1. Bike Set Up
We can often focus on saddle height and handlebar reach, tweaking these by millimeters, and forget about tyre type and pressure. It sounds obvious but these two things will dramatically effect your speed. The tyres you use necessarily effect the roll speed of your wheel – the smoother the tyre, the less friction there’ll be and the faster roll you’ll get. Think about the terrain you cycle on and choose your tyres based on that. With that considered, tyre pressure should be checked before every ride – small temperature changes can make them go soft without having a puncture. It can be a great idea to invest in a track pump, that way you can easily and quickly get the pressure you need.
2. Tweak your Technique
Small adjustments can translate to big differences in effectiveness. Making sure you are getting the most out of every pedal stroke is a good place to start. Keeping your ankles in a neutral position helps transfer more of your pedal push into power, improving efficiency and reducing muscle fatigue. Another easy area to improve on in posture. Never under estimate the impact wind resistance has on your speed. The easiest way to reduce it is to lower your body on the bike. If you have drop handlebars, get more confident using them and remember to keep your elbows tucked in.
3. Efficient Gear Changing & Brake Use
These are things that come with both confidence and time spent on the bike. Using the right gear means you can keep you cadence relatively level whether climbing, descending, or on the flat. Your muscles last longer at an even cadence so drop gears on the climbs rather than dropping cadence. Knowing when to change your gears in important too – too soon and you’ll loose balance and speed, too late and you’ll loose speed and momentum. Getting to know your bike and practicing changing gears is time very well spent. You can also check out our blog How to Shift Gears Correctly for more advice
Unnecessary braking is an obvious waste of energy and momentum so try to not ‘comfort braking’ – braking when you’re rolling at an uncomfortably high speed. Work on your braking through corners and it will pay off in dividends. The key is to brake before the corner so you are at a comfortable speed coming into it and you can plan your line before hitting it. Practice on flat corners and with an increase in confidence, build up the speed and take it to the hills. Don’t forget about your balance while cornering – your outside foot should be down with a bit of weight on it as your bike and bodyweight are leaning into the corner. Confidence has a big role to play in taking corners comfortably and efficiently so just like with your gear changing and brake use, practice, practice, practice!
4. Interval Training & Hill Training
As with running, using interval training is a great way to improve speed. Do short bursts at a speed that is above your usual average speed, then slow down to recover, before going again. The advantage of this is you can do it on any ride, even your daily commute. Use markers around you, like lamp posts or road signs, pick one and pedal hard until you reach it, then ease off.
Yes, hills make your legs burn and your lung hurt but they build leg strength and cardiovascular fitness so they aren’t to be avoided! Practicing on hills also means you’ll be better able to deal with difficult course routes when competing. The more hills you cycle the better you’ll get. Try timing yourself up a long hill, repeat it throughout the season and watch your time come down.
5. Strength Training
Whatever your chosen sport is, strength training and conditioning is important. In cycling, it helps your body hold your posture, allowing you to hold your upper body still and stop you from slumping over your handlebars. You can also train your muscles to keep on giving even when you’re pooped! Next time you’re doing some squats or box jumps don’t stop after your last rep. Instead, switch to a lower weight/ height and eek out a few more reps. This will activate your slow twitch fibers as well as your fast twitch fibers, leaving no muscle untouched and resulting in a more comprehensive workout.
6. Make a Plan and Stick to It
Making sure every training ride has a purpose (intensity, endurance, enjoyment) means you’ll be more focused while out on the bike. Using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Specific) method will ensure you know your goal inside out, what it involves and when you should reach it. By having a focused plan you can avoid hitting the ‘dead zone’. Training hard isn’t enough to increase speed. It will maintain fitness but it won’t do a lot to change your physiology leaving you in a kind of no man’s land or dead zone. In order for your body and performance to adapt and improve you need to follow a comprehensive program that covers all angles (hills & intervals I’m looking at you!)
So there you have it, it’s simple really. Make sure your tyres are pumped, practice good technique, cycle hills, do intervals and look after yourself off the bike.