The Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa

2014 RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI Training: How to Ride Faster

By Coach David Ertl

I have said more than once that RAGBRAI is not a race and the objective is not to see how fast you can get through it.  My emphasis has been on building endurance so that you can make it through the whole ride enjoyably, comfortably and feeling good about yourself. 

However, in the past couple of weeks I’ve been asked a couple times about how to get faster on the bike.  So I will address this, but keep in mind that your first priority is being able to put the miles in.  It doesn’t matter how fast you can ride if you can’t go the distance.  As a matter of fact, if you do ride too fast, you will burn out (we like the term ‘blow up’) before you get to the end of the day’s ride and you don’t want that to happen.   But once you do have a good set of base miles established and you can comfortably ride 50 or more miles, and if you want to now get faster, here are some pointers.

First, I want to be clear that I am talking about riding fast on level roads. I’ll save my hill climbing tips for another blog.  If you can ride along comfortably at, say, 14 mph, it is reasonable to think you should be able to increase your average speed by a couple of mph with some training.  The first tip is to continue to put in more miles on the bike.  By riding, even at your regular speed, you will build aerobic fitness and leg strength by continually increasing the length of time you can ride.  Think of this as your fitness foundation. 

The second tip is to start riding faster.  Seems logical, but if your goal is to be able to ride at a faster pace, do you actually train by riding faster?   Now you can’t just go out and do your next ride 2 mph faster than what you currently ride.  Instead you should push yourself a little faster for short periods of time to train your body to go at this new faster pace.  Then when you start to get tired, back off to your normal pace for a while.  Then do another short, faster effort.   If you do this throughout your rides, you will, gradually over time, build up the length of time you can ride at this faster pace and build the speed you can ride.   What I’ve just described here are intervals.   I hesitate to use that term because it may scare some people off.  But they don’t have to be gut-busting hard, blood and sweat efforts (well, maybe the sweat part).  All you have to do is ride  2-4 mph faster than you normally ride, for a minute or two at a time.  The only way to get fast is to ride fast, and this is a way to get there.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  If you want to ride faster, then train by riding faster, but do it bit by bit in small chunks and over time your speed will increase.

 Coach David Ertl

 David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and is a national head coach for the the JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and he coaches individual cyclists. 

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2 Comments

tancanoe, May 23, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Yesterday I rode ( after 4 consecutive days of sort of pushing) and it was all I could to finish 20 miles. How do overcome this , I even drank accelerade and it didn’t help

Kevin, May 26, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Tan canoe, congratulations! You just laid down your first 20 miler! Yes it was tough, veritably killed you, but…you did it. And that’s the first step in building endurance. As Dave said above, the most important thing you can do is RIDE…a lot. Doesn’t have to be a long distance every day (but I’d say at least 10 miles a day, minimum) so that your body gets used to riding everyday and your legs are used to the everyday exercise of cycling. If you can’t ride every day, put time in walking fast, using an elliptical, or a trainer. At least once a week, preferably twice, do your challenge distance (20 miles, then 25, then 30). On weekends do your ultra challenge (40 to 50 miles). The idea is to go as far as you can. Remember, if you make it a loop, you only have to go halfway out (’cause you’ll ride it back). For some reason, that way of thinking has helped me: if I can ride 27 miles one way out, I can ride 27 miles back. There’s just no substitute for putting I. The hours though, especially with RAGBRAI so close.

But, bottom line, feel good about 20 miles! You did THAT, once, you can do it again.

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