles and the terrains they are best suited for.
Why does your bicycle matter? If it is too small or too big, you will never be comfortable enough on it to significantly increase your speed. If you try to cycle faster on a bike that doesn’t fit you will be in an accident sooner or later.
The right kind of bike matters because different bikes are built for different terrains. If you live in a hilly area and want to learn how to cycle faster you need a different bicycle than if you are surrounded by flat terrain.
How to ride a bike faster – Tips to prime your body
- Do high-intensity training at least once a week
High-intensity training has become quite popular in recent years as athletes realize just how useful it is for developing stamina. High-intensity training means that you up the ante significantly from your usual routine but for a shorter time. In other words, burn more energy in just a few minutes and then rest.
It taps into muscles that you don’t normally use when you do endurance training, and it also helps your body tap into fat stores.
This is useful for those who want to become stronger, faster riders and is also very useful for those who are cycling for weight loss.
If you have never done high-intensity training before it’s a good idea to do it with someone who has; it can be extremely painful as you put a lot of strain on your muscles on your body in a very short time. It will hurt at first, but if you stick to the schedule the exercises will become more bearable over time.
Rest is an important aspect of high-intensity training. The reason why it hurts so much is because your muscles develop little tears in the process, and it is during healing that they become stronger. Your muscles can only heal if you rest them properly. For a day or two after each high-intensity training session, make sure you do only light cycling and mild exercise.
- Have a plan
If you are not a professional you may not have a plan for how to cycle faster over time. But guess what? If you don’t come up with a schedule or timetable you may find yourself stuck at the same old speed for months or even years.
There is no fixed plan that is recommended. It depends on your lifestyle, how much time you have and even why you want to learn how to ride a bike faster.
If, for example, you are taking part in a competition in a few months you may want to put in at least 2 practice sessions a week. If you have weight loss goals you may want to do the same. If you want to learn how to cycle faster for fun you can do it once a week and you will eventually attain your goal.
- Give your body proper fuel
When people ask me “how do I improve my cycling speed” I like to bring up the issue of what they consume in their diet, and what they eat or drink before and during a ride. Healthy food translates into healthy cells and healthy cells can carry oxygen to your heart, muscles and lungs more efficiently, so you can cycle faster.
I recommend a natural, healthy diet that is comprised of all the food groups. Make sure you get enough healthy proteins and carbs (think chicken, turkey, lean red meat, whole-wheat pasta, potatoes, etc.).
Avoid processed foods because they distort your calorie count and they will eventually make you overweight.
Before every ride make sure you eat a light snack and then take along a protein bar and an energy drink, as well as a bottle of water to consume on the way.
- Stay motivated
Cycling is like any other form of exercise; you can be quite motivated in the beginning but lose steam over time. If you want to learn how to cycle faster it is important to find ways to keep yourself inspired.
One that I find very useful is to cycle with a group. If you are lucky you may find one near you that is trying to do the same thing you are – learn how to ride a bike faster.
If not, you can get together two or three friends and form a cycling group. You will find it much easier to head out even on days when you really don’t feel like getting on your bicycle.
Group cycling has another advantage; you set goals and hold each other accountable for the attainment of those goals. It’s also a lot more fun that cycling all by yourself.
There is such a thing as cycling too hard. If you tire yourself out over and over again without making time to rest cycling will soon lose its luster. Each time you exercise your muscles undergo stain, and they need to be given some time so that they can heal and get back into optimal shape.
How much rest you need depends on how much cycling you’ve been doing. If, for example, you have been learning how to cycle faster uphill you will tire yourself out more than usual and will need a longer period of rest.
If I have a long cycling day planned I like to get enough sleep the night before as it keeps me sharp and focused on my route.
How to ride a bike faster – Tips to prime your bike
We already talked about finding the right bike size, but that is not enough. You can buy the best bike in the world but if you don’t know how to take care of it you will never learn how to cycle faster.
