The average cycling speed is a measure of how fast a cyclist can travel over a certain distance or time. It is usually expressed in miles per hour (mph) or kilometers per hour (km/h), i.e. average cycling speed = cycling distance ÷ cycling time.
For many cyclists, especially the beginners, they care about this cycling term very much. I am not saying that it is wrong or right. But I would like to recommend you take a look at the facts behind the numbers of the average cycling speed, more than just checking and concerned with the numbers.
And here in this post, that is what we are going to do.
In the following content, we will start from what a good average cycling speed is for different cycling levels, to what factors can influence your average cycling speed and more importantly, what you can do to improve it.
Keep reading and find the answer now.
What is a Good Average Cycling Speed
You must know that for a rider at different cycling levels, his or her average cycling speed can vary greatly. So in this part, we will set the average cycling speed range based on the cyclist’s riding skill level.
A beginner cyclist is someone who is new to cycling and has not yet developed the skills, endurance, and confidence to ride on different terrains, distances, and speeds. And they may have some of these features:
- Ride a bike that is not well suited for their needs, such as a mountain bike for road cycling or a road bike for off-road cycling.
- Do not have the proper cycling gear, such as a helmet, gloves, lights, water bottle, etc.
- Do not know how to adjust their bike to fit their body, such as the saddle height, handlebar position, and brake levers.
- Do not know how to maintain their bike, such as cleaning the chain, changing the tires, and fixing a flat.
- Do not know how to ride safely and efficiently on the road, such as signaling, changing lanes, following traffic rules, and avoiding hazards.
- Do not know how to pace themselves and manage their energy, such as choosing the right gear, cadence, and intensity.
- Do not know how to plan their routes and rides, such as checking the weather, terrain, distance, and elevation.
- Do not have a clear goal or motivation for cycling, such as improving their health, fitness, or mood.
If you define yourself as this type of cyclist, a good average cycling speed would be between 10-14 mph (16-22 kph). This means that you can cover about 2-3 miles (3-5 km) in 15 minutes of riding.
Compared to a beginner, an intermediate cyclist is someone who has some experience and skill in cycling and is comfortable riding on different terrains, distances, and speeds. Some of them may have ridden a multi-day tour or participated in some cycling events. So they usually have a proper bike fit, gear, and maintenance, and know how to ride safely and efficiently on the road. An intermediate cyclist may also have some goals or motivations for cycling, such as improving their health, fitness, or mood.
If you feel that you are at this level of cycling, a good average cycling speed on the road for you is around 13-19 mph (21-31 kph). This means that an intermediate cyclist can cover about 3-5 miles (5-8 km) in 15 minutes of riding.
An advanced cyclist is someone who has a lot of experience and skill in cycling and can ride on various terrains, distances, and speeds with confidence and efficiency. They usually have a well-fitted bike, gear, and maintenance, and know how to ride safely and effectively on the road. An advanced cyclist may also have some specific goals or motivations for cycling, such as competing in races, improving their performance, or exploring new places.
If you are here, a good average cycling speed for you would lie between 18-25 mph (29-40 kph). This means that an advanced cyclist can ride about 5-6 miles (7-10 km) in 15 minutes.
Normally, a professional cyclist is someone who rides a bicycle as their main occupation and participates in various cycling races and events around the world. They are usually members of a cycling team that is sponsored by a company or organization. However, as an amateur, you can also improve your cycling skills to this level.
For this type of cyclist, a good average speed for them would be more than 25 mph (40 kph). To better understand it, the average speed of the 2023 Tour de France was 41.43 km/h.
Please note that these numbers are just a general range. Some of you may find them working properly, but some of you may find them not conforming to the facts. Thi is because there are more factors which can influence the average cycling speed, than just the cycling level that you are at, for example, the cycling gears, not just referring to the bike type ridden but also including the bike helmet, clothes, etc.
In the next part, you will find the answers. Keep reading.
What Factors Influence Average Cycling Speed and How to Improve It
Here we will cover 5 major factors which influence average cycling speed a lot, and also the tips in each section on how to minimize their negative effects on cycling speed.
1. Air Resistance
Air resistance, or aerodynamic drag force, is the biggest factor which can influence a cyclist’s average cycling speed. It accounts for up to 90% of total resistance faced by a cyclist, especially at high speeds.
But speed is not the only reason that can increase air resistance. Generally speaking, there are 3 kinds of minor factors which can decide how much air resistance a cyclist will face at a ride.
The first one, the shape, size, and position of the cyclist and the bike: They determine the frontal area and the drag coefficient of the cyclist-bike system.
The frontal area is the area that is perpendicular to the direction of motion and that the air has to flow around. The drag coefficient is a measure of how streamlined or aerodynamic the shape is. The smaller the frontal area and the drag coefficient, the less aerodynamic drag force there is, and then higher speed the cyclist will be at.
Cyclists can reduce their frontal area by adopting a low and narrow posture, such as using drop handlebars or aerobars. They can also reduce the drag coefficient by wearing tight-fitting clothing and helmets, using smooth and rounded bike frames and wheels, and avoiding any protruding or irregular components.
