5 Tweaks for Speed: Tips and Tricks to Boost Your Cycling Pace

To race fast, you must train fast, and that requires you to be both physically and mentally rested.

Getting faster on the bike comes at a cost, and the currency exchanged for a bit more speed can be dollars, sweat or proper planning.

Now, we don't intend for you to make wholesale changes to your bike set-up or training plan based on the following info; however, we can help you to key in on five relatively simple ways to boost your cycling performance.

Hot Wheels

It is generally accepted that the single-best equipment upgrade you can make to your bike is in the form of a new set of wheels. Granted, this is an expensive tweak, but it will guarantee faster bike splits immediately without any additional training. And depending upon the wheels you are currently riding, this improvement can range from subtle to dramatic.

Spend a bit of time comparison shopping, and select the best product for your racing focus. If you race mainly on flat courses, consider a disc. If most of your training is over rough, hilly terrain, then select a spoked wheel with a deep-dish carbon rim.

Fast Feet

There are two ways to generate greater speed on the bike: push bigger gears or increase your cadence. If you tend to have relatively slow leg turnover on the bike, upping your rpm slightly above normal (to about 90 to 100 rpm, while staying in the same gear), can dramatically increase your power and speed.

Still, as you fatigue you may find yourself gravitating back toward bigger gears and a lower cadence. Fast pedal drills and one-legged pedaling drills will help you develop a faster and more efficient pedal stroke.

Fast pedal intervals last between three and 10 minutes at a cadence above 100 rpm. These intervals can help smooth out the dead spots in your pedal stroke while building the neuromuscular endurance that will allow you to hold a higher cadence for an extended period of time.

One-legged pedaling drills, at 90 to 100 rpm, will also smooth out your pedal stroke, and they will enhance the muscle balance between legs. On a trainer, pedal one-legged for between 30 seconds and two minutes, resting the non-working leg on a chair. Follow the work interval with a minute of easy spinning with both legs before switching legs. Complete three to five sets to promote enhanced pedaling mechanics and efficiency as well as increased power throughout the pedal stroke.

Race-Winning Intervals

There is no substitute for good preparation. If your goal is to be fast in key events, then you should study the course profile and train specifically for the unique demands of each race. If you are preparing for an Olympic-distance event with rolling hills and wind, seek out training routes similar to the race course.

Once you've found the optimal training route, conduct a set of 2 x 20-minute intervals at lactate threshold pace, which will help will you dial in your 40K time-trial speed. The average speed you can hold for each 20-minute session closely correlates to your current 40K race pace.

If you cannot simulate race terrain in your normal training, then use a stationary trainer once or twice a week to simulate the hills, flats or temperature you will encounter on race day.


Nothing will slow you down more than dehydration and/or glycogen depletion. Employing optimal hydration and refueling practices before, during and after training will allow you to train at maximal levels.

In his book Food for Fitness, Chris Carmichael outlines the following guidelines for optimal day-to-day training.

  1. You should not lose more than 2 percent of body weight during training or competition due to fluid loss. A 2-percent loss in body weight can decrease athletic performance by about 10 to 15 percent, and performance drops off even more rapidly as additional fluid is lost.
  2. One to four hours prior to training, you should take in 0.5 to two grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. This will allow you to enter a training session with your tank topped up.
  3. During workouts, 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates (ingested either in solid or liquid form) will prolong your ability to perform at your best during training or competition.

These guidelines are especially important to triathletes who complete more than one workout per day.

R and R (Restoration and Recovery)

You need to go slow in order to get faster. To race fast, you must train fast, and that requires you to enter your key speed workouts both physically and mentally rested.

On recovery days, resist riding with a group since the average pace will often be greater than your recovery pace. Riding solo and keeping your heart rate or wattage in your recovery range will better prepare you for the quality training that will make you faster. Other elements of recovery that are no less important include sleep, relaxation, flexibility, hydration and refueling.

Speed involves more than simply including anaerobic intervals in your training schedule. Attention to proper preparation and the execution of quality training will allow you to boost your speed on the bike this season.

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Tim Crowley has been guiding beginners and elite triathletes to success for several years. He was named USA Triathlon's 2009 National Coach of the Year. Learn more about him and his coaching services at TimCrowley.biz.

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