Question: I am 41 and have been seriously riding for two years. I did three centuries last year along with several 40- to 60-mile rides and my usual daily 25-miler. The problem is that I can’t boost my average speed past 16-17 mph. I huff and puff to keep up with riders in my club. I know that someone has to be at the back of the pack, but I’m tired of it always being me. Do you have any suggestions? — Edward S.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: The short answer is: Get in better shape! But as you’ve learned, it’s more complicated than that.
Our cycling performance is dictated in large part by our heredity. Studies show that some people can improve endurance performance by 40% when they undertake a 12-week program of interval training. But other people on the same program don’t improve at all. They mainly get tired.
So your ability to ride fast at low heart rates — or put another way, to ride fast without working very hard — is partially dictated by how well you chose your parents.
That said, training does help most people improve. Very few individuals are at either end of the bell-shaped curve just described. Most people improved 15-20%. This means that chances are good you can create the improvement you crave if you train more effectively.
You’ve been riding for only two years. It generally takes racers five years of training and competition to find out if they have enough talent to succeed.
Continue riding. I’m sure improvement will come if you make some basic changes to the way you are training each week. Greater detail is beyond the scope of this answer, but you can get recommendations in my eBook Basic Training for Roadies.
Good luck. And remember that no matter how much you’re able to improve, you’ll still be reaping fitness and enjoyment from riding.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.