Cycling competitions like the 2016 World Human-Powered Speed have seen cyclists clocking speeds as high as 88.26 mph. The famous Todd Reichert hit this speed on a bullet-shaped bike, which was an improvement from the previous year’s speed of 86.65 mph.
The average cyclist might not hit such high speeds because they don’t use bikes designed for high speeds. However, knowing how fast you can go on a bike is essential to determining the steps you must take to improve your cycling performance. We explain how fast cyclists can ride a bike and factors that could inhibit their speed.
How Fast Can You Ride a Bike?
An untrained cyclist is likely to pedal a bike at an average of 10-14 miles an hour. A few weeks of training may improve their speed to 15-20 mph, and a few more weeks of intense conditioning yield 25-30 mph.
Professional cyclists cycle at much higher speeds of 45 mph when using raw power to propel bikes on the road. Todd Reichert is one cyclist who clocks speeds as high as 82.82 mph on unpaced bikes. Besides one’s skill level, other factors that determine how fast you can go on a bike include:
This factor encompasses the cyclist’s weight and that of the bike. Typically weight increases the gravitational pull; thus, the heavier the bike, the great the force, and the slower you’re likely to cycle.
That’s why professional bikes are made from super-light materials, sometimes weighing an astounding four pounds. Conversely, most ordinary bikes are heavy, weighing 18-20 pounds, making it challenging to propel them at high speeds.
Strength and Endurance
Leg and thigh muscle strength and endurance are critical to determining cycling speed. The more time you spend pedaling, the stronger your body gets, making it easy to pedal long distances. After some time, you won’t need to exert too much effort pedaling the same distance.
Endurance also plays a critical role in one’s cycling speed. There’s no shortcut to improving endurance — you need to spend hours on the bike over an extended period to develop it. Be sure to fuel up adequately for the journey and carry energy drinks and snacks to boost energy stores.
You may also pace the rides, starting with the easiest and pushing yourself harder until you achieve the desired goal. Breaking up the journey into smaller intermediate goals makes the experience more accessible. Such strategies go a long way in helping the body to develop endurance.
To propel the bike forward, the cyclist must push through a mass of air, creating resistance. Resistance has a greater impact on the cycling speed than any other factor accounting for 43-75% of the total resistance.
The body pierces through the surrounding air, creating friction between the air particles and the cyclist’s body. Adopting unique postures like a crouched down position when cycling minimizes resistance by allowing air to flow over one’s curved forms instead of hitting the chest.
Other factors like the cyclist’s clothing and the helmet increase resistance. Form-fitting jerseys, possibly one-piece clothing or shorts, come in handy. For the helmet, look for an aero road helmet to minimize resistance.
Another aspect that increases resistance is the aerodynamics of the bike. How you cycle can increase or reduce resistance. Focus on pedaling the front tire because it isn’t too wide, the bladed spokes, and the semi-aero front rim. Cycling the deep rear wheel and the deep front rim minimizes resistance.
The type of bike you’re cycling influences speed significantly. Different bikes are capable of varying speeds, terrains, and riding styles. Here’s an overview of different bike types and their average speeds:
These bikes are for off-road racing, so they are the best for climbing steep hills and riding rough terrains with sand, dirt, and mulched trails. Mountain bikes have a vast selection of gears to choose from but have low gear ratios.
As such, you must pedal harder to attain the same speed you would achieve when using a road bike. On average, mountain bikes have a speed of 10-12 mph, the slowest speed compared to racing or road bikes.
That’s because mountain bikes have large tires that create more resistance when cycling. A large part of the tire’s surface comes into contact with the road, creating more friction, and reducing the bike’s speed. Besides the bike’s construction, the cyclist’s experience in off-road cycling determines the overall speed.
If going for long-distance cycling, touring bikes are the best. They have a sturdy steel construction to endure long distances, hence less likely to attain high speeds. Combined with the air resistance created when cycling and the luggage you’re likely to bring for the trip, it’s impossible to achieve speeds higher than 11-15 mph.
This bike type is specifically for racing. You can achieve speeds between 15-20 mph or higher on flat surfaces. Road bikes are made from light materials like carbon fiber and aluminum, making it easy to propel them. When combined with its narrow tires, you achieve higher speeds and less air resistance.
This popular category combines the features of a road bike and a mountain bike. They have wide tires like mountain bikes to enhance stability, but they generate more friction, slowing you down when cycling.
