Three ways to ride faster (without training)
Do you want to cycle faster?
Most people who ride a bike, and take part in bike races, sportives, group rides, or similar want to get faster. I know I do. Faster uphill, faster downhill, faster in the sprints, faster riding solo, faster in a group. Whether it's with your mates, or in an event, crushing the others is where it's at!
Typically, to get faster on a bike, involves some sort of horrendous training, which is generally no fun at all! Some form of structured training is really important to improve your physiology. But, can you get faster without training (or as an adjunct to it)? Read on, and let's find out... (Okay, it's a rhetorical question, there wouldn't be much of a blog article without it being a yes!).
So, here are three ways you can cycle faster without resorting to training (although I strongly suggest that you do, do some training so that you can build that aspect as well). The three ways that we can all improve our speed in some way are: pacing, aerodynamics, and nutrition.
On a basic level, we know that you can't run a marathon as fast as you can sprint for 100 metres. Alternatively, you can't sprint for 200m on the bike and hold the same speed for a century. More correctly, we can say that intensity is inversely proportional to duration. This is because at maximal effort, fatigue sets in very quickly. Accordingly, whenever we go for a bike ride whether it's 30-miles, 80km, 160km or whatever, we apply some pacing to it. (That is, unless you're a crazy who fatigues after 200metres, slows down and crawls for the rest of the ride).
While we generally learn this principle of pacing very quickly, there are subtleties that are harder too pick up straight away, that if we learn we can end up going faster for less work (sometimes more work, but also with some easier work thrown in).
Firstly, it really helps if you know where you're riding. Having an idea of the route is great help. I remember when i was about 16 or 17 yrs old, I was on a group ride, that was a little feisty on the hills. On this one particular hill we'd been trudging slowly up it and we were all together. I could see the summit, and thought I'd sprint all-out to the top and beat my mates. This I duly did. Except when I reached the summit, we rounded a corner and the climb continued. My mates came past, and I duly blew a gasket. Poor pacing and not knowing where I was going (I didn't make that mistake again!).
If you know where you're going, and approximately what the route is like, you can see how long the hills are and where they are. And, so long as you know (or you will do when you read the next bit!) that the relationship between velocity and power is cubic in nature, and if you do some basic physics you can ascertain that it's significantly harder to go from 50 to 51 km/hr versus 15 to 16 km/hr. It therefore, makes sense, to ride slightly harder uphill and to relax going downhill. This will have a greater effect on your overall average speed.
Ignoring issues such as the skill to descend (although this is *hugely* important and can also make a massive difference -- so that's now four things to go faster), you may find that you're freewheeling downhill at 60 km/hr. Trying to increase this speed by pedalling and generating power may then require you to start putting out huge amounts of effort just to gain a very small amount of speed. (It's also worth bearing in mind that if the descent has the same distance as the uphill section, you'll be descending for a shorter period of time, which will have less impact on your average speed than a longer section of road (e.g. going uphill). Therefore, put more effort into going uphill. Recover on the descents (and learn to descend well - and of course safely).
It's a bit of a buzz word now, but aero is hugely important. However, important you think it is, you should double that thought. If you're riding at more than 20ish km/hr aero will play a huge part in your overall average speed. Even if you don't think you warrant thinking about, or buying aero kit, you're likely wrong, and in fact, the slower you are the bigger the difference it makes to your speed. That's right, the slower you are the more it makes a difference to your speed. For years, I kept telling myself, that if I beat a certain time for a time trial I'd go and buy some aero equipment. I was wrong! We've come a long way since aero equipment was first introduced in the early 1990s.
So, what can you do to reduce your drag? There's quite a few things you can do, some of these are entirely free (e.g. altering your bike position), and some have cost (e.g. clothing, wheels). Let's start with some kit ideas.
1) Tight fitting clothing, with optimised aero panels will help you reduce your drag and thus go faster. At RST Sport our coaches, and team riders use clothing by No Pinz because it's really fast. Even aero gloves can make a difference...
2) An aero helmet, even one that is meant for road racing or sportives will be faster than a standard helmet. It's important to understand that different helmets work best with different body shapes, so it's difficult to suggest specific helmets. You'll need to try different ones to see which is fastest for you
3) Aero bike equipment such as deep section carbon aero wheels and aero road frames will make a big difference
Then of course your bike position will make a difference. If you sit upright you're going to be acting like a sail, causing you to slow down and increase your power output for a given speed. While it's important to understand that position optimisation will be hugely dependent upon many factors, (especially on a TT bike), on a road bike, it's a little simpler (but not much). I find that many riders are faster (i.e. less power for a given speed) with their hands on their brake hoods (rather than the drops) and their elbows bent at 90o (or as close as possible to that) and their head tucked down (not pointing down) so that their shoulders rotate up and they 'turtle' their heads. You'll need to practise riding in this position a lot (as it's not a natural position), but it's really fast. You'll see me riding like that a lot, either practising it, or because I'm in a break, or because I just need to reduce the power I'm riding at!
Lots has been written about nutrition. Some of it is just utter junk, and other stuff is really helpful. But one thing is for certain -- riding, running, or indeed any exercise requires energy. Ultimately, this is made available from the foods that we've eaten.
Earlier I mentioned pacing, and this is about carefully managing your energy expenditure (or manipulating it in some way -- such as expending more uphill and less downhill). The food we eat can also have a positive effect on our speed (by this I really mean our power output). That is, when riding for periods of time longer than say 90-minutes if we take in additional energy then we can slow our rate of fatigue (note: you can't prevent fatigue). Of course, we see this in races we might watch on TV when the pros go through the contrôl de revitaillement (the feed zone), where they take on musettes with various items of food.
Sandwiches, rice cakes (sweet or savoury), drinks, energy bars or gels, are all great to keep your energy topped up. The bulk of the food should be carbohydrate based to keep your muscles energy topped up (or in actual fact to not drop off too rapidly -- because you can't eat enough while riding to keep your energy up). Fig rolls (newtons), jelly babies, sugary sweets (I seem to vaguely recall blowing a gasket last year on a training ride, and then scoffing a whole bag of Skittles), and even some protein based foods such as nuts can be great at keeping your energy levels high. You'll need to experiment and see what works best for you -- you should never try new foods on an important ride as they might not agree with you (especially such concentrated foodstuffs such as gels, and energy bars). Lastly, fruit can also be great -- I know lots of riders love to eat bananas, but apples and oranges can also be good, as well as dried fruit such as cherries, raisins and figs.
So, there you go. Three ways (actually four if you think about skills such as descending!) to go faster without training. Try them all out and see how you get on.