What’s My Average Speed?

For new cyclists, understanding average speed generates more questions than I would expect. If you haven’t ridden a lot and don’t have a computer on your bike, it’s hard to know. If a ride leader announces that they’ll be leading a group with an average pace of xxx mph, here’s what goes into that:

  1. Terrain – if the terrain of the ride is hilly, the average speed is likely to be slower than a ride that’s on mostly flat roads. Obviously, you’ll be going much faster on the downhill and much slower on the up. You can get an idea of the terrain by clicking on the GPS link in the ride listing. Even if you don’t use GPS (you should!) you can still look at the profile, get an idea of the hills and see the exact amount of elevation gain on the ride.

One way to gauge the difficulty of a ride is to calculate elevation/distance. The lower the result, the easier the ride. You can use the following scale:

  • < 30 – easy

  • 30 – 50 – moderate

  • 50 – 70 – difficult

  • 70+ - extremely difficult

So, the 37 mile route for 3 Lakes and London Bridge on June 2nd is a 52 (1,953/37.6); a moderate ride. An easier option would be the 18 mile route for the Friday TGIF Unwinder. At 637 feet of climbing, it comes in at a 35 (637/17.9). You need to remember that we live in New England and there are very, very few truly flat rides.

  1. Urban or Rural – Urban rides generally have more intersections, stop signs, stop lights, etc. Every time you slow down to stop then speed up again to start, your average speed goes down.

  2. Turns – If your route has a lot of turns, you’ll go through the same slow down/speed up motion each time you ride through a turn. You’ll often slow more for left hand than right hand turns.

  3. Equipment – A cyclist on a light bike can ride faster than a cyclist on a heavier bike. That’s just physics.

  4. Fitness – You may be huffing and puffing while the person next to you is cruising by, chatting with a friend. Your fitness impacts your speed. If you ride a lot along the Esplanade but have never hit the hills of Harvard, you’re going to be slower than you might expect.

  5. Weight – This can go both ways. A heavier person will generally speed down a hill quickly but climb more slowly. A lighter person might be the reverse.

  6. Cruising Speed – Many people assume that a ride with an advertised pace of xxx mph will ride at exactly that pace on flat terrain. Alas, this is not true. All of the things listed above can slow you down. As a result, in order to achieve an average of xxx by the end of a ride, you must ride *faster* than that on flat terrain as it’s a place to make up some lost speed.

How do you figure this out? The best way is to get an inexpensive bike computer and let it do the math. They are all wireless, making installation a breeze. Alternatively, load the RwGPS app on your phone and it’ll do the calculation for you. Then, get out and ride. You’ll quickly understand better what your own average is.  

To make it abundantly clear, your average is not what you do on flat terrain, it’s what you do over the course of the entire ride.



I ride regularly often in Berkshires’s which are much hillier and average is between 18-19 when there are 3-4 other riders and we share the wofk
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