Every cyclist wants to get faster. Achieving this requires a blend of two essential factors: optimizing your bike’s performance and refining your personal training regimen (which includes your diet). Tune your bicycle to perfection and couple that with a well-tailored strength and conditioning program, and you’re on the fast lane to becoming a stronger and quicker cyclist. Let’s dive into 31 vital tips that will help you pedal your way to faster speeds.
Part 1: Make Your Bike Faster
We’ll start with your bike first, because that’s the more fun one, right? I will try to include every little gain that can be had, which includes upgrades that will make you the tiniest bit faster at the most expensive cost. Worth it or not, that’s yours to decide.
Here are the top tips to boost your bike’s speed and performance:
1. Use High-Quality Tires
Consider purchasing a set of high thread-per-inch (TPI) tires which can save you 10-20 watts in rolling resistance compared to entry level ones. They can be surprisingly expensive, but these are the best bang for your buck when it comes to speed gains.
Some brands sell 3 types of their top-tier tires: wet weather, racing/time trial, and all-rounder. Wet weather tires have better grip and are more durable, but slower. Racing tires are thinner, lighter, and have lower rolling resistance, but they wear out faster. The all-rounder is somewhere in the middle.
Some of the most popular high TPI tires are Continental GP5000, Vittoria Corsa, and Pirelli P-Zero.
2. Go Tubeless
It’s been proven by third-party testers that tubeless tires are faster than their tubed counterparts. This is due to the elimination of friction caused by inner tubes inside your tires. They are also lighter as a complete system.
As a comparison, a pair of GP5000 tubeless is 2-4 watts faster than GP5000 with tubes.
3. Use The Right Tire Pressure
It is a case of finding the optimal balance – too high, and the ride becomes uncomfortable; too low, and you increase the risk of puncture. And it’s not a one-size-fits-all setting; it depends on your weight, terrain smoothness, and weather conditions.
Heavier cyclists should use higher tire pressures than lighter cyclists, as they need to support more weight. Additionally, rougher terrain requires higher pressure to prevent pinch flats if you use inner tubes, but not too high that it increases your rolling resistance. In wet conditions, tire pressure needs to be lowered slightly for better grip.
4. Follow the 105% Rule
If you haven’t heard the 105% rule when it comes to tire width, this means that the optimal rim width is 105% of the width of your tire. In other words, your tire should be about 5% narrower than the rim width. This is to maintain the tear drop shape which is considered to be the most aerodynamic.
For example, if you have a rim width of 31mm measured from the outer walls, then a tire with a width of around 29mm would be ideal for maximum aerodynamic benefits. Anything wider will have a chance to disturb the streamlined flow and prevent recapturing the air back into smooth airflow again.
Keep in mind that wheelset manufacturers usually list their internal rim width (inner side measurements), and what you need is the external rim width.
5. Clean Regularly
A dirty drivetrain can dramatically increase friction between 5 and 10 watts compared to a clean one. That’s why keeping your chain and cassette clean is essential.
A dirty drivetrain also accelerates wear and tear. The accumulation of dirt, grime, and debris acts like an abrasive paste, grinding down the gears, chains, and cogs. As a result, components lose efficiency and wear out quicker, leading to more frequent replacements.
6. Use a High-Quality Chain Lube
Most cyclists buy whatever lube they are selling at the local bike store. Well, not all lubes are made equal. Low-quality lube, like the factory grease that your chain came prepared from the shelve, can do more harm than good, attracting dirt and debris to your drivetrain. Always strip factory grease and use chain lube that is actually good.
The current best chain lube in my experience the Silca Synergetic. It’s expensive, but you don’t have to use as much compared to other lubes to fully coat your chain. In my experience, it attracts dirt significantly less than others, keeping your chain smoother for longer.
7. Wax Your Chain
Speaking of lube, chain wax is the best way to achieve the lowest drivetrain friction. It’s a bit more complicated than normal lubes, but it will save you watts and keep your drivetrain clean. The only downside is how fast it washes off when riding under the rain.
Immersive waxing is the gold standard, but drip wax like the Silca Super Secret or CeramicSpeed UFO Drip is much easier to do regularly and they are still better than normal lubes.
8. Use Aero Handlebars
Switching from round handlebars to aero handlebars with a flat top can make a significant difference in terms of energy expenditure. Wind tunnel tests suggest that aero handlebars could save between 4 to 6 watts at a speed of 40km/h compared to traditional round handlebars.
Integrated barstem such as above will add more to the watt savings, but you need to nail your bike fit down first before getting one.
9. Use Narrow Handlebars
Usually, new bicycles come with handlebars that measure around 38-42 centimeters. This width is selected because it matches the average shoulder width of most people, which is typically around 40 centimeters.
To increase your speed, consider using a narrower handlebar than the one you’re currently using. This can help minimize your frontal area and reduce your aerodynamic drag. Try experimenting with extremely narrow handlebar sizes like 36cm or even 34cm for women if you can find them. Though they may feel a bit strange and uncomfortable at first, you might start getting used to them as time goes on.