No. 2, the air density: This factor determines how many air molecules are in a given volume of air. The higher the air density, the more collisions there are between the air molecules and the cyclist-bike system, and the more air resistance there is.
Air density depends on factors such as temperature, pressure, humidity, and altitude. Generally, air density decreases and thus cycling speed increases as temperature, pressure, humidity, and altitude increase. So cyclists can benefit a lot from riding in low-density air conditions, such as on hot, humid, low-pressure, or high-altitude days.
The last one, the wind speed and direction: This factor determines how fast and in what direction the air is moving relative to the cyclist-bike system. The higher the wind speed, obviously the more air resistance there is.
The direction of the wind also affects the aerodynamic drag force. A headwind (wind blowing against the direction of motion) increases the aerodynamic drag force, while a tailwind (wind blowing in the same direction as the motion) decreases it. A crosswind (wind blowing perpendicular to the direction of motion) can also affect the aerodynamic drag force by creating a side force that pushes the cyclist-bike system sideways.
So to increase cycling speed, riding in tailwind or no-wind conditions would be the good options, or by drafting behind other cyclists or vehicles to reduce the effective wind speed.
2. Rolling Resistance
Compared with air resistance, rolling resistance could take up nearly 10% of the total resistance that the rider will face during cycling. It is the frictional force that occurs between the bicycle tires and the road surface. It depends on the tire pressure, width, tread, material, and road conditions.
The higher the rolling resistance, the less power efficiency of the cyclist, and the lower the cycling speed. So to decrease the rolling resistance and increase the average cycling speed, you would be recommended to choose a tire with a smooth tread and a high pressure, since it has a lower rolling resistance than a tire with a knobby tread and a low pressure.
Besides, a tire with a narrow width and a high pressure has a lower rolling resistance than a tire with a wide width and a low pressure, and a tire with a supple casing and a low hysteresis has a lower rolling resistance than a tire with a stiff casing and a high hysteresis. They can also be on your shopping list.
Rolling resistance also affects the cycling speed by influencing the optimal pedaling cadence, gear ratio, and pacing strategy of the cyclist. This is because a higher rolling resistance requires a higher pedaling cadence and a lower gear ratio to maintain the same power output and speed, and a more even pacing strategy to avoid excessive fluctuations in power output and speed.
3. Cycling Equipment
Even though the importance of cycling equipment on the average cycling speed has been mentioned in the above sections (air resistance and rolling resistance), in this part, we will dig deeper.
Here we will mainly talk about 7 cycling equipment parts which will have effects on the average cycling speed.
Frames: The frame is the main structural component of the bike that supports the rider and the other parts. It can be made of different materials, such as steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, or composite. And the material affects the weight, stiffness, strength, durability, and cost of the frame. Besides, the frame also has different geometries, such as road, mountain, or hybrid. The geometry affects the aerodynamics, comfort, stability, and maneuverability of the bike.
For higher cycling speed, a lighter and stiffer frame can be the most popular choice, because it reduces the inertial forces and enhances the power transfer from the pedals to the wheels.
Wheels: The wheels are the rotating components that transfer the power from the pedals to the road. They consist of rims, spokes, hubs, and bearings. They can also be made of different materials, such as aluminum or carbon fiber. The material affects the weight, stiffness, strength, durability, and aerodynamics of the wheels.
The wheels also have different designs, such as clincher or tubular tires, deep or shallow rims, radial or crossed spokes, and disc or rim brakes. And the design affects the rolling resistance, aerodynamics, handling, braking performance, and maintenance of the wheels.
Deep-section carbon fiber wheels with tubular tires are the most aerodynamic choice for competitive cyclists because they reduce drag and increase speed. A lighter and more aerodynamic wheel can increase the cycling speed by reducing the rotational inertia and minimizing the air resistance.
Tires: The tires are the rubber components that contact the road surface and provide traction and cushioning. The tires can have different characteristics, such as width, pressure, tread pattern, casing material, and puncture protection. These characteristics affect the rolling resistance, grip, comfort, durability, and safety of the tires.
Narrow tires with high pressure and smooth tread have the lowest rolling resistance. A tire with low rolling resistance can increase the cycling speed by reducing the frictional force that opposes the motion of the wheel.
Handlebars: The handlebars are the components that allow the rider to steer and control the bike. The handlebars can have different shapes and sizes, such as drop bars or flat bars. Their shape and size affect the aerodynamics, comfort, handling, and power output of the rider. By comparison, drop bars are more aerodynamic than flat bars because they allow the rider to adopt a lower and narrower position on the bike. And a handlebar with an aerodynamic shape can increase the cycling speed by reducing the frontal area and drag coefficient of the rider.
Helmets: The helmets are the protective devices that cover the head of the rider and reduce the risk of injury in case of a crash. The helmets can have different features, such as ventilation holes, aerodynamic shape, visor, chin strap, and padding. The features affect the cooling, aerodynamics, visibility, safety, and comfort of the rider.
