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How fast is "average?"

Old 07-27-12, 08:35 AM
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How fast is "average?"

I recently found myself huffing and puffing along with a couple of guys with whom I’d never previously ridden. To be quite honest, it was a challenge keeping up and at one point, fearing I was slowing them down, I asked one of the guys how fast they normally rode.

“Oh, this is our normal speed,” he assured me.

I glanced down at my computer to see how fast we were going at the moment. Out of curiosity, I clicked over to see what the average speed was too. Quite naturally the “average” was somewhat less than the speed at which we were currently pedaling.

“So,” I hazarded. “What would you say your average speed is, start-to-finish, on these rides?”

He gave me an odd glance and simply re-stated the speed we were currently traveling. My ride partner informed me that he only counted the time he was at cruising speed into his average speed - start up, slow down, stops for lights and intersections didn't count into what he considered to be average speed. His "average" was how fast he was going down a road. Soon afterwards, he slipped into the front of the group, thus effectively putting to an end any further awkwardly complicated conversation.

I seldom track my average speed – frankly it’s not terribly relevant to my riding. But the other rider’s comments left me wondering. Are riders – even casual riders – so obsessed with speed that they kid themselves? I figure this is a better discussion for those of us in C&V because we are so diverse, and have so many different rides and riding styles (i.e., there is no one single "right" answer): How fast do you normally ride? How do you figure your average speed – do you factor in start-to-finish, or only after you’ve reached cruising speed?

Please discuss
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Old 07-27-12, 08:40 AM
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Eh, I honestly really don't pay much attention to either average or typical speeds. On my computer, the odometer gets the most looks. Then maybe the clock, and then the current speed if I know I have x miles to go and have promised my wife I'd be home at a certain time.
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Old 07-27-12, 08:42 AM
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I think cruising speed is more meaningful, as stops may go up or down depending on traffic/route choice/whatever. My overall average is MUCH lower than my average cruising speed.
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Old 07-27-12, 08:42 AM
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Average speed doesn't mean anything.
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Old 07-27-12, 08:48 AM
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I think it depends on a lot of factors. Some folks really enjoy the data side of things. They want to know as much as possible and track as much info as they can. Others just enjoy riding around and are not really concerned about data. In my view, both are fine.

I am most interested in total miles. Average speed runs a distant second. The key I have found, is to ride w/ folks who share a similar outlook. To me average speed is all inclusive from when you start to when you finish. If you subtract out stopping for lights/rest etc. in my view, you are fudging your aveage upward. My average speed is about 14mph. Not fast by any stretch but it works for me.
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Old 07-27-12, 08:50 AM
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Average speed, or Average MOVING speed. Those are two different animals.
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Old 07-27-12, 08:56 AM
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Average is definitely affecting not only by terrain, but by vehicular traffic, stoplights, etc. So you may normally ride along a flat road at 22mph, but your average for the ride might be 18. So which is more "accurate"? I would say the 22, but not because I'm trying to fool myself. But once you add in some bumps in the road (where I might ride at 8-10mph around here), then it's impossible to subtract out the "non-riding" variables.

I like to use averages when I'm doing the "same" ride over again, like our Tuesday night route. Even that's not perfect, but at least it gives me some baseline comparisons.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:02 AM
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Having a cycling computer,when I go alone on my rides, I go from 0-24mph and anywhere in between. Sustained group ride speeds are very different.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:02 AM
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Ride average seems to be 1mph faster than I am traveling, which is fime for me, I just follow along. I usually hear number like 13.8, 14.2 etc. I'm assuming that is averaged over the entire ride.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:09 AM
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When I use to race I was obsessed with all the data. I went out every ride at top speed. It got to the point where I started to hate cycling. I would go out with my iPod up full blast and it was just part of training. I stopped racing, sold my carbon torture machine and got a steel bike with friction shifting. Left the iPod aand garmin at home and fell in love with cycling again. It's so nice to just go for a ride. I ride by myself because of lack of riders in my area. My normal rides usually average 18 mph aand that's just fine with me.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:13 AM
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Personally I ride more by heart rate. To me this is a better way for me to track how my ride is going. There are way to many factors to take into account to use an average speed. Of course when I'm riding just to ride I really don't care about an average anything, mostly just about how many miles I've gone.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:17 AM
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Originally Posted by JReade View Post
Average speed, or Average MOVING speed. Those are two different animals.
This is ver true. By Strava, 16 mph seems to be the typical average.
Riding along, 21 mph is pretty sustainable on the flats. Factor in a head wind and things fall off pretty fast.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:25 AM
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Computer ?
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Old 07-27-12, 09:30 AM
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I look at my total mileage first, and is easily the most important. I have the average speed on my odometer, but rarely check it. If I do think about it I usually go old school and just figure it in my head the approximate speed (rounding up of course).
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Old 07-27-12, 09:32 AM
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I suppose cruising speed would be the most significant. Depending on the route, it could vary greatly. One direction from my home takes me into cornfield territory. The other direction is residential/business, with lots of stops. Averaging each to include stops would not be a fair assessment...not that it matters much to me. I rarely ride in groups and never cared much about speed, except when a pretty girl was kicking my arse.

