Faster on the Bike? Yes, You Can!
High-speed cycling training may be the key to gaining speed on your bike.
Going faster on the bike differs from cyclist to cyclist. Some find they have the power to go fastest uphill, or on a descent, or manage to maintain a higher average speed to cover more distances quicker.
As the road increases in gradient, it’s important to pay attention to your bike’s weight as well as your own body weight. By dropping your own (as well as your bike’s) weight, you improve your power-to-weight ratio (PWR), even though you didn’t improve your fitness. PWR is the actual performance of any engine or power source in relation to its weight – power output (in watts) divided by its weight (in kilograms). This is because with a higher PWR, the faster you’ll go – especially when the roads go up.
Example: A cyclist weighs 90 kg and his bike’s weight is at 9 kg. He rides a 10-kilometer road with an incline of 5% (similar to the Sumulong Highway climb to Antipolo City). When he grinds the pedals with an average power output of 200 watts, his average speed will be at around 12 kph, and will cover it in around 50 minutes. But if he decreases his weight to 70 kg, and his bike to 7 kg (the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) bike weight limit is 6.8 kg), his average speed will be at around 15 kph and he will crest the climb in around 40 minutes.
For descents, your guts and bike handling skills will be tested. The more aerodynamic your position is (as well as the gear that you’re using), the faster you’ll also be on both the flats and descents. It’s important to pay attention to your cornering and descending skills. These, as well as your aero position on the bike will help you get the most out of the effort that you’re putting on to the pedals. One of the beginner-friendly descents would be in Bugarin, Rizal. It has sweeping curves that aren’t blind and the gradient isn’t too steep. For those who are skilled in bike handling, you can try descending the Tanay-Sampaloc road in Rizal (from Marilaque highway [aka R-6] down to Manila East road [aka R-5], or the Tagaytay-Talisay road (from the Tagaytay Rotunda down to Talisay – Laurel road).
If you’re focusing on cycling sportives that cover very long distances, like the Audax Brevet Rides and Grand Fondos, pacing yourself is very important. Here are other ways on how you can go faster with training:
Motor pacing is basically riding in the slipstream of a motorcycle. This way, you can go at higher speeds as compared when you’re riding on your own or on a group. This simulates some of the hardest parts of a race, such as chasing down another cyclist who’s overtaken you, or you’re trying to bridge a gap in a fast group (normally all-out efforts of 20 seconds to a full minute), or the leadout train to the finish line that we normally see in flat road races in the Tour de France.
Motor pacing is ideal when you’re training for your A-race, since it targets the training principle called Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID). This principle states that the body adapts specific to the training stress or demands placed on it. Simply put, you improve on the things that you have been practicing on; you get better in sprints when you perform sprints, the same way with doing time trials, or climbing. Note: seek an experienced coach who knows how to motor pace well.
Three ways that you can utilize motor pacing:
Ride at Tempo Ride behind the motorcycle at a comfortably hard pace for a prolonged period of time. This “comfortably hard pace” varies from person to person. In 30 minutes, a fitter person can maintain 40 kph with a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) of only 5 over 10 while a weekend warrior feels that its 8 over 10 for the same speed. (For more about the 10-point RPE scale, check out http://wp.me/p7EMyI-1VV.)
Leadout Ride behind the motorcycle simulating the pace of last 1 to 2 kilometers of a race, then sprinting out of the saddle towards a designated finish line.
Ride ‘til You Drop Ride behind the motorcycle simulating the race pace. Then after a given time, the motorcycle gradually accelerates and you try to hang to its slipstream.
What other way to get faster than to hone the engine – you. Focus on all-out efforts of 20 seconds and then slowly work your way up to a full minute. Do these all-out efforts for 5 to 10 sets with 5 to 10 minutes recovery spins in between sets. These intervals will develop your anaerobic capacity, which are hard efforts that do not require oxygen and are above your VO2max. You should feel that there’s nothing left in the tank (really heavy on the legs) towards the end of each set. Having a long rest interval in between sets will make you fully recover and be able to hammer again on the next set. Such intervals help create a workout that’s more on the quality side rather than quantity. Efforts should feel that it’s 7 over 10 at the start, with 10 being the hardest effort that you can do. If you’re using a power meter, it should be more than 120% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
Ride with the Gang
Riding with your peers makes cycling very enjoyable. Look for a group that’s not too advanced from your current fitness level. This will enable you to ride along with them – and not get dropped. Aim to have a fast ride with them by taking turns riding at the front and sharing the workload against the wind every 10 seconds or as long as 2 minutes. Group rides can range from being a spirited ride to race pace. You can aim to ride the flats at tempo efforts then really push it during climbs, and vice versa, depending on the goals of the group.
Focus on Technique: Riding Around Corners
Improving your bike handling will translate to faster speeds. Pick a smooth line that will enable you to cut through the corner. You’ll be able to carry more momentum after making a turn, and you’ll be able to accelerate faster than others. Aim to ride low by holding your road handlebars on the drops and bend your elbows. This promotes a lower center of gravity, which helps you make tighter turns at higher speeds. This also brings your weight forward, adding more grip to the front tire. Don’t forget to drop the pedal of your outside leg in relation the corner and place pressure on it while leaning your weight towards the corner. Word of caution though, you should be doing such on roads with almost no traffic. Bike handling is something that’s usually neglected nowadays, as roads become more clogged with motorists, and training indoors is a popular alternative, especially when paired with a power meter and/or a heart rate monitor plus virtual training like Trainer Road or Zwift.
Here are videos by the Global Cycling Network (GCN) on how you can improve your cornering skills: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=how+to+corner+%2B+gcn
Just a word of caution when performing these workouts: You’ll be riding faster than your usual speeds. Find a safe place to ride, always be aware of your surroundings and use your common sense. When riding outside, safety comes first; and enjoyment will follow!