3 Ways To Cycle FASTER!

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by Rebecca

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Done your winter training and long bike rides but still feel as though you’re cycling all your rides at ‘one pace’ and getting no faster?

If you’ve worked on your endurance for many months, then no doubt your body gets comfortable riding at one long steady pace hour after hour. Even if you’ve done a lot of hill work, your body gets used to a ‘set pace’.  It’s only when you take part in your first sportive, or get out on a few rides with friends do you realise you’re ‘lacking snap in your legs.’

Now is the perfect time of year to start injecting ‘zip’ into your rides to lift you out of your ‘plod along pace’.  To get faster on the bike, you have to ride faster!  You have to pedal out of your comfort zone and expose your legs to some harder training.

The good news is sportives don’t demand constant hard accelerations like road racing does, so your training doesn’t have to be aggressively focused towards top-end intervals, or full out efforts of any sort.

To add more pace to your rides, choose a couple of short bike rides midweek and vary the following three trainings over two to three weeks.  By the end of week three you should start noticing improvements in your leg turnover, accelerations and general responsiveness to speed changes on all your rides:

1.  Fartlek training:

Fartlek is the Swedish word which means ‘speed play’.  In other words, you ‘play with your speed’ over whatever distance you wish.

Take a short bike ride, say 1-2 hours and deliberately change pace throughout the ride whenever you dictate.

For example, once you’re warmed up, step on the pedals and hold a minute riding harder than you would on a long bike ride, then resume back to your normal cycling pace.  Repeat this throughout your ride, varying the length of the work bout as you so choose.

Remember, the shorter the effort the harder you should work – however, I stress you shouldn’t kill yourself on each work bout – it’s not necessary. The aim is to ride ‘just out of’ your comfort zone to get used to what it’s like changing pace.  Your body adapts best to progressive bite sized loads, rather than going ‘all out as hard as you can’, which only serves to overtrain you.

2.  Acceleration training:

Again, on a short bike ride probably no longer than an hour (depending on fitness), change to a higher gear, get out the saddle for a few seconds and ‘accelerate’ down the road (for a few seconds) before resuming back in the saddle again.

Hold this faster pace  in the saddle for a minute or so (no more than two minutes), before resuming back to normal cycling pace.  Give yourself a good five minutes before you repeat. Work from 5 accelerations to a maximum of 10 over the course of 3 or 4 weeks.

Try this on the flats and in the hills – just work to the terrain you find on your bike ride. Again the effort level is about getting out of your ‘comfort plod pace’, but not about all out maximum effort or sprinting here.  You should feel the workout is ‘hard’ and look forward to a recovery, but not need to stop pedalling.

3.  Cadence (leg turnover) training:

On your longest ride of the week, take some time to become concious of your ‘cadence’ (leg turnover rate).  It is useful to therefore have a cadence sensor and read out, but if you don’t, just go by feel.

You want to practice upping your cadence from what you do normally on a long bike ride. So, at various points during your ride ‘spin’ out a low gear so the power to the pedals feels featherlight. The best place to start this is on a flat part of your bike ride, or slight downhill – just so you get the feel of the new cadence level.

Your aim is to hold a higher cadence than usual.  So for example, if you usually hold around 80 rpm on a bike ride, try holding 100 rpm for 5 minutes.  Repeat at various easy points during your ride over the course of several weeks.

Final words:

If you’ve done your endurance work and wondering why you’re not faster – it may be you need a quick pace lift.  These workouts require no big time investment and can be built into any commute or bike ride you have scheduled.

By riding out of your comfort zone in bite sized chunks regularly during the coming weeks, you should see a marked improvement in your ‘speed’ as we approach summertime sportives.

If you benefited from this post, do share with your friends – I’m sure they want to know how they could get faster on a bike – and these are straightforward workouts to get started with!  I also look forward to any comments you have below:

 

 

 

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

BRENT April 11, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Hey Rebecca,
Wow, the statement you mentioned in the first paragraph discribes me perfectly. I have been riding Randounearing events and can really put down the miles, except I don’t seem to be getting faster. I started riding with a very fast group on Tuesday nights and it has the nick name of “bully ride” I end up gettting dropped at some point during the ride. They also ride on Thursday nights too. My concern was if I ride both nights that I might be doing too much fast riding in one week. My hear rate on these rides sits at 85% and gets above 90% during parts before I’m blown off the back. I riding these to develope speed. Do you think doubling up is to much? I read your Recovery parts too. It concerned me about putting to much fatigue into my legs…. Being a 2nd year cyclist, and not having a coach is hard to tell if I would push to much by doing that.

