How to increase your cycling speed

Rebecca Bland
10 mins

It's one of the most asked questions from cyclists as they gain experience. You may have been riding for a little while, getting into it, learning the nuances of riding, shifting efficiently and feeling more and more confident on the bike - but now you want to get faster. It's only natural to want to, so how do you do it?

In this article, we will look at some of the ways you can increase your average cycling speed. Some things are easy adjustments to make, and some require putting in a bit of effort to get that average speed up.

Reduce your aerodynamic drag

First things first, how are you sat on the bike? Are you bolt upright with straight (relaxed) arms? If so, you won't be doing yourself any favours. Aerodynamic drag is 70% made up by the rider - so it really does make a difference how you sit on the bike.

Try bending your elbows, particularly if you ride on the hoods. We're not saying make the 'puppy paws' posture that gets so many pros in trouble, but shoulders relaxed, elbows bent is a great way to start reducing drag.

You can download and use Spoked for free. When you're ready, you start your free 30 day Pro plan trial. Find Spoked in the App Store or Google Play.

Secondly, get narrow. There's a reason people ride with tiny handlebars nowadays and the time triallists all have their arms kissing together when they tuck in. You'd be amazed how working at the same power as before can lead to a higher average speed. Similarly, keeping the same speed as before should result in a far lower workload then before.

The smallest change in body position can impact your drag. Source.

Riding with other riders

Another trick of the trade is to ride in a group. If you're bothered about Strava, you'll see your average speed on average being higher than if you were riding alone. This is largely because when you ride as a group, you're no longer riding on the front for the entire ride and instead, your wind resistance is lower as you're just riding behind others.

Can you count how many riders are in this bunch? Source.

Riding with others is a great way to ride faster, as riders working together can ride much faster than a single rider - think about solo breakaways in pro road racing. The peloton almost always catches this brave rider because the numbers are working in their favour. The less work you have to do on the front, the more you can roll faster as a group as you do your effort and then drop back.

Check your bike fit

It's not just marginal gains that you'll get from making sure your position on the bike is right, getting something like a bike fit can make a significant difference to not only your power output but your overall comfort and likelihood of getting an injury.

A bike fit done by a professional.
A professional bike fit. Source.

So what do we mean by your bike fit? Well it is essentially the way you fit on your bike. If you're upping your miles, trying to ride harder or put out more power but haven't dialed in your position on your road bike, mountain bike, or any bike, then it's well worth a trip to the bike fitter.

They check whether your frame is the right size, and what adjustments can be made to ensure you're comfortable and that riding hard won't lead to injuries. Getting a professional bike fit, like a physio led one if you have injuries, will help with increasing your power output (and thus, your average speed) before you even think about a new training programme.

Finally, making sure you're fitted correctly to your bike will ensure injuries don't appear as they would do on an ill-fitting bicycle.

You can download and use Spoked for free. When you're ready, you start your free 30 day Pro plan trial. Find Spoked in the App Store or Google Play.

Maintain your bicycle

Maintaining your bike can make a big difference to the work you have to put out to get faster. One major factor is your tyre pressures. Lower pressures don't always been faster, but likewise with higher pressures. Having them too low can increase rolling resistance, and having them too high will make the ride uncomfortable and put you at increased risk of getting a flat. So make sure they're at the right PSI for your weight, the terrain, and temperature you'll be riding in.

If you look after your bike, it looks after you. Source.

Contrary to the old school thinking of 23mm is the best and fastest tyre, a lot of riders are now opting for wider tyres like 28mm or even 30mm in winter if your bike has the clearance for it. Paired with things like lightweight latex tubes which shave off some grammage if losing weight or having a lighter bike is important to you, you may find there's less rolling resistance than before, and thus, requiring less effort for you to cycle faster.

Secondly, make sure your drivetrain is clean, as well. The saying 'a clean bike is a fast bike' isn't just an old wives tale to guilt you into cleaning it. Leaving your bike's drivetrain to accrue dirt and crud in the moving parts is not going to help your speed. To ride your bike faster, you need a smooth, clean and quiet drivetrain. Think about it, you wouldn't see a rider in the Tour de France with a dirty bike, so don't have one yourself.

Learn how to corner

If you can corner correctly, you can essentially grab some free speed without needing to pedal faster. Brake less into corners, but do it carefully - scout the corner beforehand so you know if there are potholes or drain covers to be aware of. You may need to brake at some point, but just brake enough to scrub the speed rather than reduce your overall speed by a significant amount and end up pedalling faster out of the corner.

