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  1. #1
    Senior Member MinnMan's Avatar
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    Is there a barrier around 17 MPH?

    I took up quasi-serious riding about 10 weeks ago and I'm making satisifying progress, both in stamina and in speed. Whereas at the outset my rides were typically 13-18 miles with average times (including stops for lights, etc.) that amounted to about 13 MPH, now they are 20+ miles (and a few 25-40 miles) with average speeds just above 16 MPH.

    I have no onboard electronics, so I know my speeds only after I come home and write down my distances and total travel times.

    But here's the funny thing. For the last 3 weeks, almost all my rides (all but 2, actually) end up being between 16 and 17 MPH. If I feel like it was a fast ride, it's 16.x MPH. If I feel like it was not so fast, it's 16.x MPH. 18 miles -> 16.x MPH 38 miles-> 16.x MPH.

    Make no mistake, I"m really happy about my progress, but I"m kind of wondering if there's some kind of barrier at about this speed that I"m going to need to overcome with time...

  2. #2
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    There is a requirement of 16.5 MPH to participate in a 3,000 mile Cross America tour at 120 miles per day for 25 biking days.
    I have done this tour twice and found it difficult to do.
    I often do 100 miles on flat course. My consistent best average is just below 20 MPH average.
    There are cyclist able to do much better but they follow exercise routines different then my routine.
    I hear that Interval training is the way to go.

  3. #3
    Senior Member MinnMan's Avatar
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    Yeah, I"m trying to do intervals, but I won't be able to do them right until I invest in some electronics. Also, on a flat course (which is most everything around here), I have trouble sustaining high heart rates unless I"m standing or chasing somebody fast.

  4. #4
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    There's nothing in your post or your profile to indicate the sort of bike you ride. That could be the factor right there, since wind resistance becomes the major thing to overcome at around that speed.

    Back when I had my hybrid, 15 or 16 was the maximum I could hope to comfortably achieve given the upright position. On my road bikes, the upper teens is right about where I have to decide if I'm happy, or if I want want more speed. If the latter, I need to move to the drops. This gets me another MPH without changing my cadence or how hard I'm pedaling.

    So based on my experience, I'm thinking wind resistance.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member Kurt Erlenbach's Avatar
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    I have a 17-mile course that I do frequently, and it was a great day when I finally did it under an hour. 17 mph really is a milestone.

    Keep in mind that the energy needed to increase speed increases exponentially as you go faster (someone else here knows the formula). It's much easier to increase from 10 to 12 mph than from 15 to 17.

    Also, you should know that at speeds above 13 mph, more than half your effort goes to overcome wind resistance. For that reason, more aerodynamic clothes, posture, and bikes start to make a big difference. The bike matters also. When I upgraded from a heavy aluminum model to a low-end carbon, my average rose about 2 mph almost immediately.

  6. #6
    Legs; OK! Lungs; not! bobthib's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MinnMan View Post
    Yeah, I"m trying to do intervals, but I won't be able to do them right until I invest in some electronics. Also, on a flat course (which is most everything around here), I have trouble sustaining high heart rates unless I"m standing or chasing somebody fast.
    See if you can find a bike club and go on some rides. Riding with a B group in pace lines and sprints will do much to help. I was in you boat in Feb when I started. Now I can hang with the A group at 22- 25 for 10 or 15 miles, and "ride my age" (61) at 17.5+ Best "Ride my age" was at 18.1.

    Do't for get to do some other exercises to build core strength and endurance.
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  7. #7
    Older than dirt CCrew's Avatar
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    Past 15mph most all of the energy is to overcome aerodynamics (or lack thereof). Type of bike and position on the bike become important players.

