Fit Feminists Answer

You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Why is my average cycling speed so slow?

This is the first in a new series where we answer readers’ questions. I got thinking about it the other day because a reader, also a health care professional, commented on what amazing resource we are. She says she directs her patients–mostly women in midlife, who are interested in getting more physical activity in their lives–to our blog. “You’re so relatable,” she said. Though I don’t much like that turn of phrase, I know what she meant. If we can do it, you can too. She also said that we cover between us all an amazing range of activities: hiking, cross country skiing, kayaking, running, swimming, biking, Highland Games, weight lifting…So if you have questions send them our way, using the “contact us” form on the left hand side of the blog. I’ll forward them to the appropriate blogger. We’re not experts by any means but we do have a wealth of real world experience with many, many physical activities.

Here’s the first question, from a new-ish cyclist who has just acquired a bike computer.

Why is my average speed so slow? I’m riding along above 20 kph, often above 25 kph, the entire time but when I get home and look at my stats my average speed is always in the high teens. What’s up?


Hey, I know that feeling. I have on my first Garmin screen just a few things displayed. In the largest boxes I have speed and average speed and I often have average speed goals in mind when I ride. But it’s a challenge. I’ve often wondered about that exact same thing.

Here’s some of what’s going on:

Do you look at your speed when you’re going slow? I don’t. I look at my speed when I’m zooming downhills or  going fast in a big gear with a tailwind. Slogging uphill? Not so much. So I think the feeling of going fast and not going slow just reflects what we pay attention to.

Does your average speed include your warm up and cool down? That can, for obvious reasons, drag down your average speed.

How do you get out of town? For me, it’s either through traffic (slow) or on a multi-use pathway (there’s a speed limit, which I follow.) When I was working with a cycling coach he’d ask me to turn my Garmin off for those stretches. They don’t count.

Do you have our bike computer set to autopause so time at traffic lights and stop signs doesn’t count towards your average speed? You might also consider setting it to something above zero since cyclists often come to rolling stops to avoid unclipping.

Even if it’s set to auto-pause at 3-5 kph stop signs and traffic lights affect average speed because we slow down in advance of them. Cyclists don’t tend to race up to stop signs and red lights. We noodle and wait for the light to change, right?

Finally, you are spending less time at the speedier speed.  Consider a 20 km stretch of road with a very strong headwind/tailwind and you’re riding out and back, 40 km total distance. If you cover half the distance at 20 kph into the wind and half the distance at 40 kph with the tailwind, your average isn’t 30 kph. Your total time would 1.5 hours. Speed=distance/time so it’s 26.6 kph. Not s speedy as you might have thought.  Ditto for hills. Slow up and fast down means you spend more time at the slower speed. 🙁

So cheer up and take heart that these things affect all of us. Happy riding!

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6 thoughts on “You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Why is my average cycling speed so slow?

  1. Unless you are aiming to race-compete with other racers, cycling speed should not be the top of your priorities. It’s better to focus on endurance over long distances and climbing a few hills in 1 ride. Make it your goal to ride 25, 50 , 100 , then 100+ kms. in 1 day.

    Long-time cyclists who cycle regularily for many years …several times per wk. don’t worry so much about cadence/speed. Otherwise it will pull you down mentally.

    1. Hm, I think this is very much a “your mileage may vary” thing — literally and figuratively. Many many people recognize that both speed and endurance are part of a package to get fitter. And people who like data like to understand how that data works.

      I don’t race but I sure care about speed, partly because it just feels good to go faster, it’s a gauge of how much fitter I’m getting, and I like to know who my “peeps” are to ride well with. I’m not that competive but I like the data that shows I’m holding my own in a spin class compared to others. There are tons of reasons to want to know and track your speed — if that’s what you’re into. Your reasons for cycling may be different — and that’s okay, but it doesn’t make them the only way to do it.

      1. I think the reason why I’ve been cycling for ..last 25 yrs. is because I enjoy it. I was interested in speed for first 5 years after returning to cycling but found it didn’t help my motivation later to constantly measure my performance. Similar to weighing oneself too often on weight scale.

        Performance is very much a “feel” thing for me. Especially distances and some hills. And I must be able to do that hill with lots of groceries over a 45 km. ride….which probably sounds crazy to others. But it is 1 way how I “measure” my distance… a commuting ride can often become a fitness ride for me. And transfers to long distance touring for out of town with gear.

  2. I think it’s great that you understand what motivates you and keeps you connected to cycling, Jean — that’s part of the value of this blog, I think, that there are so many different perspectives and there is no “one size fits all.”

  3. Tips om increasing average speed:

    – Auto-pause setting on your Garmin.
    – Traffic lights, stop signs and junctions are you enemy.
    – Ride flatter routes.
    – Ride harder into the wind, softer with a tailwind.
    – Get more aero on your bike.
    – Pedal harder.

    But average speed is only a small part of the picture! 🙂

  4. I’d add using the lap/reset button (on Garmins) to see what one’s average speed is on various segments. While speed isn’t everything it can be important. If you’re traveling and want to join a cycling group elsewhere for a group ride, it helps to know what speed you can maintain. Here, in the Deep South of Canada, we don’t have many hills but we have plenty of wind. The general rule: our avg speed into the wind will be our overall speed for the route. Oh, and one more thing, look at your cadence too. If the cadence is too low and you’re grinding, you might find out that hat a lower gear and higher cadence boosts your overall avg speed. Happy pedaling …

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