- Don’t be so quick to change your tires
If you look at many blogs on how to cycle faster one of the things they are quick to recommend is that you change your tires. They say that you should take off the tires that your bike came with as they are rather clunky, and instead install brand new carbon wheels as they are lighter and more aerodynamic.
It is true that carbon wheels are lighter and will help you go faster but I have found that they are not very helpful if you want to learn how to ride a bike faster. The heavier, clunkier tires that your bike came with are better for priming your leg muscles as they push them harder. If you practice on those you will become very good over time and you will be able to ride over different kinds of terrain at relatively good speeds.
Come race day, or the day you want to show off to your friends, you can install a brand new set of carbon tires for the added push. You will find riding on them easier and you will go even faster than on your normal tires.
- Clean your bike chain
Do you want to go faster? Make a habit of cleaning your bike chain after every few rides. Each time you take your bike outside it gathers dust and debris which slows you down. Eventually, there is so much friction in the chain that it takes a lot of energy to pedal.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to cycle right after you clean your bike? It’s because you remove all the dirt that slows you down.
If you have a cycling event coming up or plan to spend a day out cycling with friends you will have an easier time if you can get all the moving parts of your bike clean.
- Take off with a bang
A study of British races shows that those who start fast tend to finish faster and feel less exhausted than those who start slow and then increase their speed along the way.
Bike riding is quite different from running in this way. If you are running a marathon the best advice is usually to start slow then increase your speed as you get close to the finish line. In cycling, you have to do the opposite if you want to be faster.
- Learn to handle your bike in different terrains
The saying “you should become one with your bike” sounds cliché but it is true. If you can learn how to conquer different types of terrain without falling off your bike or crashing you are on your way to becoming a much faster cyclist.
Once you are familiar with the terrain near your home you should take your bike out somewhere muddy and see how well you do there. If you master that terrain look for sand and master that…you get the drift. The better you get at maneuvering your bike through different roads, the faster you will become on your normal route.
- Invest in a proper bike kit
Aerodynamic riding suits were a no-no not too long ago. If you turned up at a bike meet wearing one you would invite stares and maybe even quiet laughter from friends and strangers alike. Today people know the importance of aerodynamics if you want to ride faster and skin-tight bike suits are now common-place.
If you are wondering how do I improve my cycling speed the answer may be as simple as investing in the right kind of cycling gear.
Needless to say, you have to wear a good helmet that can protect you in case of a fall, and you also have to wear the right shoes.
If you have sweaty hands they will interfere with handlebar handling and braking so invest in a pair of absorbent gloves.
What else can you do to learn how to ride a bike faster?
There are a few other things I have found useful over the years:
- On days when I have to cycle and I don’t quite have the strength, I find that an energy drink gives me the extra push I need to get me in motion. Energy drinks aren’t for everyone and if you have never tried one I wouldn’t recommend it just before you go on a ride. However, if you’ve never had an adverse reaction from drinking something like Redbull it can be a good way to give yourself some extra pep.
- Make sure that your tires are properly inflated before you leave home. When tires are full of air they move faster. You should bring along a pump especially if you are going for a long ride because tires lose air the longer you ride.
- Don’t use your brakes so much. Each time you brake you slow down, and in order to pick up speed, you have to pedal hard. The more you brake the more times you have to go through this process, and the more exhausted you get. If you can help it you should avoid braking and you will find that you go faster for longer.
- Avoid riding against the wind. You aren’t a sailor so you don’t care very much about wind, but did you know that it takes a lot of extra effort to ride against a headwind? You will have to pedal harder and you will be slower. Start paying attention to the wind. If you want to challenge yourself feel free to battle strong winds, but if your aim to achieve high speeds then go with the wind as much as possible.
- Lose some weight; this one is a no-brainer. If you are light on your bike you will go faster, so it’s time to shed those extra pounds.
Cycling is no fun if you do it at the same speed every day of your life. Whether you are young, middle-aged or old you want to be able to go faster not just to challenge yourself, but challenge others as well.
Learning how to cycle faster is something we can all do. The advice I have provided here is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other things you can do that can help you go faster on your bike.