Total distance was always more important to me, for use in directions.

I finally upgraded to a Garmin 605 this year. I believe it has a feature to ignore speeds below a set amount, which makes sense to me. I'll probably use that to calculate time-to-arrival for some light touring, unless the unit can do that too.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:36 AM
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You should try posting this in the 41.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:40 AM
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Originally Posted by AZORCH View Post
I seldom track my average speed – frankly it’s not terribly relevant to my riding.
Good policy. I'd stick with that.
Before reading Grant Peterson's book (actually more a collection of blogs printed into a thick pamphlet) I used to make each ride's average speed 20mph, and took pride in finishing my centuries in less than 5 hours.
But what's the point of driving to someplace beautiful like Solvang, Sunrise Highway or Death Valley to ride 100 miles if you're going to spend much of the time looking at the little digital display, and making that the primary determinant of your experience?
Even if you buy a power meter and train your guts inside out, there will always be faster riders.

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Old 07-27-12, 09:44 AM
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"Average" is totally relative to the group you're riding with. How fast does a grandma on a 50# roadster with double grocery panniers ride, on average? Maybe a nice easy recovery ride for the local Cat1s would be time-trial pace for me -- I'm no racer, just a guy who likes to ride a bike.

If the question is about "cruising" speed vs "overall average" speed, like in the analysis of a GPS recording... sure average speed is going to be a lot lower than cruising speed. You've got stops and climbs and stuff.

But it's that cruising speed that makes you feel like you're hanging on for dear life when you ride with a much faster group than usual.

Once I'd ridden with a speedometer enough to know that I could make it on the group rides after work, that was enough. I took it off and now my handlebars look cleaner. Sometimes I put an iPhone in my saddle bag, but you don't get any data out of that until after the ride's done and you're at home.

That's a nice compromise for me -- I think the data are entertaining/enlightening to have, but I don't want to be obsessing about them when I'm actually on the bicycle.

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Old 07-27-12, 09:45 AM
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Originally Posted by thinktubes View Post
You should try posting this in the 41.
That ought to be entertaining!
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Old 07-27-12, 09:49 AM
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While I admire the "I don't care how fast I go, or my average speed" attitude, it is not realistic when it comes to planning. You cannot plan a ride with other people unless you know how fast you all ride; you cannot plan a long ride unless you have some sense of whether you have time to finish it.

I like to ride a century every month, or sometimes a double metric, and aspire to longer rides, like triple metric or a double imperial century or whatever. But when we get over 125 miles or so, "how fast do you go" quickly translates to "how far can you go (in the time available)" and these are not rhetorical questions.

I find a century usually takes around ten hours when I'm by myself; more people means more time, not because you go slower, but because you spend more time not going. Average moving speed will be in the 15 - 16 mph range.
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Old 07-27-12, 09:52 AM
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Around here there are tons of hills; nothing is flat. Even the things that look flat aren't. Add in stopping all the time for stop signs, intersections, gawk at scenery, etc. and speeds on a ride (or at least my rides) start to vary wildly. I'll be down one hill doing 35-40 and up the next at 8.

In the end, average speed doesn't much matter to me. I count my miles and that's about it. I do plan distance of ride based on amount of time I have to ride. So, somewhere in the back of my mind, there is thought about average speed. But it's sort of an indirect thing...
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Old 07-27-12, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by thinktubes View Post
You should try posting this in the 41.
Originally Posted by photogravity View Post
That ought to be entertaining!
very true!
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Old 07-27-12, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by rhm View Post
While I admire the "I don't care how fast I go, or my average speed" attitude, it is not realistic when it comes to planning. You cannot plan a ride with other people unless you know how fast you all ride; you cannot plan a long ride unless you have some sense of whether you have time to finish it ... But when we get over 125 miles or so, "how fast do you go" quickly translates to "how far can you go (in the time available)" and these are not rhetorical questions.
I agree - this is far more relevant to my own riding also. It also relates to why I raised the questions to begin with... what you or I or anyone else defines as "average" may (and probably will) vary wildly, but each of us probably has some sort of context, i.e., "Oh, I can make that route in X hours" for instance. If you choose to ride with a group that "averages" X mph, one might be surprised if the group guesstimates their average speed using a different understanding than you do. I know it's all academic (and wholly unrelated to the attitudes most of us here subscribe to), but it made me curios about how different riders think about such things.

You know... the 41 not withstanding, of course!
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Old 07-27-12, 10:12 AM
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My average speed is SLOW.
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Old 07-27-12, 10:13 AM
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Good topic and questions. I see the point about average speed.

