Average cycling speed is one of those metrics many beginner cyclists care about. It looks objective, but it isn’t. Still, it provides helpful insight into our performances.
Below, we will discuss how the average speed changes based on individual factors, and you will learn how your average speed stands against others and professionals.
You will also learn the basic concepts and in-depth information on improving the average cycling speed that only some people talk about.
I’ve been cycling since I was five years old, read many studies, and watched dozens of videos of aerodynamics experts. Yet, I wrote this article in an easy-to-understand form, so it’s easy to digest.
Can’t wait to learn more? Let’s dive in.
What’s an Average Cycling Speed?
Average cycling speed is calculated by dividing the total ridden distance by the total time it took to cycle that distance.
Average Cycling Speed = Total Distance ÷ Total Time
What Factors Influence Your Average Cycling Speed? (Simple Answer)
The rider’s fitness, riding position, bike type, tires, gradient, terrain, and environmental effects are among the most important factors influencing average cycling speed. However, their weight differs, and there are also more factors to consider.
I recommend reading the detailed answer below, where I explain this topic more.
One of the first factors that will affect your average speed is your fitness level. A beginner will be slower than a pro.
The following table shows the riding times and average speeds to bike a mile of people at different fitness levels.
|Fitness Level||Time||Average speed|
|Beginner||~6 minutes||~9.3 mph (15 kph)|
|Intermediate||~4 minutes||~14.3 mph (23 kph)|
|Advanced||~3 minutes||~18.6 mph (30 kph)|
|Pro||~2 minutes||~24.9 mph (40 kph)|
The riding position is tightly connected to our coefficient of aerodynamic drag (CdA), where Cd is a drag coefficient (that depends on the shape of an object), and A is its surface area.
Therefore, when you lower the CdA, you will need to produce less energy to achieve the same speed.
You can lower the surface area by lowering your body position. It significantly helps you increase your average speed.
I explain why focusing on your riding position is one of the most effective ways to improve your average speed in the Air Resistance section.
Bike Type & Tires
Your speed will also depend on the type of bike, tires, and tire pressure. The following table shows the estimated average speed of mountain, hybrid, gravel, and road bikes.
|Bike type||Time to ride a mile [mm:ss]||Average speed|
|Road||~3:45||~16 mph (25.8 kph)|
|Gravel||~4:00||~15 mph (24.1 kph)|
|Hybrid||~4:30||~13.3 mph (21.4 kph)|
|Mountain||~5:00||~12 mph (19 kph)|
For example, road bikes are the fastest bike type thanks to their narrow and smooth tires, aerodynamics, and sporty riding position, which has less air drag.
On the other hand, hybrid bikes are slower because you sit in a more relaxed position (e.g., higher air resistance). Additionally, their tires have higher rolling resistance, and their aerodynamics is worse. The same applies to mountain bikes, which are the slowest bike type. Gravel bikes are somewhere between road and mountain bikes.
So, choose a bike depending on the terrain you ride the most often.
Gradient & Terrain
The terrain and gradient are other factors that affect the average speed. For example, a mountainous route is more demanding than a flat course.
For instance, climbing a 5% gradient one-mile hill will take 2.5 times longer, assuming all other variables (like your power, rolling resistance, weather, etc.) are the same. (Source)
Likewise, a rough road will take longer to bike on than a typical street or smooth tarmac.
Environmental effects include factors like wind, elevation, or temperature.
Riding into a strong headwind is much more demanding than riding with a tailwind. Plan your route so that you will start into a headwind and return with a tailwind. It’s much better than the other way around.
Rain can also affect your performance. It can obscure your vision, and the water will increase rolling resistance, reducing your average speed.
The elevation is a little more tricky and more complex. On the one hand, the air is thinner at higher altitudes, so it doesn’t offer as much resistance. But, on the other hand, you have to account for less oxygen, which results in lower performance.
Finally, rolling resistance decreases with higher temperatures.
According to Ridefar.com, the changes are as follows:
- A 100m increase in altitude decreases air temperature by 0.65°C.
- A 1°C air temperature decrease increases rolling resistance by 1.4%.
- A 100m increase in altitude reduces air density by 0.8%.
- A 100m increase in altitude decreases power output by 0.6%.
What Factors Influence Your Average Cycling Speed? (Detailed Answer)
Physics (please, bear with me) helps us better understand what influences average cycling speed.
When cycling, we are exposed to several types of resistance. Their effect varies depending on our speed.
Air resistance accounts for roughly 40-60% of the total resistance, while gravitational resistance accounts for 20-40%. Rolling resistance contributes about 11%, and mechanical resistance about 6%. The researchers also included 1% braking resistance. (Source)
So, to improve your average cycling speed, you will make the biggest impact by reducing air resistance. But how do you do it?
Let’s examine each resistance type and find out.
1. Air Resistance
Due to the air’s non-linear resistance, its weight (importance) changes with your speed. Therefore, the faster you ride, the higher the air resistance.
