I got my bike a year ago in early September. At the beginning of last spring, I was happy to not die after a 14 mile ride at 12 mph. Now I'm up to a 35 mile ride at just about 17mph and feel great when I finish. How did I do that?
First, I have a road bike. If you're on a hybrid, comfort, or mountain bike, you're likely not going to see those speeds regardless of what you do (unless you are REALLY strong!). My road bike is a nice, aluminum bike I bought used -- not some fancy carbon fiber model, nor is it a time-trial bike. For another $2-3 thousand (or more), I can probably add one or two miles per hour without trying. That, however, is not in my budget! Besides, I'm riding for fitness and health, not just speed.
Secondly, I took some cycling classes at the gym. They don't help you on bike handling skills (stopping, turning, balance, etc.), but they do help cardiovascular endurance, building strength, and cadence. Best of all, they can be done at night, during the cold, when it's raining, etc. Don't have access to cycling classes? I've also got a trainer that was on clearance for $50 that I can plop in front of a TV and do similar workouts (which has been upgraded to a fancy $350 kind -- while the cheap one isn't bad, the expensive ones give a much smoother ride). Look for high intensity interval workouts. Google can help you find ideas for workouts as well as finding DVDs to ride along to.
Third, I found some groups to ride with. The first group (other than my husband and 22 year old son) was a ladies' beginner ride advertised as 0-12mph. I thought I'd *die* trying to keep up the first time. After a few times, I had enough basic strength to stay in the middle of the pack. I started watching the better riders ahead of me for cues on cadence and when to shift. Soon I was able to move up to the 14-15mph group. Then I found a co-ed group so my family could ride with me. We started in the 12-14mph group, and moved to the 15-16 quickly. By the end of the season, that 15-16 group was closer to 17mph!
Fourth, I've taken a lot of core classes at the gym. They help. Don't have classes? There are plenty of videos and exercise plans on SparkPeople. Do one or two 10 minute videos per day. It makes a difference. If you can balance better and recruit your core muscles to help your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, you'll be more efficient -- and probably faster.
Last, my son is a recent college grad with a major in Health and Exercise Science. He's pre-med and is taking a gap year to train for triathlons. He's living with us, so I have a live-in coach. He's been helping me and his message is basically:
1) Ride more. As often as you can. On the road, on a trainer, whatever...just ride.
2) Ride with people better and faster than you. Study what they do. Try to keep up. It'll happen, eventually (and he's right).
3) Cross train. Core is important. Lift weights for stronger muscles. Swim. Run. (That's how I managed to race two triathlons so far!) Only want to pick one? Core.
OK, it sounds like I spend a lot of time in the saddle (and I do). I'm training for sprint triathlons (my son does the half-Ironman distance). You don't have to spend that much time to see gains. You can probably get better riding twice a week (weather permitting). And don't look at hills at the bad guy. Hills make you stronger. Keep repeating that as you are gasping for breath and your legs are screaming. It'll get easier, you'll get faster.
| Pounds lost: 31.0