One of the joys of cycling is freewheeling down a hill and feeling the wind on your face.
Unfortunately, it’s a distant dream in London. Some things you just can’t control, like the heavy traffic or that insect that’s flown straight into your eye. However, there are a few small tweaks that can help you cycle through the city a little faster.
Try these tips to perk up your speed.
“Well I never!” you gush. I know, I’m sorry. It is true though.
The less you weigh, the faster you’ll go, especially up those hills. The danger here is losing too much weight, so be careful – it could compromise your strength and power when you’re pushing those pedals.
It’s probably not what you want to hear as we descend into winter, but losing some grams off your cycle kit might also be helpful.
The key here is lightweight layers: you can add or remove them as you warm up. A buff is an essential piece of kit as it’s light and multipurpose so you can use it as a scarf, a head wrap or even a tie it around your calf as a leg warmer, if you’re so inclined.
Tighter clothing helps too as it’s less likely to catch in the wind and slow you down.
The third (and most expensive) way of taking weight off is to modify your cycle. Go a bit ‘Franken-bike’ and swap out your saddle for a carbon version, get lightweight tyres and opt for latex inner tubes over standard butyl tubes.
As I say, it can be costly – it’s better to try shedding weight off yourself or your clothing first.
Your body position on the bike can make a real difference to how fast you travel. Upping your speed is often about reducing wind resistance and you can do that by lowering your body down closer to the handlebars as well as bending your elbows and tucking them in.
Make sure your saddle is adjusted to the right height for maximum efficiency too. It might even be worth getting a fit at the bike shop just to make sure.
It’s better to take on a hill at a consistent pace than it is to pedal like crazy, stop and repeat.
Cadence is measured by how many revolutions your legs do a minute and you can get a rough idea of how many you’re doing by counting the number of times your right leg comes up in a 30-second ride and doubling that figure.
To increase your speed, you’re aiming for a fast cadence on a lower gear rather than a slow cadence on a higher gear. Pro cyclists clock up 80-100 revolutions per minute (RPM) but the average cyclist does around 60-80.
You can raise your RPM by doing short intervals of lowering your gear and increasing your cadence.
Make sure your tyres are inflated correctly
The ideal tyre pressure depends on tyre width, the weather and your weight. Generally speaking, wider tyres need less pressure, as do lighter riders and if the road is wet or has tricky terrain, let some air out. If you’re not sure, you’ll find the maximum pressure printed on your tyre’s sidewall.
Under-inflated tyres are softer so more of the surface area will be in contact with the road, taking up more energy and making you cycle slower.
Adopt a positive mindset
You won’t get very far if you believe that you’re slow and sluggish. Visualisation is essential here – picture yourself cycling faster, and it’ll help to propel you through the rough patches.
Keep it clean
You won’t see massive improvements in your speed, but cleaning your bike is still important. The build-up of dirt in your drivetrain and chain will affect your bike’s performance and could land you hefty bills on your next visit to the shop.
Give it a clean once a week, and don’t forget to de-gunk and lube that chain.
Ride up hills
Charging up hills will help you get fitter, making a doddle of the easier terrain. Read Challenge yourself to cycle 4 of London’s toughest hills for some mega climbs.
Speaking of training, how about hitting the yoga mat or diving in the pool? Not only does it keep things interesting, but other sports work different areas of the body that might be neglected.
For example, running improves bone density while yoga enhances flexibility; they both support your legs and boost your endurance. Yoga also teaches you to focus on your breathing which you can use to get you through physical challenges as well as mental ones – breathing exercises are a perfect partner to visualisation.
Alternatively, diehard cyclists can just get out there and ride more. You’ll improve your fitness as well as the finer time-shaving skills like cleaner handling and reducing unnecessary braking.
As fun as a speedy cycle is, it’s best to stay out of trouble. If you’re training to increase your cadence or practicing a more aerodynamic body position, stick to quieter side roads.
And when you do become a speed demon on two wheels, remember to be mindful of other traffic.
Do you have any tips to add? Tell us in the comments below.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.