Road cycling: How fast is fast enough?

It’s late into the group ride and we’re on the home stretch, that time when we ramp up the pace and drive it home to the cafe. I roll onto the front – the bunch safely tucked single file behind me – and little by little I wind on the power. We’re cruising at 30kph, then 32, 33 … We pass a couple of riders and signal for them to join the train, so they draft in behind.

A few more watts and I’m doing 35kph, riders are one by one dropping off unable to maintain the pace of the K-train express. Still on the front, I wind it up further and our speed creeps to 36 … 37 … 38+ kph. I soon realise there’s only two guys left clinging to my wheel so I gently roll off the gas and let the group reform.

I’m feeling pretty fast and fit at the moment. I’m totally crushing each pedal stroke, I’m setting a fair few PR’s on Strava and I’m generally just loving my cycling – but there’s always that drive to be faster. That niggle in the back of my mind. So how fast is fast enough? How many miles is enough? I struggle with this question a lot. In fact I think it troubles me much more than it should.

Baggy shorts beginner to full Lycra lout. I’ve come a long way, baby…

I’m by no means slow, but I’m nowhere near fast. There are many, many riders around here who could kick my teeth in over a long ride or drop me like a stone up (and down) the local climbs! That said, exactly how fast do I need to be? How fast would make me happy? And how much am I willing to sacrifice to attain that?

I’m an average “B group” club rider at best. I don’t need to be faster. I don’t race or get paid by results. My livelihood doesn’t depend on my wattage output. When I swing a leg over a bike it’s purely for enjoyment and fitness, but still I feel I should be faster, stronger, fitter.

Each friend in this photo is a faster and stronger rider than me. 

To be able to hang with the “A bunch” and not feel like death would take some serious training. It’d mean following a plan, up early for turbo sessions, less riding for fun and more structure, sacrificing family time to fit it in. Cut down on my cake consumption, eat a little healthier, ditch my weekend bourbon and diet cola. And for what? Just to ride with a faster group on the weekend warrior ride? Would I enjoy my cycling more? I’m not so sure. Quite possibly I may enjoy it less!

Whaaaat? Eat less cake? Blasphemy!

I already get up early to put in an hour’s ride before work a couple of times a week, plus longer weekend rides. Add to that a turbo session or two and I’m “training” five to six days per week. I say training, but in reality it’s just riding. Maybe I need a goal event to aim for. Something that I need to be fitter for. Or maybe I just need to chill out and be happy that I am fit and healthy and able to ride like I do?

Ride. Smile. Enjoy. Be happy!

At the end of the day, we ride because we enjoy it. Right? The cold hard truth is that no matter how fast or strong you are, there is ALWAYS somebody faster and stronger. Always.

So fellow roadies, how fast is fast enough?

21 Comments Add yours

  1. Anthony says:

    I ride in the C group. I would crank it up if I could–on my last cycling vacation I was one of the fast riders and I loved it. However, it takes a bit of commitment. I still haven’t done a time trial on one of the club circuits yet.

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  2. Steve Hellaby says:

    There’s another couple of factors that I consider when I’m thinking about fitness, speed and how fast is fast enough – age and injury.

    This year fast enough is getting back to where I was last year before before hip surgery and Strava’s fitness and freshness graph has shown me that I’m now fitter than I’ve ever been since I started recording rides back in 2015. Mission accomplished – for the time being anyway. Zwift has helped significantly in the recovery, in particular the scheduled training sessions like the FTP improver and more recently the Watopia Challenge for added motivation.

    The other thing I mentioned – age. Those Strava PR’s are still coming but they certainly aren’t getting any easier, especially on the uphill segments. So fast enough is just a little bit faster than I was last year maybe? I find myself filtering the Strava segment times by age group more these days. So if it wasn’t for Strava would I be as interested in my relative performance and would I just enjoy cycling more without it? Certainly not yet anyway.