People often focus too much on losing weight (either on their own or on their bikes). However, it is more effective to focus on improving aerodynamics, in other words, reducing your aerodynamic drag coefficient (CdA).
In addition, reducing air resistance is often cheaper than significantly reducing the weight of your bike. Reducing rider weight, on the other hand, requires more time.
The biggest effect on your CdA has your riding position. You can improve it by lowering your riding position (make yourself more aero).
See the following picture illustrating different riding positions and their CdA.
Few people also realize how big an impact clothing does. I am not saying you should go and buy snug cycling shorts and a jersey for commuting.
But you should know the flappier your clothing, the more drag and the more effort you have to put into the same riding speed.
Did you know? According to Silca, you can save between 4-8W by using aero socks and up to 35W by wearing a skinsuit. Those are high numbers, considering that a reasonable estimate of people’s average power output is around 150W. For comparison, my “commuting” power output is around 170W.
2. Rolling Resistance
Different tires have different rolling resistance, which translates into energy absorbed during riding.
The general rule is that tires with low rolling resistance are faster but more prone to puncture and have shorter longevity.
However, some tires have more balanced properties. I recommend visiting the Bicycle Rolling Resistance website, which is dedicated to testing different tires.
Rolling resistance is also affected by tire pressure and the type of tire (clincher, tubeless, tubular).
You may have heard that, for example, road tires need to be inflated to the highest possible pressure. But this can result in higher tire resistance and lower comfort.
This phenomenon is well described on the Silca blog. The goal is for the tire to absorb bumps, not “bounce” over them, which creates losses. I recommend using their calculator for estimating tire pressure based on multiple factors.
Let’s now briefly talk about the tire type. Standard clincher tires have higher rolling resistance than tubeless or tubular tires because of the friction between the tire and the inner tube. Again, double-check the tire properties on bicyclerollingresistance.com.
3. Gravitational Resistance
As I noted in the Air Resistance section, it’s better to focus on aerodynamics than on reducing weight in most scenarios. However, it mainly depends on the course profile.
You will benefit from better aerodynamics if the gradient doesn’t exceed 4% (for pros, this threshold is 8% because they ride much faster).
Many studies don’t consider repeated acceleration (for example, due to the traffic lights, intersections, etc.), so you may argue weight (and faster acceleration) are more important.
Another example includes an ability to quickly accelerate into an attacking rider’s draft, which requires less energy than chasing him on your own.
But experts agree that the aero is a king, and low-weight bikes only make sense in high mountains and for those who like the feeling of a ‘quick and responsive’ bike.
4. Mechanical Resistance
Mechanical resistance includes energy losses mainly in the drivetrain and bearings (hubs, bottom bracket, pedals).
Different sources quote different values. However, the overall mechanical resistance accounts for about 10% of the overall resistance, from which the chain has the largest impact. To minimize its losses, make sure you properly clean and lube it.
The losses from the wheel, bottom bracket, and pedal bearings are marginal and not worth the extra costs unless you look for all gains possible.
What’s a Good Average Cycling Speed?
Our competitiveness often leads us to compare ourselves with others. So, what’s a good average cycling speed?
The answer is complex, and it depends on the factors discussed above. But in general, most people average between 9 to 14 mph [14.5 to 22.5 km/h].
The following infographic shows a scale of average biking speeds and the appropriate rider’s fitness.
For comparison, the average speed of all Tour de France editions is 21.5 mph [34.6 km/h]. However, this millennia, pros averaged 25 mph [40.3 km/h].
And to make things complete, here are Spain’s Grand Tour numbers. Vuelta a España historical average speed is 22.9 mph [36.9 km/h], and this millennium 24.8 mph [39.9 km/h]!
How to Improve Your Average Speed?
Based on my experience, research, and the information above, I want to highlight the following tips to improve your average cycling speed.
- Make yourself more aero by lowering your body position on a bike.
- Improve your fitness by exercising and riding.
- Choose the right bike type. For example, road bikes are perfect for paved roads but unsuitable for the terrain.
- Improve your pacing – don’t go full gas at the beginning of the climb. Remember, consistency is efficiency!
- Wear tight cycling clothes and an aero helmet.
- Choose tires with low rolling resistance and inflate them accordingly. More pressure doesn’t mean a faster ride! Check out this Silca calculator for more info.
- Leverage drafting – riding in a draft reduces the power you have to put out. Together you can ride further and faster.
- Start your ride into a headwind and return with a tailwind.
- And finally, shave your legs. Shaved legs can save you about 14W at 28 mph [45 km/h]! (Source)
Remember, focusing on your aerodynamics is often more effective than lowering the weight of your bike or your own.
The easiest thing you can do to improve your average speed is to lower your body position. It will reduce your aerodynamic drag coefficient and, therefore, air resistance, so you will ride faster.
Other tips include wearing tighter clothing, riding the correct bike type for the roads/terrain you ride, improving your fitness, or drafting.
I hope you understand better now what factors influence your average biking speed and which ones to focus on to maximize your gains.
Please, share this article if you find it helpful. Feel free to also comment with your insights below.