  8. #8
    Junior Member Melliman's Avatar
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    I'm hitting the same speeds (mid 16's) after about 10 weeks of riding (flat terrain), too - on a mid-80's road bike with no special clothing. Going clipless got me another .5 mph. I'm noticing a lot more 17's, 18's and 19's on my speedo, though - I figure I'm getting better - never thought of a plateau. Although my goal for the season is 18, I'm not sure it's worth riding the drops to get another 1 mph, though. I lose a lot of time at stops - even though my speedo pauses at stops, my average speed always drops .1 or .2 mph at stop lights. With the extra blow I gain at stops, it probably evens out somehow.

    You guys in your mid-50's (I'm 56) - how fast are you going on flat terrain?

  9. #9
    Flying Under the Radar X-LinkedRider's Avatar
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    Good job and effort in the progress so far. I would think it is hard to be certain without a bike computer. Even if it is a cheap 20 dollar one, go get one. It eliminates all of the guessing and such when dong the numbers.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member Allegheny Jet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melliman View Post
    You guys in your mid-50's (I'm 56) - how fast are you going on flat terrain?
    I'm 56. Last night's solo ride was 39.3 miles with around 900' of climbing @ an average of 20.1 mph. The workout was a Zone 2 ride (127 -138 BPM) however I did push up a couple hills into the mid Zone 3. I follow a periodization training program that includes intervals, tempo rides, active recovery rides and rest.

    Three years ago most of my rides were in the Zone 3 area. I could ride for a couple hours at that rate (18 to 19 mph) but could only last a few minutes if I pushed any harder. Generally recreational riders spend most of their time in the Z-3 range which is the muscular endurance range. In order to get faster doing intervals in higher Zones are needed to push the system to be able to produce more power, recover, process waste from the muscle and build mitochondria. Riding with faster people or in fast group rides is doing a form of interval where your body is pushed beyond the comfort limit then recovers during the ride.
    Last edited by Allegheny Jet; 09-24-09 at 08:11 AM.
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  11. #11
    Older than dirt CCrew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melliman View Post
    You guys in your mid-50's (I'm 56) - how fast are you going on flat terrain?
    That's dependent on the bike I'm riding. My Cross bike I cruise right around 20mph on the hoods and with cross tires.

    Have a zoot TT bike, when I uncork that I roll right around 25mph. I'm 53. Road bike on 23's I'm right in the middle, 22-23. We're talking cruising speeds, not sprints tho.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Garfield Cat's Avatar
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    I think its time for you to get a bike computer and get the real statistics.

  13. #13
    Elite Rider Hermes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegheny Jet View Post
    I'm 56. Last night's solo ride was 39.3 miles with around 900' of climbing @ an average of 20.1 mph. The workout was a Zone 2 ride (127 -138 BPM) however I did push up a couple hills into the mid Zone 3. I follow a periodization training program that includes intervals, tempo rides, active recovery rides and rest.

    Three years ago most of my rides were in the Zone 3 area. I could ride for a couple hours at that rate (18 to 19 mph) but could only last a few minutes if I pushed any harder. Generally recreational riders spend most of their time in the Z-3 range which is the muscular endurance range. In order to get faster doing intervals in higher Zones are needed to push the system to be able to produce more power, recover, process waste from the muscle and build mitochondria. Riding with faster people or in fast group rides is doing a form of interval where your body is pushed beyond the comfort limit then recovers during the ride.
    +1 I thought the 39.3 and 20.1 was one way slightly downhill.

    Watch out for the "average" speed trap. IMHO, focus on average speed leads to mediocrity. Now, that is not so bad, but if the focus is about improvement there are better choices. The problem is as Jet stated, focusing on average speed puts the rider in Z3 or Tempo. Tempo riding does not offer much more benefit that riding in Z2 or Endurance but makes one more tired requiring longer recovery. It is seductive because you go faster and can do it without too much discomfort. Many riders get very good at riding Tempo but are very weak in other areas. Training in Z4 Threshold, Z5 VO2 Max and Z6 Anaerobic Threshold improve VO2 Max and Threshold power. However, they offer the most suffering. Mixing up the training zones with less emphasis on Z3 riding solo usually results in lower average speed. However, you will be better prepared for riding in groups with accelerations and staying with the pack on hills.