However, they cycle faster than mountain bikes achieving speeds between 12-18 mph. Another benefit of hybrid bikes is that you can use them on rough and smooth surfaces. And since the bikes allow you to use a comfortable upright position when riding, there’s less strain on your back and shoulders.
These bikes are similar to road bikes, except they have wider tires to withstand rough terrains. The wide tires provide a firm grip on uneven surfaces, helping you achieve balance.
However, there’s a cost — the cycling speed. With gravel bikes, you can only achieve speeds of 15-16 mph, and you need to put in extra effort when riding fast. You can adopt a more aerodynamic position to minimize air resistance, making it easy to gain speed.
Other Bike Features
Besides the bike type, specific features like the tires, wheels, and gearing systems also impact the cycling speed. They include:
The misconception that wider tires are slower couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, wider tires cycle faster than narrower ones. That’s because wide tires cut through the wind resistance, allowing you to achieve high speeds. That’s why high-end racing bikes have wider tires (25-32 mm in width) than ordinary bikes.
The system absorbs the impact bumps and rough terrains, allowing you to propel the bike faster. You want to look for a bike with a suspension system. Typically, high-end racing bikes have these features except road bikes.
It goes without saying; that the fitter you’re, the easier it is to achieve high cycling speeds. You must practice harder to achieve high speeds if you’re a beginner with zero experience and a low fitness level.
Muscle fatigue is likely to set in two to three days into practice, which is the adaptation period. Many beginners tend to give up but stretching a few times during the day and eating protein-rich foods minimizes its impact.
The road condition impacts the cycling speed significantly. Typically, the highest speeds can only be attained and sustained on straight, paved roads. If cycling on rough terrains, the cycling speed could reduce by 2-3 mph depending on your skill level and bike type.
Aspects like wind and rain affect the cycling speed. Wind increases resistance, reducing your speed significantly. The aerodynamic drag accounts for the greatest resistance when the wind is a factor, compelling you to cycle harder to gain extra speed.
Another weather condition that could reduce your cycling speed is the humidity. If living in the Midwest and southern region of the United States, you spend lots of energy cooling your body.
The parts have a temperature of 85 F and relative humidity of 95%, which could be uncomfortable when cycling long distances. Areas like the western region experience more conducive weather conditions as the humidity are relatively low. Although it’s hot, you can cool your body more efficiently and continue cycling.
How to Improve Your Cycling Speed
Knowing factors affecting your cycling speed goes a long way in improving it. Here are tips on how to do it:
Being physically fit helps you cycle faster and for longer. The best way to achieve fitness is to maintain an active lifestyle and ride more frequently. Be sure to assess your skill level to avoid straining the body excessively.
An endurance rider, for example, should focus on the distance covered when cycling rather than speed. On the other hand, a sprinter trains with a focus on speed, not length.
As mentioned earlier, your posture is critical to your cycling speed. Adapting an aerodynamic posture when riding reduces resistance and improves the cycling speed significantly. This means pulling your arms closer to the body without extending them completely and bending them while dragging the elbows towards the sides.
Be sure to utilize the bike’s drop bars to achieve a more aerodynamic posture when riding. Lower bars allow the body to bend farther down, making the upper body smaller to minimize resistance.
Join a Cycling Group
Cycling with a group of people helps you improve your speed and encourages you to endure the long distance. The team pushes everyone to pedal faster without noticing. Be sure to join a group that rides slightly faster to push you to ride faster; otherwise, you’ll leave them behind every time you set out to race.
Improve Your Bike Handling Skills
You must know how to handle your bike. Some cyclists are constantly slamming the brakes to slow down, which significantly hampers their cycling speed. You should be able to descend a hill and negotiate sharp corners without hitting the brakes every few miles. Improving your bike handling skills also helps you ride closer to other cyclists, protecting you from the wind.
Have Quality Training Time
Training goes a long way in improving cycling speed. You can incorporate techniques like interval training to assess your progress over time. Go for two or three training sessions weekly, increasing the difficulty gradually. For example, you can spend 10 minutes sprinting, rest, and continue building up the intervals by five minutes.
So, How Fast Can You Go on a Bike?
Now you know the cycling speed is a function of many factors. While the cycling speed of an ordinary cyclist is 10-14 miles per hour, factors like the skill level, bike type, and weather conditions affect speed.
If training for a competition, identify factors that affect your speed and improve on them. You could be braking too much or using the wrong posture when riding. This guide should help you address all such issues.