10. Cut Your Bar Tapes Shorter
Keeping the top area of your handlebar naked without bar tapes can save you exactly 1 watt. It’s not much but it doesn’t cost you anything other than a little bit of comfort.
11. Upgrade Your Wheels
Upgrading your wheels to a lighter and deeper rim variant can significantly improve your speed. Lighter carbon wheels reduce the overall weight of the bike by up to 1kg compared to aluminum ones, which can make a noticeable difference in general feel and when climbing. You’ll find pedaling uphill easier and less tiring, thereby preserving your energy for longer rides.
Furthermore, wheels with deeper rims are designed to be aerodynamic by reducing air resistance when cycling at high speeds, allowing you to maintain your pace with less effort.
Despite the initial investment, the long-term benefits can make it a worthwhile investment for serious cyclists.
12. Buy a Faster Bike Frame
By this point, some of you might want to call me nuts for suggesting this, but I promised to not pull my punches and it is the truth that some bike frames are faster than others. Manufacturers spend a lot of time in the wind tunnel developing bike frames that are aerodynamically more efficient.
Third-party tests have time and again proven that aero-shaped frames can save you more than 10 watts compared to frames with round tubes. Considering the shape of most bike frames hasn’t changed much since 2020, this can also be a worthwhile long-term investment.
13. Install OSPW
Truth is, oversized pulley wheels (OSPW) are the equivalent of jewelry for your bike. It’s not clear if it actually gives you an advantage other than making your bike look cooler. However, since there are many affordable OSPWs today, I feel like it’s worth a mention.
OSPWs, with their larger diameter, reduce the angle of the chain bends around it, thereby decreasing friction. This benefit is minor, around 1-2 watts saving, and might even be negated by the aerodynamic disadvantage of having a larger CdA.
14. Upgrade to Ceramic Bearings
There are in total 3 different places where installing ceramic bearings can make your drivetrain more efficient: wheel hubs, pulley wheels, and bottom brackets. Using ceramic bearings in all these parts can save you around 6 watts.
That said, high-quality ceramic bearings for bottom brackets are not worth it for everyone and are not an area where I would advise going for budget options to save money. It’s far better to have steel bearings than cheap ceramics because it’s all about the bearings’ smoothness, and making smooth bearings costs a lot of money.
15. Upgrade to Lighter Components
The general rule of thumb is that for every 100 grams you shave from your bike, you can go up a 5% gradient or steeper 0.01 kph faster. If that sounds small to you, wait till you hear that even on a short 5 km climb a bike can finish ~20 seconds faster than a bike 1kg heavier with the same power.
For a comprehensive list of bicycle components that can be upgraded to lighter weights without breaking the bank, check out this article: Weight Weenie Upgrades.
Part 2: Make Yourself Faster
Now that we’ve discussed how to optimize your bike’s performance, let’s switch gears to focus on you – the cyclist. Most tips in this part are cheaper than the previous, but they often require higher effort, which can be good news or bad news for some.
Here are some tips to help you improve your speed and overall cycling performance.
16. Wear a Skinsuit
More than 70% of drag comes from your body. Before we even talk about skinsuits, if you’re not already wearing snug jerseys that fit perfectly during your daily rides, then the other upgrades mentioned in this article are insignificant. They pale in comparison to the importance of proper attire.
As for skinsuits, consider wearing them for racing. A skinsuit is a one-piece, skin-tight garment that covers the body from the neck down to the thighs or knees, commonly used in time trials and track, but they are now used in road races too. It’s a bit too much to wear during normal rides, but the watt savings during the race are worth it. Which is why all pro teams on the grand tours wear skinsuits.
17. Wear Aero Helmet
When discussing aero helmets, people generally refer to two types. The first type is commonly used in time trials, often paired with time trial bikes. The second type is used in road cycling, which is not as aero as TT helmets, but has more ventilation to allow your head to cool down during longer rides.
These aero road helmets can save you more than 10 watts compared to normal-shaped or lightweight road bike helmets.
18. Wear Aero Socks
Because your leg is spinning while pedaling, it creates the most significant area of turbulence, and therefore the most drag. So this cheapest item in your wardrobe might actually save you the most watts. Using aero socks can save you about 10 watts compared to normal socks.
Sock length matters too. Your legs aren’t aero, so the longer the socks, the more watts you save, which is why the UCI has a rule limiting sock length to just below the mid-calf. But, if you don’t participate in a UCI-sanctioned race, this can be an advantage.
Some people hate the look of aero and tall socks, though, and I get that.
19. Shave Your Legs
Speaking of legs and turbulence, your leg hair can also create drag. Many professional cyclists shave their legs for this reason, and it’s not just for aesthetic purposes. Shaving your legs can save you about 5 to 10 watts, depending on the length and thickness of your leg hair.
20. Wear Gloves
Unlike legs, hands don’t move much, but they are the first part of the body to come into contact with the air. So wearing aero-optimized gloves can help reduce drag and save you a few watts. Plus, it also provides extra padding and grip on your handlebars.