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    1. Informative as always Mr Competition Secretary and well done on getting back to fitness after your injury. I guess I should be happy just to still be getting faster year on year, rather than comparing my performances to others. Maybe I should get back into time trialling? :-)

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  3. stuwj_velo says:

    I see some of the average speeds in the pro peloton and they’re mind-blowing, like 50 km/h+ over 200 kms. To try and emulate that when you’re a normal person with a normal life/job etc. seems to me to be a bit futile and carries a high risk of burnout (re: your use of the word ‘should’ which is all about comparison and implies a sense of inadequacy).

    On the other hand though, if your goal is to be the fastest you can possibly be – which is not quite the same thing – then nobody has the right to question how you go about that. If your intrinsic goals are being met then you’re in the right place, regardless of how fast you are relative to others.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I’ll admit to some “sense of inadequacy” feelings at times when I see other people’s rides or totals on Strava. I’m much better at being content in my own rides now, but it still gets me every now and then! I shouldn’t compare to anyone but myself.

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  4. you are young – enjoy the speed while you can but don’t think you should be faster. It can take a toll on you. Enjoy your riding but take the time to smell the roses by the way. Old age comes as a surprise to all of us- if we get the privilege to live that long.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. bgddyjim says:

    Too true, brother. I’m fast enough and that’s the done of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. J.E. Lowder says:

    I’m 59 and I’m on a race team but not because I’m uber fast or a Strava KOM threat, but because I want to push myself. To be honest, I only enter 1-2 races per season. I’m not a crit guy (too skinny!) and there aren’t that many road races (more my forte) around. So why join? Well, they are great guys (younger, too!) that I love training with. Have I gotten faster? Yes. Could I get faster? Yes, but as you pointed out, that would require more time dialing in a specific training plan, less time working on other non-bike projects/passions, weight training, etc. For now, I’m happy with my current development and I even had one of my younger cyclists say recently, “Boy, hope I can get after it like you do when I’m that old.” I think it was a compliment! :) And yes, there’s always someone faster. Truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am able to hit 30 KPH on a good day but most days it is around 20 kph. A lot of factors go into speed including hill grade and weather conditions. I’d never be able to keep up with you for sure. Ain’t cycling and seeing the world awesome?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Speed is all relative. :-) As long as cycling out in the fresh air brings a smile to your face, it’s all good! Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Golly! I didn’t even know there were graded groups but it certainly makes sense. I’m a complete newbie to cycling but loving it and am doing La Vélodyssée Atlantic Cycling Route in just over three weeks time which is north to southern France. Any advice or tips for me?? Hope you don’t mind me asking! I currently cycle most days in London and this particular route is mainly cycle tracks and I’ll be camping during it, oh and doing this on my own. Katie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like fun! With only three weeks to go there’s not a lot of change you can make to your fitness. I’d just be sure all your kit is sorted. Do you need to carry gear? Be sure you are comfortable on your bike for the hours you need to put in. Don’t change too much without time to test it. It’ll be hot and sunny, so drink lots and take sunscreen. Enjoy the ride! :-)

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      1. Thank you so much … yes I’ll be carrying all my kit so am trying to keep it as light as possible. I’m so excited. Thanks very much for the tips and a good point about not changing anything too much without testing it properly. Many thanks. It really is appreciated. Katie

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You’ll have a blast! :-)

          Liked by 1 person

  9. rongarofalo says:

    Fast Enough – There is no such thing. For me whenever I hit a new goal I immediate think of a new faster one. Its human to keep wanting to better yourself. Just enjoy the ride and keep pushing yourself. Its what keeps it fun and challenging.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I need a challenge to aim for, something to target and keep me motivated. We’ll see. Thanks for the comment! :-)

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Silverio says:

    Interested to know how you use the Strava App. I am really new to bike and rides in general but so far loving it

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    1. You can use it to record your rides via GPS, then track your mileage afterwards. Some people put their phone on their handlebars to see real-time speed and distance stats also.

      I don’t use Strava to record rides as I have a Garmin device which does that for me and automatically uploads the file to Strava afterwards. For me, Strava is a place where I keep a record of all my rides, can view the rides of friends and interact with other riders. I just have the free version, but you can pay for “Summit” packs and gain extra features.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Silverio says:

        Thanks for the reply

        Liked by 1 person

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