I only used a cyclo when I was doing early solo centuries. I generally ignored the speed readout because I found it distracting and got frustrated trying to "maintain" a certain mph. I used the odometer and the elapsed time, period. I have run 80 miles in 4.01 hours, but then struggled to maintain 14-16 for the last 20 miles. I've also been able to comfortably run 16mph the entire time, which goes a lot towards "pace yourself, you idiot!" self-awareness.

I'm with Ex-Pres on consistency. My main riding partner and I generally run about 18mph. I have no cyclo, and I pull 100% of the rides. She has one and keeps track of that stuff, and generally states an average at the end, per her cyclo. We've run 21 on really good days and 16 on bad days, and generally ride the same course. That is the only time I consider average to be average. As she's interested in being a better triathlete, I've convinced her to turn off the display when riding, and just try to improve her elapsed time.

Others, of course, run their HRM's and data, and I know a girl that has done that to great success, on her bike, much less so on her run, with her Ironman training. That was simply inexperience. You have to log a lot of miles at certain heart rates before you can start using that data in real time, while ignoring other variables. Lance and his coach were really the first to be able to use that type of information, because Lance could ignore or overcome a lot of the other variables (pain, etc).

With large group and charity rides, people are lining up next to the mph pace signs. A very few line up at the front and just ride away. Most end up about 2mph slower overall than where they line up. I've found my place there with the steel bikes, in the back, and while I do end up passing a large part of the field, my colleagues and I generally don't have cyclos, find it easier to overtake folks when they're spread out, and we get to see a lot of other bikes (and riders) while underway.

I'd say I normally ride 18mph, given a metric distance or less, and during this summer of very limited riding, that's more like 16mph. I only count start-finish time elapsed, less breaks. No cyclo for me, but I use a stopwatch for my breaks, and just subtract the total non-riding time from the overall time to figure an avg speed. I use 15mph as a guide for telling my wife when I'll be home. i.e. for a metric: "Honey, figure 4 hours for the ride and an hour or so for a beer and conversation, then I'll drive home."

For my workout rides I use the clock radio in the garage. Out the door at X time, in the door at Y time. 15 miles, as hard as I can in most cases, and the times are pretty consistent unless they're windy days. The time is irrelevant of clip-in time up the driveway, stops for traffic, and clip-out time in the driveway. I try to relate these times to what gearing I used that day. That's about as scientific as I get, or as accurate.

For training rides, the clock radio scheme works for me. As a runner, I simply used the clock radio when I bolted out the door, ran my run, and logged it in when I got back, regardless of any variables on the run. In the back of my mind, I simply tried to run a little faster when I could. This dropped my 10k and marathon times drastically, and a little less drastically, my 5k times (you are only so fast when going WFO). I knew when my workout runs went from 63 minutes on the clock radio to 53-55 minutes consistently that I was faster (9.6 mile route. Yep, I was decent).

It's interesting that you mention group rides and pace lines. Rarely are egos so much on display and orneriness in the extreme, especially with people who take themselves and their riding ability seriously. (You are already ticking them off by riding steel) It's hard, if you are not constantly riding with the same people, to ride to someone else's pace, unless their pace is yours. Many throw out the average "trip" speed in favor of the "pace" they're riding at the moment, and resist any attempts to bring their 14mph portion into the conversation, but the flat part with the tailwind will generally get everyone to admit they were doing 22mph....

Around here, there are two types of groups. The small group that rides together a lot, and therefore rides their pace, by themselves, all the time. They are not very supportive or jovial about having another bike in the mix. It throws off their mojo. Generally in 2's and 3's.

The larger group will predict "50 miles at 18mph" and then ride 65 at nearly 20mph, generally higher in the beginning, leaving anyone not running 21-22 in the dust quite early. It's my belief they mean 18mph for the entire ride, including off-bike stops. I've never seen them stop for more than 15 minutes, and never more than once in an entire ride. However, if you are pulling with this group, you set the speed, be it 15mph or 23mph. You just have to survive the 23mph guy in order to pull your 15mph turn! Upon requests, they'll run slower, but will have sprints right before the rest, and again at the end, generally with a breakaway. It's sort of fun, once you are self-confident enough to admit you're not where they are.

They encourage all new riders to join them, which lasts for maybe 5 miles, then they're gone. That's just the way they are; you either work up to their speed or don't.

My second wave training group will not ride over 14mph on any part of our route, unless we're coating downhill on the only hill we have. That's our protocol. We try to teach riding so that if a person keeps it up, they can run faster, but we're about learning to use the drivetrain, etiquette on the road, safety, and basic maintenance. I make sure those with cyclos "call out" if we exceed 14mph pace. My body seems to get nothing out of these rides, but that's not what they're for.
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