21. Get Lower
Lowering your frontal area by reducing your handlebar spacer or installing a stem with a steeper angle is a popular way to improve aerodynamics on the bike. Lowering your hand position by one centimeter can save approximately 3 watts when traveling at a speed of 40 km/h. Considering new bikes often have 3-5 cm of spacers, that’s 9-15 watts saving just by “slamming” your stem.
That said, it’s essential to find a balance between aerodynamics and comfort. Lowering your handlebar position beyond your comfort level prevents you from holding your watts on a long ride.
22. Practice Aero Hand Position
There are two (legal) hand positions that will give you aerodynamic advantage:
- Holding the drops
- Placing your forearms horizontally on the hood while holding the top of the shifter (pictured below)
The latter is faster and more aero, but holding the drops is safer because you can still pull the brake Choose the one that is most suitable for the given situation.
The “fake TT bar” and “lever hook” positions used to be the fastest but are now banned by UCI for safety.
23. Increase Your Base Mileage
The best way to improve your speed and endurance on the bike is by simply increasing your mileage. This means slowly building up your distance every week, so your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen and energy.
If you want to get fast at 100 km races, then you need to be used to riding for more than 100 km regularly. No amount of watt-saving tricks can skip this process.
The rule of thumb for base mileage is to increase your total distance by no more than 10% each week, so your body has time to adapt and recover, then take an easy week every fourth week.
24. Do Some Intervals
Have you ever met cyclists who can ride for a really long distance, but can’t ride very fast? That’s because you need to train your system to push at a higher speed than you normally do. This is where interval training comes in.
There are different lengths of interval depending on which system you want to train, but essentially they all are short bursts of high intensity followed by a recovery period.
VO2 max intervals can be done on the bike by pushing yourself for 3-6 minutes and then resting for the same amount of time before repeating it 5 more times or more. Threshold intervals are typically 15-30 minutes long repeated 2-3 times with around 5 minutes of recovery.
For serious cyclists, it’s recommended to do intervals every week but not more than two sessions per week to avoid overtraining.
25. Drop Your Body Weight
Power-to-weight ratio is critical in cycling because of gravity. The lighter you are, the easier it is to go faster during hill climbing. Weight matters less on the flats, but it can still affect your speed via rolling resistance.
Remember when I said for every 100 grams you can shave, you’ll gain an additional 0.01kph going uphill? Dropping pounds or kilograms of your weight is relatively easy compared to shaving grams from your bike which can cost thousands of dollars. It’s the cheapest way to get faster, and it might be good for your health too!
That said, everyone has their race-ideal weight. Drop your weight too much, and you will start seeing a decrease in your power-to-weight ratio and your health in general.
26. Fuel and Hydrate Properly
Since this topic is quite important and extensive, it’s probably best to dig deeper into the details of fueling, hydration, and nutrition for cyclists in a separate article. Check out this article for more in-depth information on the subject.
27. Improve Your Mental Toughness
To go fast, you gotta be willing to push through the pain and discomfort.
While physical training is important, so is mental toughness. Cycling requires not only a strong body but also a strong mind to push through the tough moments and keep going, especially when you’re in a hard training, breakaway, or attacking situation.
Different people find different ways to improve their mental toughness, some may use mantras or visualization techniques, while others may focus on their breathing and staying present in the moment. The key is finding what works for you and incorporating it into your training.
28. Go to the Gym
Studies show that complementing cycling workouts with strength training can lead to improvements in cycling power. These benefits are attributed to increased muscle fiber size, enhanced neuromuscular efficiency, and improved force production.
In addition, strength training reduces the risk of injury, enhances body composition, and boosts metabolic health.
Focus on exercises that target the major muscle groups used in cycling, including the core, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.
29. Slow Down Most of Your Rides
It’s important to do low-intensity rides in your training plan. These slower rides allow you to do two things:
- Ride long distances and improve your aerobic capacity
- Recover well and perform at your best during your hard days
Low-intensity rides should be at a conversational pace. You should be able to speak in complete sentences without gasping for breath. If you have a heart rate monitor or power meter and know your training zones, these slow rides should be between zone 1 and lower zone 2.
30. Taper Properly Before a Race
I’ve seen so many cyclists cram their training 1-2 weeks before the race because of the lack of a proper training plan. This is a big mistake.
If you train hard today, you don’t get stronger 3 days or a week later. Aerobic adaptations take 8-12 days to happen, sometimes more depending on many factors like diet and sleep. That means, training hard 1-2 weeks before a race won’t do you any good. This will only leave you exhausted and burnt out on race day.
Instead, gradually taper your training volume and intensity as the race approaches. This means reducing your mileage and effort level a week or two before the event, allowing your body to fully recover and prepare for peak performance on race day.
31. Practice Racing Techniques
Cycling, especially in a race, is a game of energy conservation. You need to understand how to ride tactically and efficiently to save your energy when you need it the most. No matter how strong or fast you are, you can’t win a race if you don’t know how to use your energy wisely.
Racing techniques include drafting, cornering, attacking, and maintaining a steady pace line. By incorporating these skills into your routine rides, you’ll be able to ride faster while spending less energy than your competition.