Thanks,
Brent

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Rebecca April 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Hi Brent,

It sounds as though it may be a little too hard too soon for you. If you’re ‘doubting it’, usually it means it’s probably too much.

Riding with others is a good way to build speed, but if it’s tipping you into wiping you out over the next few days and you are not recovered by your weekend long ride events, then two hard bully rides is definitely too much.

It sounds like this bully ride is set up for racers and it will be aggressive with no-one hanging around! I’d suggest riding one bully ride a month – just to test yourself, but back off from them completely every single week – it’s too much and will leave you wiped to do other training during the week – remember, you don’t have to go as hard as you can to get the adaptation to the speed you need.

Instead, EITHER find a group that’s your riding level (might be hard to find) – even better is a group with the same event objectives and do some ‘chain gang’ work (simply tempo ride, pulling through the front and taking turns on front at a goodly pace, then recovering within the group) will be sufficient to get you out of your ‘rut’, – OR do my workouts above.

Whichever you choose, start with one short hard ride a week (with the other ride mid week as a ‘choice’ bike ride, where you just ride for pure enjoyment) – and build up to two shorter hard rides by mid summer – keeping your one long quality ride going each week. That’s it!

Hope this helps and keep me posted as to how you get on,

Rebecca

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Gary May 5, 2011 at 7:59 am

Hi Rebecca
I’m training for the London to hasting which is in august this year,
It’s a 70 mile ride with lots of difficult hills at the end spread over the last 15 miles.
My training started a month ago and is as follows.

Tuesday 25 mile on bike trainer in zone 2
Thursday 6/8 cycles of zone 4 bursts of 30 seconds over approx 1 hour
Sunday 45/50 mile loop of Kent on the road.

I stick to this each week and assume an increase of 10% every 2 weeks until the sportive is enough. Any comments on the above would be appreciated.
Am I doing enough training or should I be doing more.
Finally I enjoyed reading your post some interesting points I have taken on board.
Regards
Gary

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Rebecca May 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm

Hi Gary, sorry for the delay in replying to you!

Going on the little you’ve given me here, it would seem you are on the right track and taking a sensible approach to your training! So a few ideas for you to try. Remember if any of this is too much, just back off from it and do what YOU can honestly manage:

1. You’ve got your essential long weekend ride there which you should try to increase by a sensible amount every so often – 2 weeks – yes, 10% is about right – go by feel. I think if you can reach the 60 mile mark on your long bike ride, you will know you can finish a 70 mile ride. Aim for this 60 miler about two weeks out from the 70 mile sportive…will give you loads of confidence going into the event.

2. You also have a short intensive session midweek – excellent. I’d focus this on hill work. Find a set of hills and work up and down them. Practice technique on all of them so you get confident at hill climbing. The actual fact you’re climbing hills will be excellent power training without having to force the pace – they will be hard enough! Just work up them and try to push over the summits…practice in and out the saddle technique so your body is prepared using these muscles before the day. Build this up over the weeks to about 2 hours of cycling, no more. This will be hard training.

3. You have another midweek but on the trainer – is there a reason you are on the trainer right now Gary? Do get on the road now if at all possible! You need time in the saddle out on the road. Go by what you feel you’d like to do on this ride on Tuesday…I’d look to initially build up your 25 mile ride to about 40 miles by the time your event is due. OR, you could alternate each week between this ride or doing your speed accelerations you mention above – really it’s down to choice here to build in ‘variety’ so you don’t get too stale doing the same stuff each week!

I think if you can keep these 3 rides going over the next few months with ample recovery built in, you will be very well prepared for the 70 miler! Final tip: remember to practice your eating and drinking…:-)

Hope this helps – you are on the right track, great stuff!

