You ride a bike because you want to go faster, right? The good news is there are plenty of ways you can do it, and not all of them involve simply pushing harder on the pedals.
We’ve outlined some ways you can pick up the pace, ranging from equipment and bike set-up, to aerodynamics, training and riding tips to dietary advice. Any one of them would result in a slight rise in your mph, but taken together you’re heading towards what British Cycling calls an ‘aggregate of marginal gains’, improving lots of little things to create one big improvement.
So whether you just want to ride away from that annoying guy on the club run, improve your personal best in a TT, win a road race or just feel that little bit better about yourself, read on for 25 ways to go faster.
Let’s start with a no-brainer. If you’re just riding your bike you’re not going to get as fast as the next guy who is specifically training to get faster. So figure out what you want from your riding and target ways to achieve it.
What does going faster actually mean? Faster climbing? Higher sprint speed? Quicker cruising speed? Sub one-hour for a 25 TT? Set short, medium and long-term goals that target the improvements you want to see and have a plan in place for how you’re going to meet them.
Go into hiding
You can do around 30 per cent less work by riding with a group and drafting, thus saving your energy for sprints, hills and harder efforts. Get your group-ride mates to share the work and take turns at the front, working harder then recovering when each has done their turn, and the speed of the whole group increases.
Practise your efficiency at hiding in the wheels and look out for the ‘smoothies’ – good riders who pick the best lines and aren’t constantly adjusting their speed on the brakes – they are good riders to sit behind as it saves you energy too.
Ride slower to go faster? It’s true – proper, dead-slow recovery intervals between, faster, top-end intervals allow you to develop greater peak power. If you’re not sufficiently recovered, you can’t hit the hard efforts as hard, so learn to ride slow in-between hard efforts.
Read the labels
Energy drinks, bars and gels vary in content and not all sugars are made the same. In recent tests, drinks containing both glucose and fructose showed an eight per cent improvement in performance when ingested by trained time triallists, compared with those drinking glucose-based formulas.
Ride with faster
motivational, you’ll get out more often as you’ve made a commitment, and
if they’re a bit quicker than you, it’ll push you to ride faster than
you normally would on your own.
Efficient riding is faster riding. Criterium racers know this and will spend as much of their short, technical races NOT pedalling as possible. Smooth cornering is a key element.
If you can corner smoothly and efficiently with good pace-judgment and technique you’ll avoid having to break heavily when the corner comes and having to sprint back up to speed. Practice solo and in pairs and groups.
Learn to look up as far around the bend as possible. Get your speed and gear selection right before you get to the bend and you’ll exit it quicker.
It’s simple physics: if the same amount of effort is used to propel a lightweight object as a heavyweight object, all else being equal, the lightweight object will go faster and further. Can you lose a little weight by improving your diet? You’ll go faster.
Lose (more) weight
As above, but this time put your bike and kit on a diet. Do you really need that light-bracket, pannier rack, full-sized pump and D-lock on your bike for EVERY ride? If you’re going on a short training ride or group ride with you mates chances are the answer is no.
Figure out what is the bare minimum you need to be safe and self-sufficient when you ride. Same goes for your clothing and what you carry. Do you really need that double-weight raincoat in your pocket when there’s no likelihood of even a light shower? Remember, all else being equal, lighter means faster so get stripping.
Still on the weight loss for more speed theme, lighter versions of anything that moves in circles on your bike gives even more benefits. It’s called rotating mass. 10g of dead weight can feel like 100g when it’s spinning.
A few grams on a lighter saddle is one thing, but the same weight saving on a set of wheels would bring better results. So bear this in mind when upgrading and replacing anything that rotates. Can you get a more lightweight version? Careful though, it still has to be fit for purpose, if you’re a heavyweight rider, those super-lightweight wheels and wafer-thin carbon seatpost might not quite fit the bill.
Ride up hills
Hills are a natural way of increasing resistance and a great way to increase your cycling-specific strength. So train on hills occasionally by attacking the short, steep ones fast and jumping out of the saddle. Take longer ones seated, spinning an easy gear. Practise in a variety of gears to find your optimum cadence and push hard for 20 metres over the top of every hill.
Ride down hills, fast
Lowered resistance when riding downhill means you can turn harder gears much faster than would be possible on the flat. This is called ‘overspeed’ training and recruits more motor units and fast-twitch muscle fibres than would otherwise be possible, highly desirable when training for top-end speed.
Find a long, straight downhill (not so steep) that safely allows you to pedal its length in a variety of gears and do progressively harder gear/higher cadence intervals of set durations. The same effect can be achieved with a strong tailwind for sprints.