    The way to break through plateaus is by riding mostly in Z2 with some Z3 and throw in some Z4, Z5 and Z6. Group rides MAY help but if you end up in tempo the entire time and not higher zones, you will just be more tired.

    As far as increasing heart rate and power on flat courses, that is a mental thing. You just have to learn to kill it. That is get going whatever - 17 mph and 90 cadence. Then shift into a bigger gear and then dramatically increase power or level of effort. The speed with increase and soon you will be doing 90 cadence again. Mentally, you have to now hold 90 cadence and do not let it drop. Your heart rate will respond in a couple of minutes. Then do it again and again until you get your heart rate where you want it. You have to train your brain. Once you learn this technique, you can ditch the kill it concept because you will do it automatically any time you want to.

    IMO, the simplest electronics setup to monitor and improve performance is heart rate, speed, time and cadence.
    Last edited by Hermes; 09-24-09 at 10:21 AM.

  14. #14
    Pat
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    As stated above, at speeds in excess of 17 mph, wind resistance gets to be a big factor.

    But there is another thing. If you are taking an average speed, often road hinderances slow the average speed.

    I, recall years ago, I had a 40 mile loop I did. I had a computer that I could turn off and then turn on. I rode the course 2 ways. On the first, I just let the computer run and took the average. On the other, any time I had to slow down for a stop sign or to wait for traffic to clear, I turned the computer off before I started slowing and turned it on when I got back to the cruising speed. Interestingly enough the difference between the two averages was 2 mph and that was on largely rural roads. I think the one average was something like 19 and the other 21.

    Around here in a more suburban environment, even riding with a "fast" group it is hard to average over 20 mph. There are just too many times you have to stop for lights or stop at intersections for traffic to clear to get an average of 20 mph. You can get up to speeds in the high 20s every so often but those are outweighed by the 4 mph coasting into a red light.

    The thing is your computer average speed is usually well below your normal cruising speed for that ride.

  15. #15
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Depends a lot on the terrain- and I don't just mean up and down. Corners- slowing for them and accelerating away from them count a lot.

    I have a 10 mile route to the coast and If I push I can get 16mph on the trip down to the seafront. Route only has about 300 ft of climbing but a few sharp bends and the last 2 miles or so involves traffic. Return trip and I will be lucky to get 13mph.

    Then give me a Metric century and I am dissapointed if I don't average 16mph. The ones I do involve a fair amount of hills and downhills don't make up for climbs.

    Never really done flat rides but did 13miles at an average of 21 mph last saturday on a completely flat course. less than 100 ft of elevation in the 13 miles.
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  16. #16
    gone ride'n cyclinfool's Avatar
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    Comparing average speeds is like comparing apples & oranges. I find average speed is usefull for tracking long term progress on a given part of a given course - for example I track average speed on my 6AM morning ride after I have done 1 mile of warmup and then after I crest the second big hill 15 mile later, then follows 2 miles of cool down which at the end I don't care what my average is. On this ride my best average has been 17.7mph and that was last year. Hermes is right - average in general is not a good guage of what your ability as a racer will be - maybe in time trials only. However average is a good long term indictor of progress if you are taking the average of the right thing - same course and your own individual effort.

    You ask is there some barrier at 17MPH, my answer to that is most likely yes. I suspect the barrier is again the law of averages. Most of the B group riders I know are 16 to 17 mph riders. It seems that this is what the normal fit person can achieve given a normal to moderate training regime and some time working at it. The faster riders I know are like Hermes, they train harder, put more time into it, race and are in general more serious about speed. They can achieve more. So I would say, if you want to go faster you will need to train to go faster and you will have to continue to train to sustain that.
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  17. #17
    just keep riding BluesDawg's Avatar
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    You can cover a lot of miles at 17 mph.
    The more you ride your bike, the less your ass will hurt.

