How is it that you can be riding along at an effort that is tough for you, and someone that appears to not possess a single fast gene in his or her body comes gliding past with what seems like zero effort? Or maybe you agree to ride with a friend that is "completely out of shape" but they seem to ride with little effort.
Frustrating, right? What are they doing that you aren't?
When intermediate cyclists seek my help to take their riding speeds to the next level, I've noticed there are a few things many of them have in common. Changing just a few items in training makes a big difference. Maybe the changes they make can help you too.
You may not have noticed that you coast a lot. Some riders get into the habit of coasting for a good percentage of any ride. If you're spending a lot of time coasting, you're not building the fitness necessary to keep high average speeds for low metabolic cost.
As an experiment, ride a mostly flat course that has no stop signs and very little traffic. Aim to put power to the pedals continuously for 30 minutes. Keep the pressure on the pedals light so your effort remains aerobic; but keep your legs moving and feel that you are generating power with each pedal stroke. If 30 minutes is easy, aim for 60 minutes.
I suspect some of you will find that you are spending more time coasting and not generating any power than you realize.
Ride a Rolling Course
After practicing the skill of keeping pressure on the pedals on a flat course, it's time to take that skill to the hills. Find a rolling course that has few stops and distractions. After your warmup, ride for 30 to 60 minutes at a steady, aerobic effort, keeping force on the pedals all the time.
This workout requires that you play with the gears on your bike to figure out what gear combination allows you to keep force on the pedals 100 percent of the time. Yes, that means on the downhill portions too.
For this workout you'll need a heart rate monitor. Find a hill that takes you some 3 to 5 minutes to climb. Note a start and stop line for hill repeats. The goal of the workout is to find the gear combination that gives you the fastest time on the hill climb without exceeding the top of the aerobic zone (Zone 2) on your heart rate monitor. Get full recovery between each climb, spinning easy for some 3 to 5 minutes before beginning the next climb.