Riding with a stopwatch or a bike computer, try to record and beat your PB for certain sections of your rides. Hills, for example, are excellent. You can save your data and compare your times against yourself and others by recording everything on Strava. www.strava.com
Get aero, it’s
speed for free
Number crunching time! On a flat road with no headwind, a 154lb rider on a 19lb bike with clincher tyres holding the hoods and riding at a constant effort of 200w would cover 25 miles in 76 minutes.
However, if that same rider switched to a more aerodynamic position, riding in the drops, they’d complete that distance in only 70 minutes, a six-minute saving without pushing any harder on the pedals. If, as a result of these increases in speed, that same rider then got bitten by the TT bug, fitted a set of tubular tyres and aero bars, all else being equal their time for a TT would drop to 64 minutes – a staggering 12 minutes off their PB without any training!
Swap all your sticky-out floppy bits of clothing for some aerodynamic kit like a skinsuit and TT helmet and you’re the next Tony Martin (possibly).
Stay at home
Turbos and other indoor trainers sometimes get bad press but they’re a great training tool. Don’t just sit there pedalling away watching telly, turbo sessions should feature dynamic, fast-changing interval sets that keep you motivated and working at the right intensity.
They offer a way of structuring and progressing on your training that you often can’t get on the road due to weather conditions or traffic. Spinnerval and Sufferfest do videos and DVDs featuring classic training sessions, www.spinervals.com www.thesufferfest.com.
Go fast, faster
The more force you can deliver through your pedals, the faster you’ll go. Plyometrics training, fast jumping and hopping are ways to to train your muscles to develop more strength at speed. Include jump squats and lateral hops in your programme to increase your ‘kick’, that initial burst of acceleration when you want to go fast, fast.
Unless you subject yourself to an increase in the training load, all you’re doing is burning calories. In order to keep getting faster you need to overload every time you see a training adaptation. This means gradually increasing the frequency, duration or intensity of your rides.
Power is a product of how much force you can apply to the pedals plus the speed at which you can turn them, so get some leg strengthening exercises like squats done in the gym plus some high cadence (fast pedalling) drills on the bike.
Butt, on the other hand
If your core muscles provide the platform for your speed it’s your glutes that are the real workhorses when it comes to providing power. The glutes have an big role in keeping your trunk erect as well as stabilising the hips and allowing the knees to track correctly during pedalling. Many riders develop a pedalling technique that over-emphasises the quads and hamstrings, so look for gym exercises to strengthen the glutes.
HIIT the pain cave
Riding fast often requires working at a high percentage of your maximum heart rate, which means high levels of lactate accumulation. Studies have shown that your mental conditioning is a leading factor in how long you can sustain these kinds of efforts.
High Intensity Interval Training like Tabata or ‘Russian Steps’ intervals, help develop your psychological courage as well as boosting anaerobic capacity. HIIT sessions are very hard and require short, maximal-intensity bursts of energy followed by very short recovery periods.
A classic Tabata protocol consists of 20-second maximum effort sprints with 10-second recovery intervals to failure. Russian Steps progressively increases the on/off, work/ratio.
Recent trends have seen many riders eliminate or reduce carbs from the diet, claiming it as a weight management strategy (few will admit that the role of weight loss in Bradley Wiggins’s Tour de France victory is the real reason).
But carbs are important as they can be broken down quickly without oxygen (glycolysis), and provide fast, extra energy during hard, anaerobic intervals when training. As you’re looking to go faster, you’ll likely be including hard efforts in your training schedule, so the energy provided by carbohydrate is vital for high-end performance.
Get to the core of the problem
Your legs do all the work when riding a bike, yes? Sadly not, or we could spend all out time focusing on developing strong calves and quads that look great in Lycra shorts. Unfortunately, pedalling is a kinetic chain activity that needs a ‘base’ from which to produce power.
Think of this as the platform for your speed – the stronger and more stable it is, the more speed you are capable of producing. The cycling ‘tripod’ position of contact points, saddle, handlebars and pedals relies on good core strength but doesn’t build it, so hit the gym for some quality deep core exercises that strengthen your lower back, obliques, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors, so the entire core becomes strong as a unit.
Strong up top
The classic press-up exercise increases the stability and strength around your forearms, shoulders and chest, allowing you to maintain an aerodynamic ‘tuck’ position on the drops for longer, going faster without pedalling harder due to less drag.
Don’t go steady
Interval training allows the rider to work faster and harder than they would in continuous, steady-state riding sessions by interspersing intervals of fast riding with recovery periods of slower riding. Higher levels of lactic acid are produced in the ‘on’ interval and a state of oxygen depletion is reached.