Let me know how you get on!

Rebecca

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gary May 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Hi Rebecca,
Thank you for your prompt response, to answer some of your questions
I train on the bike trainer in the week because apart from my weekend ride the midweek training is during the evening and the traffic in my area is not cycle friendly
this is done for safety reasons only.
I eat cliff bars at approx 30 minute intervals and use sis electro drink products. If my ride is over 2 hours on completion i use recovery drinks.
The ride i am doing is for The British Heart Foundation so am keen to make sure i complete and not let the charity down.
your comments have been very helpful.

thanks again
Gary

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Mustafa June 12, 2011 at 6:57 am

Hi Rebacca,

What is the proper way to shift from 39/14 to 53/19 (and vice versa)? I could not figure which derailleur to be shifted first – FD or RD?

Thank you.
M

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Rebecca June 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Hi Mustafa,

You want to first shift up to the higher (bigger) 53 chainring, THEN click down to the lower (smaller) sprockets at the back wheel, so once on the 53 x 14, shift down to the lower 19.

You don’t shift down from 39 x 14 to 39 x 19 first, or you lose speed and momentum along the road before shifting up the the 53 big ring…better to get the traction of the big chain ring even if it feels a bit big for a moment, then shift down…

SO shifting from small ring to big ring: – it’s always best practice to shift to the big ring FIRST, then adjust your sprockets at the back so in this example – from the 14 down to the 19.

However, when shifting the opposite way: you have to be careful if you are on the big 53 chain ring and want to drop down to the 39 smaller chain ring. Watch if you’re in the last 2 LOWEST sprockets, say a 53 x 25, you have to FIRST shift the back sprockets to a higher gear say a 53 x 19 THEN shift onto the small chainring…and the chain should stay on the bike!

Takes a while to get used to it all, but soon will be intuitive Mustafa!

Hope this helps…

Rebecca

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nick July 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Hi Rebecca,
well, getting into it and all that, this is the first year I’ve followed the tour every day on the telly, and I have to say I have been simply flabbergasted at the reported speeds these people are doing on the flat. I thought 45 mph was the sort of top speed a track cyclist sprints to, not the sort of speed maintained over the last 10 km of a 200-km tour stage! That’s just insane. I’ve never ever done 45mph downhill, let alone on the flat! The local cycling club’s website says that for their ‘fast’ weekend ride, you have to be able to do 20mph average speed over about a 60-70 mile undulating ride – something which I’m certainly not capable of yet, but maybe work-uppable-to over a few years… but when you consider that the average speed of the tour riders these days is about 25mph, that’s just astonishing! ( http://bikeraceinfo.com/tdf/tdfstats.html ) Which brings me to my question. How is it humanly possible to train to ride at 45 mph on the flat? Even for short 10-second periods?! Surely wind resistance is exponential, so doing 40mph is not twice as hard as doing 20mph, its probably 10 times as hard! How on earth do they train to do this? Or were they just born in a different league genetically?! I suspect the latter, as I have an anecdote from my better half who is from Chester; her brother in his youth was turning into a very good young club rider at about age 17 – perfect age, really fast, beating everyone in his club, thinking about doing it seriously – until he got to race Boardman in a local time trial (Chris B being from nearby). He only just beat him – but Boardman at the time was only THIRTEEN! And apparently, the next year, Boardman at a tender fourteen just wiped the floor with everybody, including the top adults. Which does suggest some people are just born several leagues above everyone else in their ability :-) ( And poor Bruv-in-law has been in I.T. ever since. ) Ahhhh! :-D

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Rebecca July 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Hi Nick – they go that fast for the flatter stages simply because they are riding in a peloton split up into teams. They have teams of 4-8 riders sitting on the front of the peloton taking turns on the front within the same team pulling everyone along. If you look closely you’ll see the front boy going flat out and then someone takes over after a few moments on the front – THIS is how they average such high average speeds. Also if you then look at the back of the peloton you’ll see people ‘freewheeling’ in the draft of the boys on the front…these boys are resting up and then may take their team on the front to completely hammer it along – depending of course on what tactics is going on up ahead.

