What is speed?

I have been thinking about speed.

We all like to go fast but speed is subjective. What is fast for one is slow for another. I am faster than many of the cyclists I meet on the road. But, when I ride with my son, he quickly leaves me behind.  He is an elite athlete.  But, compared to professional road racers, he is slow.  The Giro riders are averaging 40+ kph over a 100-200 km stage.

There is always someone faster.

This is the way I look at it.  I want to go faster with less effort and, at the same time, not sacrifice safety for either myself and those on the road with me – other cyclists and pedestrians.

Rather than focus on speed, I concentrate on cycling better, improving my technique so that I become more efficient and, as a result, can cycle longer distances with less effort.  I know the more I ride, the stronger I will get but, if I am not consciously focusing on technique, I will limit my progress.  So, instead of working harder, I try to work smarter.

I work on my pedalling stroke, developing balanced power on each side and a circular, efficient stroke engaging all of the leg muscles throughout.  I work on cadence and shifting to ensure I deliver similar power on the flats, climbs and, descents.  I don’t rest on the way down.   No, I work just as hard as I do on the flats.  I work on selecting the shortest lines to minimize the distance travelled, particularly on descents.  I work on drafting to conserve energy whenever I can.  I work on getting into and maintaining an aerodynamic position to reduce rolling resistance.  I work on climbing techniques to maintain a consistent pace no matter the grade.  And, I work on staying properly hydrated so I don’t tire as quickly.

You see, by working on technique, I also get faster.  I can ride more quickly and farther with less effort.

In my mind, speed is more the result of good form than hard work.  I see too many cyclists speed up a hill only to discover they have nothing left when they reach the top; coasting down hills missing the opportunity to make up time with less effort; and, pushing hard in the early stages of a ride only to run out of gas mid-way.

This is not to say working hard is not beneficial.  It is.  Repeat hill climbs develop power; short sprints speed; and long tempo rides endurance.  I am not suggesting you not do these things.  On the contrary, I am suggesting while you ride, whatever your level, never lose sight of good form and, if you can’t maintain it, slow down until you can.

“What is good form?” you ask.  That is a complicated question.  The answer includes a lot of things including riding style, fitness level, bike fitting, gearing, other equipment and, most importantly, your objectives.  The question is fodder for another post or, several posts.



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