For increasing speed, aerodynamic helmets are more efficient than ventilated helmets and others because they reduce the drag force acting on the head of the rider.
Clothing: The clothing is the apparel that covers the body of the rider and provides insulation and protection. The clothing can have different materials, such as cotton, wool, synthetic fibers, or leather. The material affects the weight, breathability, moisture management, thermal regulation, and aerodynamics of the clothing. The clothing also has different designs, such as tight-fitting or loose-fitting, short-sleeved or long-sleeved, and plain or colorful. The design affects the drag, comfort, visibility, and style of the rider.
Tight-fitting synthetic clothing is more efficient at increasing cycling speed than loose-fitting cotton clothing because it reduces friction and form drag of the rider, and improves airflow.
Hydration systems: The hydration systems are the devices that allow the rider to drink water or other fluids during a ride. The hydration systems can have different types, such as bottles or bladders. The type affects the capacity, accessibility, weight distribution, and aerodynamics of the hydration system. The hydration systems also have different locations, such as on the frame, on the handlebars, on the saddle, or on the back. The location affects the convenience, stability, handling, and drag of the hydration system.
Even though bladders on the back are more convenient than bottles on the frame because they allow the rider to drink without taking their hands off the handlebars, bottles on the frame are more aerodynamic because they create less turbulence and reduce drag. Thus riders can increase their speed more easily.
A cyclist’s fitness means their physical and physiological condition. In the first part, the way that we have categorized riders into beginners, intermediate, advanced, and pros, is mainly based on the cyclist’s fitness level.
But the question is: Why can a cyclist’s fitness level influence their cycling performance and speed, technically?
The answer is that a cyclist’s fitness can have a major impact how much power that a rider can produce in a short burst of effort, how many revolutions that the crank makes per minute and how long he or she can keep, how his or her oxygen consumption, heart rate, and blood lactate concentration are like to keep at a certain speed, especially at a high speed, etc.
In brief, if a cyclist is at a good level of fitness, it would be much easier for him or her to achieve a good average cycling speed.
Luckily, there are many ways to measure and improve a rider’s fitness, such as heart rate, blood lactate, VO2 max, FTP, and training zones. These metrics can help a rider monitor their progress and optimize their training intensity and duration. A rider can also improve their fitness by following a structured training plan that includes different types of workouts, such as endurance, tempo, threshold, interval, and recovery rides.
5. Gear Ratios and Pedaling Cadence
If you have not known yet, gear ratios are the ratio of the number of teeth on the chainring (front) to the number of teeth on the sprocket (rear). For example, a 53/13 gear ratio means that the chainring has 53 teeth and the sprocket has 13 teeth. And pedaling cadence is the number of revolutions that the crank makes per minute. It is measured in revolutions per minute (rpm). Pedaling cadence determines how fast the rider pedals and how much power they produce. A higher cadence means that the rider pedals faster and produces more power, but also consumes more oxygen and fatigues faster. A lower cadence means that the rider pedals slower and produces less power, but also consumes less oxygen and fatigues slower.
Gear ratios affect how many revolutions the rear wheel makes for each revolution of the crank. A higher gear ratio means that the rear wheel rotates more times for each crank revolution, resulting in a higher speed, but also a higher resistance and a lower cadence. A lower gear ratio means that the rear wheel rotates fewer times for each crank revolution, resulting in a lower speed, but also a lower resistance and a higher cadence.
The relationship among gear ratios, pedaling cadence, and cycling speed is complex and nonlinear. There is no universal optimal combination of gear ratio, pedaling cadence, and cycling speed for all cyclists, but rather a range of optimal combinations that vary from person to person and from event to event.
It means that for each individual cyclist, you can find your own optimal gear ratios and pedaling cadence to ensure the best cycling performance and speed. And here are some tips to help you make it:
- Use a variety of gear ratios to adapt to different situations, such as flat or hilly terrain, headwind or tailwind, acceleration or deceleration, and fatigue or freshness. Experiment with different gear ratios to find the ones that suit your personal preferences and goals.
- Use a computerized device, such as a power meter or a heart rate monitor, to measure your power output and oxygen consumption at different gear ratios and cadences. This will help you find the optimal combination of gear ratio and cadence that maximizes your cycling efficiency and performance.
- Practice different cadences during training to improve your neuromuscular coordination and adaptation. Try to maintain a smooth and circular pedaling technique that applies force throughout the entire pedal stroke. Avoid bouncing on the saddle or rocking the bike from side to side.
- Follow a pacing strategy that matches your physiological and biomechanical characteristics and the demands of the event. Use a consistent and appropriate pedaling rate that allows you to sustain your power output and avoid fatigue. Adjust your gear ratio or resistance accordingly to maintain your desired cadence and speed.
For the average cycling speed number only, it means nothing; But after you figure out what factors can influence the average cycling speed, you will have a clear outline for your cycling journey, or a more scientific plan for your future training.
And this is the main job that this article has covered.
Hopefully, you can find this kind of information here. And if you have any question related to the average cycling speed, you can leave it in the comments. Happy cycling!