If you do it properly, bike handling skills like this will help in things like crit racing where cornering is less important than riding fast in a straight line - instead, you will be significantly faster than many riders as you keep more speed out of the corners.

This is another reason why tyre pressures are so important - if you have them at the right level, you can push your tyre to the edge when cornering, and get lower than perhaps otherwise. Your rolling resistance will be superior and thus you can ride faster without having to necessarily ride harder. If you've ever had to ride home on a flat tyre, you'll know what we mean.

Structured training

Now here's the big one. A training program. Not everyone wants to have structure - some people get by just fine without one, but if you want to see meaningful improvement to your riding and overall speed on the bike, then you may want to consider training those cycling muscles with training tailored to you and your strengths and weaknesses on the bike.

Training goals in Spoked
There are several training goals in Spoked

One of the best ways to increase your average speed is to ride intervals. They may hurt, but boy will they help you to cycle faster. You don't need to do them all the time, and in fact you shouldn't, but having the right structure in your traniing will pay dividends.

Riding up hills and going on longer rides, will also help you to cycle faster and increase your speed. Targeted training is key to maximising your performance and improving on the bike. From things like cadence drills, where you pedal fast but in an easier gear in order to increase the efficiency of your pedal stroke, to interval training, everything has its place and will help work towards increased speed on the bike.

Structured workout in Spoked
Structured workout in Spoked

This is also where Spoked can benefit you, as it can tailor your workouts to your own cycling goals. Whether that be riding faster, beating a speed goal in a time trial, or even cyclo cross racing. Spoked can be used with or without a power meter or heart rate, making it more accessible than many coaches. Many cyclists don't utilise personalised cycling training as much as they should, and end up doing mile after mile of unstructured riding without gaining any speed or fitness, so make sure every ride you do has a purpose. If you want to take the guess work out of it, try Spoked for free!

Train off the bike

This may seem counterintuitive to some, but spending time off the bike and building strength is key to being able to cycle faster and improving your average speed. We've written a whole blog on strength training, breaking down why strength training for cyclists is important and some suggestions for the best strength exercises for cyclists which you can read.

Even Tour de France winners head to the gym to build muscle off the bike, as the human body works better when it's not just doing the same thing over and over again. Variety keeps you strong in other ways, not just in your cardiovascular system. Doing things like strength training, yoga, and stretching is key to improving flexibility and feeling confident in your body on the bike.

If you're a road cyclist, even trying off-road riding like some cross country mountain biking is great for emphasising a smooth pedal stroke and becoming a more efficient rider. Cycle cross is another great discpline to try, as it really makes you focus on your handling skills, and can have the same effect on your fitness as road riding.

Get an aero bike and some aero kit

The rider makes up roughly 70% of the aerodynamic drag, which is why time triallists spend so much time obsessing over their riding position. And you can help yourself become more slippery without heading to a wind tunnel.

Begin by wearing tighter fitting clothes, like well-fitting lycra. The baggier your clothes are, the more of a sail you will become in the wind. If you've ever been riding and noticed a change in wind direction into a headwind, you'll probably have felt your clothes flapping around where they aren't properly fitted, and thus, creating more aerodynamic drag and increasing your perceived exertion.

There are lots of great aero bikes to pick from. Source.

It may also be worth considering buying things like shoe covers, as they can help smooth out shoes and socks - particularly those with straps or multiple boa dials and an aero helmet. If you have plenty of cash to throw at the quest for lower rolling resistance and more speed, and want to lower your perceived exertion on your road bike without needing to lose weight, consider spending some dosh on some deep dish wheels or an aero bike if you're really that keen.

All of these things will help you reduce air resistance and ride just that little bit faster.

You can download and use Spoked for free. When you're ready, you start your free 30 day Pro plan trial. Find Spoked in the App Store or Google Play.

Final thoughts

The biggest difference you can make to improve your average speed on the bike is to ride more. Naturally, that won't be easy to do for everyone, so hopefully some of the tips we've outlined above will help you find an extra few MPH/KPH on your rides. Cycling isn't all about speed, or putting in more effort to reduce drag, but these tips will help you to reach new high speeds on Strava segments and enjoy your cycling a little bit more.

Spoked is free to use and there is a 30 day free Pro trial that you can start when you're ready. Download the app from the App Store or Google Play.