During the ‘off’ or recovery interval, the heart and lungs are still working at an increased level as they try to ‘pay back’ the debt by supplying oxygen to help break down the lactate. Intervals and recovery intervals can be widely manipulated in order to meet a range of training demands, from peak speed in short sprints to faster continuous efforts like time trials.
Clean up your act
Ever noticed how a clean bike always seems to ride faster? Even on a purely psychological level this would be worth doing, but actually there is some truth in it. Your drivetrain completes thousands of revolutions through the course of a ride and if the chain, jockey wheels and derailleurs are fouled up with dried out old lube and road grime then you’re losing mechanical efficiency. Keep everything clean and well lubed back there for optimal performance and extra speed.
Rest and recovery
You won’t get faster unless you ‘overload’. However you can only overload to up to your physiological limit. So recovery is a key element in your training. The quicker and more effectively you recover, the sooner you can get back to training and the faster you will get faster. So accelerate your recovery with rest, good nutritional practice and physical therapies such as massage, saunas etc, and post-exercise stretching and flexibility routines.
Do it like the pros
Russell Hampton, Team Raleigh
“My pet hate I see all the time is people not pinning their numbers properly and they end up just flapping around like kites. What’s the point of spending six grand on an aero bike when you just cause more drag with a flappy number? So always carry extra pins with you and keep it pinned down!”
Callum Skinner, Team GB sprinter
“Happy head, fast legs. Some people train too hard and get themselves in a hole, and don’t go so well on race day. If you’re not cycling, switch off then get as focused as you possibly can for the event ahead.” [Below]
Hannah Walker, Matrix Fitness Racing
“Draft behind a lorry! No, I’m joking. Get out on club runs and chain gangs and train in with the men because it definitely gets you faster. Try to stay on that wheel for as long as possible and I think that’s the easiest way to get faster. It’s definitely helped me.”
Pete Hawkins, Sigma Sport
“Push harder on the pedals! Seriously though, eat straight away after your ride. This is the point when your body needs nutrition the most so try to give it some protein and fast-release carbohydrate within the first 15 minutes after you get home. This will give your muscles what they need to start to repair and rebuild straight away.”
Jess Varnish, Team GB
“Don’t have your ponytail flapping about! Some of the BMX girls have really long hair and it was flowing behind them as they raced. Tie it back or wear your hair in a bun. Have a bun to make you faster; not a cake bun, a hair bun!”
Tao Geoghegan Hart, British Cycling Olympic Development Programme
“Dress well. It’s no good throwing gel after gel down you if you are burning up energy trying to stay warm or worse still, unable to ride because you are too cold! Layer up on the merino! My rule is no legs out in training if it’s under 20°C.”
Alex Dowsett, Movistar
“The other factor is that everybody’s trying to be at the front but not on the front so it’s important to know where to be and time it right. When there’s a climb or a crosswind you’ve got to have your wits about you. Look at the wind and if the bunch is lined out and you think it’s time to get to the front, get a free ride up there on someone else’s wheel. Someone will be thinking the same thing as you so look for the right wheel and you’ll make your life substantially easier.”
Jan Van Eijden, Team GB Sprint coach
“If you’ve done the training, then I think it comes down a lot to your head on race day. One thing is you need to keep your head free and you need to make sure that your race preparation is going well. Make sure the night before when you go to bed you have a good feed and on race day
don’t be too stressed. Make sure you arrive at the race with plenty of
time so you don’t have to rush and get your number, so just make sure
that you arrive well in time to avoid stress.”
Erick Rowsell, NetApp-Endura
“My tip would be wear the correct clothing. If you’re too cold your body won’t perform to its best. It also works the other way if you overheat, so think about what the weather is doing and dress accordingly. Your body will need to use so much extra energy to keep you warm if you’re under-dressed and that energy could go into making your bike go faster.”
Chris Furber, paracycling lead coach
“Bend your arms and tuck your elbows in. Eighty per cent of a cyclist’s energy is used to overcome air resistance so reduce your frontal surface area by trying to get as small as possible.”
Laura Trott, Team GB
“I heard wearing longer socks is more aerodynamic than short socks. I also always got moaned at for not tucking my elbows in, that helps too.”
Lewis Oliva, British Cycling Academy Sprint Programme
your bike downhill! My serious point is 360° pedalling. It’s amazing
how many people forget there are two sides to a circle and only power
through 180 degrees!
The principle is based around the ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of each stroke, rather than a jerk type of movement,
concentrate on smoother circles and rounding off each pedal. Think about
the circular motion rather than ‘up and down’. If done correctly you
should feel a burn in both hamstrings and glutes!”
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