Also, the riders you see on the TV are the best you get in cycling – it takes many years of refinement both mentally and physically to get to professional level. I’m going to write a post soon on what makes a pro rider – there’s a lot to it for which I don’t have space to write in here….

Cheers.

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marino rodriguez November 14, 2012 at 11:47 am

hi Rebecca, thanks very much for your generosity sharing your knowlede with begginers like me, I just did a sprint triathlon and found it very tough on the bike after the swim, I get past by a lot a cyclist when training but Im determined to improve and reading your advise is going to help me a great deal I didnt know that you should use the most comfortable gear rather than a high gear, very excited to try all these things soon keep up your good work very much appreciated

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Mack July 18, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Hi Rebecca,

Thanks so much for taking time and sharing your knowledge free. I thihk this is what’s lacking in the sport of cycling.
This is a typical american life/story:
work 8 to 5, kids pickup from day care, only time to cycle is weekend so that leaves a max of 4 hours a week.
I do 25 to 35 miles and try to stay withing 16mp/hr to 20mp/hr. I also add one day on a stationary bike for 45 minutes then squats, deadlift, shoulders, foreman, Abs.
How can i maximize this time if i want to race in a crit and do the MS150 in 6 months time?
Thanks for your time.

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Rebecca July 19, 2013 at 6:54 am

Mack- thanks for commenting. For the exact answer to your question, please read my Amazon Kindle ebook: “The Time Starved Cyclist’s Training Formula: How to Train for 100 Miles and NOT get divorced!” HERE for Americans: http://www.amazon.com/Time-Starved-Cyclists-Training-Formula-ebook/dp/B00BBADT1A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374209518&sr=8-1&keywords=the+time+starved+cyclists+training+formula

It is a quick read and even though it focuses on 100 miles, can be applied to any type of distance, – it should help you out enormously Mack with finding TIME to train, AND how to train around a hectic schedule. Over in the USA, I have had little reviews (???)…if you find it useful, please write a review in return!!

Hope this helps!

R

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helan November 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

hi i have been tackling the same route each day into work and have had no improvement in my leg muscles now for the last year, been doing this route for 5 years, and i m not getting any faster, how can i tackle getting up the 10 min hill climb to less minutes, im 43 female, and want to go faster up that hill!!

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Rebecca November 12, 2013 at 11:24 am

Hi Helan, – yes, you’ve adapted fully to your cycle route. You need harder workouts Helan, but as you probably don’t have too much time, it is best to up your intensity and start interval training. Here’s a few ideas to make things harder so you go faster up that hill:

1. When you get to the hill, push hard up that hill, go MUCH harder than you normally do.
2. Add panniers to your bike..will weigh you down considerably and make you work harder on your route to work! I’ve done this and it can significantly boost leg strength for cycling, specially working up those hills…!
2. Think about adding some indoor bike (turbo training) doing short “interval workouts” (see my Cycling Turbo Guide as it has 20 workouts you can do indoors, plus help in getting started).

You definitely need a change in bike routine Helan, and I think if you can do that, you’ll start to see your fitness go through the roof :-)

Remember though to respect recovery after your workouts too…don’t ride hard all the time, or you’ll get fit, then stale of it…just two hard workouts indoors a week should suffice, together with your commutes. And, don’t forget your weekends. If you can get outdoors, get in the hills…!

Hope this helps,

All the best!

R.

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Tom Edward January 7, 2014 at 2:47 am

Thanks Rebecca, I am new to cycling and got to a point where I couldn’t get any faster without depleting my reserves. I am so happy that I found this article. I am currently doing the Fartlek training and am getting great results. It is crazy how something so simple can bring such great results.

Off topic, Im not sure with all this internet stuff but rebecca have you heard of MyCycling? I had a look at a great review at http://www.how-to-cycle-faster.com and was interested to know if this website is genuine?

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Rebecca January 7, 2014 at 8:34 am

Hi Tom,

Great to hear you are getting much out of your cycling and keeping it simple. Sounds like you got a good balance of training and recovery there – keep it all going!
As to MyCycling, I know of its presence but not of what it is like to use. Perhaps contact them and see how they respond to your preliminary questions and go from there?

Thanks and have a great day!

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