  18. #18
    King of the molehills bcoppola's Avatar
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    Mine's at 27 mph.





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  19. #19
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    Hills, real hills, impact average speed alot. Also I think there is a force field that prevents you from going faster than 18 mph. on a bike.

  20. #20
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MinnMan View Post
    I have no onboard electronics, so I know my speeds only after I come home and write down my distances and total travel times.
    Highly recommend you get a cyclocomputer, even if just a cheap one.
    What is your technique for knowing how far you've ridden?
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  21. #21
    Senior Member MinnMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JanMM View Post
    Highly recommend you get a cyclocomputer, even if just a cheap one.
    What is your technique for knowing how far you've ridden?
    I use map.myride.com. But clearly onboard electronics are in my near-future. I resist them in part because I fear they'll take some of the fun out of the ride - I want to be looking at the scenery and letting my mind wander, not obsessing about numbers. But it seems that I'm beginning to obsess about numbers anyway, so...

  22. #22
    Senior Member MinnMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclinfool View Post

    You ask is there some barrier at 17MPH, my answer to that is most likely yes. I suspect the barrier is again the law of averages. Most of the B group riders I know are 16 to 17 mph riders. It seems that this is what the normal fit person can achieve given a normal to moderate training regime and some time working at it. The faster riders I know are like Hermes, they train harder, put more time into it, race and are in general more serious about speed. They can achieve more. So I would say, if you want to go faster you will need to train to go faster and you will have to continue to train to sustain that.
    This seems dead-on. I'm not interested in racing, I just am goal-oriented and I want to improve myself. But maybe I should just be OK with 17 MPH. I can maintain excellent fitness that way and I can really enjoy some reasonably challenging rides. I'll work on doing intervals when I can and, in the spring, hunt for a cycling club that seems like a good fit.

    As always, thanks everybody for your wise counsel.

  23. #23
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    Interesting to read above many good comments.
    They reflect my experience on a 46 mile long paved trail in Florida. There is lots of wind and lots of intersections. Therefore, as someone said, average speed is only meaningful for that training course.
    I regularly do that trail for 70 miles and feel accomplished if I go over 19 MPH average. That requires top speeds over 25 MPH and sprints from intersections.
    I was stuck at 17 MPH average as the OP is complaining about UNTIL I trained to use Aerobars efficiently. Now I can regularly go better then 18 MPH and perhaps dream of 20 MPH if the stars are aligned properly.
    Doing that what Hermes describes requires a change of mindset for me. I do not race at all and probably never will. Cycling is exercise to keep me active and healthy. I do not like accidents but like to go fast and steady to burn calories and keep the blood circulating.
    My idea of Interval training is to push on occasion above HR 150 (age 68). I push my limits to go with fast groups on occasion. There are very few cyclist going at speeds Hermes describes on that trail in Florida and none on trails in Wisconsin or Illinois.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by MinnMan View Post
    I use map.myride.com. But clearly onboard electronics are in my near-future. I resist them in part because I fear they'll take some of the fun out of the ride - I want to be looking at the scenery and letting my mind wander, not obsessing about numbers. But it seems that I'm beginning to obsess about numbers anyway, so...
    Like you, I ignored computers and just looked at my watch and miles traveled on trails with miles marked. As we get older, it is sort of nice that there is one activity you can actually improve at and measure it. A Cateye Astrale 8 for instance gives you average speed, cadence, top speed and other options. Going on a training circular trail will show your improvement or not.
    Proper Nutrition, Aerobars, Bike weight, Tire size, ability to sprint, body weight and willingness to suffer some pain all will be reflected in average speed on a given route.
    Not bad for an old dog.

  25. #25
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    If you don't want to see the data as you ride, just cover the display with electrical tape. Reset before you start and refer to the numbers afterwards.
    RANS V3 (steel), RANS V-Rex, RANS Screamer

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